' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How adoption narratives encourage eternal separation of mother and child

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How adoption narratives encourage eternal separation of mother and child

Why do some reunions fail? Or never get started? So much has to do with how the adoptive parents have cleared the cobwebs away from the warm fuzzy feelings about adoption, and dealt with the idea of reunion as a positive that might occur someday. Others in the last two decades have participated in open adoptions, which began to be popularized slowly in the 1980s. My own daughter gave up a child in 1986, but even I could not convince her to have an open adoption. I believe it was because she was not strong enough to deal with the idea that by knowing who the parents were, she would still feel obligated to be involved. My daughter had a lot of physical and psychological issues due to her epilepsy, and I know she thought about suicide a great deal, so when she talked about her reasons later, I could understand. I'm getting off the track here because I wanted to dissect a piece about adoption that was forwarded to me today.

It was in the winter 2011-2012 edition of Lilith, an ezine that is "independent, Jewish and frankly feminist."

In truth, I felt myself go en garde! because for most publications the norm is syrupy pieces that extol the virtues of adoption and the blessed state of the adoptive parents. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but only a little. I skim the piece:  "Miriam's Cup: A Ritual for Adoptive Mothers of Chinese Daughters." The ritual involves parsley, the symbol of rebirth, salty water, symbol of tears, and a reading.
Moses and Jochebed by Pedro Américo,
in public domain in the US

I internally read: Chinese daughter, no possibility of reunion. 

In the reading, Rabbi Susan Schnur relates the story of Moses: The pharaoh had decreed all Jewish male children be killed, and so his natural mother, Yocheved (or Jocheved) sent out her baby son in a basket of bulrushes on the Nile, hoping that he would be found by someone who would raise him. She sends his sister Miriam to watch over the package "at a distance, the way Chinese birth mothers do when they place their babies inside lotus roots or celery leaves, or in a crowded market or on a doorstep, weeping until a stranger finds the package and exclaims, “Whose beautiful child?”

The pharaoh's daughter finds the baby, takes him in, names him Moses and raises him as her son, giving him "privilege and a bicultural mission." Then I read:

"My daughter’s other mother, I thank you. I do not know your name. I do not know you. You do not know me. We will never know each other. But we needed each other to create and love and nurture this child. I pray that you have found comfort and blessing."

That's when I knew this ritual would be a comfort to adoptive mothers--but I also saw that it was based on the idea of acknowledging another mother, it also is signaling that this other mother will never be found. That reunion is impossible. That the bond is severed forever. I also noted that this reading made no mention of the fact that Moses's natural mother became his nursemaid, so that she sees him grow and prosper. 

An essay by a Chinese adoptee follows. Anchee Min writes a much tougher piece, about what it means to be female in China: "Girls were presents, companions, kitchen-hands, bed-mates, baby-making machines...." She writes about reading about a couple who killed five daughters in the hope of gaining son. She writes that the mothers who left their daughters out to be found, they must have thought if the daughter were strong enough to endure, she might escape her fate. 

"For her you will forever be a 'broken arm hidden in her sleeve,'" the piece continues. "Oh, how I wish your Chinese birth mothers could read this. They would be comforted, relieved and released from the nightmares that haunt them." --Excerpted from the introduction of The Lost Daughters of China: Adopted Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search fora Missing Past.

"Broken arm hidden in her sleeve." What a beautiful and true metaphor.

I can accept and understand the desire for a ritual that symbolizes the union of the adoptive mother with a child; but I wish I could read a prayer that spoke someday of reunion of the original mother and child. We know from the few adoptive parents who comment here, that some do their best to keep the lines of communication open; but we also too often hear of nightmare open adoptions that close for all extent and purposes as soon as the ink on the legal papers is dry. And we hear of birth mothers who drift away, who themselves cannot be found by anxious adoptive parents who want the best for the children.

Adoptees grow up wondering who they are, where they came from, how they ended up where they ended up through no doing of their own. In the case of the babies from Russia and China and Guatemala and Nepal and god-knows-what poor country is next to be sending out their babies, reunion is usually impossible. As long as society pushes this narrative--that the split of mother and child is sad but necessary, or sad but inevitable--western adoptive parents by and large will continue to fail to see that adoption is the unhappy option that renders asunder what should not be.

Of course, adoption happens. There is always some impoverished country willing to send their children out to bring income in. Unethical scammers find a way to operate seemingly humanitarian operations that hide their sordid business of trafficking children.

Today we have a choice to make adoptions be not sealed, not closed. The ethical choice for both birth mothers and adoptive parents is to choose only open adoption, where the natural family, or mother, stays in touch throughout the process. That is the responsibility of both mothers, natural and adoptive. This is not easy for anyone, I suspect, including the child at the heart of every adoption; but if adoption, or legal guardianship, must happen, let it be open from the very first breath. And while I'm imaging a sea-change in attitude, let this all happen without changing the child's birth certificate, but let it reflect the truth of one's birth. Another piece of paper that shows the legal guardianship of a child is not so hard to imagine. It too can come to symbolize love and a lifetime.--lorraine 


Miriam’s Cup: A Ritual for Adoptive Mothers of Chinese Daughters

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  1. This is beautiful Lorraine. I haven't been reading much adoption literature lately. I just can't deal with it along with Trump but so glad I read this tonight. Yes, what a perfect metaphor for so many of us ~ "Broken arm hidden in her sleeve."
    I always referred to that feeling as a 'physiological amputation.' - at least until reunion,


  2. The last paragraph says it all for me. Sealed and closed Adoption should be outlawed. Everyone deawdese to know who and where the come from.

  3. "My daughter’s other mother, I thank you. I do not know your name. I do not know you. You do not know me. We will never know each other. But we needed each other to create and love and nurture this child. I pray that you have found comfort and blessing."I found this sentence to be patronizing and sickening.

    Oh how generous of her to pray for the woman whose daughter she took. She is (or wants to be) blissfully unaware that the baby may not have been abandoned but kidnapped. Or like Moses, sent away to protect her. The Chinese mother, like victims of shootings, deserves more than thoughts and prayers. She deserves an advocate. If the author of this piece were a true humanitarian, she would have fought to help the baby's mother keep her.

    And of course, it's wishful thinking on the the author's part that neither she nor the baby will meet the Chinese mother. Korean children from an earlier generation are seeking and finding their mothers. Some are learning Korean and choosing to stay in Korea. Ditto for Vietnamese children snatched from their mothers when US troops left Vietnam in 1973.

    Finally, recall that adoptee Moses did not meld happily into Egyptian society. He rose up against his adopters and led his people out of their country.

    1. What a great comment. Yes, I, too, found the quote at the beginning of your comment so sanctimonious it made me ill. I mean isn't she just Ms. Big Kindhearted and Generous to think of her child's first mother that way. She gets to make herself seem soooo wonderful when "But we needed each other to create and love and nurture this child" may not even be true. It certainly wasn't in my case.

      And ha ha yeah I'd say Moses isn't exactly known for completely melding into his new family and turning his back on his heritage and past with nary a backwards glance. Anyone who tries to push that narrative for Moses' adoption story is really grasping at straws.

    2. Yes, Robin, I'd say that pushing the Moses as a er, good adoption story maybe didn't read to the end of the story. I understand he has quite a revolt.

  4. I've seen other comments like that...one book on my shelf contains the phase "woman who labored my son," (or something very close) which really made me crazy because the woman who wrote it couldn't even bring herself to use the word "mother" in any form. She's a terrible poet but she gets published and as the world would have it, one of my friends attended this son's bar mitzvah and she said that the speech the woman gave surely gave no sign that she didn't "labor" this young man herself. If he ever searches, it is will be done on the QT; best guess is that he never will.

    Again, she is pushing the narrative that he was not adopted but sprang into their life without a past. It is really time to put an end to those narratives.

    1. 'Woman who laboured my son'?!! Dear god! How entitled is that?
      So Handmaid's Tale too.
      I despise women who think like that.

    2. Cherry: Answer to your question: Very entitled. I barfed when I read it. The woman alas lives not far from me and is a friend of a friend. Went to the boy's bar mitzvah. My life is crazy.

  5. Thank you Lorraine for highlighting the first mothers in China.
    My daughter* from China is a wonderful college student. She has been told that someone took her from her family and put in motion the events that followed. I try to make her life as normal as possible under the circumstances. Her DNA is registered on two sites where I regularly contact the new distant relatives with the following request.
    ‘My daughter is from the northeast part of the Guangdong province. Area towns are Meizhou, and Dapu. The people in this area speak the Hakka dialect. Please contact anyone you know there and ask them to quietly search for her family. Additionally, I have contact information for about 80 of the less 200 adoptees who also left the Dapu Social Welfare Institute and live internationally. I would be happy to assist in the reunion with any parents found in the area.’
    I mostly hear back from other adoptees who what to know their history and encourage them in their search. Other people admit they have no contacts in that area of China.
    I ask everyone on First Mothers Forum search for someone with the contacts and language skills who might help my daughter look in the eyes of her Mother and find out what happened.

    *She prefers that both women be referred as her Mother without explanation. I honor her request.

  6. Did anybody notice what ungrateful adult adoptee Moses did to his adoptive family?

  7. She says, "My daughters other mother, I thank you."

    The 'I thank you' gets a bold, why don't you thank the people who abandoned me? Why don't you thank those that arranged the adoption? Why don't you thank the doctor and nurses, and "social" worker who made sure I would not soil "your gift" (my child) with my grubby hands and aching heart and arms. Don't EVER thank me. I didn't want you to have my child.

    She says, "I do not know your name. I do not know you."

    Well, isn't that convenient? Of course some do, some don't, and some don't want to know.

    She says, "You do not know me."

    I don't know your name that's true, but I do know you. You are the nightmare that torments my soul and tears at my heart. You have lived (taken) my life.

    She says, "We will never know each other."

    Hopeful are you? In this day and age you can't say that with certainty.

    She says, "But we needed each other to create and love and nurture this child."

    Actually this child was created without any help from you. I definitely did not need you to love my child. In fact, I needed you to not be waiting and hopeful to adopt to
    love my child with all my heart and soul. Maybe if there were not those 'waiting and hopeful' the attention and funding would be turned instead to family preservation. Nurture? Well, you got all of that one so yeah, you did "need me" to accomplish that. Hell of a handmaid huh!

    She says, "I pray that you have found comfort and blessing."

    Well I gotta tell ya, your prayer must go unheard. There is very little to no comfort when you do not have your child close and know they are ok. When you don't even know who they are or where. Isn't that a parent's heart? When you lost everything you wanted to be in life, where is the comfort and blessing in that? What blessing are you praying for exactly? For me to somehow find the strength to bear your burden and mine? That is what it feels like. It's heavy. A lifetime of grief. Secondary infertility. The loss of the only thing I ever wanted to be... a mother to my child.

    Yes, a little comfort (to know who and how and where they are) and blessing (to finally hold them) can be reunion. But that isn't what comfort and blessing you pray for is it? Since you say, "we will never know each other."

    Reunion brings with it a whole other complicated, painful existence that is often hard to navigate.

    I feel I have given as much as any military veteran. I gave my life (though very much against my will) so that another/others might 'live'. I've walked through hell. Some day it will be over.



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