Maybe It IS Better Sometimes

Generally speaking, I am NOT in favor of adoption. I know too much about the trauma that most adoptees suffer, if only unconsciously because of rejection and abandonment issues, not to believe that family preservation, support, therapy and encouragement to remain together is best. A lot of children were adopted out from about 1930 through and into the 1970s (when the number of available infants linked to single, unwed mother diminished due to the availability of abortion).

Still, reading this story today, I understand why this adoptee feels blessed to have been adopted.

My biological parents were married to each other, but both were meth addicts. A maternal great aunt helped care for me and wanted to adopt me, but my parents took me to a private attorney and handed over a 13-month old me in exchange for $45,000 cash in 1978. Talk about unethical!

I met that great aunt again at age 21, and she was very happy to be reunited with me. She cried and apologized for not getting me herself – but she was very poor, living in a tiny rural town in the middle of nowhere, supported by her long-haul truck driver husband. They had a mobile home, and three of my younger siblings were in their care.

All 5 of them are chain smokers, even my siblings were in middle and high school age ranges! My brothers and sister shared a single room. It was shocking to me.

I’d grown up an only child of middle class adoptive parents, both of whom have advanced degrees. They aren’t perfect, but they gave me opportunities I never would have had, if I’d been kept with my great aunt.

Ideally, I wish my mother had been given support to get clean, to escape her abusive family and community. The multi-generational trauma ran deep in my maternal family. But finally, at the age of 43, I’m able to say that I got the very best deal of all of my siblings – including my two youngest half-brothers who were raised by their father’s parents, and my older sister, who was put up for adoption at birth.

I always wondered who I’d be, and what I’d be doing if I’d not been adopted, and I’m grateful for who I am, even though I know it came with intense trauma.

Though my mom yearned to know her original mother, she was able to say to me near the end of her life (knowing that her original mother had already died), that she was glad she had been adopted. She really couldn’t know what her life would have been like. Her mother lacked familial support and though married was estranged from my mom’s father, who didn’t answer a request from the juvenile court about his obligation to support my grandmother and mom.

When I met a cousin related to my original maternal grandfather, she said they were very poor. He was a widow struggling to support 4 other children. They were so poor her own mother often went to bed hungry, living in a shelter so minimal, the chickens roosting under the house could be seen through the floor boards.

My mom was raised in a financially secure family with a mother who had an advanced education and was highly accomplished in her own life’s expressions. Her adoptive father was a banker and got a lucky ground-floor break on a friend’s stock offering (which became Circle K Stores). There was wealth and I grew up seeing that. My dad’s adoptive parents were poor entrepreneurs with a home-based drapery business that my dad helped out in, even though he had full employment and a family of his own to raise.

Life is and sometimes circumstances aren’t so great. If one is lucky, they are able to be thankful for the circumstances they grew up within. Though my family was struggling middle class, we were loved and cared about. It was good enough.

Just Don’t

But you will.  You believe you won’t make all the mistakes the others have made.  You believe you know a better way.

Don’t be one of THOSE adoptive parents or hopeful adoptive parents who think they know better and their kid won’t be like those angry adoptees, the thousands upon thousands that have struggled with adoption. You don’t even KNOW what to teach them as an adoptive parent.

You do not raise adopted children like you raise biological children and that has nothing to do with love.

An adoptee said to his adoptive mother, “It doesn’t matter how loving and good your parents are and it doesn’t matter that you have a wonderful home….at times it isn’t enough and I am still very unhappy!” When you hear this from your adopted child, it will break your heart. Adopted kids are going to have pain and there isn’t anything an adoptive parent can do to erase it. Understanding that this is the reality is very painful!

You can’t erase the sadness lurking where you can’t reach it.

It would be better if you didn’t adopt but if you already have, the path forward is complicated.

So, if you already did it, then create a home where your adopted children know they can feel however they need to feel and that they know you’ll be there to listen, love, and support them through it.

Whatever your adopted child feels is the reality, don’t dismiss it. Your feelings are yours to deal with.

The trauma of adoption doesn’t stop existing because you want it to. If you think you can love that trauma away, as an adoptive parent you still have a lot to learn.

Love is not enough, good intentions are not enough. No amount of love or honesty can resolve the deep challenges an adoptee faces from being isolated from their biological identity.

The Original Mother

There are a total of 4 women in my immediate family who have relinquished a child – both of my grandmothers and both of my sisters.  I have a lot of compassion for every one of them.

The level of pain that such a mother may feel depends a lot on the time frame and reason for the relinquishment. I know for certain 2 of the mothers were coerced or forced.  I know that 3 of the adoptions were “closed” and only one was “open”.  That last one was my youngest sister who made the decision to relinquish from the moment she knew she was pregnant and vetted prospective adoptive parents and utilized private attorneys to facilitate the process.

Many such mothers have accepted some seriously false beliefs about themselves –
I would have been a terrible mother and my child is better off.
My child must hate me.
My child will never forgive me.
My child will never believe how much I wanted them.

These mothers also carry with them understandable fears –
Meeting their child and disappointing them.
Facing their child’s anger.
Never knowing what happened to the child.
If it was a secret, family members finding out.
Finding out the child was mistreated or needs help.
The child showing up one day at one’s workplace.
The child never trying to find them.

Within these mothers are many possible responses –
Feeling guilt and regret.
An inability to move on.
Breaking down and crying when thinking about one’s child.
Angry outbursts (caused by bottled up feelings).
Feeling guilty when others talk about their children.
Wondering what one’s child looks like.
Fantasizing about a reunion.
Anger at those who didn’t help them when they needed it most.
Jealous of the adoptive parents but wishing them well for the child’s sake.
Depression around the time of the child’s birthday,                                                                  as well as the day they were given up.
A deep sense of loss that never abates.

Even so, such women have some admirable strengths – they are idealistic, private, protective, resourceful and unselfish

Sometimes, their deep pain is triggered, even after many years, if they happen to run into their child’s father.  Certainly, birthdays and holidays will always be difficult reminders.  TV commercials featuring babies may move them to tears and thoughts of their own child.  And movies about adoption, depending on the emotional content, may be impossible to watch through to the end.

There is one important opportunity that such a mother should not neglect, regardless of the fears connected to it – that is, allowing contact by their relinquished child.

Adoptions I Have Known

I chose this image because I like trees and Adoption is NOT the main focus.  From a perspective of balance and fairness, as it was recently pointed out to me that I might be too negative (though I don’t necessarily believe that), I thought I might comment on the adoptions that have occurred in my own family and their outcomes – briefly.

First, my mom.  Her mom did not intend to lose her.  I cannot view the exploitation, trap and pressure she faced as being in any way voluntary on my grandmother’s part.  My mom was pure and simple – taken away – from her.  Not because of any wrongdoing on my grandmother’s part.  She was a good mother doing the best that she could under difficult circumstances.  My mom was adopted by a banker and his socialite wife.  She had many opportunities that she may not have had in her original circumstances.  She was troubled at the thought she had been stolen, as she tried to understand the circumstances of her becoming adopted and was denied her own adoption file by the state of Tennessee, until they decided to open the files later on because of the scandal my mom’s adoption had been part of.

Next, my dad.  His mom was unwed but she left the Salvation Army Door of Hope in Ocean Beach California with my dad.  She went to some cousins who it appears were unwilling to help her.  So she applied for employment with the Salvation Army and was transferred to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow.  However it happened, she was convinced to give up my dad and he was adopted by the amazing woman I knew as my Granny.  She survived an abusive, alcoholic husband, divorced him, found a better man and my dad therefore ended up adopted twice and got a new name when he was already 8 years old.  He fully accepted his adoption and never showed any inclination to know more of the details.  Sadly, he had a half-sister living 90 miles from him when he died who could have shared so much with him about what his original mother was like.

Then, a niece.  My sister did not want to surrender her child to adoption but my adoptee mom convinced her that it was for the best.  It was a very secretive thing within our family.  I was told that my niece had died at birth and that never felt accurate in my own heart.  Eventually, the truth came out, she was able to reunite with us and has been a wonderful addition to our family that we love very much.  She seems to have had a good enough childhood and has become an amazing mom to her own two children.

Then, a nephew.  This is not the same sister but my youngest sister.  Understandably, adoption was the most normal thing in our family and I was close to my sister during her pregnancy.  She vetted hopeful couples.  Chose the best she was able to do with the information she received.  Her life became complicated and unfortunate.  He has been loved and his adoptive mother has always supported his desire to know his origins.  He is an EMT and a firefighter and an amazing and sweet young man.

Adoption has worked out well enough in my own family.  The results have produced good parents (at least for 3 out of the 4, the last one hasn’t married yet).  It is what it is.  We have a large extended family – extra grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – as a result.  I love them all.