Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

Glitter Birthmoms

This is a new term for me this morning but I will admit I struggle with this now. At one time, I wouldn’t have but I have learned too much related to all things adoption to go along with the denial or self soothing perspectives that the adoption industry puts forth and way too many mothers who surrender a baby to adoption absorb and then believe it. These birthmoms speak about adoption as some win/win scenario.

Someone asked the obvious question – What are glitter birth moms? And here was the response – Someone who is glad they adopted out their child and doesn’t regret it.

One woman talked about the ones she sees that are proudly proclaiming their child is in a closed adoption for their own “privacy” but are also Extremely Online, using their full name and photo, IDing themselves as biological moms. Uh, that’s not really how privacy works but they’ll find that out when the adoptee does DNA and matches with close relatives. (And this does happen increasingly these days – in fact DNA and matching has revealed to me my adoptee parents’ – both were – genetic families).

Just recently, I saw one like this from a Christian agency and the woman has gone into counseling unwed mothers to surrender after getting a degree in some social work area. I just couldn’t . . . Here is how someone describes a similar situation – The ones whose stories adoption agencies/adoptive parents trot out in adoption circles to reinforce the narratives they want. They usually talk about how young they were or what obstacles they had, how they picked the adoptive parents (blogger’s note – and I actually supported my youngest sister during a pregnancy where she sent me the profiles to give her a second opinion but that was before I learned all I have learned), what wonderful people the adoptive parents are, how they have thrived since then, sometimes how their child is doing, and saying they know they “made the right decision.” They paint adoption as “giving my child a better life than I could offer.” All of this is very typical.

One adoptee said about such women – my guess is denial and a way to deal with guilt, they can safely live in the fog. I hate the way adoption is always about the parents, adopted or biological.

Another adoptee shares this –

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I don’t **know** this is how my birth mom is for a fact… but at least on the surface she fits the bill on
paper;

She had me at 16, before her 17th birthday

& Because she placed me for adoption

(and that she escaped the stigma,
as she didn’t show and no one knew she was pregnant)

She was able to easily graduate high school

Get her bachelor degree

Married the “love of her life”

And have two well behaved sons at the appropriate time deemed by society

She is a pillar of her community, a kindergarten teacher

She is head of PTA and very active at fighting for kids rights and services in her community (ironically)

It hurts more because I was always
fed the narrative “she did this for me” “she wanted you to have a better life”

No.

It was always about her

She wanted a better life

She wanted to escape stigma

It was never about me

Another adoptee shares – My “unfit” biological parents both went on to have more children and raised them in stable, loving families, unlike the adoptive one I got. Like we always say, placing your child or adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and nothing to be proud of. My biological parents can insist they did it out of love for me all they want but all I would ever hear is “we couldn’t be bothered to get our shit together in time to keep you in the family but look at all these lucky siblings we did do that for!”

And this was an important piece of advice – Please don’t start framing adoptees as either having a “negative experience” or “bitter and abandoned.” This will only silence your child and make them feel they cannot share complex feelings. The best thing I ever did for my daughter was tell her she had every right to feel however she wants over a situation she had no control or say over. Its quite possible for adoptees to love their parents but find parts of their adoption traumatic or challenging. For Example my daughter mourns not growing up with her siblings I get to raise. That doesn’t make her bitter or negative – its a completely normal response to an abnormal situation.

Someone shares this, which I alluded to above about a Christian agency – There are glitter birth moms who make a career out of it, by becoming an “adoption professional” and are paid by agencies to speak at events, promote adoption to other expectant mothers, etc. I follow them closely. It has a two fold impact – not only is the birth Mum able to turn their relinquishment into an income stream but it continually reinforces to them that they made the right choice. And this is far easier to live with than being open to considering the alternative. I have seen one of them do a complete change – she was actually featured in national articles supporting adoption. I’m not exactly sure what happened – whether the openness reduced, the reality of what she had done started to sink in as her child got older, however I have seen her talk about how her she has really struggled with her mental health. She hasn’t come out and owned her past but I have seen her commenting against adoption now.

And this very honest assessment that has some balance integrated into it – I don’t know if I’m considered a glitter birth mom, I don’t regret placing my daughter given the circumstances of my life at that time and the circumstances of her current life. However, I wouldn’t preach that it’s the greatest thing ever either. I just feel it was the best choice out of the ones I had at that time. I didn’t do it all for her, yes she was definitely a consideration but I’ll admit my choice was selfish too.

That’s part of why when I see women being praised when they are considering adoption that it irks me so much. It’s not selfless and brave and giving some couple a chance at parenthood. It’s hard, and emotional and traumatic for everyone and people don’t want to hear that. My daughter is 9 and it breaks my heart a little. She told me she never wants to be pregnant and have biological children. She wants to adopt children like she was and I wonder if this is her way of reacting to her trauma. I see her often, I’m pregnant with her little brother and first biological sibling, and she’s so in love with him but I worry how she’ll feel when he’s here, the relationship that they could have had, if she hadn’t been placed.

Lastly, in the realm of Welfare Queens exploiting a system, I need to include this sadly misguided perspective on it all – There is a glitter birthmom in my life. She was a former foster youth who aged out and has been having children since then. Her oldest is 24 and she is pregnant with #12? now. She has raised none and actually believes she is doing good by giving infertile families babies and encourages her biological children to do the same with her own grand babies.  I believe it is a survival narrative. She knows how to get housing and WIC and medical care and all sorts of benefits. She does not see the impact of her decisions on her children – even those who have been vocal with her about it. And the trauma of knowing they have siblings all over the country that they may never meet. It is a sad cycle being repeated by the next generation.

A Grief Deeper Than Death

For adoptees and their original families, mourning can be deeper than simply grieving the death of a loved one.  When our familial bonds are withheld from us so long, precious time is lost and never recovered.  In my mom’s case, when she sought and was denied her adoption file, the state of Tennessee told her that her original mother had died a few years earlier.  This devastated my mom and dashed all her hopes of a reunion.

With my dad, he never showed the  desire that my mom had but when he died a half-sister was living only 90 miles away and could have shared with him real impressions of the woman who gave birth to him.  When I discovered who his unwed mother’s participating lover was that conceived my dad, my dad was so much like him – sharing interests and appearance – I just knew they would have been great fishing buddies.  That was a sadness for me as well.

Today, I read the story of a man who was adopted.  His adoptive parents only admitted to his adoption when a sibling outed the fact.  They never would give him more than the tiniest bits and pieces of information to his incessant questions.  A letter his original mother wrote to him explaining her circumstances that was to be given to him upon his 18th birthday was not delivered to him until he had done an Ancestry DNA kit at the age of 30 and it was likely he was going to come into contact with his genetic relatives.

He was able to find and connect with his genetic sister through Facebook and through her be reunited with and visit with his original mother.  She died just last week after too brief of a time of acquaintance with her.  This has left him bereft for more reasons than her dying, which for anyone, regardless of the relationship they have with their parents, is admittedly a life-changing event.

His emotions are intense.  He says –

I’m angry for lack of a better word that my adoptive parents withheld this information for so long that it wound up costing me time. Time I could’ve used to get to know my biological mom better and form deeper bonds with her. I may not have known her well but I love her and I’m having a hard time navigating the complexity of everything that I’m feeling right now. My genetic sister and I have made a pact to talk often and visit with relative frequency. I simply don’t have this kind of relationship with my brother through adoption.

If you are an adoptive parent, it is beyond cruel if you behave in this manner.