Today, I share a piece by LINK>David B Bohl, who is an author, speaker and addiction & relinquishment consultant. It is titled On Grieving Many Times, And Many Times Over. I was attracted to this because yesterday was my deceased, adoptee mother’s birthday. I don’t suppose we ever get over the grief. I don’t think she ever got over the grief of never being able to communicate with her birth mother, who Tennessee told her in the early 1990s was already dead.
David writes his adoptive mother’s death was the fifth death of a parent he’d had to go through. He explains that he – hadn’t learned of the first two until much later after they’d occurred. The first one to go was my birth father, who died 32 years before I learned about it, the second one my birth mother whose death I did not learn of until 8 years after it happened (very similar to my own mom). Then there was my adoptive father 12 years ago, and now, Joan Audrey Bohl who died twice —first when the dementia robbed her of her mind and memory, subsequently rendering me a stranger when she would fail at times to remember who I was and why I was visiting. There she was another mom who had no idea I was her son. In those moments, in a most sinister coincidence, she was like my biological parents who relinquished me and existed in this world without any specific knowledge of me.
He wants us to understand “What all of this means to someone like me—a relinquishee and adoptee who now has two sets of deceased parents–is that I must face twice(?), five times(?) a yet-to-be determined amount(?) of grief and confusion. Add to that losing my adoptive mom to dementia, and there is plenty to process, a great deal of loss, and certainly much to grieve. I am, of course, not blaming any of my parents for dying or getting sick, and I’ve made peace with my biological parents for giving me up a 62 years ago. But it would be disingenuous to say that I am no longer affected by these losses and that my mother’s recent death doesn’t trigger some new layer of grief where all of those people who contributed to my existence must be acknowledged in how they shaped my life. And so, I think about mothers. The mother I knew and the mother I’ve never met. And then the mother I knew who no longer knew me. I think of fathers, the one who had never even met me, and the one who raised me and provided me with a life filled with opportunities. And I of course, as a father, I think about my children.”
When I try to talk about my own family, my youngest son says to me – you have a very complicated family. It is true. And it is true for adoptees as well. As I have learned who my original grandparents were and have made contact with that novel new experience of genetic relatives that never knew each other existed – it has actually given me a new sense of wholeness – while at the same time totally messing me up with the adoptive relatives and the feelings I have (and still have) and each of them. Very complicated indeed.
There is much more in his very worthwhile article – see the LINK.
So often in this space I am focused on all of the things that are not quite right in adoptionland or within the foster care system. I do care about how adoptees feel about their state of being which began involuntarily and those complex feelings extend to donor conceived persons, especially those who may not have known about their origins until much later in life. I believe we can ALL do better and many who are similarly educated by the realities of life are now speaking out – to help the rest of us understand that the truth is complex and diverse but usually not the fairy tale narratives that adoption agencies prefer for everyone to believe.
My education about all of these related aspects has been brief and intense since my adoptee parents (yes both of them were) died in late 2015 and early 2016 (just 4 mos apart after over 50 years of marriage) and I made my own roots discovery journey. I am certainly grateful for what I learned that made me feel finally “whole” and for the genetically related family I am now acquainted with. They are all precious to me and totally human with flaws and positive attributes like we all are – myself included. And I still have a love in my heart for my adoptive grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins because they were the family I knew and grew up with. They are who I often celebrated Thanksgiving with throughout my childhood and early adulthood.
The thing I am honestly most thankful for is that I was NOT given up for adoption. It is my own personal “miracle” because adoption was so common in my family as to feel natural to us (though I now understand that it never was “natural”). My mom was a high school junior, unwed. My dad had just started at the University of New Mexico in Las Cruces. Yet, I was preserved in the family in which I was conceived. This may explain one of the reasons that family preservation is so important to me personally. I had a good enough childhood. Sometimes we were a bit financially challenged. Sometimes my dad’s anger was a bit too short fused. My mom was unhappy enough at one time to contemplate suicide. My youngest sister ended up homeless. My other sister lost her first born to his paternal grandparents in a court of law and my own daughter ended up being raised by my ex-husband and his second wife. Even so, I am thankful for every CRAZY experience of my own life because it has made my understandings of human nature so much deeper and more reality based.
May you too be counting your own blessings this day.
I get notifications from Tony’s substack – LINK> “This Is Not A Legal Record – Irregularly timed dispatches from my travels in the world of adoption.” Tony recently got married.
He writes – “I invited him (his adoptive father) and my biological aunt and uncle to my wedding not to force a reckoning—neither to heal a wound nor to inflict one. I did it because they were among the people I wanted present. And I did it as a protest against the expectation that I would have to choose who my “real” family was. I was conscious that no one in the world was asking for this convergence of souls. There are no cultural expectations or rules governing it, no script to follow. If anything, the co-presence of my adoptive and biological families signaled a breach in the covenant that we assume closed adoption to represent: that the family of origin shall disappear from the life of the adoptee, who shall be “as if born” to the adopting family.”
I say – good for him, pushing back on expectations !! He goes on to share –
On his last night in town, as I was driving him to his hotel, I told him that not only was I thankful for his kindness to my biological family, but it healed something in me to see him in a literal embrace. He replied with what I later learned he had also said to my aunt and uncle that day: that he was grateful to them for giving me to him. This remark, generously intended and deeply unsettling (I am no one’s gift; they had no role in it; my birth mother did not relinquish me for his sake), reminded me that my father will never grasp the nettle of adoption.
He concludes with this thought – “The legacy of the trauma and secrecy of adoption is that I remain isolated in my freedom.” I understand from my own sadness. Learning the truth about my parents origins, while answering lifelong questions, left me bereft. Not fitting in with either the adoptive or biological families – in truth. The ties that bind get cut and like Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again. Sadly, this is the truth about it. He notes that “Every move is risky.” regarding reconnecting and risking alienation from the people who raised you.
Of course, he is right about this – “There is no such thing as the successful resolution, or closure, of an adoption.” And closing with “There is still much that I cannot say, hurts that I dare not inflame. There is still no inclusive we. There is only me, standing in particular relationships to the particular people I care about. It’s a kind of paradox: the further I go along the path of reunion, the more fully I perceive this atomism into which adoption fractures the idea of ‘family’.”
In discovering my original grandparents, I’ve learned to be a part of both the adoptive and original families. This may be disconcerting to some of my adoptive family, aunts, an uncle and some cousins but I don’t love them less. I recognize we share life experiences that I can never actually share with my original family relations no matter how much I learn about our history – and I have learned a lot.
Though I’m not an adoptee, I have experienced some degree of “reunion” and it has been much more than simply restoring a connection that was lost, it is about trying to become acquainted with “new” family members and nurturing relationships that will continue for me until the day I die.
There are reforms taking place within the practice of adoption today that haven’t stabilized but are allowing for more flexibility within the unique family system in which the adoptee is the center. Whether they opt for an open adoption or not – every adoptive parent needs to be aware that the possibility an adoptee will seek reunion fundamentally exists.
Closed adoption enforces a rigid boundary upon adoptees by automatically excluding the original family from the adoptive family’s boundaries. That was the case for my adoptee parents. Thankfully, that has not been the case for my niece and nephew (both given up for adoption by my two sisters). Not that theirs were open adoptions, they were not.
What changed is their adoptive parents accepted it as a sacred duty to assist these adopted children in discovering their original family members when they were ready to request that for themselves. Thanking all that is good.
Quite a long time ago, I learned not to ask potentially embarrassing questions. In fact, I rarely ask what could be defined as a “personal” question. If someone wants to tell me about whatever, it is their prerogative not my right.
So I was reading about some of the clueless questions adoptees sometimes receive –
Where are your real parents ?
Couldn’t your parents have their own kids ?
Are your adoptive parents angry you reunited ?
“Was your birth mother on drugs ?”
In the book The Declassified Adoptee, she gives those who just have to know better ways of asking these kinds of questions. She suggests that “Good questions are strengths first, person first. They consider the feelings of the person answering a question first, above the necessity for information.”
She adds “It is ALWAYS important to validate an adoptee’s membership within ALL of the families that she identifies with.”
As the child of two adoptees, who after 6 decades of life, has only recently discovered my biological, genetic relations (mostly cousins and one aunt), I get it. I love the adoptive families I grew up with and have shared life experiences with. I love that I now know people who share my DNA. I love them all, differently, for different reasons but love is love.