' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Loss and Connection at Spence-Chapin

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Loss and Connection at Spence-Chapin

Lorraine at Spence-Chapin with her lucky scarf
What amazed me so much the other night at my reading and discussion at Spence-Chapin in Manhattan was the great feeling of camaraderie that emanated, even though H♥le is far from a sweet, light-hearted book! We are talking adoption here, people! from the viewpoint of the first mother and trust me, they do not find much to cheer about.

About 15 people were there--mostly adoptees, a few natural birth biological mothers, one adoptive parent (Frank Ligtvoet, who writes about his very open adoptions) and two people from Spence, including Stella Gilgur-Cook, who set the program up. After my reading/talk, the floor was open to discussion. What surprised me was the adoptees speaking of how many years they had been out of touch with their adoptive parents, how distant they felt from their adoptive parents. I mean, we are talking years, and at least two people said it was unlikely they would ever ever be in touch with them again.

And these new acquaintances were salt-of-the-earth types, not people who seem to wear their troubles on their sleeve. I know this happens, but it was depressingly sad to hear it because when you, a new mother, gives up your precious bundle amidst tears, you fervently hope and pray that they end up with loving parents who treat them well--just like they were born to them, as adoptive parents like to say all the time--but that is not the feeling I got last Thursday. I couldn't help but wonder what the real numbers on are this. How many grow up and grow away from their adoptive parents? I can't see how any real statistics could ever be collected on this, because, you know, people are supposed to be "as born to" after they are adopted.

When census takers tried to ask the question during the last accounting, I heard there was a lot of complaints because adoptive parents found the question insensitive and it was taken out of the mix. Yet, the fact that they found the question invasive and insensitive indicates that they--the adoptive parents--are still today not willing to see that to society, and the child, that child will never be "as born to." To be honest about what adoption is does not diminish the relationship or the bond. "As if born to" means not born to, period. Denying its reality is a massive blurring of the truth. Somewhere along the line, that reality--not born to--contains a painful truth. Somewhere a mother and child have been separated, and there was pain and sorrow involved. Besides, far too often, someone adopted is filling in as the "second choice" for parents who did not have "children of their own," which we all know that means biological. 

Incidentally, that phrase came out out of the mouth of one of the adoptees there, and it was noted with a certain lightness. Everybody knows what it means; no explanation needed. It is not "as if born to."

Stella contacted me today and will be in touch via email to everyone who was there. It appears that their Modern Family Center there would like to form a support group--at least it would be a good place for people to meet. I went to ALMA meetings in the Seventies in Manhattan when Florence Fisher was running them, found them comforting, and stopped only when I moved a hundred miles away.

A few blog readers were there, including New and Old, and it is rather wonderful to connect with people who frequent the blog, because mostly we have no idea who reads or where they are from. (Adoptomuss, who now uses a different name, sometimes Marylee at another blog) came to my reading in Sag Harbor and introduced herself.) Frank Litgvoet, who also attended at S-C, is an adoptive dad who doesn't believe that adoption ought to exist the way it does--he has one of his children's original birth certificates but not the other's. He suggested that a guardianship would be a better way to go. If you are not familiar with his name, he writes about the issues he finds for Huff Po and Daily Kos, and we've been in touch over the last year and a half.

The first mothers didn't speak as much as the adopted did, and I often think that in general, mothers tend to be more silent in mixed groups, and fare better overall with each other. We bear the burden of shared loss in a way that is quite different from adoptee loss. Loss is a sad word. Loss. We lose a part of ourselves when we lose our children. Adoptees have an absence. Absence of mother, father, siblings, blood. We are all trying to fill that void, the void that comes from the enduring, basic link of biology, even if it is not perfect, even if it is not what we hoped for.

What was really sweet about the event was the sense of closeness I felt among the group. Soldiers have this kind of camaraderie. It's as if we are a pack of warriors home from the battle, and we are there together understanding each other and our shared loss, even though the first mothers arrive at it from a different point of view than the adopted.--lorraine
 I will be hosting a Q&A regarding Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption  from 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, on the Hole in My Heart page on Facebook. Click here for link.  (This worked for me, but then I am already on Facebook. Not sure if it will for everyone. One can register for Facebook and not keep up with an active page.) I had intended to post about a giveaway for H♥le I created today, and though I set the numbers high, it was over in a couple of hours--and at dinner hour too! Sorry about that. And it's pretty expensive for me to do.)

And apologize for this taking so long to get up!  After I got back, there was the theater review, and then I had a book review for Military History magazine about a book about the women's civilian air corps during World War II. The book is WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds. Quite different from adoption, but the story of the brave women indeed who did amazing work ferrying planes around the country, from assembly lines where they were made to bases where they were sent overseas.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow, surprised that there were a number of adoptees there who had cut themselves off from the adoptive family! My son is one of the few I know of who did that. He did not even go to the mother's funeral. I have heard of a lot of adoptees who have no adult relationship with adoptive siblings, but not those who are completely estranged from the parents. In my son's case it was a healthy thing to do, as the mother was mentally ill and abusive, his father whom he was close to had died, and his one sibling, their much older biological daughter, was just like the mother and he has nothing to do with her. It is scary to hear this is more common than I imagined.

    Kaisa, it seems you were wise not to adopt feeling as you do about adoption.

  3. Lorraine, thank you again for coming out and sharing your story. It was an honor to host you and all the attendees, and hear the stories in the room. These are difficult but important conversations that need to be had. Seeing adoption from the many different angles that I have, it's always painful for me to hear about people who no longer have a relationship with their adoptive family, and just as painful when I hear stories about reunions with biological families that go sour as well. Many families have terrible relationships, and can even be estranged from one another, but there is no denying that the deterioration of an adoptive family certainly carries extra weight. I want to thank everyone for boldly sharing their experiences, for allowing me to talk a bit about today's adoption practices, and for inspiring me to re-start our support groups. We'll be working on this, so if anyone reading this would like to attend or learn more, please reach out to us at info@modernfamilycenter.org

  4. Hello! It's me Adoptomuss/Marylee/iwishiwasadopted. I am a Spence Chapin baby and could not attend the reading because of work, and sheer terror.

    The Sag Harbor reading was lovely. I watched a flock of crows in the trees outside the window. I've always thought of crows as my familiars because my parents faked my death, and crows are associated with death. It was a surreal feeling for me. I'm always on edge when adoption talk is in the air.

    My latest blog post is in the blog roll. It contains some correspondence that I received from Spence Chapin a few years ago.

    Read it and perhaps, weep.

    I did.

  5. Lorraine, this is exactly how I felt about being at the AAC! "What was really sweet about the event was the sense of closeness I felt among the group. Soldiers have this kind of camaraderie. It's as if we are a pack of warriors home from the battle, and we are there together understanding each other and our shared loss, even though the first mothers arrive at it from a different point of view than the adopted"

  6. Lorraine, I am glad I went to your reading, and came away with a lot to consider. You are very warm and open and it was a friendly experience provided by Spence Chapin. Sadly I felt a fresh wave of shame, being a birth mother. It is not the fault of anyone there. At several points I wanted to leave, but am glad I didn’t.

    We live in a society where adoption is thought of as a good thing, and simply that love for a baby will erase the perceived sadness of his or her beginnings. We all want to think that we are good people and that we do our best. I was hoping perhaps to gain some insight to help through reunion with my younger son, and rejection from my older son. It was quite shocking and moving to look into the literal face of great pain endured by adoptees who were at the reading, whose lives were re-written, whether they like it or not. I never thought myself capable of inflicting this particular kind of lifelong psychic pain on anyone, and I truly believed that I was doing the best thing for my children at the time - the common thought then in the public mind.

    I liked very much what Frank talked about, and wish there were more out there like him. It seems that when a child is with their birth parent(s) or family, it is generally assumed that they have a future together; in adoption it is literally a “contract” that is understood between the adoptive parents and the adoptee, nothing can be taken for granted - either the commitment of the parent, or of the child. In any event and in fact, it is not a contract that has been agreed to by the child. I was shocked at many of the stories I heard, but the truth is what it is.

    1. Thanks, N&O, I wanted to talk to you after but didn't have the opportunity. It was swell to have you and a couple others there who follow the blog--and with you, it felt like meeting someone I already know.

      Let the shame go. Keep working on it. But I know, it's hard. Once I just said: I'm sorry, I made a mistake...it kinda encompasses a lot of feeling. We all fuck up. Feel good about who you are today.

    2. PS: Yes, Frank was great, and I'm glad you see why I often link somewhere to his columns. We have a few adoptive mothers here who are also great.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Hi again - 'tis I, the woman of small stature who was at the Spence-Chapin event. I hope that what I can offer now may help provide some perspective and solace to those First Mothers who suffer. I can, of course, only speak for myself, but I am one of those who has had no communication with my adoptive parents for decades.

      Let me say at the outset that I have always been extremely aware of the social climate into which I was born - notwithstanding others' attempts at shaping my impressions differently. I have always, always felt that my natural mother and I were both victims of a harsh, judgmental, insensitive and (frankly) ignorant society. I have never held my mother to blame for the era in which we lived at the time I was born, and which dictates of society corralled her into the situation we both endured.

      New and Old, please be assured that I was heartened to see the face of another First Mother the night of the reading. Each and every one of you I meet reinforces confidence in my earliest convictions that we share a bond - yes, one forged in pain - but one which is real, and thus precious to me. I never shared such a bond with my adoptive parents; they were not interested in pursuing the virtues of truth, honesty, awareness, fairness and reason.

      Indeed, the pain I feel does not come from my experience having been raised in a household of "denial and expectations," but rather from others' presumptions that my relationship with my adoptive parents had more depth than it did. The aforementioned combined with having my own feelings of repeatedly discounted by the public - and even by therapists (who were obviously un-versed in adoptee issues). By and large, the general public seems oblivious to the circumstance of oppression and discrimination we adoptees live in. Adoptive parent Frank Ligtvoet is a rare exception, being aware of it and advocating for a cessation to the illusions.

      Given that my own adoptive mother had two adopted daughters under her own roof for decades and couldn't be bothered tending to our emotional needs (as we were apparently obtained so as to fulfill HER emotional needs), I sadly came to consider her part and parcel of the society which created the predicament of shame, blame, denial and avoidance so injurious to us all. Albeit, society is partly to blame for her sense of entitlement in that she felt deserving of plaudits for her "generosity" in adopting the "unwanted" and her esteemed place in our culture due to having married at age 19.

      I, however, think otherwise.

      Cessation of efforts and communicating with those who adopted me came as a relief: I was finally beginning to acknowledge my feelings, rather than looking to others for validation of them. I am now "owning" my feelings - and that has released me from the shame and embarrassment I felt at the punitive denial of my wish to know my natural family.

      Advocacy is beneficial for me, but still stressful. Before the Spence-Chapin event, I likened visiting an adoption agency as "entering the belly of the beast," but I'm glad I went. One of the points I hoped to make at Spence-Chapin is that if prospective adoptive parents are seeking to have some emotional need fulfilled by the child they wish to adopt, that alone should be a red flag that such persons are likely not well suited to being good adoptive parents.

      Every person we are able to enlighten is one step forward - for all of us.

    5. Thank you, J-Law. It is always a pleasure to see you.

  7. There was such a disconnect with my adopter mom that I have no idea where her tombstone is. (She died in 1997). None of the grandchildren that were from her adopted children were mentioned in the eulogy. She did not see us as her children, only as orphan decorations. She treated us adopted kids differently then her biological child, even in the will our brother received $100,000.00 and we each got nothing, despite us taking care of our dad (and still do since 1984). That is why I don't believe in the adoption language fantasy or the 'happily ever after' myth. Adoption is trauma.

  8. Jenette, I think your situation is more common than we might know. I know a lot of adoptees who remain loyal to their adoptive parents, at least until after their deaths, and have postponed searching. And even feel guilty. Lately I've met a couple of adoptees who have been treated horribly by their adopters in later life, especially those who had biological children as well, left everything to them or even cut off their adopted children. How is that "forever family?" I will never think that adoption is a good thing. Except in the most extreme circumstances, where the child would not have any family or home at all. In terms of foreign adoptions, I think those circumstances are made up for the agencies to make money.

  9. One of my husband's oldest and best friends is adopted. He learned that he was from a cousin at 12; when he asked his mother, she confirmed it but never said another word about it. His adoption was then never ever mentioned at home. On his father's deathbed, he did bring it up, telling our friend--never to search because if "would break his mother's heart."

    So our friend followed adoption in the press. When he came to our wedding, a a few years after Birthmark, he was well aware of who I was. His mother was still alive.

    She eventually died.

    He began a search immediately.

    He asked his aunts if they knew anything. They knew exactly who his parents were. Both had died by that time. He has siblings from his father's side, but since our friend was conceived when his father was married to someone other than his wife...he imagines that those siblings of his know nothing about him. In his late Sixties, he decided not to contact them, and has not.

    Knowing him as I do, I know hat he would love to be connected to someone who shares his blood, but the years of silence and secrecy appear to have locked that door to him.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I also hope that he will reconsider. He has spent his life being a loyal and dutiful son, and now he is officially a "skeleton in the closet" - something that no-one should have to accept, without expressing their voice. There's no way to know what his thoughts are, perhaps he feels enough is enough. But on the other hand, as we age further we have less to lose (as I see it). Perhaps his half-siblings would be interested and may already have some sense that there is more to Dear Old Dad's story, children sometimes are able to pick up on that as they mature and the years go by - and it could lead to a friendship with them, if nothing else.

      At least he could find out about his father. Due to the deliberate lack of disclosure and the truth from his adoptive parents and those aunts, he deserves to have some information at least - No thanks to them! Since so many people have died and everybody is getting old, the reaction from Dad's kids might be rather positive and could surprise him. I am reminded of the recent story posted about the reunion when daughter wss in her 70's (?) You just never know. Perhaps that sounds naive, but I'd hate to see your husband's friend be eternally discouraged. Disgusted is definitely reasonable - shame on his adopted parents and his aunts!

      Perhaps he could reach out and not expect too much, if anything, back. Best wishes to him, it's his decision alone.

    3. I agree with you both, but at this point it's not really my place to urge him on. He has been married for a long time (to a judge, now retired) and has a grown son. His adoptive parents really put the emotional guilt kibosh on his searching, much to his detriment. Both of his natural parents were married to other people when he was conceived....so there's the rub, as far as he is concerned, that pushed him into the "not contacting" mode.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I was adopted in the late 1960's. I always knew I was adopted but I never felt like a was the "adopted child" in the family. I always felt very loved and accepted by everyone in my family. I have always felt very bonded and connected to my family. When I became an adult I thought about finding my biological family but it was a very scary idea. People would say to me, "be careful, you might not like what you find" or "you were put up for adoption for a reason and you have a great life and family, why would you want to find out something that will just be bad". After I got married and gave birth to my own children, finding my biological mother became a strong need. I discovered the importance and significance of genetics. As close as I had always felt to my family all my life, having and seeing a biological connection to another human being for the first time in my life rocked my world. I was more terrified of what I might find but I was driven to find her. It was emotionally exhausting searching for her and thrilling at the same time. I went on a secret quest and discovered there is so much information out there on the internet and I was good at finding it. I sent her a short note in the mail. I sent her my birthdate and asked her if it had any significance to her. She responded immediately. Finding her is one of my greatest accomplishments. I found a big part of me I didn't even know was missing. To finally experience genetic mirroring is really cool. She is so much like me, or I guess I am like her. Genetics is strong, at least for me.

    I don't love my family any less since I found her. It doesn't undo the pain of being adopted, which for the first time in my life I recognize and feel. I wish I wasn't adopted but I am, it is part of who I am. I feel like I have been able to find a part of me that was taken away. Finding her has been hard, emotional, complicated, confusing, exhausting but also thrilling, enlightening and absolutely incredible.

    I really enjoy the posts on this page. Thank you for all your honesty. I feel the truth and reality about adoption experiences in our society really needs to come out in the light and be discussed and recognized. The shame, secrets and lies are toxic.

  11. It sounds like a wonderful talk, Lorraine. I wish I could have been there! We are leaving for a vacation in Europe next weekend and I am planning to read your book on the place. As much as I love to read, I have too little time for it, but I'm starting to get very anxious that I haven't been able to read it yet!

    As a side note, we had planned to meet up with my daughter's parents last week, but something came up on their side, and we were unable to do so. I'm struggling with some feelings of sadness on that front. Our daughter has been asking to see them, and I feel sad for her. And concerned. I wish that it was made very clear to people that open adoption is not some quick fix, and that actually, it is just another layer to the complication and loss that is adoption. Closed, secretive adoptions were very damaging and not right, but open adoption has it's own set of struggles, too.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing how it went. It's so nice you were able to me in person some of the readers here. If you ever do a reading in San Francisco, I'll be there! ;)

  12. How I wish I could have attended. Or that you'll get offered a reading here locally at the Tattered Cover. Envious of those who got to meet you.

    1. Well, the Tattered Cover is a very big deal in the world of publishing. We do have a friend (a son of Yvonne's) who lives in Denver. If we get there for a visit, I will certainly try something--and I may start by contacting you!



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.