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.

Every Single Day

Today’s true adoptee story . . . .

Today, my sister flies up to Philadelphia to meet her biological dad and half-siblings for the first time. I am SO excited and happy for her. At the same time, I am sad and jealous.

My biological mom has zero desire to meet me or get to know me. My biological dad claims he had no idea I existed and that it’s impossible for him to have a daughter. He got really mad when my half-brothers brought it up to him.

I am okay with my adoption most days, but today, I am angry.

I hate that there were so many secrets. I hate that I was a secret. I hate that I might never know the truth about my birth and adoption. I hate that no one in my biological family wants to get to know me or meet me.

I hate that I can’t tell my kids who they look like on my family side. I hate that I don’t feel like I belong in my adopted family or my biological family. I hate that everyone thinks it’s so wonderful that I was adopted.

I hate that my adoption was closed. I hate that I am not allowed to have a copy of my own birth certificate. I hate that everyone says that DNA doesn’t matter and love is the only thing that makes a family.

I hate that I have abandonment issues, and I fear that everyone I meet will eventually leave me or be taken away from me.

I hate that my biological mom kept my brothers and not me.

I hate that I am expected to be grateful. I hate that everyone thinks my biological mom did this amazing selfless thing by essentially abandoning me.

Most of all, I hate that I subconsciously think about the fact that I am adopted every single day of my life.

Does It Get Any Easier ?

I often write from the adoptee’s perspective. Today, I share how much a natural mother grieves the loss of a child that is still living.

I woke up this morning and the first thing I went to do was grab my son. He’s been gone for a year now. I thought I was done with that. One day I feel strong and can repress my emotions and the next I’m one minor inconvenience away from hospitalization. Adoptive mom and him have shared he’s had recurring nightmares about me dying. I feel guilty for wanting to leave him and struggling like this. I’m scared to go to the hospital because the contract for visitation rights says that if I become mentally unstable Adoptive Mom and/or the County can decide to void the contract and I’ll never be able to get it back. I am in touch with my therapist, who’s also encouraging me to go. However I don’t know how I’d pay my bills and I’m scared of exposure to covid. I swear I could feel his little hands this morning and hear him call for me. The pain is eating me alive. My coping skills are failing. I’m failing. I don’t know how I’m supposed to move on. How do I get on with my life, while continuing to be there for him in this situation? The adoption will be final this summer. Will he change his name? Will she cease honoring the agreement? The only thing I can imagine as worse than losing him is losing contact too. How do we move forward as natural mothers? How do we cope? I feel like my life individually is already ruined. I’ll never heal, never. I want to check out so bad. If you’ve been separated for longer than I have from your child, does it get any easier? Is there ever peace? Even just a little bit? I’m trying to take care of myself, I just don’t see a point.

Responses . . .

You keep breathing.. whatever you have to do to get through another day, another hour, another minute… because one day.. when you son looks for you, you can be there for him when he needs you to be. Because you don’t want him to feel that he wasn’t worth waiting for, that he wasn’t worth living for.

I lost my son to the system ten years ago. It gets easier. But never stops hurting.

I’m grieving with you, natural mom to natural mom. My adoption was voluntary but my heart breaks every single day. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

Erasing History

I think if my mom was here, she’d say much the same.  When I found a cousin on my paternal grandmother’s side, she immediately noticed something that had escaped my attention – my grandmother’s name was not on his adoption papers – the Salvation Army owned him.  This is the enduring legacy of adoption and I am simply VERY fortunate I was able to track down who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were – not for lack of the powers that be trying to obscure it.

Today’s adoption story (is not my own but I can relate) –

“This is a strange life. Looking back over it now I feel that I was propelled into constructing a life that has been totally separated from who I am. This was deliberately done by the State and its agents once they had got their hands on me and my brother. They stole me from my mother’s arms and then proceeded to lie about who I was, about where I had come from about my ancestry. They deliberately falsified fundamental documents about my identity. The moment that I was born I was unborn. They removed my mother’s name and the name that she had given me from history and acted as if they had never existed when they did exist. They did so on the basis that this history was inconsequential and as such could be wiped like one wipes a blackboard clean.”

“I have had no choice but to struggle with the circumstances of my birth from the very beginning. I was thrust into a battle between life and death, truth and lies, reality and State manufactured fiction. I was born a pawn on the chessboard of the States so called battle for public morality. I was the symbol of the transgression, of the fact that sex outside marriage existed. But no one talks about this fact, no they still see adoption as that of being rescued from a mother and a family that chose not to care for you. It was no such thing. The State set in motion the theory of Closed Adoption through its adoption practices and through the whip of economic compulsion tens of thousands of mothers gave up their babies. There was no money to keep them and no public support or support from their families. All they received was righteous moralistic outrage as their pregnant daughters were sent away.”

I say I can relate because –

My paternal grandmother was unmarried and had an affair with a married man.  I would suspect she didn’t know he was married when she first started seeing him in the mid-1930s but I think she probably did know by the time she knew she was pregnant.  Self-sufficient woman that she was, I don’t think she ever told him that she was expecting his child.  None of his family knew he had any offspring until I turned up.  DNA proved to them I was actually related.  My grandmother did know who the father was.  She gave my dad his name as a middle name and put his photo next to one of her holding my dad at the Salvation Army home for women and children in El Paso Texas that employed her after she gave birth at one of their homes in San Diego California.  She applied for employment and they transferred her to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow and that is where he was adopted.

Continuing with this man’s emotional story –

“I feel tired today. I feel tired full stop. For my entire life I have been struggling to deal with the circumstances of my birth. From the very beginning my heart was wounded. When you are given away, rejected, abandoned, it is personal. It hurts. When you are forced to live in a society that acts as if the wound does not hurt, it is suicidal because there is no outlet for the pain. No acknowledgment, no sorrow, nothing but silence. Your life is built on this silence. Holding in the hurt, trying to act as if you belong when you have been permanently displaced, always blaming yourself for how you feel because the whole system has set you up for self-blame. From the very beginning no one listened to your cries for your mother. From the very beginning you were met with silence. From the very beginning your most vital needs were ignored and your heart was hurt. You were separated from your emotional needs and your heart was born under an avalanche.”

“From the very beginning it all felt like it was your fault, that you had done something wrong, as if you had had brought this situation upon yourself simply through existing. From your first breath you were struggling for your life without love. There was no beauty in your birth, instead they had turned your life into a fight for survival and no one took any responsibility. They just left you to it. And that set the pattern of your life, of the life that they had created for you, you were abandoned, rejected and left to it. No one checked on how you felt. No one asked if you were struggling. They just left you on this hard road all on your own having to work out how to survive on your own. A road populated with strangers. And you lonely and you knew what the world could do.”

“Even though nobody said anything your birth set the path that you would follow as you tried your best to come to terms with it by outrunning your hurt heart. You felt that, in the silence, that this pain, this sadness that you felt in the world always must have been a sign that something was wrong with you. And there was, but no one would tell you what it was. And so in the absence of an explanation you labelled this hurt, this feeling as meaning that there was something wrong with you and so you locked up your heart and who you were. It was clear that you had to become someone else, you had to not be the person that you had been born to be. And you were right. They did not want the person that you were born to be. They did not want your ancestry, your mother, your personality and who you were deep inside. No, they just wanted a blank slate, a void, a nothing who would be exactly what your adopted parents wanted you to be. They called this attachment. You attached by disassociating from yourself, from your thoughts, your feelings and your emotions. You were to become “as if born to” these adopted parents and their names would be writ large on your birth certificate.”

There is more, much much more.  I won’t go on but adoption hurts.  Loss of identity hurts.  No family history hurts.  It even hurts children like me who’s two parents were both adoptees.

 

Losing My Grandparents

My Granny, My Dad and My Granddaddy

Both of my parents were adopted.  So the grandparents I grew up with in my childhood were never actually related to me.  They were influential though.  The two people shown above often cared for me and my sisters over weekends.  I think mostly to get us into their church, the Church of Christ, as contrasted with the church our mom was raising us in, the Episcopal church.  My dad didn’t go to church at the time.  He worked shift work in a refinery, often double shifts, and so was mostly asleep when he wasn’t at work, except for meals.  Maybe he would watch a little TV or read a news magazine or the local paper.

My mom conceived me while she was still in high school and my dad had just started at the university out of town.  I think these two people shown above made certain my dad quit his dreams of a higher education and married my mom and went to work to support his young family.  Not that he didn’t want to marry my mom.  They were married over 50 years until death did them part and they died only 4 months apart.  My dad’s adoptive parents insisted I have a biblical name to save my damaged soul because of my illegitimate conception.

All of my grandparents had already died – and in fact my parents had already died as well – when I went in search of my original grandparents.  Though I doubted I would ever know who my dad’s father was because his mother was unwed and he was given her maiden name at birth.  I do now know who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were, their names and their ancestry.  I didn’t expect, that in learning who my original grandparents were, I would in effect “lose” my grandparents (those people who adopted my own parents as infants).

But I did.

Though I know I have a “history” with these people who adopted and raised my parents, they no longer feel like my grandparents.  And my true biological and genetic grandparents have taken their place in my heart and imagination, even though I have scant knowledge (but some) of these people whose genes are in me and helped create who I am at the level of physicality.  I have connected with some cousins who share the same original grandparents and what I know of my original grandparents is thanks to anything they have shared with me about these people.

I don’t love the people who raised my parents any the less but they are so far back in my own past now.  Though I had occasional interactions with them up until their deaths, as living people they are receding for me.  They are fading . . .

My original grandparents didn’t lose my parents due to anything worse than poverty and a lack of family support.  That doesn’t say much for my parents own original grandparents, who did not seem to care about my parents very much.  I’ve only heard that my mom mattered to her dad, which was a happy surprise for me and quickly warmed my heart towards that man.  My dad’s father probably never even knew he existed.  His mom was self-reliant and he was a married man, so she just handled it alone.

It is strange.  I was robbed of my original grandparents by the Great Depression, Georgia Tann and the Salvation Army.  Both of my grandmothers eventually re-married.  If they could have been sustained somehow, I know they would have raised their children because every indication is that they loved their babies and mourned their loss until they died.

Nothing makes up for these losses really but at least, I do know where I came from – which is more than my parents knew.  They died completely ignorant of who their own original parents were.  And that is very sad.

The Wounds and Heartbreak of Adoption

In truth, we have to integrate our wounds into our understanding of who we are and what we are really capable of so that we can be whole human beings.  Only from there can we begin the process of healing the brokenness, the broken-heartedness within ourselves that is then the foundation for beginning to heal that in our larger society.
~ Rev Angel Kyodo Williams, Radical Dharma

Many adoptees seek a reunion with their original families to heal the woundedness and heartbreak of being abandoned (the adoptees’ perspective) by their original parents. If it goes well, it goes a long way toward healing those wounds. If it goes badly, the wound becomes further infected unless the adoptee can somehow reflect upon the disappointing experience to find wholeness within their own self.

An adoptee may ask –

When do I get good enough so that my despair goes away ?

Who will love me enough when they see who I really am ?

The shadows and vague memories of what happened to me are hard to sit with. Why do I keep running everyone away ?

Will I suffocate in the silence of my lack of identity, my lack of knowing the origins of my birth ?

What use does crying my tears really do for this pain in my heart ?

Systems of power and abuse depend upon not acknowledging the suffering they cause.  The rainbows and unicorns version of all the good adoption does fails to acknowledge the suffering that the adoptee experiences and the suffering the mother who gives up her child carries the rest of her lifetime.  Often that suffering is so painful, the mother will reject her child, who is only seeking to reconnect with her, because the mother fears being rejected by her child, when her child knows the reality of the mother that gave birth to her.

It is a horrendous cycle of unending suffering in many cases.  My heart breaks for the reality.  And I really don’t have answers, only empathy and compassion for the entire situation.

Am I capable of enduring suffering, facing martyrdom ?
And alone ?
Again the long loneliness to be faced.
~ Dorothy Day

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.

 

Addiction Is A Sad Reality

The issue of drug addiction is close to my heart because I have seen it’s effects up close and personal.  Losing physical custody of one’s child as a mother never feels like a happy outcome.  Today, I was reading the sad story of a woman who lost 3 of her children when Child Protective Services took them from her due to her addiction.

She was promised by Child Protective Services that her children were going to go into a safe home, a God fearing home, wealthy, and she knew this couple had been the foster parents for the last 2 years she was able to visit her children prior to their adoption.  She signed the adoption papers because she needed to survive the addiction. And she needed to save her children from her own self.  She believed as she recovered that her children were safe. It was a closed adoption and so she lost contact completely.

Somewhat recently she learned that her children were so severely abused by those adoptive parents for a number of years that they were taken back into the foster care system for a subsequent 2 years.  Then they were adopted a second time.  These children are now 20, 18 and 16 years old.  This woman had 2 more children as she was recovering from her addiction and she is raising them.  Though she has tried to reconnect with her older children, they rebuff her efforts.

Some of the things we do in our youth and ignorance will never free of us of the consequences of our choices.  The effects are permanent.  One can understand how these older children might blame this mom for their difficult, even painful, childhoods.  And while, it is sad that there is no happy resolution for this shattered family, it isn’t difficult to understand the damage that has been done.

She asked adoptees for advice on whether she should keep trying to reach out to these older children.  One was brutally honest (as adoptees often are if you are willing to listen).  “As an adoptee we don’t owe anyone anything, not a explanation, not a relationship, not communication not even a hello. You gave up that right. You need to respect their wishes, don’t reach out again, they know how and where they can reach out if they choose to. From what you have said they have lived a horrendous life and they as adults now deserve the right to make the decision to have any contact with you.”

The fact is – adoptees had no say in what happened to them.  They are totally within their rights to take back control when they are old enough to exert it.

What Causes The Trauma ?

A question was asked – what causes trauma in adoption ?  I think it is valid to ask about that.

One adoptee responded – The separation in itself is traumatic. Example: I was separated from my birth mom right after I was born. She didn’t even get to see me. Now I know when babies are born it takes time til they understand they are a separate person. They still believe that they are A PART of their mother. It’s like someone cutting off a part of your body. And you have no recollection of who or why. Wouldn’t that be traumatising for you?

Another adoptee shared that the trauma came from not being able to understand why the original parents, or at least the mother, didn’t try harder.  Often an adoptee interprets that to mean that somehow they were not good enough, not lovable, defective somehow.  Children especially cannot appreciate the complicated situations many adults must navigate and how they arrive at difficult decisions that may even leave them with a lifetime of sorrow.

This frequently leaves the adoptee believing as they mature that no one could ever love them. They explain it this way – if the person who was naturally supposed to love them the most, as their own flesh and blood, couldn’t find it in themselves to love their own child, then why would anyone else be able to love them ? The concept of love is broken for many adoptees. For many, it is the ultimate betrayal and cannot be explained as anything less than a profound abandonment.

Many adoptees are given the standard narrative that their mother loved them so much and didn’t think she could really give the child the best life and so, she surrendered her child to someone else to raise, believing that would give her child the best possible outcome.  And I think a lot of these mothers have become convinced one way or another that this is the truth of their situation.  I try not to judge.  But personally, I do find this sad.  It arises from a self-deprecating and poor self-esteem that is preyed upon by agencies and lawyers who make money when they can get a child released from their original family to allow a more wealthy couple to technically “buy” that child.  I realize that most adoptive parents do not see it as baby selling and buying.

There is trauma too in this narrative. This teaches an adoptee to equate love with abandonment and betrayal.  The effects can diminish the opportunity to have strong, stable and healthy relationships later in life.  Some will go through several failures (and one does not have to be adopted to have failed romantic relationships, some of it is learning what it is that one needs and what one can give to another person, including when and how to compromise) before they finally find a relationship that can help them heal from such misunderstandings.  Some sadly never heal.

The Liar’s Club

It never ceases to amaze me how I end up reading books with no idea they are relevant to my interests here and then, near the end of the book, something happens and I’m like Wow !!

I don’t believe that what I will share with you would in any way spoil a reading of Mary Karr’s book. There is a mother/child separation and reunion story that occurs near the end of this book.

She writes – “Those were my mother’s demons, then, two small children, whom she longed for and felt ashamed for having lost. ‘It was like a big black hole just swallowed me up. Or like the hole was inside me, and been swallowing me up all those years without my even noticing. I just collapsed into it. What’s the word the physicists use? Imploded. I imploded’.”

“Mother did what seemed at the time the Right Thing, though had she Thought, she may have Thought Twice about how Right the Right Thing would wind up being, for surely it drove her mad. She tore up the papers giving her sole custody of the two minor children, Tex and Belinda.”

After she found a husband willing to take them, they were too big, “They didn’t want to come.”

And why hadn’t her mother told her subsequent daughters about the marriage and the lost children ? “It’s one of the more pathetic sentences a sixty-year-old woman can be caught uttering, ‘I thought you wouldn’t like me anymore’.”

Her sister hired a detective and they found those kids. They were damn eager to be found and within weeks arrived at her Mother’s house, bright and fresh-faced and curious as all get-out.

Karr tells her story with spunky narration that never fails to stay in a deep love for her admittedly flawed parents. Their flaws never seem to be a lack of love for these their children but more personal in nature, though impacting their ability to parent well. I do highly recommend her story. It is riveting and even scary at times. There is one significant sexual abuse episode that could be triggering for certain readers.