The Girls Who Went Away

Studies that have examined the grief of relinquishing mothers have identified a sense of loss that is unique and often prolonged. In one such study, the grief was likened to the separation loss experienced by a parent whose child is missing, or by a person who is told their loved one is missing in action. Unlike grief over the death of a child, which is permanent and for which there is an established grieving process, the loss of a child through adoption has no clear end and no social affirmation that grief is even an appropriate response.

~ Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away, Page 208

Looking for an image of the book cover, I found an old story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 2015 titled Legacy of Loss. It is a story about Leslie MacKinnon who relinquished 2 sons to adoption when she was still a teenager. Her grief inspired her career as a therapist in the Atlanta area who works with people who’s lives have been touched by adoption.

Only a year after giving up her first-born son in an Alabama maternity home, she was once again giving birth, this time at her family’s home in Florida, unmedicated, untended and unseen. She had tried to bring on a miscarriage by throwing herself down the front stairs, drinking a bottle of castor oil, soaking in the hottest baths she could stand. She even tried to commit suicide by driving her car too fast on a hairpin turn but realized even death would not erase her shame.

After losing her second son to adoption, Leslie felt herself split in two. The shame-filled girl who couldn’t look anyone in the eye stayed hidden inside, frozen in time. The girl on the outside transferred to the University of Georgia in 1967 to study social work. There, she learned the only way to keep the pain at bay was to work longer hours and aim higher than anyone else.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1969, Leslie moved to Atlanta and was hired by Families First, one of the biggest social service agencies in town, which gave her a scholarship to get her masters. She got her degree at Tulane and returned to Atlanta to work as a licensed clinical social worker.

This is how her story begins. You can read the entire story at my link.

What Matters A Name ?

 

A common practice in adoption is to change the name of the child being adopted.  Often this name change is sealed from revealing what name that child was born with in the adoption records.  If you were to ask a young child, who is yours genetically and biologically, growing up in the family that child was born into and you ask them how they would feel about changing their name, their answers might be something like this – yeah, that would be awesome, okay by me.

So when adoptive parents (who adopted older children but then changed the names they were born with) say – “She wanted to change her name.” or “He is excited about changing his name.” – it could be only that  small children don’t know any better.  Adoptees, when they are yet very young, can’t understand the ramifications of such a decision.

That said, more than one of my friends has allowed the child she is raising to make some change to their name, on their own initiative, once they have entered their teenage years.  That is empowering – a decision made by their own self, without suggestion nor coercion.  That is a different circumstance and is made consciously from a state of some maturity.

And in an aspect of today’s modern perspectives,  these same adoptive parents who once rushed to change their adopted children’s names, will criticize natural parents for allowing their kids to pick out new names for gender affirming reasons.  It is a kind of double standard perspective.

One person responding to the question in the first paragraph wrote – “I’m not adopted and haven’t had my name changed. But I had wanted to change my first and last name a lot growing up. I had the same name picked out for like 10 years. As an adult, I’m glad I didn’t get the name change. And I wasn’t even a small child who wanted the name change. It was from the ages of 7 through 17 that I had wanted it.”

Another shared her biological daughter’s perspective saying – “Every time the conversation of names comes up, she is adamant that her name is the perfect name for her and there is no other name in the world she’d ever want. She has asked what other names we considered, which we answered truthfully (because why not), but she is always relieved that her name is hers.”

And one adoptive mother wrote – “Therapists are no help either. My daughter who was five when we adopted asked to change the spelling of her first name. I loved the spelling but wanted to do what was right by her. The therapist told me how healthy it was that she wanted to have control over her life and this was part of her healing. 11 years later she doesn’t remember it was her idea and was mad at me for changing it. I’m so sad that she was thinks I would do that to her. I told her she could change it if she wants.”

In community with adoptees, this is one topic that is sensitive.  The name changes have often been to obscure the fact that the child was adopted and is not the natural offspring of the adoptive parents.  It is like taking possession of a human being.  It can also make finding out one’s true origins that much harder.  Names are a very personal issue with most people, even if they did not choose that name for themselves.