After I learned who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing effectively nothing about their own familial roots), I began to learn about the impacts of adoption. I read a really good book on this subject – The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier (definitely highly recommended for anyone else who is interested in understanding). I also joined a group about adoption that is all about facing the realities. Member of the whole triad of original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents belong to this group and I have learned a lot about the issues from the diversity.
From letters written by my adoptive grandmother in the late 1930s to the Tennessee Children’s Home staff – Fanny Elrod and Georgia Tann – there are indications that my mom had been upset the whole time she was being taken by my adoptive grandmother by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as a 7 mos old infant and that she may have been drugged by a doctor upon arrival there to calm her down.
Though letters from my adoptive grandmother in the early years of my mom’s life indicate that she was over the moon happy with my mom as her adopted child, I know that my mom never felt she lived up to my grandmother’s high standards. I understand this personally as she was a phenomenal woman and I had my own run-ins with her opinions about me that were deeply hurtful.
My grandmother grew up not far from me in Missouri. Her mom was lazy by my grandmother’s accounts – only interested in her bible and not in her household – and both her mother and sister were fat (confirmed in photographs of the whole family together). My grandmother maintained a very trim figure all her life to match the trim figures of her sisters-in-law and worked hard at that by denying herself fattening foods to maintain her figure. She criticized me once in a public place quite loudly for taking a dinner roll and putting butter on it. I didn’t even speak to her for a whole 24 hours I was so upset.
Adoptees do not feel special because someone chose to adopt them. They always feel at risk of being rejected and abandoned all over again if they don’t live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations. For that reason they become people pleasers as my own mom definitely was. She was described very positively after she died by the people who knew her but I wonder now – at what price internally did she accomplish that high regard ?