Saturday, December 30, 2006

Adoptive vs. Biological Parent Smackdown

For those catching up, an update: Seven months after finding my birthmother, I'm told she allowed her husband to sexually abuse a child in her care over a period of years. My mother is still in denial. This child, now a woman, never received family help.

There's nothing like some wine tasting followed by long soaks in hot mineral pools to work out the kinks. Thank you, Calistoga!

That impending feeling of doom with the undercurrent of dread and revulsion at the above-mentioned "bio family news" is pretty much gone. In its place is some distance and a more realistic point of view. Leroy, your suggested strategy of limited contact sums up what I've been working toward.

In short: my biological family has some pretty big problems, none of which involve me. There's sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, addiction to men, etc. While I can offer sympathy and support to the sexually abused relative who turned to me after all the women in the family let her down, I believe I can do so without direct involvement. After all, only she can decide how to handle this situation.

My "blood" family did without me for 46 years. I am the one who initiated contact. No one searched for me. While they have accepted the surprise of my existence with more openness and, in some cases, warmth than could be expected, I have no obligation to make this family my own. I wasn't a part of it for the past four decades. I am only a very small part of it now, like a comma after a very long sentence.

Which now puts my adoption in a new light. If I hadn't been "put up" for adoption, chances are, I would have been sexually abused, too. Chances are, I would have been neglected by my birthmother so she could have pursued her bar-hopping, nightclubbing, man-searching ways. Various birth relatives have tried to tell me this without coming out and saying it.

Here's the "smackdown" part. Okay. Let's say I would have been worse off staying with my biological mother (not that was ever a possibility-she was determined from the start to relinquish). That I was better off being raised by strangers.

What did I gain instead? A self-centered, histrionic mother and a child-like narscisstic father with a stable blue-collar job. The funny thing is, as far as "matching" goes, the social worker did a pretty darned good job. She found me an equally dysfunctional family, minus the sexual abuse and alcohol.

And here's food for thought.

Just got off the phone with my adoptive dad. He said when he and my mother had visited Napa they cut short their trip after one day (!) because my adoptive mother was bored stiff and demanded they drive to Reno. Why? Because there were no casinos, nightclubs or fun bars in Napa and there was nothing for her to do. My a-mom was in her early fifties at the time. My a-dad went on to say she also hated anyplace that didn't have a beach or nightclub where she could have a Martini and dance. Not that my a-mom was an alcoholic. She wasn't. She was just a party girl. She wanted to be entertained. If she couldn't be entertained, she wanted to shop.

As my husband said, my adoptive dad seemed to stop maturing around the age of 13 and my a-mother around 19. Luckily, my grandmother seemed pleased to have company. My a-parents left me with her most weekends so they could hit the dance clubs. My a-mom had two older sisters and I was also often left in their care so my mom could go about her business unencumbered. After going through all that trouble to adopt, it strikes me as odd that my a-mom wasn't ready to leave behind her party girl ways, to act in a more mature manner and compromise by staying home a bit more. After all, my a-mom was 35 when I came home, a little too old to act like a teenager.

It seems I was destined to have a selfish, immature mother...biological or adoptive. Instead of a series of low-life men, I got my adoptive dad. A sober, hard-working guy who desperately needed attention and parenting. I guess that beats being sexually abused. I suppose I could blame the (damn) social worker and (the fucking) adoption system as existed back in 1960, and I have, but to continue to do so would be a waste of energy.

Is this, big sigh, a move in the direction of acceptance?


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Post Adoption Reunion Confusion

For those catching up, an update: Seven months after finding my birthmother, I'm told she allowed a child in her care to be sexually abused by her husband over a period of years. That my mother is still in denial. This child, now a woman, never received family help. News of my adoption unleashed a tsunami of anger and sadness and confusion in this woman, a close relative.

Learning of my mother's addiction to alcohol and bad men came as a bit of blow. For those of you who read my nearly giddy post just after talking with her for the first time, go ahead. Shake your head. Tsk tsk. You knew it was just a matter of time. The honeymoon couldn't possibly last! And just when I thought I'd "processed" the real, anti-fantasy version of my mother, another nasty dollop of information. That she may have been more than in denial that her ex-husband abused a child in her care, but that she told the child to lie to the police about it. And it just wasn't one child. It was several.

What makes it especially difficult now is that she constantly brings up the fact that she "rescued" this child from a bad home situation. Of course, there's no mention that this child was sexually abused under her roof.

And the IRONY OF IRONIES? She's actually a lot like my adoptive dad...who's a high maintenance narcissist. Good job, social worker! Good job matching! The social worker described my mother as "loquacious" which is a nice way of saying she talked non-stop. Ditto my adoptive dad.

During our last several conversations, my mother did ALL the talking and I could hardly finish a sentence. When we're done, I'm feeling invisible and more like her parent than her child. I'm already the parentified "child" of my a-dad. How many more "children" am I willing to take on? They take and take and take and are unable to give. Even if she is my biological mother, is this relationship healthy for me? I'm so glad I found her and now know my backstory and heritage, but maybe it's time to reevaluate the situation. Take stock. For once, I think I need to be a bit selfish...protect energies and focus on my kids and husband.

Taking a badly needed break from all this adoption post reunion craziness for a couple days in - yippee - the Wine Country.

Whew. Take a deep breath. Drink some wine. Hit the hot mineral pools. Forget about it for awhile.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Losing Respect for my Birthmother

It's mind-boggling, cant-believe-it, isn't-this-a-nightmare-news in an already confusing birthfamily reunion that makes blogging a blessing and those who take time to read and comment SO APPRECIATED!!! Thank you Being Me, Leroy, Elizabeth, in reunion and Cloudscome.

For those reading about it for the first time: In short, seven months after searching and finding my birthmother, I'm told she allowed a child in her care to be sexually abused by her husband over a period of years. That my mother is still in denial. That this child, now a woman, never received family help or support. That news of my adoption unleashed a tsunami of anger and sadness and confusion in this woman, a close relative.

So what am I thinking today?

Maybe the better word is feeling. I've lost respect for my birthmother. Did I ever have it in the first place? Was it there to lose? If these allegations are true, it's going to be very hard to feel a connection to her. After a brief honeymoon phase, I began to detect a cavalier attitude toward my relinquishment...which is probably some sort of emotional cover. Fine. But it's not healthy for me. Maybe I've already gotten what needed to be "gotten" from my search. Maybe some day I'll learn some stuff, process it differently and gain sympathy and understanding for my mother.

Did a little bit of reading about child sexual abuse, of which I know zip. Dead on, Leroy, sounds like denial is shockingly common amongst those who knew of it and did nothing to prevent it. That woman often choose their mates over their children. That the victims are left to deal with its aftermath by themselves.

I'm going to mail this relative this book. I told her she was a victim. That she has a right to her anger and her feelings. That she needs therapy ASAP. She has never been told any of these things and she cried with relief.

But where - if anywhere - do i fit in to this DRAMA? And it's a big one encompassing all sorts of other family problems, filled with details I know nothing about. And for every story, there are other sides of which I can never know.

It's my birth family. My blood family. Yet not my family. Practically strangers. Our connection is tenuous. I am an outsider. What responsibility do I have except to this relative who reached out to me in her pain? How much do I really want to get involved? What will be asked of me? What role will I be expected to fill? Just the other day, I received a lovely note from another birth relative welcoming me to the family, saying she'd love to meet me. She is a recovering drug addict. It's possible I am perceived by this big, extended family of strangers that I am relatively sane, sober and normal...someone they can finally turn to. That's more than a little scary. I was thinking this, not wanting to think it, when my husband cautiously expressed his concern.

So this nagging worry, anxiety, sort of sits there. I want to say, hey folks, I was given away! I have my own issues! I can't handle yours, too.

But wow, I am soooo glad I've dealt with biggies like working on my people-pleasing and Nina-to-the-rescue-tendencies! I'm much better at setting boundaries, taking care of myself and not letting myself get emeshed. I realize that now. This news, even five months ago, would have sent me into a tailspin. Now, while it's worrisome, it's in perspective and I'm getting mentally ready to check-out, enjoy Christmas and not even think about the downside of adoption!

So there! That's the good news! Therapy and blogging and searching and finding even this nightmare of a situation has an upside. And for all that, I'm grateful...which is not be confused with being a grateful, happy adoptee. (Don't worry Joy, I haven't crossed to the dark side!)

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Birthmother Reunion Takes a Dark Turn

The other shoe has dropped.

Seven months after searching and finding my birthmother.

I have just learned that she knew and did nothing to stop the sexual abuse of a child under her care by her husband. That she was in denial then. That she is in denial now. That at no time did she acknowledge this abuse nor seek help for this child. That this child is now a woman in great pain. That this woman feels betrayed by her family. That my adoption, which was a surprise to most family members, has resurrected feelings of anger and abandonment in this relative.

Never could I have imagined this at the other end of my search. While I can't say I'm thrilled with the outcome of my search, it is still the beginning - although a much darker one than originally envisioned - and this is the real story that has unfolded...minus me as a player.

What feelings do I now have for my birthmother, this woman who relinquished me without coercision and, just a few years later, allowed a child to be repeatedly molested without any intervention?


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fear of Abandonment, Again

So my dog sitter doesn't return my phone call. I've known her for years. We have a warm relationship. So I call her the next day. And the next. And then, because our family trip is looming, I'm beginning to panic. She agreed to take care of my dog. She just has to call to confirm. So why isn't she calling me back?

That's when I start "looping." I can't stop thinking about why she's not calling. Did I do or say something? Maybe she doesn't want me as a client anymore. Suddenly, I'm wandering around wringing my hands. The house is a mess. I can't focus long enough to make a bed, empty the dishwasher or fold the laundry.

I call my husband at work. "Why do you think she's not calling me back?" I ask, near tears.

"Because she's a lousy businessperson?" he says, then has to go.

Five hours after leaving a message on her cell, she still hasn't called and my hands are practically shaking. This is ridiculous, I tell myself. She's your dog sitter, not your best friend or, like, a relative.

Last year, my sister-in-law stopped returning my phone calls and that freaked me out. My S.I.L. had called all hours of the day and night crying and asking for marital advice. I spent endless hours with her as she talked through her problems - her new best friends for life! - and then she disappeared. Later, she told my husband that she was too embarrassed to tell me she'd decided to stay with her husband after she vowed to leave him.

I was an absolute wreak. I felt confused, bereaved, abandoned. And then I was furious with her. I still haven't forgiven her for pulling such a fade.

And now, again, the same feelings of panic and terror. Triggered by my dog sitter not calling me back. Except she did. Later that night with a perfectly reasonable explanation. I immediately calmed down with her reappearance. Once again, I was able to focus and concentrate.

I used to think I was a well adjusted adult adoptee who never grieved or felt loss. Turns out I did and do. That people inexplicably pulling away or leaving is perceived as an abandonment. That Nancy Verrier had something right. That we suffered a trauma as infants separated from our birthmothers. That this trauma is expressed in ways that may look like something else. That fear of abandonment is hard-wired in our brains. At least mine. That grief is real and is, as Joy pointed out in a comment the other day, distracting.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dealing (Finally!) with a Narcisstic Parent

Hey, my favorite irreverent adoptee started a new blog called "Joy's Division." Check it out...she's bracing herself for Xmas quality time with the folks.

Here's what winning the war against a narcisstic parent looks like:

Parent calls three times on a Sunday demanding immediate attention to a non-emergency. You say, calmly, "I'm busy with the kids but I'll take care of it tomorrow when businesses are open." That is unsatisfactory. Parent complains to director of resident relations at assisted living facility and gets her involved. Director calls me, we have brief discussion, then she relays message: "Your dad wants you to call back the second we're finished talking, etc., etc."
I refused. He can wait until our (daily) evening phone call.

In the old days, I would have went on and on trying to explain that I'd spent endless hours resolving this health insurance issue and that I was on top of things, then I would have fretted the rest of the day and immediately called back my dad to argue and reassure.

Some readers will point out that my dad suffers from some dementia. He does. But this is not new behavior nor is it significantly worse. It is consistent with his behavior as far back as I can remember.

Success means letting go. It means understanding that there's no changing a narcissist, just controlling your reaction to them. It means not wasting energy trying to please them, explaining reality to them or getting so wound up that you can't be in the moment with the people you truly care about. It's understanding that if the narcissist is your parent, that they aren't parent material and don't bother expecting them to ever act like one.

So how did I do it?

It took active concentration modifying learned responses to his endless bids for attention. It took grittng my teeth, at first, and listening to him, pretending to sympathize, but not allowing myself to get emotionally involved or invested in whatever crisis he was having. I learned to listen, then shrug, say poor guy, then quit thinking about him and went back to whatever I was doing.

It takes lots and lots of practice and failed attempts. But I'm here to tell you, EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT from a narcissist is POSSIBLE! Hurray. Thank you therapist! Thank you self-help book, "Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up's Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents" by Nina W. Brown.

What was difficult is realizing my dad was a narcissist in the first place. I just thought he was pathetic and child-like. I remember wishing, as a kid, that he acted like a real man, with some dignity, like other fathers. His behaviors were off, like that of a slightly goofy teenager. When friends came over, he wanted to be the center of attention. When we were alone, my dad would talk and talk and talk and when I tried to say anything, his eyes would glaze over and he'd quickly interrupt. I grew up thinking spoken sentences were four words long.

It was always all about him. His problems. His needs. His pain. When he got sick at Disneyland, it was my fault because I wanted to go on Space Mountain. When I was ten and had a growth on my forehead, he could hardly work because he was so worried and didn't I realize what I was putting him through. When I told him I had a scary breast lump, he fell apart and asked who would take care of him if I died. When he fell down last night at the assisted living facility, it was because I called too early and he rushed for the phone and it was my fault.

Did I mention he has no empathy?

So here's the other problem. Being adopted presents its own unique challenges. Being adopted by a child-like narcissist makes much more difficult the tasks of development and maturation.
Many of us Closed Era adoptees already deal with an incomplete understanding of identity and "self."

When we have a self-absorbed parent who sees us as just as extension of themselves, well, we're really screwed. For a long time. Until the light bulb goes off and we see the parent for what they are: a narcissist. It's a form of slavery, really.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Disappointing Birthmother Reunions

Recommended Reading: A Large, Messy Mosaic: What have we learned from 30 years of open adoption? This article ran in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and can be found at Type in "open adoption" in the search box. Adoptees from the closed era who are dealing with disappointing reunions may find it especially interesting.'ve GOT to read MarleyGreiner's post at titled, "I've Heard This Song Before, Identity Bashing and the Trashing of Katrina Clark."

Technically, I shouldn't use the word "reunion" because I haven't met my birthmother yet and today, I'm not sure I want to.

Someone said it's the process of searching and finding that gives us power and helps to make us whole. Maybe it's not necessary to actually meet face-to-face.

I've had two self-centered adoptive parents who put me in the role of emotional caregiver, I'm not sure I can handle a third parent who doesn't seem to regret her decision to relinquish and has no "filters." She says pretty much what is on her mind and some of that stuff is painful to hear. My a-dad also lacks "filters" but with him, I know what to expect.

My birthmother has an untapped arsenal of foreign weaponry. She's a nice person, is not malicious and means no harm, but those barbed arrows hurt all the same. Like the time she went on and on about her firm choice to relinquish while her mother, sisters and eldest daughter begged her not to and called her "heartless." She seemed so proud that she had "done the right thing" and defied them. Look at how well you turned out, she seems to be saying. I guess she didn't hear the pain in my voice when I tried to describe the feelings of not fitting in with my adoptive family, my child-like father, my domineering-controlling mother.

So now I'm angry and I'm grieving. And I'm glad about that. Those feelings are long overdue. I can actually feel myself becoming a real person. More authentic.

So what am I thinking today? I searched. Check. I found. Check. Got to know her. Had lots of long talks. Got my backstory and learned about my heritage. And now I'm feeling bad. Her cavalier attitude toward my adoption may be a coping mechanism for her, but it's not healthy for me. I'm not calling as often. I'm putting up some emotional boundaries. I've learned it's important to take care of yourself when important people in your life are careless with their words. And you know what? All those "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" sayings were a load of crap. Words do have power.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Adoptee Grief and ADD???

The terms "adoption loss" and "adoption grief" abound in the literature.

Oddly, I understood them in an abstract way. Oh, people who are adopted feel loss. Adoptees feel sad because they were relinquished. But I never felt those things. Not until last week when, after seven months of therapy and exploring the impact adoption has had on my life, Grief decided to pay an unexpected visit.

Grief packs a whallop. It is cathartic. It is BIG.

So where the hell was it hiding all these long years?

Buried beneath mounds of denial, repression and layers of coping strategies. How can you feel grief about your adoption when you were never allowed to even mention the "A" word? That the few times you did, the reaction was anger and hysteria. To survive you had to pretend that you never had a birthmother. And if you didn't have a birthmother, how could you think about her and wonder why she gave you up?

My husband came home Friday night, looked around the house, and asked what was up. The house was clean! I looked around. He was right. Practically spotless. And then it hit me. Earlier, I'd spent an hour tidying up. No big deal. I cleaned until I was done. I didn't dust, stop, read a couple pages of a book, pluck my eyebrows and then sweep.

Then I had another realization. I've always done this: a sort of crazed multi-tasking that prevents me from finishing projects, especially big projects. This personal inclination is what led me to television production because I HAD to meet deadlines and deadlines provide welcome structure and success. Without an external deadline, I sort of fall apart, unable to set and meet goals.

I was going to say Grief is no walk in the park, but maybe it IS. While it's uncomfortable, it also clears the head. For the first time in my life, I can empty a dishwasher without getting distracted. I can read a book for a whole hour and I can do my hair and make-up and get ready in 40 minutes. What the hell is this about? Was I suffering some sort of grief related attention deficit disorder?

Besides some ADD, what else did Grief look like in my life? Was my long bout with hypochondria related to it? How about those anxiety attacks? How about all those times I had to take a nap because I was so tired and listless?

Something else to think about on my long walks with the dog!


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dealing with Grief: It's a Solitude Thing

In response to my previous post, Third Mom Margie (a must read) and social worker Leroy Dissing (another must read) expressed their hope that I had support in dealing with my adoption related grief.

Yes. And no.

My husband is a wonderful listener and I talk about it with him almost daily. My therapist is amazing and is a troubled adoptee's dream come true. Sometimes, I have a nightmare that Dr. Laura has taken over her practice and she scolds me for being an ungrateful big baby and to quit whining about being adopted because it's no big deal.

But as for my friends, and I have some great ones, they just don't seem to GET adoption. Invariably, they nod and listen and feel compelled to say something like, "Yeah, well, my mom treated me like such and such and I wasn't adopted" or "Sometimes I wish I was adopted because my parents are such a nightmare and it freaks me out I'm related to them." That kind of stuff. On my birthday, I finally admitted that my birthdays make me sad because it was also my relinquishment day. This seemed to distress my friend and she tried to make me feel better by saying another way to look at my birthday was it was a day that friends and family could honor me...or something along those lines. This only made me feel worse.

All this just seems to highlight the isolation that adoptees can feel...even when surrounded by caring people with the best of intentions. Being adopted is such an odd, peculiar thing and everybody who isn't adopted seems to have an opinion on what it is and what it isn't. But most of all, when one finally talks about it, you can sense the other person's discomfort kick in.

But dealing with grief - in semi-solitude - is welcome. I've spent the whole week taking long walks with my dog, often crying, and I'm learning to experience feeling intense emotions after walling them off for so many years. In the process, I'm getting to know myself better and today, I'm feeling calmer and much more focused.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Exit anger, Enter Grief

(If you haven't done so already, please read Third Mom's 100th post which is as moving as it is empathetic.

It was just a matter of time. Grief has finally arrived.

First, there was anger. Lots and lots of anger. Mostly directed at the way adoption was practiced during the Closed Era, abandoning us adoptees to couples who sought emotional salvation in the arrival of pink and blue bundles. Anger directed at my adoptive parents, my child-like narcissistic father and histrionic/depressive mother.

And then, after lots of reflection, a careful examination of my ongoing issues. Which were related to adoption? Which were not. Many were, as it turns out.

And now, finally, Grief.

I successfully found my birthmother and discovered half-siblings, nieces, nephews. The extended family that only children like me wish for. After the honeymoon phase, I learned that my birthmother is a real person with real problems, like addiction to alcohol and bad men.

BUT, even knowing all those problems, I'm feeling more hurt than ever. Feeling the hurt that was probably there all along, disguised as occasional bouts with depression, anxiety, hypochondria and my biggest battle...failure to complete big projects that require commitment and focus, like finishing a novel, my most important goal.

No matter how glad I am that I found my birthmother and my heritage, the loss is still there and it's profound. I have to admit that being relinquished is almost unfathomable. Yes I understand she wanted a better life for me, one that she could not provide. Yes I understand she was poorish and that she had two young adult children and a 15-year old ill teenager at home.

But a voice inside me says, wait, you were 37! You were not a coerced, vulnerable teenager. You did this because it was also best for you. You may have done this with a lot of guilt. But you did it anyway, even refusing to see me more than once because you couldn't let yourself "get attached." Did it help that I looked like my father? Somehow make it easier?

I have felt so many things in relation to my adoption, but I was terrified to face this one. In the beginning, when a nephew said he wasn't sure he could ever face me because I'd been given away and he felt so ashamed, I leapt to my birth mother's defense, citing a laundry list of reasons why I didn't judge her for making that difficult decision. But he was just being honest.

There is no sugar coating my relinquishment. A 37 year old woman defied her friends and family and surrendered me to strangers and, in all those years, never once contacted the county agency to ask after my welfare. The agency is still in existence. A social worker would have duly noted it in the file. And now that same mother is happy to hear from me, glad to know I turned out okay, happy to know she made the right decision. And you know what? I care more about me right now and dammit, and it SUCKS.

And, as if the timing fairy waved its wand, I came across this quote last night in Robert Anderson's book about his black market adoption (Second Choice: Growing Up Adopted): "All adoptees must deal with the fact that their mother did not keep them. That realization does not foster self-confidence."

So I'm dealing with it. Finally.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Adoptive "Parents": NOT

More than any other, just writing this post has proved the most upsetting. It makes me feel with sick with guilt. I logged back on to get rid of it, but I've decided to let it stay because it's how I'm really feeling now.

No matter how desperately my adoptive parents wanted to believe that our family was "no different" than others, as it turns out, it was.

Not talking about adoption, pretending it was no big deal, distancing themselves from nosy neighbors and finally, my mother's histrionic reaction to my occasional questions, all failed. Miserably. They could not control the secret. The secret controlled them. It controlled me. Until now.

I no longer think of them as my parents.

They are the people I was placed with - selected by a social worker during the "matching" period in the failed social experiment of Closed Adoptions. They raised me, happily at first, until I graduated from high school, then retreated in resentment and crushing disappointment. I was supposed to be the solution to their problems: the longed-for dutiful daughter who would stay close and not abandon them. Instead, I got a full-time job, saved my money and paid my way through college (NOT the snap it sounds-a time of lonliness, confusion and grueling schedules). They turned their backs then, my adoptive mother bitter and angry. Sometimes, a year would go by without her speaking to me. And my now ailing adoptive father, who suffers the isolating consequences of Narscisstic Personality Disorder, is still my responsibility...but not my father. I need to think of him that way in order to cope. He's always been child-like. He's never been able to parent. I've always had to parent him. Therefore, he's not my parent.

This rethinking of my family troubles me at the same time I understand its necessity. It's just not nice. And I'm basically a nice person. But a tired one. All this dealing with adoption is as exhausting as it is critical.

My therapist says I may not always feel this way. That it's part of the PROCESS of grieving, something I've never allowed myself to do before, having been so busy parent-and-people-pleasing. So I'm grieving. And my adoptive parents are finally losing their hold. Maybe that's a good thing.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Adoptee in Reunion: What I REALLY Want

Nearly seven months have passed since I found my birthmother and, after four decades suppressing thoughts about her, it's still difficult to grasp that she's a real person.

To tell you the truth, I rushed into finding her. There was no time to waste. Once I admitted adoption was a really big deal, I hired a professional searcher. For all I knew, my mother was now so old she could be on her death bed.

But what did I really want?

What do I want now?

Because thoughts about my birth family - and adoption in general - were so taboo, thinking clearly and realistically about such an off-limit subject is still difficult. Repression and denial are old habits and good friends when your adoptive parents were horrified by the mere mention of the "A" word.

Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to open one's own. Thanks to social worker/blogger Leroy Dissing (, whose comment on a previous post managed to pierce the armor. Here's what he said:

I would struggle, as you are Nina because it would be hard to fathom a mom not wanting to know the details of a child she gave up rights to 40+ years ago. And to hear the words from her/him that she thought/prayed for you often; that she/he regretted the choice of giving you up and wept many times over it; that before he/she died, they would want your forgiveness for a wrong that cannot be righted in this lifetime. To me that would be a natural, human and parental response - and one more; to say how proud they are to know you, what you have become and that you will always and forever be loved and cherished as a daughter should be - unconditionally and inseparably.

That, folks, is what I want and what I'm not getting and what I may never get. Point by point:

1) My b.m. says she sometimes wondered what happened to me but makes it sound casual and sporadic, like she's describing an old friend from high school;

2) She repeatedly says she had no other choice; she made the best decision she could under terrible circumstances;

3) She admits that family members who did know of her pregnancy begged her not to relinquish and called her "heartless" for doing so, but she was determined to give me a mother and a father and an education (we know how THAT turned out);

4) In our second conversation, I NEEDED and allowed myself to tell her about my domineering/controlling adoptive mother and my narcisstic child-like father, but it's as if she didn't hear me and talks as if I went to a home of the highest quality that she'd imagined would be mine (white/affluent/education oriented)

In essence, I get no sense of regret. Instead, it's like she's finally satisfied that she made the right choice.

What's done is done. It's the choice she made and there's no turning back the clock. But a relinquished daughter - even a middle aged one - would like to detect some sign of inner conflict and turmoil. Resolve to relinquish in the face of family opposition may be the truth, but it's NOT welcome news.

Ann Fessler's excellent book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe vs. Wade, did much to enlighten us on the pain, suffering and coercion young pregnant women faced back then. These stories are both truth and, for me, a sort of fantasy. For that's how I'd like to picture my story. Not voluntarily relinquished by a rational 37-year old mother, but a younger and more vulnerable girl forced to surrender her baby, tears streaming.

Still, that's not my story and it's never going to be and this is just another piece of (grim) information that I will eventually process and incorporate and get over.

Special note to adoptees thinking about reunion, don't let my little tale of temporary woe deter you. I STILL think searching and finding is one of the best gifts I've ever given myself and I'm STILL here, just more fully grounded with a real backstory instead of a fake one.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Adoptee Relationship with Birthmother

Okay, she's my mother, but I'm using birthmother because how else would search engines find me?

So I've been stewing about the difficulty of talking with my mother after forty six years of separation. She's in her eighties and mentally sharp. And while she's as welcoming and open and grateful as a searching adoptee could hope, still, I say good-bye with a sigh, heart heavy with disappointment.

Maybe I was hoping she'd be more interested in my life. Ask lots of questions. Express the interest that my adoptive parents lacked. But no. No questions about my childhood, my teens, where I went to high school, how I met my husband, how old I was when I had my children, zip. She does make the effort to call. She did sent me a family heirloom. She does send cards and brags about me to her extended family.

But that thing I really want and have always craved: parental undivided attention? It's still elusive.

Maybe she feels she has no right to ask questions about my past. That she gave up that right with signing the relinquishment papers. But we don't exactly stay in the present, either. She talks a lot about her life, her relationships, her family. And, of course, I'm grateful for all the information which is, after all, my heritage. But our conversations lack balance. Once more, I'm in the role of listener, the part I've played so long for my adoptive father it's a wonder that my ears still work.

And then I came across this bit of advice to birthparents by Dr. Robert Andersen in his book, Second Choice: Growing Up Adopted: "You may love your child and your child may love you, but the timing is bad and you will always be, in part, out of synch."

EXACTLY! We are out of synch. She's old now and probably lonely and may talk more than she used to. She's already parented three other children and watched two die. She's in a different stage now. Reflecting on her life, trying to make sense of it, trying to impart her history and that of her family before she dies which, as she points out, could happen any minute given her age. Maybe the real surprise is that longing for parental attention can be such as strong feeling at my age. While I don't want to regress and be reparented, I am sad that I took so long to figure out that adoption had such a profound impact on my life. As Dr. Anderson says, the timing is bad.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Adoptee Identity: Shape Shifting

Some adoptees will know what I'm talking about. The complex art of shape shifting. The not-so-conscious attempts we make to fit places where we don't feel comfortable and even in places where we do. Maybe trying to laugh like somebody, walk like someone else and adjusting our mood to match theirs. Others lead. We watch and follow.

And then, there is the search for the birth family and some sort of reunion...talking on the phone, pictures exchanged, perhaps a meeting. And suddenly, it's not so easy to shape shift anymore because that belongs to the shadow world. Reunion - good, bad, ambivalent - forces us into the bright light of reality. We are, after all, connected and we complete the picture and see where we fit in. And where we don't.

My nose is like hers but my chin is totally different. My temperament is like her - resilient - but my laugh is not. When confronted with the first photograph of a birth relative (especially the mother!), it's like experiencing an inner seismic shake...precipitating an identity crisis. This is who I WAS...but this is who I am NOW. We must incorporate all our new knowledge of our heritage in a process that is as painful and necessary as cleaning and updating a computer hard drive.

For those of us adoptees with children, we have some experience in seeing bits and pieces of ourselves in our offspring. But we have no experience with it the other way round: where we came from. And when we finally do, it's jarring in the extreme.

Every day, I take out that unflatting picture of my birth mother from a drawer (I can't bear to leave it out yet) and hold it up next to my face and stare into the mirror. And then I take a deep breath and start taking inventory. This is like her and this is not. And so on. Then, I go on a long walk, and focus on our behaviors. This is what she does and this is what I do. This takes lots of practice. Especially if your adoptive parents were self-centered and you found yourself merging with them in order to survive. The instinct is to merge yet again but, after doing hard time in therapy, why go back to that dark and limiting place?

This incorporation of new information is tough...but the good news is...I can finally see someone authentic beginning to emerge. Someone who knows who she is and who she is not. And that takes data. Not just nicely edited data spoonfed by others in control, but all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. All in favor of Adoption With Full Disclosure to Adoptees? Here, here!!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Adoptive Mother-Daughter Dress Alike

Found a bunch of pictures of me and my adoptive mom in matching outfits.

Funny, I don't remember wearing them.

And there are quite a few of these outfits: ruffled white blouse, long black skirt. Ruffled pink top and long gypsy skirt. Yellow halter top and navy blue bell bottoms and so on.

In the pictures I am around 13 to 14, the age in which I longed for Levi jeans. My mother never let me buy them, saying they were too expensive. Instead, she bought J.C. Penny brand jeans. Apparently, the money was needed to fill our closets with matching outfits.

This was a rocky time between us. A difficult time between mothers and daughters without the complexity of adoption. With it, while denying its very existence, a not-so-silent war was declared. The very first signs of independence must have been seen as a betrayal and an abandonment. The more I gravitated toward my friends, the more she clamped down. She went from being a loving but overprotective mother to an angry, domineering one full of bitter recriminations: "You have to have your own way or no way at all," (my refusal to wear J.C. Penny jeans) and "You care more about your friends than us" and, the one uttered most often, "How can you treat us like this after all we've done for you."

I never had an answer for that one because I never really understood it. But now I do. My adoptive mother had expectations. That an adopted daughter would stay even closer to her out of gratitude.

And those matching outfits? It was a way of reminding me and the world that we were mother and daughter.

Today, I can't imagine asking my 14-year old to dress like me. Because she has her own style. Preppy meets skater. Yesterday, I even let her get some extra ear piercings because expressing herself is important. I delight in her growing independence. I am not threatened by it. But I have the comfort of knowing that, no matter what, she is my daughter. Would I - could I - be so confident if she were somebody else's child? What sort of unspoken fears would I harbor every time my child pulled away from me? Being an adoptive parent during the teeange years must be difficult. Does open adoption and adoption education make it easier? And all these foreign adoptions that aren't really open, but closed, their birth parents and histories thousands of miles away? What will it be like for them?