No Win Situation

An unwed mother is pregnant with her 2nd child, due in early February, and the dad has no plans to be involved. She has a 5-year-old that she had the same heartfelt struggle with making this decision. She has spent almost every day of his life, wondering if he would’ve been better off if she’d just put him up for adoption. That is what she wanted to before his dad stepped in and said he wanted to keep him. She has limited to no support from her family and friends.

Where she is now . . . “The only consensus I managed to come to is that I’d be traumatizing my baby if I put it for adoption, but if I don’t have support, I’m going to ruin the baby anyway. So many of those adoptees have such a jaded, negative view of their birth families for putting them up for adoption, but they also resent their adoptive families for ‘stealing’ them, so I’m right back to square one of no matter what I choose, I’m evil and ruining my baby’s life.”

From an adoptee – I’m an adoptee of a closed adoption. A DNA test for Ancestry revealed my birth parents. If I were you, I wouldn’t adopt and as an adoptee, I regret being adopted. I don’t necessarily think my birth parents ruined my life by not keeping me because I don’t know what my life would have been with them. Having another baby won’t ruin your life. It won’t ruin your son’s. You can get your mental health back either way, because either way it’s going to take work and probably therapy. I just wouldn’t make the decision out of fear that you’re not capable because I think that’s when we get into decisions we regret.

So often, when unwed expectant mothers come into my all things adoption group seeking insight, it is almost universal that they don’t feel capable of parenting. It is most likely true in all of these cases that those who do decide to parent still have a difficult and challenging situation to navigate. With some mothers, the group goes the extra mile to supply things the mother will need once she has her baby, if she decides to parent. These women often come back when the baby is older saying how grateful they are to have been encouraged to keep their babies.

This group also sometimes helps a parent who has become embroiled in a custody situation where adoptive or foster parents want to keep the baby they managed to get. The legal process is daunting, fraught with challenges and no certainty of being won. Better to at least give parenting a try. Worst case, there is always the option to surrender to adoption . . .

My favorite saying in life is from the Lemony Snicket movie – A Series of Unfortunate Events. I can’t find what I remember anywhere but it comes down to no matter how dark or bad things look, there is always a way out of that situation. It has often inspired me to hold the line until I see the way has proven to be so . . .

Baudelaire Kids from Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events

Honesty

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 ?

An Adoptee’s First Biological Child

I have read about this from the point of view of several different adoptees in the past. I have wondered what my own adoptee mom (or even my adoptee dad) felt as they created a biological, genetically related family of their own. They are both deceased, so I can no longer ask questions like that of them.

Today, I read – I’m curious about adoptees first experience being pregnant. Thought I was infertile all these years and I’m finally pregnant. I thought I would be flooded with more happy emotions. I often feel paralyzed and scared shitless. I’ve done the leg work to not put my trauma on a child, plenty of therapy when I was younger and actively trying to start a family. Not using a child to fill my holes as my adoptive mother did. Now I just feel disgusted and worried sometimes, feels somehow adoption related. My first parents non stop on my mind lately too. Any first child experiences good or bad would be very helpful! Thank you! She later added – I am very worried about not looking at my first mom the same. We aren’t the closest but our relationship is what I need it to be, I’m nervous I’m going to resent her after going through this; even though I know she didn’t want me. It’s almost like I’ve been in this weird limbo of not fitting in to either family and the thought of starting my own makes me want to run for the hills.

I am in reunion and have a good relationship with my First Mom but never cared much about my biological dad’s side, until I was pregnant and really until I had my son. It does make me sad that my son won’t know his aunts and cousins on that side but I haven’t had the bandwidth to try to make contact yet. Dealing with my maternal side has been enough drama and stress for one lifetime.

These feelings are totally normal, even for those without trauma. There are layers for many who feel this way, but even those I know who had ‘normal’ childhoods often feel this way too. You’ll also feel like failure frequently, out of your depths, like a bad mom, etc. those are all normal too. I have layers to mine due to trauma, so as time and healing have allowed, I have worked though different layers as they’ve come up (and up again and again). It was VERY important to me to avoid adding birth trauma, so I found a midwife and worked hard at allowing the natural biology and oxytocin stuff, breast fed etc. those all help with attachment and bonding (which I still greatly struggled with due to a severe attachment trauma).

I have 4 currently, and recently had a still birth, so I am now dealing with new levels of trauma added to those previous layers. Dealing with secondary infertility and a loss after 4 healthy pregnancies really rocked my internal dialogue (since fear of losing them through accidents/etc, just general anxiety like falling down stairs while pregnant (which I didn’t) etc). My mom hit a brick house (blogger’s note – I do not know if this is literal or figurative) while pregnant with me, so I’m sure there’s a layer there too.

I don’t know if my trauma has made it better or worse to be honest…the death of my son broke cracks into the structure that trauma built to protect myself from bonding and attachment. Though feeling (some) grief, I’m having glimmers of hope and joy, which is really mind fu**** me to be honest but I’m trying to roll with it. I deal with it small bits, here and there, denial in a box is its default space but when it does come out, I try not to stuff it automatically back in there. I try to give it space and observe it and know it won’t kill me, even if it feels like it will or should or could…sorry if I’m not making sense.

Give yourself space to feel the things you do and do not judge yourself harshly. Know you are not alone, the feelings WILL pass (even if it takes time, for me – it has been on and off for almost a decade) and no one is a better mom to your baby than YOU.

I experienced something similar with my pregnancies. I think fear is very common in any pregnancy, everything’s so new and life-changing. I think it’s an especially complex time for adoptees and a resurgence of feelings is common. Talking about how I felt helped me. I hope you know we’re with you and cheering you on.

I was fine while pregnant and when giving birth but got horrific PPD/PPA (Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety) despite being surrounded by love and support. I think giving birth brought up a lot of unresolved feelings and trauma and contributed to my PPD. I got through it with therapy and medication. It didn’t last forever thankfully and I had a lot of support.

I experienced PPD and difficulty bonding with 2 of my 6 babies. With the other 4, I felt that immediate attachment when I saw them. It took a few months with those 2, for me to feel like they were truly mine and that I was a good enough mother for them. In the long run, there has been no difference in the level of attachment or love I feel for them. (I’ve been parenting for 17 years.) Becoming pregnant with my firstborn was what awakened me from the “I should just be grateful” fog. I honestly believed I had no trauma from being separated from my mother, up until then. When I became flooded with instinctual feelings for my baby, I wondered if my original mother ever felt those things for me.

Not every mother gets that first glimpse of their child and immediately feels attached and wildly in love. It’s *not at all* uncommon for it to take time to build that attachment and have trouble bonding with your child at first. Then of course there are things like PPD and PPA that make bonding harder. But none of these things make a person a bad mother. Often people with a history of trauma – *especially* if that trauma has to do with abandonment or attachment issues – will have trouble bonding with their child. And it’s completely normal.

I wonder about this with my own mom, some of the things I have learned recently related to her second (actually third, because she had a miscarriage first) pregnancy as well as how I describe my own parents as being weirdly detached. Good parents but that cut thread of connection to their original families, I believe, had an impact on their perspectives related to parenting. They were good parents, not at all abusive, but quick to want us to be independent of them.

Another adoptee writes – I felt awful, disgusted, fearful when I was pregnant. I was terrified I would project what happened with my birth and adopted parents on my little girl. She’s 8 now and I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I make mistakes with her but I am quick to apologize and let her know when I am wrong. I explain that I shouldn’t have projected my negative emotions on her. I also let her know it’s okay to not be okay. I had severe PPD and for a couple days when she was a couple weeks old when I wanted nothing to do with her. I told my ex husband mom that I needed her to take her for a day or so because i didn’t know what to do. Luckily that passed very quickly. I love my daughter more than anything in this world and would give my last breath to her. Also if you do have awful feelings, talk to your doctor. Medication did wonders for me with my depression. It honestly helped so much.

There’s a couple layers going on. I also got pregnant after miscarriage and sort of infertility. I don’t think I really processed or felt safe in my first successful pregnancy until after 30+ weeks. When I held my son, it was really the first time I saw and loved someone I was biologically related to. It was powerful, odd, terrifying. So many different emotions. I didn’t think as much about my first mother’s pregnancy with me. But we were in reunion and in a tough place then, so it was complicated. Give yourself time, space, gentleness. Pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, even without added layers to it. And those added layers aren’t easy. 

And then there was this very different but honest perspective – I considered adoption, but I was stealthed/forced and thus very scared to have a baby so young even while married. I remember ridding that idea before the half mark because I felt him kick. And then at birth my very first thought looking at him was I could never give him up. Even totally unprepared I couldn’t have done it. I was actually really ashamed of that and told no one how I thinking or feeling, because I had solely considered my bio strong for doing so (drug addiction) and here I was poor and sick and barely legal to drink while a college student in a shit marriage… and I could Not fathom even leaving his side. I love him but sometimes I still don’t know if that was correct because he’s suffered a lot… my son was deeply abused by my now ex-husband and I have a lot of trauma from it I’m still working through… my own biological parent, I don’t think could have given me half the life I got from adoption, and even though my adoptive parents were super abusive. There’s so many mixed feelings and traumatic thoughts and memories that get brought up when an adoptee is pregnant. I hope you at least know all of your feelings and fears and joys are all valid all at once.

This perspective from another adoptee was interesting to read because I do know my mom saw a psychiatrist at one time but I don’t know her reasons for it – “It’s hard, I feel like I focused too much on doing the ‘right things’ and not traumatizing my kids, which often made me a hands off parent. I had to get my butt in therapy and put in the work to be a better me. Now I’m not a hands off parent and learned boundary setting with my kids.” I do know that I was surprised at the degree that my two sisters were dependent on our parents at the time of their deaths at 78 and 80. Maybe my mom overcame some of what I experienced in the decades before that.

Definitely worried I was going to fuck my kid up like I was fucked up. To the point of almost terminating. My second pregnancy was a lot smoother but I still experienced horrendous PPA with both. I had happy moments and sad moments in pregnancy. Despite my PPA though, I was lucky enough to avoid PPD and feel a determination I have never felt before in life when they placed my son on my chest. I looked at him every damn day and promised I would give him a better life. My husband and I weren’t in the best position at all. In poverty, high crime area, barely surviving. But I promised my kiddo I would get him out of there every single day. My husband is aged out former foster care youth, so he was just as determined as well. 3.5 years and another (planned this time) pregnancy and we made it. Our kids will never have to experience a life even close to what we lived. Having kids made me afraid and feel powerless and worry I was gonna be a horrible mom, but more than anything it made me, and my husband, WAY better people and helped us get out of the cycles so that we were not perpetuating them.

Pregnancy and childbirth weren’t really issues for me. My biggest issue is just feeling completely clueless and like I’m doing everything wrong. I was raised by my adoptive dad from age 8 onward, and don’t really remember much from being younger, so I feel like I have no experiences good or bad to reference. Like the concept of a mother is totally foreign to me, so I’m flying blind and making it up as I go.

What helped me the first time around was preparing to be surprised. Knowing that this baby, although my flesh and blood, would be their own little person. Their own soul. I was there to love and nurture whoever they were. And I really was continuously surprised, usually in a pleasant way. I never went for schedules and “Child must be doing X by a certain age” BS. Instead my kids developed as naturally as possible. All of this was in defiance of my “normal” adopted upbringing. What was crazy was that my eldest looked nothing like me or my husband. Thank God I had already reunited with my birth mom, so I could show people that’s who my daughter looked like, because otherwise it would have been hard to explain.

I had bad Postpartum anxiety. To be fair my Mother in law did NOT help. I was afraid someone would steal my babies and I wouldn’t get them back. She would literally snatch them and walk away so we ended up having a long break from her and eventually things worked out once she calmed down enough to understand me and that my husband wasn’t going to side with her. But with all my babies I couldn’t be away from them. I had hard time taking showers and no one could hold them expect for my husband if I didn’t have eyes on them. If I had them with me, I was fine. It was bad with #1, better with #2, #3 was a whole other mine field because that one was a girl. I kept fearing I’d wake up and want to walk away. My husband was a major support. Only my 5th wasn’t as bad, but my husband had paternity leave and was home with me the first 4 weeks. I know it wasn’t rational. But I’d have panic attacks that they were gone. I do not have an anxiety or panic disorder. I’m usually extremely even keel. It caught me majorly off guard. Parenting wasn’t and isn’t an issue though. Gentle and communitive parenting came very naturally to me.

I had good support and my first pregnancy was wanted and planned. I do know that once my baby was born, I saw my biological mom and adoptive mother through a different lens. I did start feeling really sad about my adoption for the first time. I started think how I didn’t bond with my adoptive mother until I was after a year old. How that is not normal. I made me feel a new kind of pain. Sometimes this sounds silly but I feel like I love my kids more than non-adoptees because of my experience. I felt like I didn’t really understand my biological mother at all, even though she was very young mother. I started to excuse her uncomfortable behavior because I don’t feel like anyone is ok after something so traumatic. I didn’t feel resentful, just sadness. Pain. Loss. I don’t understand how some people don’t want their babies but it’s not always for me to understand that either. When she says “I love you” it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like “how?”. Lots of feelings.

My Unorthodox Life

This program is being discussed in my all things adoption group this morning. It is said that “The whole storyline was so upsetting. The adoptive family is awful.” And also this, “One of the characters is looking for his “birth person” and is scared to hurt his adoptive mom by calling her his birth mother. Adoptive mom says stuff like “I thought I’d be dead when you start looking” or “Can’t you ask your private investigator to ask questions to her rather than make contact?”. So much insecurity, jealousy and emotional blackmail.

One adoptee notes – My adoptive mom did the exact same thing . As if it’s about HER “trauma“ (which honestly is self inflicted).

And there is this about the show – The adoptive mom also got pregnant shortly after adopting, and begs him to not change his name, even though she falsified his birth certificate! She’s like “I want you to stay happy,” when he is obviously depressed, tormented, hasn’t dated anyone in years, etc. The biological son (his brother by adoption) is calling him an idiot for doing it because “we have the best parents in the world” and “you’re the one who started this problem.” Then hangs up the phone on him. They are doing all they can to sabotage any reunion. His poor birth mom. He doesn’t even pick up on the fact she wanted to keep him.

I haven’t see this one but last night we suffered through A Serious Man – written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. All we could figure out by the end of the movie was that it was the Coen’s revenge on their Jewish upbringing. I kept thinking – if I was Jewish, it might make sense. There is no adoption thread in that movie.

In my mom’s group, there are more than the usual number of Jewish people. So, I have been exposed to some of their experience. The one that stands out large for me is the mom who had famously large breasts and then developed breast cancer. She had boy/girl twins the same age as my youngest son. Though she had a great attitude going into the experience, she died rather quickly. I was somewhat impressed by the way her Jewish community was there for the whole family throughout that ordeal.

My paternal grandmother died of a heart attack the day she was to be released from the hospital following breast cancer surgery. She was originally from Long Island NY and my understanding is that there are a lot of Jewish people there. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew. I suspect I may have gotten that from her. Another mom in my mom’s group lives in the town on Long Island with the same name as the surname of my paternal grandmother – Hempstead. The family goes way back with historically significant sites in New London, Connecticut (a diary covering a period of 47 years from Sept 1711 to November 1758 by an ancestor, Joshua Hempstead, is still in print).

Joni Mitchell’s Daughter

Joni Mitchell reunion in 1997
with Kilauren Gibb

Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).

This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.

~ lyrics

Born with the moon in cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer
He went to California
Hearing that everything’s warmer there
So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.”
He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you
Little green, he’s a non-conformer

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green

Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed

Little green, have a happy ending
Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow

Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.

My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.

Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.

It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”

Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”

Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.

The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.

Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”

Is It Safe ?

Good intentions are not enough. Heartfelt desires could still be in a place where impairment makes it not yet entirely safe. Today’s story –

This weekend we had a visit with adopted daughter’s parents. Her mom has expressed to me several times that she wants to take her back some day and that she is willing to fight legally with another family that has her siblings to get her oldest daughter back one day too (as in adopt them back).

I have a few issues with this and I know you guys can help me put it into the proper perspective and stop centering myself:

1) her mom is still heavily under the influence to the point of extremely impaired judgement and does not have stable housing/income/jobs.

2) she has been asking for sleep overs (which I am not opposed to if she didn’t have impaired judgement and her daughter wants them)

3) she says this only about the youngest and oldest daughters and fails to express this sentiment for her youngest son and middle daughter

4) her daughter is sometimes extremely hesitant and afraid of her due to her past behaviors under the influence (think screaming/crying/hiding from her).

We maintain visits regularly with daughter’s parents and extended family. She should know her family, her history, her siblings, her heritage.

What factors would you consider before you allowed sleep overs? I would love for her to have this kind of relationship/time with her mother if it can be done safely and she wants it. Daughter is often hesitant to go to visits with her mom. I stress family is important, knowing them is important. I express that I am not a replacement for her mom and that I never expect to be. That her mom is her mom.

I’m not sure how to best navigate this. Daughter is 7. I want this kind of relationship for her but I keep seeing it as a “someday” kind of thing because of concerns about her physical safety and mental wellbeing. Daughter’s therapist thinks visits with her mom should only be at her request (I disagree) because she shows signs of fear towards her. I do often ask daughter if she wants to call her mom and she consistently says no. I ask her if she wants to visit and she often is on the fence, sometimes yes sometimes no.

I would love to get an adoptee perspective on this. I need to hear it. Thank you.

Some responses –

Safety and impairment are deal breakers. They are the fundamental necessities for any child. Agree with what was stated about the child driving this. Perhaps a middle ground would be to continue regular visits but remain present so daughter feels the safety of your presence and yet there is opportunity for them to develop their own relationship. You are her responsible guardian. Staying by her side, and yet allowing them to have an opportunity seems like it accomplishes all goals. You can provide safe get togethers that are fun activities. A park, a children’s museum, zoo, picnic, etc…

This may not be the popular answer, but here’s my take: If it were me, I’d take daughter’s lead on this. Let her have control over her visits. That said, if there is any safety concern whatsoever, I would absolutely not allow unsupervised visits. Child’s safety must be the number one priority.

In my opinion, one of the worst things a parent can do is force a kid to do something they’re uncomfortable with, especially if they have trauma in that area. It makes me very uncomfortable that she has to go see her mom because you feel that’s important. If my parents had forced me to see my biological parents, it would have undermined my trust in them and pushed me away. Just another adoptee perspective.

On a cautionary note – Adoptee loyalty is a huge issue. They can sense how you really feel. Unless you are able to develop a genuinely loving and caring perspective towards her mom and show that; your daughter won’t have the comfort level she needs to re develop that relationship.

As an adoptee, I agree with the therapist. Do the visits at her request. So often I tiptoed around my adoptive mom’s feelings and would lie and say I wasn’t comfortable with searching for my mom, I didn’t want to meet her, I didn’t want this or that, when in fact I really did. I was too worried about hurting my adoptive mom’s feelings to consider my own. I wouldn’t ask your daughter if she wants call, visit, etc. let her come to you when she wants to. Asking puts pressure on her.

Fears Related To Reunions

It is understandable really. There is the gulf between you, the elapsed time living different lives and yet, you are unmistakably and without a doubt springing from the same DNA tree – and that matters. Yet, I see so often the fears. Stories today as examples which reflect typical experiences.

From a birth mother – I finally met my son! He contacted me on Mother’s Day and said he wanted to meet. He just turned 19. We met last Sunday and it went well. He said he wanted to plan another visit soon. I know after meeting it can be overwhelming for an adoptee. It has been very overwhelming for me. To be honest, I’m a mess. I can barely function. He is already pulling away, maybe, I think. He just kind of stopped replying to texts. He is bad at texting anyway – according to him. I am trying to give him space. But I have also heard adoptees say they don’t like feeling like they have to do all the work in the relationship. I did text him last but it was one that didn’t necessarily need a reply. Would sending a “thinking of you” text be too much, if you are overwhelmed? I don’t know if he is or not. I’m in the dark trying to navigate this.

From an adoptee – I’m 20 and JUST started texting my biological mom the day after Mother’s Day as well, I’m not ready to meet her and I’m not ready to text her all the time. Getting those thinking of you messages really are nice though because I get in my head and can’t text because it’s overwhelming. I also have a lot of fear that she is also pulling back – so knowing she is thinking would help. I encourage you to tell him exactly what you are thinking. We are adults now and I personally want her to speak to me as an adult and not as the child she lost!

From another adoptee – I would love for my birth mother to contact me more often. She never just contacts me. It’s always me emailing her, and she does reply to some of my emails. If I were in your shoes, I would send him another text message and perhaps mention that you don’t want to bother him with too many text messages, but you’ve just been so happy to have met him. Be ready to answer questions and even ask if he has any.

And yet another adoptee – My first mom knows I have issues with texting her back when I’m dealing with stress AT all. She texts me every once and a while and says she loves me or says she is thinking of me but never expects a response. Mother’s Day wasn’t that long ago, and it’s the first time y’all met? Give him some time to adjust. He’s probably processing it all – just like you are. I don’t think it would be invasive to send a text that shows you are thinking of him and he is in your heart and mind. I know that always makes me feel happy, even when I cannot reply.

This from an adoptee in reunion as an adult – At that age I would have just put up walls, and stayed quiet, if things started to feel overwhelming. I didn’t know why I felt how I did, most of the time. Every one is different though. If you haven’t already, consider reading The Body Keeps The Score. You have probably seen this book recommended before. It may be helpful in understanding your behavior/feelings/reactions and possibly his.

From experience – It took my mom and I years just be comfortable enough to have the conversation of – “I wish you’d call me more often.” I am sure he is hesitant because he does not want you to walk away again and he is likely dealing with guilt over loyalty to his adoptive parents – even if they are supportive. The guilt just comes with the fear of rejection that every adoptee lives with. Take it slow. If you don’t hear from him for awhile – it’s ok to text him. I would have loved for my mom to be more active in communicating. She said she didn’t feel she had the right and she didn’t want to scare me away.

And this is a good perspective as well –

Now you begin the slow process of fiquring it all out, what works for you together.. so you can definitely acknowledge what you want- “I’m so thrilled to be able to check in” and what you fear- “but I don’t want to overwhelm you or add any stress. I know this is really a lot to deal with.” And “If you want, you can totally tell me to just chill and I’ll totally understand! It’s totally normally to need a break.” It’s like building the framework of a space where you are able to accept the full range of his experiences, centered on his needs. It is important to make certain he knows that space is being held and that you are inviting him to help shape it.

Sometimes They Die

I think one of the sadder things that happen in adoption is when the possibility of any kind of reunion ends because the other party has died. In my own family, I can think of 2 instances.

In the early 1990s, before Tennessee decided to relent and let the victims of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal have the closed adoption files the state was charged with protecting, my mom tried to get hers. She was unsuccessful but the state did tell her that her original mother had already died. She had said to me as she embarked on her own effort that as a mother herself, she would have wanted to know what became of her child. My mom was devastated that she would never be able to connect with the woman who gestated and birthed her.

After my dad died 4 months after I lost my mom, I began my own search effort as the child of two adoptees. When I learned who my dad’s original mother was and connected with some cousins who shared my grandmother with me, I discovered that at the time of my dad’s death, he had a half sibling living only 90 miles away who could have told him so much about his mother.

When in my own search, I discovered my mom’s original father’s family, I learned that her half-sister had only died a few months before I arrived. Thankfully, her daughter spent a wonderful afternoon with me and her mother’s numerous family albums to trigger lots of stories of what the family had been doing throughout my long absence from the biological, genetic relations.

Both of my parents could have had relationships with genetic, biological family during their lifetimes, if closed and sealed adoptions records had not kept them apart – which has always been the only reason these records have been closed and sealed and birth names changed to mask the original identities.

So this morning I read several others in similar straits caused by adoption –

“I just heard that my birth mother passed away yesterday. She denied my existence to her son, my half brother that I now have a passing relationship with. Have known her name forever and never had the courage to reach out. My chances are gone now. Feeling double sadnesses tonight. I pray you are at peace now.”

“My birth mom wants nothing to do with me, I just hope to meet her before one of us passes.”

“I met my birth mother but it wasn’t really that good. I bonded with one sister and birth mother passed before we could try and have a decent relationship.”

“My birth mother is 84. I am doubting things will ever change to reunite us before she passes.”

“When I finally looked for my birth mom, she had passed away.”

“The power of secrets and shame can be heartbreaking.”

“As a birth mother, this is one of my biggest fears – that I will die before she decides its time to see me. I have reached out to her but she hasn’t acknowledged me.” 

No Answers

I have a friend with a similar problem to today’s story. Her daughter is not adopted. Her situation is as complex but not as fraught – perhaps. Unless we have the experience our self, we really can’t judge how someone else copes or not with the challenges of their life. I have no answers or even ideas for this one, only empathy and compassion for the whole situation. Though an adoption problem is mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it isn’t clear that the daughter is adopted but she may very well be. Adoptees often (though not all) have relationship issues.

“We dissolved the adoption of our son 5 years ago.”

“We currently have a daughter in a private residential treatment center. She is beginning to own her problems and making an attempt to work on her life, maybe 5% of the time. The staff says they see improvement, we have seen very little, if any, plus her usual tactic is to put forth just enough effort to get you off her back but then regress severely. I have zero faith that the effort they see is going to be genuine, granted she has never had full support 24/7 when she would achieve these moments of trying to cooperate before, so maybe this time is different. Anyway, staff is telling us we need to give her the benefit of the doubt. ‘She is beginning to see that there is a better way to work through her trauma, but doesn’t fully believe she has what it takes. She needs to see you believe in her, that you think she can do it.’ This came after we cut a phone call short because she refused to engage. Kinda like a smack on the wrist.”

“Her program has periodic 10 day home visits and one is coming up the end of this month. To say I am dreading it, is putting it mildly. She causes chaos and pain at every turn and I am the one stuck with her for the whole 10 days. I am really struggling with the ‘Trust her more,’ issue. I don’t trust her one bit. She has stabbed me in the back, figuratively, so many times over the years when I gave her one bit of trust.”

“It feels to me like my daughter is all that matters, no matter what she does to our family, her siblings suffer too, we are to put that behind us and give her the benefit of the doubt. I have always had issues with healthy boundaries and am actively working on that area. This issue feels like I am to push all that aside because my daughter’s life matters more.”

She posted this in an adoption disruption group. She felt the members would understand her point of view. Many of them have shared stories about their challenges and know all about the trauma and grief these children bring into a family.

The woman goes on to write – “I want to love her, but she makes it incredibly hard to do so. My question is, how do you stay emotionally healthy when you feel as though your needs don’t matter? Are you to ignore your own needs, while giving a child who has destroyed so much, the benefit of the doubt? How do you begin to process it? I crashed emotionally on April 1st because I know this is the month for her next home visit…I can’t keep reacting this way.”

Intergenerational Trauma

My blog yesterday was inspired by an article – Intergenerational Trauma: How to Break the Cycle – and the Maya Angelou quote at the beginning of it. Then, I went off on the story of my own version of that. Today, seeing that this article has real value, I return to it’s inspiration. The paragraph below is quoted from the article.

From our families, we inherit genes, foundational life skills, traditions, knowledge, connections, wisdom, identity, resilience, etc. Sometimes we also inherit behavior patterns, coping strategies of our parents, grandparents who did not process their trauma. Children learn to be by mimicking the adults around them but when these adults are acting from their own trauma, children pick up patterns and behaviors that become their norm. The first victims of intergenerational trauma in families are the most fragile, i.e. children. They might suffer from anxiety or depression as adults without being able to pinpoint its origin, indeed intergenerational trauma in families is not easily recognized or its impact is minimized. Intergenerational trauma in families often happens in an overarching societal context which offers the setting that facilitates trauma to be passed down (poverty, patriarchy, war, colonialism, slavery, genocide, etc).

Just yesterday, as I thought an issue had reached a level of acceptance and even an ability to see how I was better off for having gone through the unexpected and unwanted rupture of a relationship, something “new” had happened fully 2 months after the initial events and I was obsessed with it again. Why am I not more mature about this whole thing ? Then, it hit me – rejection – that was what I was struggling with. Rejection is a common emotional experience in adoptees (and both of my parents were – adopted). And it is the very personal kinds of rejection – relationship ending kinds of rejection that hurt me the most. More neutral rejections – from a literary agent I am hoping will represent me or from a resume submission for some job or other – these don’t trouble me. My recent trauma of rejection was decidedly caused by an overarching societal context – COVID.

Again from the linked article – In families with a pattern of trauma, there are many secrets, taboos, things that are not allowed to be talked about. Secrets that are kept but live and manifest themselves as poverty, being trapped in cycles of abuse, violence, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, difficulty in relationships, etc. The individual is born with and into fears and feelings that don’t always belong to them but that shape their life in ways that they are not always conscious of.

Adoption was a kind of open secret in my family. Meaning when I was old enough to know, I did know. However, the whys, I didn’t know – in fact, my parents didn’t know those either. We really didn’t talk about it in my family other than the factual knowledge that my parents were adopted. In my earliest awareness, I thought both of my parents were orphans. I had know idea that there were people out there living their lives genetically and biologically directly related to me. When my mom wanted to search and find her mother, my father was unsympathetic. Therefore, she could not share her feelings with him but thankfully, she did share her feelings about all of it with me and I am grateful that I now know how she felt, since I now know more about the impacts of adoption.

Milestones in life can greatly affect a person living with intergenerational trauma (finishing university, starting a new job, having a baby, moving to a new country, being rejected by a new partner and suffering unsurmountable grief, etc.). Intergenerational trauma can also impact our physical health through the nutrition habits we develop and our relationship with food.

Food is an issue – it was with both my mom and my dad. First, my dad experienced near starvation and food insecurity in his youth. Growing up, there always had to be more food on our table than we could eat in a single meal. My mom was a lifelong dieter and passed that fear of obesity down to me. I struggle with what I think of as “stuffing disease” – a compulsion to eat every kind of non-nutritive “fun” food in my house – cookies, candy and potato chips. Then, I regret it and try again to “do better” and I do for awhile – until the next restless, rebellious binge happens. My mom’s struggles could have been impacted by spending some time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis as a baby – not because her mother didn’t want her but abandoned by her husband (my mom’s father to whom my grandmother was married) – my grandmother asked for temporary care while she tried to become financially strong enough to support the two of them. I also learned to eat “in secret” from my mom.

At this point, I found my initial link is an excerpt of a longer blog – Miriamnjoku.com‘s blog on Intergenerational Trauma. There is an awesome graphic on the blog.

When one knows the history of abandonment and/or abuse that their parents or grandparents suffered, they are better able to understand why their loved one was/is disconnected. There is a Chinese Proverb that says that “The beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name” . We cannot heal what we are not aware of, so the first step is to acknowledge the existence of trauma. Making the invisible visible is the prerequisite for transformation: acknowledging with compassion that certain patterns are the fruit of pain, trauma and oppression.

Learning the stories of my grandparents was the beginning of understanding why my parents were “abandoned” (that is the view of an adoptee), more conventionally understood as surrendered or relinquished for adoption. Especially, I do believe the loss of their mothers at young ages had a profound impact on both of my grandmothers and their choices and experiences in life overall. This quote by Anna Freud really speaks to me in that regard – “The horrors of war, pale in significance to the loss of a mother.”

What are the things that were passed down to us that we do not want to pass on to our children? We can look at the past with compassion and still want to change dysfunctional patterns that do not serve us. It is a hard journey which is often met with misunderstanding from the family. Are you going to be the first one in your family to go to therapy? Take care of your health? We have to be willing to step into the uncomfortable to heal, even willing to risk rejection, being misunderstood to live well, to release the psychological charge even if it means being different.

There is more in her blog – I recommend reading Miriam Njoku‘s full blog.