I discovered Mindy Stern today and have maxed out my “free” member-only stories on Medium for the month looking at her essays. They are definitely worth reading. She speaks truth about what it is like being an adoptee. That the experience is not better, only different. You can find links to her Medium essays at LINK>The Mindy Stern. If you want insights straight from an adoptee voice, go there.
I don’t know how much my mom tried to talk to her adoptive mother about her adoption. At most, I know that my adoptive grandmother did her best to reassure my mom that she was not one of those babies that Georgia Tann had stolen and sold after the scandal broke. That is about as much as my mom ever told me about it. I do know that my mom went to her grave believing her adoption was inappropriate. I know that the state of Tennessee refused to budge and give her the adoption file that had been closed and sealed. The one I now have completely. I now have contact with genetic relatives though it will always be problematic because I didn’t grow up with them and it leaves a gulf of experience that a late discovery that I am “one of them” never quit seems to bridge. I know my mom gave up trying to do a family tree at Ancestry because in the language of genetic connection that is what DNA is all about, the adoptive families weren’t real and she eventually resigned herself that it was pointless to continue. Just a few of the sorrows and sadness felt by one adoptee and I was fortunate as her daughter to be trusted with her truest feelings about it all but even those were only expressed in a limited way. There is no other way to say it. Adoption robs an adoptee of so much.
I was able to relate to so much in Mindy’s essay – LINK>Don’t Make Us Choose. Because my adoptee parents (both were adoptees) were never able to unravel their own origin stories, adoption limited us as their children from hearing much of anything about them or how my own parents felt. What I know now is what I had to find and reveal to my own self after they died.
The essay describes Mindy’s visit to her adoptive mother at the hospital after emergency heart surgery. The nurse asks her – where did you get your height? – because she is 5’6″ – her adoptive mother is 4’8″. All her life, her adoptive parents expected her to lie and pretend. She says, “pretending was implicit in our contract. Intended or not, their silence told me lying about my identity was acceptable, even encouraged.”
Mindy asks her readers to “Imagine what it feels like to worry if answering a basic question about your height will hurt your mother’s feelings. Consider the pain of pretending. The charade begins the moment our records are sealed, birth certificates amended, names changed. They build every closed adoption on lies, and adoptive parents who don’t proudly celebrate their child’s differences conspire with the pretense.”
Similar to my adoptee father, her dad never knew about her until she found him. Her birth mother took the secret of her to the grave. My dad’s father never knew about him. They look very much alike, just like my mom looks very much like her birth mother. Adoption robs the adoptee of genetic mirrors. They never know where this physical or innate trait (like a love of fishing in my dad) came from. The truth in my dad’s case was both nature and nurture. His original father spent his life involved with fishing, my dads’ adoptive parents loved to go fishing. Yet Mindy explains that her adoptive mother kept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding Mindy’s original parents.
When Mindy does try to touch that place with her adoptive mother, the tears begin. So, Mindy says “I’m not a sadist so I go along with the policy. She won’t ask, I won’t tell, and our relationship will stay limited and distant and my god that is such a shame.”
I have struggled with that need to choose – my parents’ adoption and now knowing the truth they never did – has forced me to confront it, second hand. Who do I love – my adoptive relatives or the ones that came through the birth of my parents to their original parents? I have almost worked through it well enough to be able to love them all equally. Mindy describes a snippet of conversation with her adoptive mother when she touches that place.
“Mom, you get how fucked up this is, right? It’s like telling a gay child you accept them but not allowing their partner to come to dinner.”
“I’m afraid it makes you… regret your life.”
“They (her reunion with genetic family) give me something you can’t, you give me something they can’t. Neither of you replaces the other.” And I appreciate her words because they express the paradox of adoption so well. She notes that after that the server arrived and placed our food down. Her mother changed the subject. Mindy says, “We were done. That was the best she could do. At least she listened.”
Her essay ends on a decidedly happy note and I encourage you to read it for a smile today.