One of the fastest ways to trigger adoptees as an adoptive parent is to refer to their first mother as a “tummy mommy” or some similar variation, as in the book cover image here. Today’s opening comment reads – “I have two children both adopted through foster care. My son is 4 1/2 and my daughter is 2. I’ve had conversations with my 4 1/2 yo about his tummy mommy and he’s seen pics of her.”
Not surprisingly the first comments were – “Please get rid of the phrase tummy mommy.” Followed by “Yes please leave off that crap. It’s so gross.” “It reduces his mother to nothing more than an incubator.” Or this, somewhat crude comparison but totally on point – “If you wouldn’t refer to your adopted children’s father as dong daddy, or penis papa, then don’t refer to their mother as a tummy mummy.” An adoptive mother answers the question – “What if the mother wants to be called tummy mommy?” with this – “I’d tell her that I want them to know that I see her as more than that and that I want her kids to as well.”
From the LINK>Lavender Luz Opinion Poll – Some don’t like the term – either because it is anatomically inaccurate or it is reductive of the first mom. Some like “first mother” because it honors the mothering that was done from conception until placement. I have personally struggled with “first mother” as opposed to “birth mother” but this explanation has won me over to “first mother” from now on.
Another person expressed her perspectives – I can’t think of a single woman who would appreciate being known as “tummy mummy”.
My objections are threefold: 1. It diminishes the woman’s motherhood. Like it or not, she is a mother, period, not just one in the tummy (see how ridiculous this sounds when you run with it). 2. It implies that the other woman carried the child for the adoptive parents. This is untrue unless it’s a surrogacy situation. Of course, pre-birth matching may encourage this view (witness people talking about “our birthmother”), but this only exposes the manipulation inherent in pre-birth matching. A woman’s child is her child, until she makes the decision to surrender – and even then, she is still a mother. 3. It could be potentially confusing to the adopted child’s understanding of his or her other family, heritage, siblings, and so forth. What is the important thing, that he grew in someone’s tummy or that he is genetically connected to the other family? How is this phrase actually used? “You grew in her tummy but we’re your parents”? Original family isn’t reflected in this phrase, which seems intent on removing all important connections and substituting them with a biological detail that isn’t even accurate. Who needs a phrase like this, anyway?
Heck, they used to claim that kids with two parents of the same sex would be totally confused as well, and it simply isn’t the case. Confusion tends to be tossed around when people don’t like the paradigm shift. In the phrase “tummy mummy” I can’t help but hear the adoptive parent hanging onto her status as real. No need to do that. Everyone is real, even when we’re absent or not perfect (which is all of us).
So, I’m not a Star Wars fan. I was once told I reminded a Salon participant at Jean Houston’s home of Yoda. I went looking. I have to admit there was some physical resemblance. LOL
Anyway, today I learned from a Time magazine article about The Last of Us that The Mandalorian had an adoption theme. That I did find interesting (though I am still not going to watch it). I did go looking and found quite an extensive article at Adoption.org LINK>What Does ‘Star Wars’ Have To Do With Adoption? In that article I found some answers.
From the article –
There is also a series in the Star Warsuniverse that is an amazing picture of foster care in the most untraditional sense. The Mandalorian explores the question of “who is family” when the main character is charged with capturing and eventually protecting a young creature who bears a strong resemblance to Yoda. He is strong in the force, but the Mandalorian is set in a time when being a Jedi is outlawed, and Jedis are killed without impunity. The Mandalorian becomes a makeshift foster father to the little guy who finds all kinds of ways to get into trouble and create drama. The war-hardened Mandalorian grows to love the little guy and does everything in his power to keep him safe and to get him back to “his people.” At the end of the first season, we see Grogu go off with Luke to learn about the ways of the force, but it probably isn’t the last time we’ll see the little guy.
Maybe it is just because adoption and foster care are such a huge part of my life that the themes of adoption, found family, and foster care stand out so starkly, but I don’t think so. The entire series falls apart without twins separated at birth. It doesn’t work without friends who didn’t know each other becoming the best allies for one another. The connection they feel is what ties all of the stories together. One of my favorite parts of the movies is that Jedi “become one with the force” when they die. When someone is “one with the force,” they turn invisible but can still interact with the living Jedi. They can still root their family on from beyond the grave. Even though our family is gone, they are still with us. Everything is connected by “the force.” What a great allegory for the love believers are supposed to share.
Even if you know nothing about Star Wars, you know about the swords. Almost everyone has swung a plastic, colorful sword and made the noises “swoosh, whoosh, bzzzz” as they “fought.” My adopted kids think it is the best ever. Star Wars and adoption are like popcorn and coke. You don’t need to make the association. However, if you have the popcorn anyway, the coke makes it so. Much. Better. Honestly, though, we couldn’t do this adoption thing without mentors and help from the people around us. Luke and Rey had big feelings about their past. They felt betrayed by their parents until they knew the truth.
Rey stops to think about the people who loved her. The people who helped shape her into the person she was, the people who cared for her when she didn’t know what to do. And she found her name. She called herself Rey Skywalker. She had no “legal” claim to that name. She hadn’t officially been adopted by Luke or Leia, though Leia ended up being her greatest mentor. She chose to associate herself with the people who loved her when she was struggling and when she triumphed.
There is much more at the link. The author, Christina Gochnauer, is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places.”
It is all too common but still hard to understand why it can be this way – today’s story (not my own) from a 29 year old adoptee in reunion.
I was one of the fortunate ones who found my biological family this year in April. We’ve known each other for eight months and everything’s been going great with us. Unfortunately, my mother (adoptive mother who will always be referred to as my mom) is not handling it well. Unfortunately, she continues to use the fact that I want to build a relationship with my biological family against me. She continues to use my biological mother against me when she’s mad at me. She says things like “why don’t you go spend time with your real mom then” “and “you probably wish I was dead.” My adoptive father passed away four years ago and I know she is still struggling. But I’m not sure how to make sure she understands that I’m not trying to replace her. I just want to build a relationship with my biological family that I have a right to. Sometimes, I feel even more comfortable around my biological mother than I do my mother and it’s very confusing for me. I’m not sure how to process all this or how to not take what my mother says to heart, when she’s mad at me. Somebody please help with understanding how I can process all this and help my mom the best way I can, Thank you.
A first mother (one who gave up her child to adoption) answers – your mom’s feelings on this are NOT the most important, YOURS are.
Your mom needs to have therapy for her loss of her husband, she needs to have therapy for the insecurities she has that she is projecting onto you. Right now, your mom is being harmful and toxic towards you. This is emotional abuse. None of this is your fault. You have every right to know your first family, without someone making you feel like you’re a traitor.
It’s not your job to make her feel like you’re not replacing her, same with your first mother. Your mother adopted you and, at some level, she knew this day had to come. If she had been trauma informed and fostered a relationship with you regarding the reality that you have two mom’s throughout your whole life, this wouldn’t be an issue. Your mom has to deal with her own insecurities, same as us first mothers have to.
Absolutely none of this should fall on you, she needs to take care of her own mental health, so that you can freely process and heal from the trauma thrust upon you, instead of making you feel responsible for her own decisions. I am so so sorry that your mom is acting in this way, unfortunately it is extremely common, though it shouldn’t be. All of your feelings are valid. Both your first family and your adoptive family have to deal with their own insecurities and trauma and not drag you into it. Again, none of this is your fault! You need support and love in figuring out your life and who you want in it.
From another adoptee – What she is doing is extremely wrong, in any event. But she thought that you were completely hers and now she is jealous (again) after she proved she was the “better mother.” And of course she cannot understand why your biological family has any pull or interest for you. Of course, you’d be more comfortable with your genetic family. You need to process this by setting firm boundaries with her and telling her that it isn’t a contest or competition. If she says those things to you – she is actually pushing you away, so it benefits you both if she realizes that and simply enjoys what time she has with you. You need to decide how to persuade her to stop being childish and realize that you want to expand your family and knowledge of your own genetic roots/heritage. No matter how much she wants to pretend otherwise, hers are not yours but were grafted onto you by legal force.
From a kinship guardian – The only thing you can do is tell her that you’re not trying and will not replace her. And suggest therapy gently to her. All the rest is completely in her hands and you can’t jeopardize your reunion because of her insecurities. Losing a husband is a traumatic event. And I can only imagine that she is afraid of losing you as well. It must be a hard place to be. But even if that’s the case, you cannot be responsible for that. She needs to work on herself instead of making you responsible for her emotional well-being. If we agree to take on the care of other adult’s wellbeing, as our own responsibility, it will start a chain of mess that can be never ending. Big hugs to you. Just keep in mind that by respecting your own wishes, you are doing the right thing for you. You don’t owe either of your mothers their own happiness.
From my all things adoption group – an adoptee after reaching maturity should not have to deal with this in her adoptive mother but I have seen such bad behavior before in one of my adoptee relative’s adoptive mother as well. So sad.
How do you help someone you love, who is on the fence and struggling, come out of the adoption fog ? Or do you even try ? The person I am talking about is going to be my daughter-in-law in less than a month. We have become close and she is great. She is only 20 years old. I’ll call her T.
T expressed to me that she was curious but scared to reach out to her birth mother. She eventually did so behind her adoptive mom’s back. Her adoptive dad has passed. She said her birth mother was very nice and she told T that she tried to make contact many times throughout the years but that the adoptive parents would block her and change their numbers. T told me she didn’t know who to believe because her adoptive mom said this was a lie. T asked me why would her adoptive mom lie and so, she tended to believe her adoptive mom over her birth mom. I gently asked her to think about who would be more motivated to lie about this.
Anyway when her adoptive mom found out that T was contacting her birth mom, she had a complete emotional breakdown and made T feel so bad. She even said maybe it was a big mistake even adopting her blah blah blah.
I met her adoptive mom last week at the bridal shower and she told me that she was totally fine with T meeting her birth mom but she would not let the birth mom emotionally abuse her with lies.
T has since blocked the birth mom on social media and says she is scared and creeped out. These situations have shoved her way back into the adoption fog. I’m so sad for her because I know that this is important for her mental health. She deals with a lot of anxiety and often struggles with her adoptive mom. T was adopted with 2 her biological sisters who also are struggling with anxiety and mental health.
What can I do with the most love to help her ? She has some leads on her biological dad but now says she is even more creeped out by him. Someone told her he may or may not have shot someone in the past. I wonder who she got that idea from?? Eye roll.
She is definitely afraid of getting in trouble with her adoptive mom (who is paying for the wedding). Her adoptive mom also helped her get a car, after T went back into the adoption fog in submission. Another Eye roll.
My own comment is simply – why do adoptive mothers behave this way once their adoptee is a grown person ? Clearly exerting financial leverage (I saw my mom’s adoptive mother do that with her). They had the child all to themselves all the child’s life. I saw this during a loved one’s (adoptee) wedding. Previously, I would never have thought that woman could be that way but . . . adoptive parents it seems also have their own triggers.
I have sons that are 18 and 21. The 21 year old is more of an adult now than the 18 year old but maturity is making changes in the younger boy’s perspectives. My daughter grew up away from me. At 3 years old, she ended up with her dad and a step-mother because I simply could not earn enough to support the 2 of us with child care necessary to even to to work – added to that rent, food, pediatrician bills, clothes, etc. During her childhood, communication was always difficult. I didn’t live in the same town and felt the disapproval of her parenting adults when I tried to visit. I even gave her a prepaid calling card so she call me when it was the least disruptive in her family life. I do remember seriously looking forward to when she was mature and no longer lived with them. Thankfully, we do have a good relationship – maybe not perfect and I blame myself for the feelings of abandonment she has experienced.
Anyway, I do understand the perspectives in this birth mother’s story.
My younger child’s 18th birthday is coming up this month. We haven’t had any contact since last year, when his adoptive mother got upset that I had posted something about 17 years gone, one to go. Somehow she assumed that this meant that I wanted the kid to come live with me when they turned 18, but I just meant that the control freak adoptive mother would have less power over him then.
Meanwhile, a friend of mine who adopted kids from Russia with his ex-wife has been completely alienated from them, and posted that he regrets ever adopting them in the first place. I guess his ex won whatever game she was playing. (This blogger’s note – a lot of people who adopted from Russia experienced huge challenges with those children.)
I’ve been tempted to just post publicly that the adoptive mother wins, that I regret ever having kids at all. When I saw “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once,” I thought about how there is no universe where I would have chosen to have kids and have her adopt them. Even if I’d been dying of cancer, I would have picked someone else to raise my kids. She’s been horrible to me so many times over the last 18 1/2 years, and still every few years, she’ll initiate contact with me and just pretend like all the past awfulness didn’t happen, or maybe that we’re equally at fault. She’s never apologized for anything, I don’t think she understands the concept. She’s said that she wants me to respect her as a “mother”, but I can’t even pretend to.
If on their 18th birthday, I posted that I regret that I had kids, would that make the adoptive mother happy? Is that what she wants? If I was really a horrible mother, then wouldn’t it make sense that I regret attempting to raise children? What does she want from me in order to at least not guilt trip them about any attempt to contact me? If I groveled before the Queen (the adoptive mother) and apologized for trying to raise my kids instead of being a docile handmaid, would that improve my chances of ever having a relationship with either child as adults? How am I supposed to feel? I guess if neither kid wants anything to do with me, they wouldn’t be checking my Facebook to see what I post.
This blogger’s perspective – There are no win situations in life and we simply can only do the best we can do.
This adoptive mother thinks she has it all figured out but adoptees and many biological mothers are NOT buying it. This is why open adoptions close and is used as a marketing tool. This comment is very disrespectful towards birth moms. Many do think about their children. They grieve. They feel loss too. Keeping birth parents away will not prevent the child from feelings of abandonment.
From the adoptive mother – I kinda feel like some groups in the adoption triad lean towards having relationships with biological relatives. Not every time though. I felt in our situation, it is toxic. So I joined several groups… I honestly don’t think it’s the best decision in like 90 percent of these situations. It seems like everyone wants to sugar coat the biological parents. The fact is they couldn’t/didn’t want to get their crap together for their children…. We did!!! I decided to do some research and joined groups that I didn’t fit in…Like I am in a “I regret my adoption, birth parents group” and “Adoptees who didn’t find out they were adopted until they were adults” and even a “I regret my abortion group.” I think it’s the best thing I have ever done and it has truly been an eye opener to see ALL sides. I joined the abortion group after seeing several women in the “I regret my adoption” group say that, because their ADULT biological children didn’t want anything to do with them, they wish they had just aborted them.
Anyway, I’ve come to understand a few things. My adopted daughter will not have any type of relationship with her biological mom, because that is when trauma happens. They are too young to understand why someone can’t be around, so they feel unloved. My daughter knows she’s adopted but doesn’t know what it means. She’s 4 years old. I am telling her things like her name changed to our name, she wasn’t in my belly. I won’t lie ever to her. I keep a record of why she doesn’t get to see her biological mom (her dad passed away).
When she is old enough to be told the 100 percent truth, it will not be a shock, and like I said I will never lie to her. If I feel like the time isn’t right for a question she asks, I’ll just say that I will tell her that part when she’s a little older. Most adoptee’s end up hating their biological parents the most…. Then, they are mad that they were lied to by their adoptive parents….and they do want to know some history, and they like to have their old records (I made sure I have my daughter’s original birth certificate and social security card). I had to change her social security number because someone in her biological family was using her old number…
Most adoptees are mad at their adoptive parents for sharing pictures with the biological parents. Most wish they weren’t lied to but had the chance to have a stable childhood, where they didn’t even know they were abandoned…. They wish they had the chance to grow up in a healthy environment, instead of the adoptive parents taking care and caring so much about the biological parents who abandoned them. Adoptive parents feel guilty but shouldn’t… it isn’t the adoptive parents fault that the biological parents don’t want to be there. We cannot force them and popping in and out isn’t healthy. There needs to be boundaries. Most adoptive parents are empaths (that’s what brought them to adoption), we almost feel the birth parents pain of losing a child, but the fact is, most of the birth parents aren’t even thinking of these kids 99.9 percent of the time and have never been empaths or they would have taken care of their children.
I’ll never make my daughter feel unloved by anyone!! She won’t have to deal with all of the adults problems in her childhood, she will have a happy one!! So that’s my plan… lol
Anyway, good luck! Go join some groups. Several groups. They are all different and definitely seek all sides of each group. Every situation is different and just never make ANY person feel like someone doesn’t love them or they weren’t wanted. Keeping that biological family away in most cases insures that they WONT feel abandoned. We all want what’s best for OUR kids and all we can do is our best.
A few thoughts from the “other” side – “well, doesn’t she have it all figured out ?”
Being abandoned, makes us feel abandoned. Adult adoptees who found out later in life, prove this. They say they always felt like they didn’t belong, like they weren’t loved or couldn’t feel loved, even when it was shown – like a big piece of them was missing. It didn’t matter that nobody bothered to tell them there was a piece missing, they knew it.
And the empath stuff – I just CAN NOT. I feel like she read somewhere that adoptive mothers lean toward narcissism, and she’s just trying to say the opposite and have that take hold as a public opinion. This lady seems like a piece of work. I feel bad for her adoptee, because it’s sounds like mommy has it all figured out how to just side step her child’s experience of being traumatized at all. I’m honestly in awe of this person’s audacity. Just wow.
An adoptive mother writes – One fear is of facing the reality that she isn’t really my daughter. Getting that amended birth certificate was so bizarre. It’s a lie. I know it’s a lie, because she didn’t come from my body and that’s what that paper says. I am her mom, in the sense that mom is a title but she has a real mom that she misses. I am her mom in the sense that I will raise and protect her. It’s a strange thing to be both her mom and not her mom. I had the fear of losing her when I reached out to her aunt. I’m working through that and we are committed to being honest and doing what is best for “our girl” but there’s still anxiety about her mom. There are safety issues but I recognize the harm not seeing her does to my daughter.
When asked, when has she seen or spoke to her mother ? The adoptive mother replied – Once a year before adoption and a year before that the mother only made sporadic visits. I don’t want to share a lot of her personal information out of respect for her. I will say that I have always told the truth to her, age appropriately at each stage of her growing (the child is now 7 years old), and she has always wanted her mother. I have always been committed to making that happen, but wanted to wait until she was 18. I’ve since learned that’s not the best and I am working to connect her with her family. An adoptee advises “let her see her natural mother as the reality and not the romanticized version she will create otherwise.”
So this important perspective – this may be a hard pill to swallow, that her relationship with her actual family is more important than her relationship with you. She needs that bond and connection. Please remember that you have added to her trauma by erasing part of her identity by changing her birth certificate. You have also muddied the waters for future generations who want to know their biological heritage, which isn’t you. Its important for you to know that the most painful thing her mother will ever feel is to hear her call you mom. I can tell you from experience.
These are all things you have to own, and let go of fragility. You are in a position of power. It’s scary for the child and her family, because there is this fragile adopter that controls if they ever see each other again. Keep that in mind. Think of how you would feel if someone had control of if you could see the person you loved the most again. How would you respond to them ? Would it be a healthy relationship ? Would you just do whatever it took to keep them happy ?
Some circumstances in life are just plain hard to judge. I understand the point of view of this adoptive mother, even so, where is the compassionate middle ground. I haven’t decided. Here is one adoptive mother’s point of view –
I had to discuss with my son’s biological mom that there are boundaries and if she wanted to be involved in any way then she needed to understand them and honor them. My son is MY son, not hers. We came up with a special name that we refer to her as. Never mom. Also we discussed social media. She is never to address him as her son. He is not her son. She is to call him by his given name. I understand that biological moms have to deal with the emotional aspect but so do the adoptive moms. She is no longer his mother. A mother is far more than giving birth. A mother raises you and puts you first. I am very close with his biological mom. I have a great relationship with her for my son’s sake and it was a surrender. She was not forced in any way. But she is not his mother any longer. I am. I accept her role in his life as a special person who loves him. But I am his mother, not her. And she understands and respects that. She is thankful that I allow her to be a part of our family. I didn’t take his mom away from him. She took her role as mom away from herself including by making bad choices and choosing drugs over parenting. I’m his mom and will always be. She will always be a special person in his life but never his mom. Advice to other adoptive moms – set boundaries and don’t let biological moms walk all over you. Let them know their role in the family now.
The person who revealed this mindset commented – I find this very sad and very controlling. What if the child decided one day to call his birth mom “mom” ? She can’t call him her son ? This is sad. Birth parents grieve too. They hurt too. Even parents from foster care. They grieve. They lost their child. I wish we can offer empathy to birth parents especially from foster care instead of looking down on them and using innocent children to hurt them and the child.
I do feel that putting a child in the middle of this situation isn’t fair to the child. The same kind of thing happens very often in divorce. I remember trying to walk that difficult middle ground. “You still have a mother who loves you. And you still have a father who loves you. But we are not going to all live together anymore.” Life is complicated enough. So how to simplify the situation suggested above ?
I do agree with this perspective – “I’m sure the only reason the biological mother agrees with this is so she can have something to do with her son. There is a difference between a ‘mom’ and a ‘mother’ but it is ultimately up to the child to decide how to view each one of these women. Not the biological mom or the adoptive mom.” These two should not be playing their own issues off with the child caught in the middle.
Someone else disagreed and I do see this point as well – No difference between a mother and mom to me. I have two moms and two mothers. Same difference. It’s not confusing. I see no reason to distinguish a difference or set them apart.
And in fact, this is a valid point – If it wasn’t for the biological mom, the adoptive mom wouldn’t even have her son in the first place. I don’t give a damn if the biological mother’s rights where legally severed, she is still his mom at the end of the day and always will be the woman who gave birth to him.
I am still seeking what I sense is an important middle ground. I understand the need for the adoptive mother to be the final say in most of what happens in this child’s life, to maintain her parental authority to make decisions – at least for a minor child. Yet, emotions and feelings are less clear. I believe that most children actually are capable of keeping the two women in a separate yet proper perspective. My heart tells me that is the truth.
What I am sensing is a possessiveness, an ownership of one person over the love of another person, by putting the magical role of motherhood into the middle of this situation. As the divorced mother of a daughter who’s step-mother married her father and so, the two of them raised my daughter, I already understand what a difficult balancing act these situations are. I did attempt to put my daughter’s feelings and interests ahead of my own. My daughter and I have discussed how similar her childhood was to that of someone who was adopted.
I’m only going the summarize this article but provide you with the link because it is well worth your time to read it – I Kept My Family’s Secret For Over 60 Years. Now, I’m Finally Telling The Truth by Yvonne Liu – published in The Huffington Post.
I believe shame had a lot to do with adoption records being sealed to begin with. Closed to access by the very person – the adoptee – is the information matters most to. Early in my “adoption issues” education I encountered the issue of dumpster babies. There are also babies left in a basket. For most of my life, I thought my own father had been left in a basket on the doorstep of The Salvation Army in El Paso TX because his Mexican national mother lacked her family’s acceptance of a mixed race baby who’s father was an American national. Nothing was further from the truth but I was well in my 60s before I knew that. My father never expressed any interest in learning the truth and details of his own adoption and I believe it was because he was afraid of what he might learn. By the time I knew the truth, my dad was already deceased and knew next to nothing.
Today’s story relates to a baby left in a basket in a Hong Kong stairwell near Sai Yeung Choi Street. She was taken to St. Christopher’s Home, the largest non-government-run orphanage on the island. Officials at the orphanage named her Yeung Choi Sze, after the street where she was found.
Infertility was the shame her adoptive mother hid. That is not uncommon among adoptive mothers, especially those of Chinese descent because Confucius believed a woman’s greatest duty was to bring a son into the world. This adoptee’s mother couldn’t produce a son, much less a daughter.
In June of 1960, this baby girl from China landed at O’Hare International Airport. Her adoptive mother was disappointed in the baby she received from the beginning. She was a sick and scrawny baby, clearly malnourished. Her mother’s first reaction upon seeing her was, “Why couldn’t I have a healthy baby like everyone else?” Throughout her life, the family’s story about her was a lie – that she was born in Chicago. Every school form, all of her college and job applications, and even her medical records listed her birthplace as Illinois.
The adoptee’s parents were never warm emotionally. From a young age, she was afraid to upset her mother, who was often emotionally volatile. Her mother showed her attention when she needed her daughter. If she dared push back on the relentlessdemands to refill her teapot, type her Chinese cookbook or vacuum the house, her mother would retreat to her bed, sob, and say, “You don’t love me because I’m not your real mother.” Hugging her, the adoptee would desperately proclaim her love for her adoptive mother, telling her, “You’re my only mother.” Then she would quickly and quietly fulfill her mother’s commands.
Her adoptive father was not any warmer emotionally. From her time in the third grade, she threw myself into becoming a star student in hopes of earning her father’s love and attention. After immigrating to America with $50 in his pocket, her adoptive father earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry while working as a dishwasher on the weekends. He was chronically depressed and withheld any affection from her, even though she wanted that desperately.
The adoptee won a full scholarship to attend a top MBA program and enjoyed a solid business career. She even married the nice Chinese man her mother chose for her. But for as long as her parents were alive – and even after they died – I continued to keep the family’s secret that she had been adopted. Eventually, she told her husband and children but asked them to continue keep the family’s secret. That’s how deep and dark she considered her secret shame to be. I truly believed I would carry it with me until I died. The ancient Chinese beliefs that she must have come from an immoral mother, would mean she was tainted by her origins.
In 2020, locked down by the pandemic and having just turned 61 years old, she finally began questioning why she had internalized her adoptive parents’ shame about infertility and adoption. Feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity and anxiety as well as lingering questions about identity, rejection, belonging motivated her to learn more about adoption. She did a lot of the things I did as well – read books about adoption and joined Facebook groups for adoptees. Like her, I was already in my 60s as well.
She came to realize that there was no reason to hide her truth any longer. It was time to live an authentic life. She had nothing to hide. She choose to tell her truth publicly in The New York Times. A 98-word Tiny Love Stories piece about her adoption. Then my brother (also adopted) gave her a dusty manila file he discovered during pandemic cleaning. It was labeled “Yvonne’s Adoption.” At 62 years of age, she finally read the documents her adoptive parents had deliberately kept hidden from her when they were alive. The yellowed tissue-thin papers held the truth of her beginnings.
She writes, “My heart ached for the baby who languished in that orphanage for 15 long months. Surely a caretaker would have picked up my malnourished and anemic body when I wailed. Surely someone helped me when I still couldn’t sit on my own at 9 months. Surely a hired helper gazed into my eyes as she fed me diluted Carnation formula, water and congee. I sobbed, imagining how that tiny baby must have experienced those first few months of a life that would turn out to be mine.”
For much of her childhood, she was a quiet child, afraid to be a burden. On the rare occasions when she complained or questioned her parents, they would answer, “Where would you be if we didn’t adopt you?” They never said the same thing to her adoptive brother because he fulfilled their traditional Chinese filial duty to have a son to carry on the family name.
Then, she wanted to understand, why the lies ? So she learned Chinese history, read cultural and sociology books, pored over Chinese memoirs and novels, interviewed Chinese cultural experts and people who lived in China at the time her parents had. Now she is able to recognize that her adoptive parents were a product of tradition, circumstances and time.
She was able to realize some gratitude for the circumstances of her life. Because her birth mother loved her, she left me at a busy stairwell to be found. Because she made that choice, the woman has lived a full life. She is also able to be grateful her adoptive parents chose her. She is no longer ashamed of being an adoptee.
You can read more of her writing at YvonneLiuWriter.com. She is currently writing a memoir about adoption, childhood trauma and mental health.
I came across a mention that got my attention yesterday in a book I am reading that is titled White Tears, Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. “Some of these children were sent on tour with famous Abolitionist persons like the Rev Henry Ward Beecher who adopted 6 yr old Fanny Lawrence.” But in looking into it, Rev Beecher (the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin) did not adopt Fannie, Catherine did. Beecher baptized her. This is longer than most of my blogs but I do love when history and adoption walk alongside one another.
I don’t know about you but her adoptive mother certain does not look like a happy woman to me and she appears rather stern. The best source for information on Fannie that I found was a pdf from The Fare Facs Gazette titled A Sad Story of Redemption by William Page Johnson II. There is a lot in that link about the backstory but I want to pick up the story of Fannie where it intersects Rev Beecher.
Mary Fletcher was Fannie’s mulatto mother. Her owner (Fannie’s white father) had set her mother and Fannie free in his will but her mother rejected that possibility. She describes the choice she made and the reasons why: “[She] was born and raised in the County of Fauquier and that all her kindred and friends are now living in the county. That she is married and her husband is a slave who could not accompany her. That she has several children, besides those provided for by the will of her late master, all of whom are young and helpless, and that if she goes away she parts from all whom she has ever known and goes, a friendless stranger, to a new state encumbered by helpless children. Your petitioner declares that she deliberately prefers slavery in Virginia to freedom outside of it.”
Later, under the custody of their deceased owner’s mother, the slaves under the advice of that woman sought to make their way to Union lines (the Civil War had begun by now). The large group of slaves included Mary Fletcher, Jane Payne, Ann Gleaves, and their children, Viana, Sallie, and Fanny (Fletcher) Ayres; Bettie (Payne) Ayres; and, Selina (Gleaves) Ayres. The group likely included Jane Payne’s other daughters, Ellen and Rachael Payne, along with several other unknown slaves. They were all led by a slave by the name of Uncle Ben, who had been with their deceased owner, Rufus Ayres, as his personal body servant. Taking only what possessions they could carry and a small amount of food, they walked east toward Fairfax County and Union lines. They took turns carrying Fanny, Selena, and the other children who were too young to walk on their own. They kept off the roads for fear that they would be captured by the Rebs.
They were also fearful of vicious wild hogs, which then freely roamed the countryside. After walking all night, an estimated seventeen miles, they stopped the next morning to rest in a thicket. They ate a meager breakfast and lay down on the ground and slept. Several hours later, Uncle Ben woke with a start. He had been sleeping with his ear pressed to the ground and thought he had heard the sound of approaching horsemen.
Panic ensued. Belongings and children were quickly gathered up and everybody ran headlong through the woods. After they had gone a couple of miles, they slowed when they realized they were not being pursed. It was then discovered that little three-year-old Fanny was not among them. There was significant debate about what to do. All were still fearful of being captured and would not agree to turn back. Someone suggested that Fanny had probably already been eaten by hogs by this time. Hearing this, Viana and Sallie began to cry for their baby sister. Uncle Ben would later say, “Their cries were more than I could bear.” So, Uncle Ben agreed to go back for Fanny. He called out softly to her, “Fanny? Fanny?” his voice barely a whisper, fearful that either the rebels or the hogs would get him too. He was about to turn and leave when he saw some bushes moving a little ways off. He moved cautiously forward not knowing who, or what, it might be. On drawing nearer he saw the child, Fanny, rising and crying softly. Uncle Ben gathered her in his arms and asked her why she did not answer him when he called. She replied, “Cause, I was afraid the hogs would hear me!” Ben lifted the child onto his shoulders and raced back towards the rest of the slaves.
Just before Christmas 1862, Viana, Sallie, and Fanny met Catherine S Lawrence, a Union Army Nurse from New York who was working in the Convalescent Hospital at the Episcopal Seminary near Alexandria. Catherine Lawrence, who was unmarried, was a staunch abolitionist. One day she happened to see several white girls amongst a group of freed slaves. In her autobiography Catherine Lawrence described the smallest child: “The little girl had flaxen hair and dark blue eyes, but dark complexion, or terribly sunburned.” Catherine asked her servant woman, “Helen, see there, where did that white child come from?” Helen replied, “Well missus, they come, a company of them, here a short time ago. The family all died and left the three children to the care of the slaves and were told to go into Union lines, and that one is the youngest of them.
Catherine was shocked to learn that the girls were actually light-skinned slaves. Helen then pleaded with Catherine, “…[she] has no one to see to her…I’ll go with you to the other two girls, if you will take her.” Catherine responded, “Oh, Helen, not now, I am going away tomorrow, and I have no time now.” The following day Catherine was visited by Helen and twelve-year-old, Viana Ayres. With a trembling voice, Viana said to Catherine, “This one [Fanny] you can have as your own. I have no home for myself, nor for her. I reckon she’ll be better off with you, than with me. I have a sister [Sallie] younger than I am. I reckon I must look after her some.” Catherine agreed. She was certain she could find a home for Fanny with a family in New York. She promised that she would come back and do the same for Viana and Sallie, as well.
In the spring of 1863, Catherine and Fanny traveled to Brooklyn, New York. On the way, Catherine determined that she would adopt Fanny as her own daughter and see that she was baptized and properly educated. In Brooklyn, Catherine met with the abolitionist preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. Reverend Beecher was a famous evangelical abolitionist. He had recently held a mock slave auction and conducted a baptism for a redeemed slave in his Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Reverend Beecher took one look at Fanny and immediately asked Catherine Lawrence if he could baptize her in his church.
Several weeks later, on Sunday, May 10, 1863, Catherine and Fanny were waiting patiently at the end of a long line of parents inside Plymouth Church. This Sunday was the regular day of baptismal of infants. Reverend Beecher was concluding his baptismal duties before an immense crowd. Reverend Beecher, a skilled and gifted preacher, had carefully staged the day’s events for maximum dramatic effect. After he baptized the last child, he turned to his audience and stated that there was one more child to be christened. A flutter of excited murmuring rippled through the congregation. Beecher stepped off the pulpit and walked over and gathered up Fanny in his arms and carried her, alone, to the center of the altar. Fanny, her head nestled against his chest, timidly eyed the crowd. Beecher addressed his congregation, “This child was born a slave, and is redeemed from slavery!” He added – “Look upon this child. Tell me have you ever seen a fairer, sweeter face? This is a sample of the slavery which absorbs into itself everything fair and attractive. The loveliness of this child would only make her so much more valuable as a chattel (of being sold as Fancy Girls, a 19th century euphemism for light skinned slave prostitutes, which were then common in New Orleans.); For while your children are brought up to fear and serve the Lord, this little one, just as beautiful, would be made, through slavery, a child of damnation.”
Reverend Beecher then baptized her Fanny Virginia Casseopia Lawrence. Fanny, for her birth name; Virginia, for where she came from; Cassiopeia, for the mythological Greek Queen of unrivaled beauty; and, Lawrence, the surname of her adoptive mother. After her baptism, Reverend Beecher arranged to have Fanny photographed. In fact, Fanny posed for photographs at least seventeen different times, sometimes with her adoptive mother, Catherine Lawrence. The truth is Reverend Henry Ward Beecher exploited Fanny from the pulpit, and later with her image, as propaganda to further his abolitionist aims. It worked. Fanny’s photographs were distributed widely. The little carte-devista (CDV) photographs of Fanny were wildly popular in the North, making Fanny the most photographed slave child in history (enter her full name into google images to see the variety of photographs taken of her). Sadly, Catherine S. Lawrence used similar exploitive tactics with her adoptive daughter. Ostensibly, this was to raise money for Fanny’s education. Fanny sang at church gatherings and Sunday schools at which, donations were encouraged.
There is a note that Catherine Lawrence wrote and all I can find about the later life of Fanny – “The little one that I adopted and educated, married one whom I opposed, knowing his reckless life rendered him wholly unfit for one like her. When sick and among strangers, he deserted her and an infant daughter and eloped with a woman, who left her husband and two small children. My three Southern children are all laid away . . .” (seems to indicate all 3 had died.)
The essay that led me to the pdf is here – The ‘Redeemed Slave Child’ at the Appetite4History WordPress Blog by Suzanne Ramsey. The Rev Henry Ward Beecher was colorfully described in an article in Brownstoner titled – Walkabout: By Justice Possessed, Part 1 by Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris) this way – “He was an amazingly complex man, with the religious zeal of a Billy Graham, the oratorical gifts of a Martin Luther King, Jr., the showmanship of a P.T. Barnum, and the marital infidelity and scandalous downfall of a Tiger Woods.”