The Uncertainty Inherent

Today’s story is about a birth mother who’s daughter, put up for adoption, has rejected contact with her 25 years later thanks to the Dear Therapist article in The Atlantic.

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Blog Author’s note – It’s tough being a vulnerable, under supported, financially struggling birth mother. I get it. In my own family, the two children put up for adoption have since reconnected with this but that does not un-do all the years of living lives separated into other families. Even for my own self, I’ve re-connected with my actually genetic, biological relatives but it doesn’t make up for not knowing each other for decades. It is better to know who they are, it’s just tough building a relationship after so much time has gone by. So I am interested in this response.

Answer from the therapist –

I’m glad you’re curious about why the woman your daughter put up for adoption 25 years ago might not want to meet her birth mother. I say this because you write about your daughter’s pain and feeling of rejection, but I’m not sure that your daughter has a good sense of how her adopted child might feel—not only about this meeting, but about the circumstances that led to the adoption and her life since then.

Something to consider: Adopted children don’t get to choose whether or not they are adopted, or what family they’ll end up in. Adults make these choices for them. Given their lack of choice in what happened, making their own decisions about how to handle their experiences later on matters greatly.

Of course, different adoptees will make different decisions, for all kinds of reasons. But too often, adults try to dictate how they should feel and what they should do with regard to their birth parents. Sometimes it goes something like “You shouldn’t try to find your birth parents; after all, your mom and dad will be so hurt.” Other times it might be “Don’t search for your birth parents, because it might disrupt their lives or that of their families. They chose a closed adoption for a reason.” Or: “You should definitely search for them, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.” Or: “How can you refuse to meet your birth parents? Don’t you realize how lucky you are that they’ve reached out and you have the opportunity to know them?” None of this, of course, respects the feelings of the person who was adopted.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship. In fact, there’s so little regard for this young woman’s feelings that your daughter, despite knowing that her biological child has consistently said she’s not interested in meeting, reached out to her on Facebook.

As for why someone who was adopted may not want to meet her birth mother, the reasons are as varied as the individuals involved. Some adopted children feel angry or abandoned by the birth parents, especially if there are other siblings who stayed with one or both biological parents, as is the case here. (This may feel like being the “unwanted child.”) Some adoptees don’t have those feelings—they are living a perfectly happy life—but there’s fear of the emotional turmoil such a meeting might bring. It could raise new questions of what might have been; it could reveal information that the adoptee would rather not have known; it could start a relationship that doesn’t work out, resulting in a loss that could be quite painful on top of whatever feelings of loss the adoptee already has.

I’ve also heard from some adoptees who have met their biological parents that they found the experience disappointing. Despite imagining that they’d have a lot in common with their biological parents, upon meeting they felt as though these people were aliens with different interests, worldviews, personalities, and values—leaving them with a sense of emptiness. Some have told me that they would have preferred to maintain whatever fantasy they had of their biological parents rather than be faced with the much starker reality.

All of this is to say: A lot can go wrong, so it makes sense that some adoptees would choose not to be in contact with their biological parents. But whatever this young woman’s reasons, she doesn’t owe your daughter an explanation. It’s not her job to meet your daughter’s emotional needs.

Instead, gaining a better understanding of what those emotional needs are might help your daughter feel less pain about not meeting her biological daughter. I imagine that she has a lot of complicated feelings about the adoption that perhaps she doesn’t fully understand, and talking to a therapist about them might not only lessen the intensity of the longing but also help her consider what she’s asking of her biological daughter and why.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that your daughter’s biological child may feel differently about reaching out at another juncture in her life. She may have some questions about the family’s medical history one day, or decide that she wants the experience of seeing her biological mother face-to-face. If that time does come, it will be important to focus on her needs. There’s a difference between a phone conversation and a meeting, and between a meeting and embarking on a relationship. The less this woman worries that her biological family might want more from her than she’s willing to give—which is likely how she feels now—the more open she might become one day to making contact. But even if she doesn’t, the most loving thing you can do for her is to honor her choice.

Anne with an E

I’m only vaguely familiar with Anne of Green Gables.  Anne has been a bona fide cultural icon for over a century, ever since Canadian author L M Montgomery first debuted her in 1908.  Anne was orphaned as a baby and in care until age 12 when she is adopted. She experienced a lot of abuse during her time in care.

We don’t have commercial TV or streaming in our home – while we do have internet the limited allowance and expense when adding onto that prohibit our streaming anything beyond a few youtubes and that costs us a lot as it is.

However, I was reading about this version in the all things adoption group I belong to and I became intrigued.  The woman who brought this to my attention describes it as – “a very dark portrayal, with depiction of trauma, flashbacks, so many feelings of abandonment, as well as the difficulties her adoptive parents have in relating to her.”  That was enough to get me looking into it.

Another woman said –  “The first season is the darkest with the flashbacks. As it goes on, it’s not as dark but continues to deal with a lot of other feelings that people not raised by biological family go through.  I honestly loved this series. I felt it was a more honest portrayal of children who were in foster care and adopted than I have seen in a long time.  This show helped my children discuss the hardships that adopted people or abused/traumatized people deal with.”

Another woman said – “The other depictions we saw didn’t seem to focus so much on the trauma. We listened to the book as we drove up to Prince Edward Island and there’s definite evidence of her struggles in there, but this series took it to another level and made it real and made the connections very visible of past trauma, fear of abandonment, and the inner world she creates to get away from it all.”

Vanity Fair had a review of this series.  They note that in the first episode Anne with an E graphically depicts, via chilly flashbacks, the years of abuse Anne sustained before she came to live with the Cuthberts.  While Anne likely did suffer some torment during her tenure with the Hammond family, Anne with an E ramps up the trauma by having Mr Hammond die of a heart attack brought about by beating the tar out of poor Anne.

This version retains some of Anne’s eccentricities—a fierce imagination and intricate fantasy life, as well as a fondness for high-flown language.  This is an Anne with PTSD.  Anne of Green Gables endures as a cozy story that reveals the resiliency of the human spirit through small-scale, domestic victories and setbacks, as well as the mundane, everyday tragedies of human life.

In episode 4, the town’s minister takes misogyny to its historic depiction because Anne doesn’t want to go back to the school where she has continued to suffer abuse.  He tells her adoptive mother – “This problem is easily solved.  If the girl doesn’t want to go to school, she shouldn’t go. She should stay home and learn proper housekeeping until she marries. And then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone I shall make a helper for him.’ There’s no need for her to bother with an education. Every young woman should learn how to be a good wife.”

The Vanity Fair review complains that “Anne with an E seems to think Anne’s triumphs are only noteworthy if she’s continually told she can’t succeed, when in fact her unfettered brilliance needs no such clumsy opposition.”  Judge for yourself.  Don’t know if I’ll ever watch this but maybe if it comes out on dvd.  Clearly, it spoke to the wounded hearts of the people in the adoption group I belong to.