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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Blogger Third Mom said...

Nina, thank you for sharing the complex feelings that you're experiencing in your reunion. Something struck me in the post before this one - that your first mother is in her 80s. Although I'm older than you are, my mother is also in her 80s. I see in her a different level of interest in family issues as she gets older - perhaps it's part of the aging process, a shedding of "worldy" things as the end of life gets closer. Perhaps at least part of your mother's casual attitude is related to this.

This may sound like pop psychology, as I'm certainly no professional, but having seen the same thing in my mother I thought I'd share it.

Thanks again for writing your experience.

12:34 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

Wow. Your mother was 37? What in the world would make a 37 year old woman (in the US?) abandon her kid? The mind boggles.

I never really had a fantasy of why my mother got rid of me. I knew she didn't want me.

Oh and about life with my adoptive family? She didn't want to know. Didn't care to know. When I told her I was molested in that house she said, "You are just making that up to make me feel guilty and it's not going to work!"


2:54 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said... seems your mother just doesn't want to hear about the reality of your childhood or adult experience because to accept it for what it was, would mean she would have to access the guilt over the decision she made to let you go. Because she will not allow herself to feel anything over that decision, she cannot feel happiness for you, your family and perhaps even for herself. I wonder if she ever grieved over what she did. It doesn't sound to me that it ever happened. She has build a wall around her by telling herself over and over how much better you were; how she did it for you. Well, we know she had other reasons and those involved herself. Now she continues deluding herself with the same script. So you are probably right in that you will not ever get what you wanted from her or your father if he is still alive.

Someone told me to help them find some songs that a person, who I had never heard, had written and performed. I found some and one resonated with me about you and other adoptees. I am sure you have heard it. It was written by Buffy Sainte-Marie entilted: Up Where We Belong. It is the theme song from the movie, An Officer and a Gentlemen. The lyrics can be found at:

When I heard the closing chorus, it made me think of you and others:

Time goes by
No time to cry
Life's you and I
Alive... today

Love lift us up where we belong
where the eagles cry
on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
far from the world we know
up where the clear winds blow

May there always be clear winds in your world Nina.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

I think it is how moms get by, by clinging on to the hope that they did the BEST thing, imagine losing your child for a second, imagine that it was the BEST thing, and finding a way to live with it, imagine finding out instead that it was crappy?

11:21 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

I agree with you Joy that a mother has to believe it is best for the child to give him/her up as a way to cope with a decision they would otherwise have never made. It is when parents are told that the hope they had, was in reality, far different that they either accept that perhaps it was a mistake OR they won't listen to anything else (denial) such as with Nina's mother. In essense, they completely believe there was no other alternative then what they did. It is as though they have put themselves into a "victim role" and want to stay there to avoid any responsibility for the decision they made.

I do not mean to villianize women who give up their children for adoption. There could be some very legitmate reasons for doing so. However, what I am trying to say (and maybe not doing a very good job of articulating) is that regardless of why they decided to give their child up, it would be a very human response to grieve that decision because it wipes out parenting your child during their most formative years. It wipes out what might have been had I sacrificed to keep that child. I wipes out part of their identity and role to the child and the child's identity to the parent. And I believe at some level the parent as well as the child has major regret for that. They allow a "scab" to form over the hurt they have in order to deal with the grief. But when they reunite, the "scab" either hardens or is picked off and the wound exposed. What happens after either causes more pain or takes the healing process to another level or both.

Hope is great to cling too because it does give us comfort and motivation to move forward. It is when we discover the things we hoped for don't measure up with reality that life gets very dicey and sometimes depressing. That is when we find out what "metal" we really are made of; how we cope when life really gives us the curve ball we didn't hope for and perhaps feared.

Sorry for ranting a bit. I got long-winded!

12:34 AM  
Blogger suz said...

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.

Wow. Nina, once again, a wonderful thought provoking post from you.

The excerpt above struck me. Perhaps its age or the state of our reunion (almost two years but not F2F or phone - just emails and photos) but I get the very clear impression from my daughter she DOESNT want to hear anything about my sorry, my pain, my grief. Maybe its maturity. She just cannot handle it. Maybe seeing mine will force her to see her own. A mirror reflection if you will.

My point? There are some of us who do feel what you need your mom to feel. We just dont voice it because we are of the impression it is not wanted or expected or that it can be handled. More importantly, we are told we have no right to feel those things. That we are stupid, selfish, whining over our grief. "You made your bed, now lie in it". No one wants to hear.

I just dont know.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Third Mom: I definitely think advanced age has something to do with some of what she expresses. Having you point it out does make it a bit easier to handle! I say a bit because I've formed my impressions of my b.m. from personal experience and by listening to other birth family members. What has struck all of them, including myself, is the cavalier, breezy attitude in which she describes her decision to the manner that some people would talk about taking a dog to the pound. I DESPERATELY want to think it's just age but her granddaughter says that's just the way she is...

which leads me to:

Elizabeth: Well, hell, I have LOTS of trouble with her age at the time of my surrender. 37. I think there are many sides to the truth. I believe she really wanted me to have a mother and a father and a better life but I also think she simply wasn't at the age and stage she wanted another kid. She wanted to party. In passing, she let it slip she was back at the bar where she met my birth dad just several months after she had me. Ouch.

JOY: Yeah, I beginning to think that, too. Compared to her other kids (drugs/booze), I turned out okay and she attributes that to my adoption.

LEROY: I think you're on target on lots of things and levels but one REALLY sticks out...she has not allowed herself to grieve her decision...back then...or now...based on what she has said. I think she has totally cut herself off from her feelings as a coping mechanism.

SUZ: Since I don't know your daughter, I couldn't begin to guess what SHE wants or what she's ready to hear from you. But I believe that YOU have profound feelings of loss that you would be able to share and that you are probably right to trust your instincts about what your daughter wants. Your instincts are probably right and most of us don't give our "gut" the proper respect! If your daughter is giving off the "boundary" vibe, then she may not be ready to hear more - yet - or may not know how to express that need. Who knows. Maybe I'm giving off a "stay clear" vibe w/o realizing it? Reunion is sooooo challenging. And downright weird sometimes.

1:34 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Suz...and I am the kind of person that believes if you are having that "gut" feeling that your daughter doesn't want to talk, I would check it out with her. I would probably come right out and ask. Her response or nonresponse would let you know and then you can let her know that when she is ready to listen, to let you know. I think you are then showing her you respect her boundaries and what she is ready/able to handle now and at the same time giving her permission that it is okay to ask (you are also modeling that by asking her what she prefers). Being up front takes the guessing out of it...might be some risk but I would sooner know than tap dancing around the issues.

4:17 AM  

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