Reunion Disappointments

Search on “adoptee reunion disappointments” and you will come up with a lot of links.  Many adoptees, while they are children, fantasize about what their original parents were like and how they would have treated them differently than the adoptive parents raising them.  The reality cannot live up to the fantasy.

First there is the joy in discovery and finally, finally, knowing the truth of where one came from and perhaps how they came to be conceived (which may or may not actually be a very happy story).  Then there is the old “nature vs nurture” story.  How much of who we become is due to genetics and how much is due to the culture we are raised within.

Finally, there is the issue of gratitude.  Adoptees often feel like they need to be grateful to the parents that raised them for saving them from ?  That is the problem.  There is no way of knowing what would have been better.  Reality is whatever it was.  There are always issues of abandonment and rejection and fears of causing more of those wounds if the adoptee betrays the affections of those who raised them.

Here is one adoptee’s story –

Paul had spent his whole life dreaming about his mother. He imagined what it would be like to meet someone who looked like him, who offered unconditional love and who took away the empty feeling he had always carried in the pit of his stomach.

“I thought meeting her would make me whole. I had had a happy childhood but somewhere deep in my gut, I have always been hollow,” said Paul, now 42 years old and living in Kent.

But Paul’s meeting with his mother was a disaster. “I now believe you can never recreate that mother-child relationship,” he said. “Away from the dreams, the initial rejection an adopted child has suffered makes unconditional love impossible to recreate in the cold light of reality.”

“I understand why my mother gave me up but I still find it impossible to forgive,” he said. “Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my life looking for something that was never there.”

One study revealed that, eight years after first making contact, almost 60 per cent of adopted children have ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth parent.  It is rare that a birth relative rejects the adoptee.  Even so, the birth parent may have higher expectations of a renewed relationship than the adopted child, who may only want to answer questions about their own identity.

According to one survey, over 70 per cent of searchers and 89 per cent of non-searchers fail to feel an instant bond with their birth parent.  One in six new relationships break down within one year after initial contact and almost 43 per cent of relationships are abandoned within eight years.

From my own experience of discovering my genetic relations (I am not an adoptee but both of my parents were), one cannot recover lost time nor opportunities to forge closer relations.  One can only begin where they find themselves to slowly, over time, develop whatever relationship is possible.

 

Becoming Whole Again

Much of what I write here came as an unexpected side effect of discovering who my original grandparents were.  Both of my parents were adoptees and both of them died without knowing what I know now.

The journey began because my cousin informed me she had received her father’s adoption file from the state of Tennessee.  This came as a huge surprise to me.  Back in the early 1990s, my mom tried and failed to get her own.  I had hoped, since she had died, it might become available to me but that is not how sealed records work generally – and I have bumped up against them in 3 states – Virginia, Arizona and California.

What made Tennessee different was the Georgia Tann scandal.  There would have been criminal charges lodged against her if she had not died before that could happen.  The movers and shakers of Memphis political life were all too happy to let the wrong-doing die with Miss Tann.

The story had such potency, that it erupted on the public’s imagination in the early 1990s on 60 Minutes and Oprah.  A movie was made by Hallmark featuring Mary Tyler Moore as a convincing Georgia Tann.  Reunions of adoptees with their original parents started being seen on television and my mom wanted that for herself.  It was not to be.  No one told her that less than 10 years after her own efforts were denied, it would have been possible.

It was surprising to me how the dominoes began falling so easily, so that in less than one year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and made contact with some surviving descendants.  Only a few years ago, I would never have predicted such a result.

It didn’t end there however.  From that new wholeness, I also began to understand deeply the impacts of separating young children or infants from their mothers and original families, how this causes a deep traumatic wound in the adoptee and how even the most well-meaning of adoptive parents (my adoptive grandparents were totally that and good people in general) can not make up for what has happened to the victims of the process.

And from all that, has come this blog.  No doubt I still have more to say as soon as tomorrow.

 

One-Sided Reunion

On her deathbed, she made her family promise to never forget her only child, whom she knew would someday return.  When I spoke to her youngest brother’s son, he vaguely remembered knowing that she had had a daughter.

Was this my grandmother as well, who used her “childish nickname” Lizzie on her gravestone ? Her second husband survived her – did she make certain he knew ?

What I do know is that my mom was almost a decade too late in attempting to locate her natural mother.  Though she learned about the Georgia Tann scandal as a teenager, for the most part, growing up, she didn’t let herself think about her natural mother, there seemed to be no use, but as an adult when stories of reunions hit the national awareness, she began dreaming about finding her.  Learning that she had already died devastated my mom, destroyed her dreams of reunion.

In my 60s, I made it to my grandmother’s grave and sat on the ground speaking to her.  I did the same at my grandfather’s grave and at my mom’s half-sister’s grave.

I have discovered in my own life that Life has a way of coming full circle. I am whole now.  I believe also that my mom finally got that reunion with her own natural mother – after she died. It’s what my heart believes and I know in my heart that my mom knows even more of “her story” now than I have yet to discover.

“The day I realized I had two mothers, I was cut in half . . .One half of myself resided here with my family, and the other half was lost, lost to a shadowy woman floating somewhere out there in the world. You see, I’m adopted.” ~ Anne Bauer, The Sound of Hope

“But there’s a story behind everything . . . behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.” ~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Reunions

In the early 1990s, my mom began a process of trying to obtain her adoption file in the hopes of reuniting with her original mother.  The state of Tennessee was uncooperative but did tell her that her mother had died several years before.  My mom was devastated.

The story of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal of the early 1950s had re-emerged in public awareness.  There were programs on 60 Minutes and Oprah and even a movie about the woman’s life starring Mary Tyler Moore.  Tennessee was compelled by an overwhelming demand for justice to unsealed the adoption files of those directly affected by Tann’s corrupt practices but no one told my mom.

After she died in 2015, my cousin told me that it was possible to obtain the file.  She had managed to get her dad’s (my mom’s brother who was adopted from the same agency a few years before my mom was).  In October 2017, I was able to obtain this and learned the truth that we never knew about our original grandparents.

Both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption and they have been reunited in the sense that they know us now as their biological, genetic relatives.  I have also reunited with cousins for each of my parents original family lines and so I have some sense of the complicated experience of growing up in adoptive families and then discovering the original ones.

I will be writing more generally about reunions in the coming days but this part is my own story.