The Girls Who Went Away

Studies that have examined the grief of relinquishing mothers have identified a sense of loss that is unique and often prolonged. In one such study, the grief was likened to the separation loss experienced by a parent whose child is missing, or by a person who is told their loved one is missing in action. Unlike grief over the death of a child, which is permanent and for which there is an established grieving process, the loss of a child through adoption has no clear end and no social affirmation that grief is even an appropriate response.

~ Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away, Page 208

Looking for an image of the book cover, I found an old story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 2015 titled Legacy of Loss. It is a story about Leslie MacKinnon who relinquished 2 sons to adoption when she was still a teenager. Her grief inspired her career as a therapist in the Atlanta area who works with people who’s lives have been touched by adoption.

Only a year after giving up her first-born son in an Alabama maternity home, she was once again giving birth, this time at her family’s home in Florida, unmedicated, untended and unseen. She had tried to bring on a miscarriage by throwing herself down the front stairs, drinking a bottle of castor oil, soaking in the hottest baths she could stand. She even tried to commit suicide by driving her car too fast on a hairpin turn but realized even death would not erase her shame.

After losing her second son to adoption, Leslie felt herself split in two. The shame-filled girl who couldn’t look anyone in the eye stayed hidden inside, frozen in time. The girl on the outside transferred to the University of Georgia in 1967 to study social work. There, she learned the only way to keep the pain at bay was to work longer hours and aim higher than anyone else.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1969, Leslie moved to Atlanta and was hired by Families First, one of the biggest social service agencies in town, which gave her a scholarship to get her masters. She got her degree at Tulane and returned to Atlanta to work as a licensed clinical social worker.

This is how her story begins. You can read the entire story at my link.

Acquiring Children Won’t Heal You

Some events are so unspeakable words are hard to find. Acquiring more children will not heal this grief. Today’s story –

“I am a warm and loving mother whose kids were brutally murdered. They were 9 and 12. This happened last year. I was born to be a mom and now, I don’t know if I ever will be again. I’m won’t give up until my dying breath. Adoption is my only option and I thank foster to adopt for that possibility. My children were staying with their dad and he shot them both. They were my whole world. I want to be a mom again. I have so much to give. No one would pick my mess to live but I have faith there is yet another outcome.”

Wow, just wow. OMG, this is so so tragic. My heart breaks for her…. but her grief and tragedy are too big of a burden to put on innocent kids, who already have their own grief and tragedy to deal with from losing their original family. She can’t rely on children to heal her from this grief.

Contemplating Death

Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.

It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.

My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.

In my all things adoption group this morning I read –

I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.

A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.

The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.

One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything

I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.

The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.

Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.

There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.

And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.

Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.

A Failed Adoption Is Not The Same Thing

A woman shares this – Someone’s asking how to support a friend whose adoption has been disrupted at [a specific point in an unborn baby’s gestation]. This friend is a would be adoptive parent. The responses to this situation, that include some from other adoptive parents who identify themselves as having experienced this, equate it to a death in the family, stillbirth, or trauma.

Certainly, one could relate the two up to a point. The prospective adoptive parents have been excited about the pending adoption. They have the expectation of holding a newborn in their arms. They may have invested in a crib, baby clothes and diapers among their other preparations. But the similarity stops there.

My daughter experienced a stillbirth with her first pregnancy. She describes to me being given the expelled fetus in a blanket to hold and say goodbye to at the hospital. She tells me that when she became pregnant again with my grandson, she could hear this first one saying to her in her heart, you weren’t ready for me then.

Another woman shares (she is an adoptive parent) – I have had two late term stillbirths. Both were cord deaths. In no way, shape or form would I say that a failed adoption is at all related to experiencing a stillbirth or death loss. You cannot even put the two together. It’s only recently that stillbirth has been allowed to even be spoken about. This is why pre-birth adoption matching of unborn babies to be shouldn’t be allowed! Adoptive parents who compare the two, taking away from the women who have had an actual loss by birthing a stillbirth baby by comparing that tremendous sorrow with a belief that their loss of a baby because the expectant mother has changed her mind is a kind of mental illness.

An adoption reform response to prospective adoptive parents experiencing this kind of loss could be – “While this is a type of loss for your family, can you shift your perspective and realize how amazing it is that this mother and your family will not have to live with the certain regrets surrounding an adoption? It is a lovely and precious thing for this mom to be able to parent – just as it would have been for you.”

Disrupted

Perspectives from a thwarted adoption . . . .

“Just experienced a disrupted adoption. Mom changed her mind after signing the paperwork. I will forever treasure the few days I had with that little girl and hope her and her mama stay safe on their journey to independence. I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport carrying a diaper bag, car seat, and duffle bag of baby items with no baby, just sobbing on and off. TSA definitely gave me some weird looks when I got randomly selected to have all my luggage searched and I just kept crying as they took items out. Luckily the winter storm and rolling blackouts in Texas meant there were fewer than normal people at the airport to witness my sob-athon.”

The most obvious question is – Why wouldn’t she just give all that stuff to mom?

The most obvious answer is – They’re expensive and she wants them for the “next time”. 

What does a genuinely nice reactions look like ?

One couple went to Target and bought mom and baby boy everything they could possibly need and gave these to the mom with a card congratulating her and expressing their understanding related to her decision. They had that little boy’s needs set for his entire first year. They were really respectful of mom’s decision and didn’t try to talk her out of it in anyway. PS this was a black couple, comfortable financially but not wealthy, and they always behaved well and offered things if mom chose to parent.

And to treat the hopeful adoptive mom in this story with consideration – her being sad is understandable. I think its ok to be sad, even if the baby wasn’t hers in the first place. She wished them well and doesn’t seem to have been angry. She never referred to the baby as “hers”, no display of entitlement nor was she angry.

It is so easy to criticize and judge. Every one of us needs to reach into our hearts for a sincere understanding of the place other people are seeing things from. Often their personal experiences are coloring their perceptions.

The Silencing of the Moms

St Patrick’s is often a joyous celebration with parades and lots of beer, the wearing of the green and Irish blessings. Today’s blog is not about that side of being Irish. Caelainn Hogan explored the history and legacy of the mother and baby homes in her book, “Republic of Shame“. Today’s blog shares heavily from a review of her book.

Folktales are powerful because of their purpose: they teach moral through warning. This is what could befall you, they say, this is what happens to badly behaved girls. The S Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature itemizes the following categories: Girl carefully guarded from suitors; Girl carefully guarded by mother; Girl carefully guarded by father; Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag. All four motifs are attributed to several mythologies including those that are Irish. But the last one, “Girl carefully guarded from suitors by hag” is specifically Irish.

The mother and baby homes of Ireland were run by nuns associated with the Catholic Church. These were the depositories for women pregnant out of wedlock. Some of the homes were laundries, some were repurposed workhouses from the famine, and a surprising number actually survived into the early 1990s.  This sad history has enough gravesites, unnamed dead and persecuted women to honestly qualify as a most horrifying folktale.

Even in this modern time, women who gave birth in these homes continue trying to locate the children taken from them and some adults who survived the horrors are still searching for their birth mothers. And as recently as December 2020, the Irish government voted to keep the archives of the mother and baby homes locked for another 30 years, leaving hundreds of people without answers, which in some cases means never having a true answer to their identity.

Hogan wrote her book as a personal quest to investigate the homes and make an issue of two of the system’s most disturbing motifs: silence and female virtue. The author says – “My generation’s perspective is that the mother and baby homes are a thing of the past, but it has an ongoing impact. I was born in 1988, a year after illegitimacy was abolished in Ireland. I spoke to a friend’s mother who was sent to a mother and baby home, also in 1988. That alternative, that could have been my mother’s life. That had quite a deep impact on me.” I understand. In learning about my own family’s origins, I realized what was a miracle to me – that my unwed mother was not sent away to have and give me up for adoption.

The author says, “I wanted to show my experience of coming to terms with this alarmingly recent past and understanding how it continues to impact lives, to admit to my own ignorance even when it affected people I knew, to realize there were institutions around the corner from the house where I grew up that I never knew about, a system built on secrecy but all around us still.”

Adoption law in Ireland still protects the anonymity of the mother—which means many people don’t have access to their birth information – purely because they were born out of wedlock.  Adoption rights are an equality issue. There is still a culture of silence around adoption in Ireland, especially when it comes to adoptees accessing their own information. Ireland’s adoption laws were always intended to keep adoption details as secret as possible. It’s hypocrisy that these laws are represented as protecting the privacy rights of the mothers. The author found that almost every woman she spoke to, who had her child taken from her for adoption, who was sent to these institutions, they have only ever wanted information and answers. These are women who have spent years searching for their children. 

There is much more at the link to the review/interview, if you want to continue reading about this issue as your method of acknowledging all things Irish today.

When A Parent Dies

When a parent dies, children can end up with strangers – either in foster care or through adoption.  At one time as my husband and I were rewriting our trust documents, having learned about the realities of a foster care system that sends a young person out the door with no resources at the age of 18, we made provisions to lower the age at which our children could access the financial accounts we had created for them.  Originally, we were more concerned about immature mismanagement of the funds.  From this new awareness, we realized those funds might be critical to our children’s survival, if they lost us.

Losing a parent at any age can be life changing but losing a parent while still in childhood robs the child of important supports going forward.  Death is absolute, so no well-meaning person can change that reality.  If there is no other person – another parent, grandparent or extended family willing to step in – then child welfare and the courts step in.

Even for a young child, closure is necessary, even if understanding is lacking.   Death is an important and natural part of life. Whenever possible, there should be an opportunity to be with someone in death, who has meant something to you in life. It is true, it can be a traumatic shock the first time one sees a dead person but it is also instructive. The intimacy of “saying goodbye” before a burial can help heal a young person’s loss, all the way into adulthood.

Even adult adopted children can be very wounded by being deprived of experiencing the death of their loved one.  When my mom tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee in the 1990s, she was rejected (she was a Georgia Tann adoptee).  More devastating than the rejection was learning that her mother had already died and that door to connect with her forever closed.

Never deny a child this opportunity.  Think about it – who wouldn’t go to their parent’s funeral, regardless of age?  The reality is that it will hurt.  That is death.  Every child (adopted, in foster care or otherwise) deserves a chance to say goodbye.

Exactly How Is It PRO Life ?

The latest manifestation of “caring” among some conservative people is that we should allow massive amounts of death among the old or immune compromised and just get back to work and crowding public places.

When it comes to MONEY it is clear that Pro-Lifers are really only pro birth.  Once that baby is born, they could care less about the quality of life.  And for some, even better, please surrender that baby to us.  We will BUY your baby through adoption and we could care less about the pain and trauma that you and that baby go through due to our selfishness.

I know this sounds harsh.  I’m not in a generous mood at the moment.  With the Coronavirus, the new trajectory for these Pro-Life people is – let’s sacrifice the old folks on the altar of pandemic and get this over as quickly as possible – so we can go back to living like we want to.

Yesterday, the United States set a new record – the highest single day death count on the planet since this virus began spreading.  And still, they support this president – who lied to us about how lethal this disease was going to be and who did NOTHING to prepare for it.  Even now, he projects blame everywhere else but accepts NO responsibility for his own failure to take this threat seriously in the earliest stages (or even before it reached our own shores from China).

Forgive my rant.  I wonder how many of these people will crowd their churches for Easter ?  Maybe this country would be better off without them – though I wish no one to die from this wretched enemy of too many people.

Too many are Pro life unless you are old, poor or in jail.  Then, they could care less – really.

Why Adoptees Wish They Had Been Aborted

This is not the first time and it probably will not be the last time.  For those of us who are grateful we have a life (and I am one of those), it can be hard to read that adoptees way too often wish they had been aborted and not given up for adoption.  It flies against every happily ever after story you may have ever heard about how wonderful it is to finally create your family thanks to a woman losing her child.  It is not wonderful for that woman nor is it wonderful for that child.

Today, I read one such comment – “I literally would have rather been aborted than adopted. Fuck adoption. It did nothing good for me and only led to years of self hate.”

Another said to a mom who just gave a newborn up for adoption – “Your kept children will be 50 and still talking about the one you gave away.”  This is probably true.  When I found my dad’s genetic family, they said as much.  They knew about him.  Wanted to know him and said his mother NEVER got over giving him up.

One woman gave her daughter up for adoption 14 yrs ago.  She admits it was the hardest thing that she had to ever had to do in her life.  The story gets worse.  Back then the agencies only offered a 5 year open adoption, not an 18 year one.   Guess what ?  the adoptive parents vanished without a trace after 8 years. This mother has’t seen or heard anything from them. She asserts – “I will find her one day.”  Then admits that she has other offspring who are already “looking” for their lost sibling.

Fact is – whether they were family friends before your pregnancy or not, once they have your child, you are pretty much disposable.  Sadly.

And the fact is, most friendships, or even family relationships, aren’t strong enough to stand up to the power imbalance of adoption. It’s like the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

Yes, there is a decided power imbalance between a desperate pregnant soon to be mother with no access to resources and the people with the money (the adoptive parents, the adoption agencies, the lawyers, the social workers).  The deck is stacked against you and you will need to face this directly, before you take that permanent step.

If you are lucky, someday your child will find you and like my own mom wanted to do, let you know that she survived and is okay.  Worst case, your child will hate you for how her life turned out and wish she had been aborted instead.

 

Missed Opportunities

Evelyn Grace Johnson (later Harris) at age 2

I’ve only known about this family of cousins since October 2017.  The first time I became aware of this one is because her name appeared on the back of her parents’ gravestone in Pine Bluff Arkansas.  I was at the cemetery to visit the grave of my grandfather, Jay Church Moore.  Nearby was the grave of my mom’s half-sister Javene.  I only missed her by about 2 months because she lived to a very ripe old age.

I googled and found that Evelyn lived in Pine Bluff but could not locate a phone number and so we went on to Memphis that day.  Then in May 2018, we returned to the Arkansas area to visit Evelyn’s sister, Sherry, who gave me so much insight into the family, shared so many pictures and stories that I felt as though I had lived in this, my family, for all my life.

I didn’t see Evelyn during that journey either.  I talked to her on the phone.  She said she wasn’t well but maybe when she was better we could meet.  That day, sadly, didn’t come because she passed away last Friday without us ever accomplishing that someday meeting.

I feel I missed opportunities three times now – once with Javene and then twice with Evelyn.  However, I am blessed that I even know they existed.  For over 60 years, my two parents status as adoptees meant we didn’t know our original family roots.  Now I do.  And so today, I mourn a missed opportunity – while counting my blessings – at the same time.