Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Adoptee Non-Identifying Papers

This is fellow-adoptee Mia's heartfelt and eloquent blog response to my post below. It made me cry. In a good way. If you're an adoptee toughing it out with the complexities of reunion, if you struggle with self-absorbed parents, if you - like Mia - carry the additional burden of being adopted AND being placed in a family alongside a bio child, if your mother can't or won't tell you who your father is...then please don't miss it:

"I wanted to write you regarding your recent reunion with your mother. Amongother things. I knew you were going to meet with her. Every time I thought aboutvisiting to see how it went I had this totally hard core anxietyattack. I know that must seem weird but let me explain..." www.miassavinggrace.wordpress.com

Having only seen my non-identifying adoption papers, I have nothing to compare them to.

Are they fairly representative?

Do they usually include the mother's state of mind?

Mine does. In a section entitled, "Circumstances of Placement/Other Significant" information on page 5, it states:

"Birth mother was interested in adoption for you from the first appointment."

My mother confirmed this. At 37, she knew what she was doing and found the public agency on her own.

"Birth mother describes herself as being called 'heartless' by her mother and her stepsisters for her plan of adoption."

She has repeatedly told me this, too. Definitely not the kind of thing this relinquished person wants to hear. Ever.

"She suffered great guilt after your birth."

She must have because it took her ten days to make her final decision. Which explains why I went into foster care. My mother has no recollection of any of this. Guess she blocked it out.

And finally, "There has been no contact from either of your birth parents since the relinquishment."

I'm really all over the place on these bits from the non-identifying papers. I guess, if my mother had been young and vulnerable, they wouldn't have stated, "Birth mother cried non-stop but pressure applied by social worker and maternal family prevailed," right?

I mean, it's the truth. Or some version of it as noted by a social worker back in 1960. And what about the social worker? Was she properly trained and experienced? Were her assessments correct?

It's all there in back and white. Yet it's gray with time. All murky now. Like trying to see some distant floating creature through a foggy glass.

In trying to decide what I want out of reunion: continued contact, limited and occasional contact, no more because I'm done but I'm so glad I finally met you, I find myself going back to my non-identifying papers looking for clues, evidence, something I can't quite put my finger on.

Am I looking for some sort of connection to the woman who was my mother? Am I trying to "get back" to her before she closed up and shut down and pushed me back to the farthest reaches of her mind?

If you have non-identifying information, what do you make of yours? If you're in reunion, how does what's in those papers stack up against the reality of your biological family?


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Who's My Daddy?

Will the missing piece to the puzzle that is me please stand up?

Hey you, the tall blond Mexican national working in construction with the pissed-off American ex-wife step forward. Yeah, into the lineup, thank you very much and shut the f___k up because I have some questions to ask, dammit.

Did you really have light blue eyes?

Were you really of German and Mexican ancestry?

Did you really wear size 13 shoes?

Did you really have fair skin and a nice body build with an oval face shape?

How old were you? Just over 30?

Were you really an "irrepresible" playboy with "good expression and sentence construction"?

Did you really tell her you were "sterile?"

How much liquor did you actually consume the night my mother told you she was pregnant?

And you did what? Pretend she'd said nothing at all?

Did you know she was pregnant or not?

Do you know I even exist?

You see, I'm having a little problem. My mother - after 47 years - can't remember your last name and I can't find you. I tracked her down. Mission accomplished. Now I'm setting my sights on you. I feel it's my right to at least know your name. Maybe even find out what you're like. You are my missing fifty percent.

Meeting my mother wasn't easy. It still isn't. You see, I just reread my non-identifying information and came across the paragraph that, until now, I've only skimmed over because it's just too painful. But I dragged it out just now and made myself read it. That and the description of you.

Here's what it says, so we're on the same page:

"Your mother suffered great guilt after your birth. She wondered if she was doing the right thing. She had considerable pressure from her mother to keep you as her condition became more noticeable. She took ten days to make her decision and stated that she needed to give you up for adoption. She stated that it appeared her older daughter had tuberculosis and would need a lot of care. She thought it would not be fair to either of you for her to take you into that situation."

Oh, and here's the sentence that I haven't been able to read since I first received my non-identifying information:

"She (my mother) described herself as being called "heartless" by her mother and her stepsisters for her plan of adoption."

At least, my mother had a plan.

Did you have a clue?

The Dysfunction Stops Here

If there's one good thing to come out of my adoption trauma, it's this.

In order to understand it, I read and read and read.

At some point, I learned about the importance of "mirroring." Basically, acknowledging your child's experience by being in-tune and empathetic. Instead of saying, oh no, falling off the ledge didn't hurt you at all, you say, oh, falling off the ledge must have been very scary and I understand why you're crying.

My adoptive Dad is 80 years old and still talks about his nasty, alcoholic father who beat and verbally abused him and denied him warmth and attention as if it all happened yesterday.

And while my adoptive Dad developed narcissistic personality disorder and was incapable of acting like a father, the dysfunction stops here. With me.

This is the beauty of education. The wonder of books. The opening up of better new worlds and a whole new approach to parenting. We are not doomed to repeat. We can love, unconditionally, even if we were not.

The good thing in the dark stuff? My husband and beautiful teenage daughters. And if you've been around teenagers, you know I'd be lying if I said I never nagged or scolded or raised my voice. But I do try to "mirror" them. It's probably just as important to "mirror" teenagers as it is a toddler. They're trying to figure stuff out: relationships, school, teachers, who and what they want to be, their values. So when they come home and start talking, I remember all that I've read in psych articles and I try hard not to interject and repeat their key points and say something like, "That must have been really frustrating for you. What did you do then?"

Believe me, it's NOT perfect. Sometimes I'm so alarmed or angry that I blow a fuse and skip straight to the lecture...and watch them shut down. And try again.

But if I had to say what I am grateful for, it's knowing that I can try to overcome the past and not parent in the way that led me to blog in the first place! I am grateful for my daughters and my husband, who is not adopted and does everything he can to NOT to parent like his parents.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Adoptees: Speak Truth to Power

Was just listening to Tavis Smiley's radio broadcast on the State of the Black Union.

A excellent speaker talked about the importance of speaking truth to power and someone else paraphrased Malcom X that black people didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on them. There was also a call to challenge authority.

At some point, a speaker said no apology for slavery was forthcoming and an Important Person in Power said black people "should just get over it" or some such nonsense.

And it all resonated.

It got me to thinking of where we adoptees are in OUR struggle to be heard.

If the evil system that was the Closed Era - which ended relatively recently - represents OUR enslavement then we are not very far along at all.

We are just finding our voices. Gathering strength. Trying to articulate all those things that an entire industry is dedicated to silencing. The internet has allowed us to find each other. There are more of us disgruntled adoptees (I think Possum coined this term and I love it!) than the industry would have the world believe.

Adoptees are a class of people without power. Decisions are made for us. We are condescended to throughout our lives. We are told to "get over it." There are rights just for us and the rights everybody else gets. We are the subject of documents issued by the Catholic Church (as mocked by Mia).

It is early days yet in our struggle.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

After Reunion: Figuring It Out

Suz, in a comment to my previous post, asked some important questions from the perspective of a mother in reunion. She also said something that I've thought a lot about. From her perspective, lack of feedback (silence!) after reunion feels like punishment (being doled out by her daughter). Suz, I'm sorry.

It got me to examining my own silence: eleven days.

Am I trying to punish my mother?

What am I doing? What do I want? Do I want continued contact? Did I accomplish what I needed with one meeting?

Not sure. Just not sure.

It's sooooo BIG.

Today was a sad day. A really sad day. A "how could you have left me? day. And an angry one, too.

My adoptive Dad has been especially whiny/complainy/needy the last couple days. Nothing new. Just his old narcissistic self multiplied by age/dementia.

My mother intended for me to have a better life. That's what she wanted. Instead, I was placed with a low income family without a value for education and with a long, rich history of neurosis.

She says she marched into the public adoption agency intent on adoption from the first. She received financial aid in exchange for her commitment to surrender. She says she refused to hold me because she didn't want to get attached. She had no idea I was placed in foster care for a month. She asked few questions, trusted the system. She did not call the social worker to inquire after my welfare. I DO feel abandoned and not surrendered or relinquished.

My mother is a sweet little old lady. She also showed no emotion during our meeting, not to say that she felt none. I do believe she "split off" that dark period of her life. I can feel it. She talks about that time - and me as an infant - as if it happened to somebody else and that baby is not me.

Intellectually, I understand why she does this. It is how she has coped.

But from my perspective, post reunion, it feels like I have been split off. That I am not real. A nonperson. And while she has been entirely agreeable in meeting with me and reaching out and answering all my questions (except the last name of my father), because she is so detached, it feels like another abandonment.

My silence is probably more about self-protection than punishment. All mothers are different. This is one adoptee's reaction to a particular mother who is much older and in a much different emotional place and stage than many first mothers. Maybe this reunion suffers from bad timing. Really bad timing. Maybe I should have done this sooner when we were both younger. Maybe there's such a thing as leaving something too long.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Post Reunion Etiquette

Is there such a thing?

Or maybe this should be titled, "Post Reunion Expectations."

Woke up realizing I'm in a post reunion void.

Have been more busy than usual lately - in a good way - feeling happier and certainly more grounded than before I met my mother. I was terrified to meet her, this 83 year old woman. I am so glad I did.

It's been 10 days since our meeting. Now what?

I've needed the time and space to process her real face and personality and all that is her - or as much can be gleaned in 1.5 hours. I guess she's doing the same.

While I can't bring myself to call - yet - I'm a tad surprised and, admittedly, a wee bit hurt that she hasn't called or dropped a note. After all, I initiated the search, the first meeting, etc. Umph. Maybe she's thinking the same thing.

On the positive side, have realized just how much progress I've made on dealing with abandonment issues usually triggered by unexplained fades like not getting return phone calls or emails, etc. Dropped a note to my niece - we had a good first meeting - to ask after a problem she was having and to thank her for hosting the meeting with my mother. No reply. Normally, this would freak me out but while I'm curious, I'm not upset. She works long hours and is dealing with some ucky stuff right now. My reaction represents a big leap forward in fighting the Abandonment Demon.

Another positive, my mother is a neat freak. I am so NOT. However, I am trying to find my inner clean gene. It's GOT to be in there, somewhere, so I've been trying to be more efficient. I spend focused time on straightening up and it's amazing how much better the house looks. It's also easier to THINK and RELAX when you're not stepping over stacks of newspapers, piles of laundry and drifting mounds of dog hair!


Monday, February 19, 2007

When All Is Right, What is Wrong?

I lost a great quote from a self-help book. I read them on a selective basis and this one had to do with dysfunctional families. (No surprise there)

It had to do with chaotic parenting. Basically, a child is raised by a parent or parents who bounce from crisis to crisis.

At first, I didn't think this had anything to do with MY adoptive family. Narcissism and self-absorbtion, sure. But not chaos.

And then I had a hot tub epiphany.

There I was, last night, sitting with my husband in our brand new hot tub. It was a nightmare getting it installed and we were finally enjoying the steaming water, the clear night sky and the scent of jasmine wafting from the newly blooming vines.

Everything was right with the world.

Had just talked to my youngest daughter on her first away trip with another family. Safe and sound. Check.

Oldest daughter upstairs with two girlfriends. We could hear screechy girly noises and the sound of instant messages being received. All good. Check.

Husband. Bad back being relieved by hot tub, which is why we got it in the first place. Check.

Me? Great. Sitting in the hot tub, I did not feel adopted or like the daughter of a whacky narcissist nor did I feel abandoned by my birthmother. Wasn't thinking of any of those issues.

BUT, somehow, I couldn't totally relax. Or maybe the problem was that I WAS relaxed but was feeling guilty. Like things were just too good to be true. So I began casting about. Did I forget something? What if my youngest tried to call and I'd left the phone inside? Okay, oldest daughter would pick it up. Had I forgotten to call my Dad? No. I had to FORCE myself to stay in the moment and enjoy. And I did.

This morning I realized I've always done this. That I ruin perfectly beautiful moments batting away a looming feeling of dread. Is it that I think I am unworthy of happiness? Could this be related to being relinquished as an infant? That I am always on my guard because my entire world might change - for the worse - in a flash?

Or is it due to the chaos of childhood?

Besides being a narcissist, my adoptive father also suffers from acute anxiety. When he traveled to Hawaii he spent weeks fretting about what could go wrong. The second his feet touched Hawaiian soil, he began worrying about the trip to the volcano and, once at the volcano, began worrying about the drive back. Then he worried nonstop over the plane ride home. You get the picture. Trips to the dentist, a simple cold, an unreturned item borrowed from a neighbor, all were causes of DRAMA. All were treated as if the stakes were high and the consequences catastrophic. And on the day with nothing much going on, even the arrival of the phone bill could cause of a fuss. We must drop everything because he had to dash to the phone company and pay the bill in person. Mundane life was lived at high intensity. Simple conversations were equally intense. Small talk did not exist for him. He must recount his many troubles to casual acquaintenaces in the supermarket isle. He demanded attention and intensity.

My husband has long noticed this about my a-Dad. That he moves from crisis to crisis and if there isn't one, he'll create one.

I never connected this to my struggles to relax, to stay firmly rooted in the moment. If you are raised by such a person, then you have this modeled for you. You have to learn - from other people and later in life - how to regulate one's emotions. To learn to power down. To learn that such intensity is draining and harmful and UNNATURAL. That you can slam the door on a life of chaos and say, "Good riddance!"

Friday, February 16, 2007

I See Dead Patterns

Recently, an especially ODIOUS person took time out from his very important day to chastise a young blogger - trying to come to terms with some serious nature-of-birth-identity-issues - and advised her to unstick herself from the past and just get on with her life.

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point because, if you're adopted or a first mother or have a sperm donor Dad, you've heard it.

It occurred to me - last weekend - that reflecting on the past is CRITICAL, not because we want to wallow in it, but because we need to figure out how we COPED with it and discover if all those coping strategies are working for us today.

There are certain things I do that bug me. Really bug me. I had no idea where they came from, only that they made me uncomfortable. These behaviors could ruin an otherwise nice, family weekend. Keep me up at night. Send me into a non-productive frenzy in which I scurried around and got absolutely nothing important done. Or, took a nap.

One example:

When I meet someone new, I'm not me. I knock myself out trying to be nice and saying the right thing. Afterward, I'm drained. Like I made a major effort against my inner will. It's very Pavlovian. Meet a stranger. Act super friendly!

Why? Why why why???

Epiphany while visiting my adoptive Dad. He introduces me to one of the nurses in his dementia unit and he says, "Doesn't she look like a clown with that lipstick? Tell her it looks awful. She won't believe me."

So what did I do? Stepped in front of my Dad's wheelchair, in effect blocking him, and said in my brightest voice: "I LOVE your lipstick!!! What brand is it? Oh, MAC. I LOVE Mac..."

We then have a 5-minute chat about the virtues of MAC lipstick for us ethnic women.

Yes my Dad has dementia. But he's ALWAYS done this sort of thing, as far back as I can remember. When I was around 10, we were at a wedding and some old friends of my a-mom stopped to show off their baby. He was a big, bald, chubby thing. I'm already cringing, but it's no use. My Dad says, "Kinda looks like Kruschev doesn't he?"

I'll never forget the look on their faces. Wounded eyes and their shoulders sagged.

So what did I do?

I jumped up, declared the baby to be the CUTEST BABY EVER!!! and then, to prove it, spent the rest of the wedding carting Baby Kruschev around making the biggest fuss you've ever seen. Did I really want to do that? No. I wanted to run around with the rest of the kids my age, but I couldn't. Not lugging around a 25 pound infant.

Reflecting on the past helped me understand the patterns. Oh, that is what my A-Dad does. This is my coping strategy. I'm a fixer. Now that I know I'm a fixer I can retrain myself to STOP because I don't like fixing things and it leaves me emotionally drained and resentful.

Another case in point. I called my Dad at the appointed hour. He complains non-stop and, at one point, tells me he's so mad at "Bernie" that he's going to punch him. I tell my Dad he is not allowed to hit Bernie and threaten consequences like you would a pre-schooler itching for a fight.
Sure enough, the phone rings an hour later. My Dad is complaining of chest pains and is demanding the paramedics. Normally, I'd spend all evening calling him every half hour, call the nurses, have a lousy night's sleep with the phone next to my pillow and yammer at my tired husband about my manipulative Dad.

Last night I DIDN'T. I KNEW my Dad was pulling my strings. Besides, I wanted to focus on my 16-year old and HER mock trial competition which ended last night and she was in the mood to talk. So we did and I didn't think about my Dad beyond determing that he was having an anxiety attack and that he had settled down.

Now that's progress!!! That's identifying old patterns and coping strategies and being mindful of them and trying to move past them.

(The coping strategies mentioned aren't really adoptee related, but those linked to being raised by a narcissist without empathy or filters. I DO have adoptee-related-anecdotes but these are easier to explain and a little more entertaining. )

Every person - the adopted and non-adopted - have coping strategies. But it's arguable that adoptees have more...rooted in our reaction to loss and grief and trying to fit into a family of genetic strangers. We're dancing the Adoptee Dance, a fast and furious and sometimes exhausting jig.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Adoptees: Writing Our Way Into Existence

Most people can never understand the depths of loss an adoptee experiences.

Joy wrote about this with her usual eloquence and creative flair. Please check it out. It made me a wee weepy. www.joy21.wordpress.com. Also, don't miss the comments.

Which leads me to the importance of blogging for some of us adoptees.

We try to explain.

We try to get people to understand.

We're trying to make sense of something we had no control over.

We try not to care about other's quivering indignation that we feel loss and grief instead of gratitude and joy that we were "chosen."

We try to shrug off all that unwanted advice. The "don't get stuck in the past" and the "just get on with your life" crap.

We MUST explore the past before we can embrace the future.

We MUST unlock the grief, the sadness, the confusion, the bewilderment and yes, the anger.

This is NOT getting stuck in the past. We MUST put a framework on it. We MUST define it and CONTAIN it because it's a Medusa of a monster. It's the scary fluttery demons inside Pandora's Box. Otherwise, the snakes or the demons continue to haunt us, attacking us when we least expect. They WILL get us if we don't get them first.

We DO exhaust ourselves trying to explain something some people really don't WANT to understand. It's just too uncomfortable.

In some cases, those who wanted us wanted someone, anyone, but not necessarily us.

On some days, we don't feel real. We feel unreal. Being adopted is a surreal state. We're trapped in a netherworld of being rejected and being wanted.

We exhaust ourselves trying to explain the inexplicable.

We struggle for words where they often fail us. How to capture this nuance? That fleeting feeling?

This is my belated Valentine's Day Love Note to the Blogosphere: Thank you for providing a way for me to write my way into existence. Thank you for providing a community of adoptees and others touched by and interested in adoption. Did I mention I LOVE comments and the genius that went into the creation of that feature? Thank you Blogosphere for making it possible for all of us adoptees to find each other...across state lines and time zones. For allowing us to explore our feelings while still in our jammies.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Post Reunion Euphoria: The Crash!

I can see this is going to be a PROCESS.

After 1.5 days of euphoric reaction to meeting my mother for the first time, I woke up feeling a bit blue.

Spent the morning trying to analyze it.

My therapist had advised me to roll up the "windows" when meeting with her, knowing that my mother isn't the most sensitive person in the world. She's not in the least malicious, but she is brutally honest and, as I've learned the hard way, this sweet little old lady is capable of delivering one hell of a knockout blow.

So I "rolled up" my windows. Which was a good idea because I remember trying not to flinch a couple times and my niece darting nervous glances in my direction.

And while I was able to deflect some of her unintentional verbal muck, one or two pieces of crap managed to squeek in through the one inch window gap.

I think it's important for me to pin down the source of my discomfort. I'll move past it quicker that way.

My niece asked my mother who I looked like when I was born.

My mother shrugged. "I guess like her father," she replied vaguely.

"What do you mean 'you guess'? my niece shot back. " You saw her didn't you?"

"Well, not really," said my mother. "The nurse kept trying to bring her to me and I only peeked at her once because I couldn't let myself get attached. Uh uh. No way. So I just saw her for a minute and that was it. I had already made up my mind, you see."

Okay. This isn't one of those tragic scenes out of "The Girls Who Went Away" in which a teenager is sobbing over her baby while her disapproving mother and social worker hover nearby, adoption papers and pen at the ready.

And then there are the reasons for the relinquishment. "It was mostly economic," my mother explained. "I already had three children to take care of, I had no husband and I had to work. I couldn't do that to you. I wanted you to have a father and a mother and an education."

Okay. Two of those "children" were already grown and had left the house. Which left one teenager, but that daughter had been living for several years with her aunt so, technically, my mother wasn't taking care of anybody. And then she mentioned that several months after giving birth, she ran into my father at a nightclub.

I've heard some of this before. It's just harder to hear in person, I guess.

This is NOT a romantic story of a young girl who desperately struggled to keep her baby. This is the story of a 38-year old divorced woman who marched into a public adoption agency, accepted financial aid in exchange for agreeing to give up her baby, then hit the bars and club scene less than two months later. By all accounts, my mother is NOT the nuturing type and time and again chose the men in her life over her children.

This is not to say that she did not grieve her loss. Just maybe not as much or as deeply as other first mothers. As a relinquished person, I would LIKE to have had one of those first moms. But I don't. I'm going to allow myself to feel disappointed and let myself have whatever feelings surface. I'm STILL glad I met her and I STILL feel more me than I did before reunion.

Who knows. Maybe I'll wake up euphoric tomorrow. Or not. It's certainly an interesting and important process though. I can't imagine NOT meeting her.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

It Ain't So Bad: Reunion

Met with my birthmother today.

To borrow the words of Jane Austen: "I am all amazement!"

Amazement that I am still standing.

I am changed. Yet the same.

It was a transformative, healing, grounding experience. Not nearly as scary as I thought.

I survived!

Do we take our cues from our mothers?

My mother was NOT in the least emotional. She gave no hugs. Shed no tears. Expressed no remorse.

So....I was not emotional. I gave no hugs. I shed no tears then or later. I expressed no remorse.

I kept looking at her...thinking: "This is my mother. Shouldn't I feel more?"

Maybe I will later.

Did we both "disassociate" so much that we could not connect? Did we connect? I think we did.

Feeling slightly euphoric because I sorta look like my mother but not really. I'm told I have my father's eyes and brow line. I look like my sister...the pretty one...and that makes me happy. Went out to dinner with my niece and we look like relatives. I am 46 and have a 20-something great-nephew with tattos (sp) who actually asked for job advice.

I actually HAVE people I am related to.

I feel more me than I have ever felt.

And even though my mother isn't the nuturing type...the type to express regret or remorse...oddly, that's okay. Her ghost has been banished and she is who she is...just a woman who had a baby daughter 46 years ago.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reporting for Duty, SIR!

Note: Meant to update before heading out of town, but ran out of time. Will check in on the below-mentioned a-Dad and meet my birthmom for first time. Have spent several days battling INTENSE desire to cancel trip. Filled with dread, as I usually am at the prospect of spending time with my so-called "father." Leroy Dissing blew me away in his comment about Stockholm Syndrome to this post (also see below). I'll write about this on my return. I think he's absolutely right. That in my case, and under certain circumstances, it's possible to feel like you've been "kidnapped" by the family of genetic strangers that was chosen for you.

Also: Reporting for duty, Maam!

Why did it take four agonizing decades to acknowledge that I had MAJOR issues with being adopted?

Why, in my early twenties, did I write a letter to the editor of a national newspaper in which I (a) scolded adoptees who searched for their birthfamilies; (b) expressed my undying gratitude and love for my adoptive parents; (c) defended the sanctity of adoption...

WHEN, during that same time, my adoptive parents were acting especially ODIOUS, threatening to cut me off emotionally and financially if I went away to college?

WHY did I repeatedly shrug my shoulders and tell friends being adopted was no big deal?

WHY did I tell friends I never thought of my birthmother when I did?

Why did I agree to enslave myself to a narcissistic adoptive father and selfish adoptive mother?

These questions continue to haunt me.

And then, just the other day, I was listening to producer Rory Kennedy talk about her new documentary about Abu Ghraib and the torture and prisoner abuse that happened there at the hands of American soldiers. She mentioned Yale psychologist Stanley Millgram's classic (and controversial) experiment on obedience to authority. The tests measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.


Substitute needy adoptive parents in the role of the guy with the white lab coat and now we're talking. If the participants in the obedience study were willing, although some were uncomfortable, to zap another person just because they were told to do so by a stranger, just imagine how a child might react to the spoken and unspoken messages of that ultimate of authority figures: the parent?

It's NO WONDER it took so long to overcome years and years of all the pressure, the secrecy, the half-truths and denial about adoption.

We don't talk about that. It's bad. If you talk about it, you are hurting your mother. You are ungrateful. You owe us. If you ask questions, you will make your mother cry. "The woman who made you" isn't your real mother. She's a tramp. In front of outsiders, let's pretend that you are not adopted and tell people that you look like your dead grandmother.

All of those messages - the ones said and those more subtly relayed by body language and silences and meaningful stares - demanded obedience. What other choice did we have?

This also constituted brainwashing.

Factor in society's general ignorance about what it's like to be adopted (You were Chosen! You are Special! You should be Happy! You Should Be Grateful! If you are not Happy or Grateful, You are Maladjusted and you "shouldn't get hung up on the past and get on with your life").

Is it any wonder that so many of us - those raised by undereducated parents or parents who's needs outweigh the best interests of the child - have spent so many years feeling lost and confused and conflicted until...finally...one day, we just can't do it anymore. We can't pretend. Not one more second or minute.

Being adopted by Adoption Deniers means getting brainwashed. If you had the lousy luck of landing THOSE kinds of parents, it means you will be programmed to obey if you're ever going to survive. It means reporting for duty the very second you are handed over into their eager arms. You will be asked to sacrifice your true self, your history. None of that will be important. What is important is that you go along with the fiction of their telling. For they are in control. You are but a child who will grow up and ignore the little voices that say, No wait, that's not how I feel. That's not what I want. But the brainwashing is constant and powerful.

It feels GREAT to deprogram.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Reunion: 1st Casualty


My half-sister, 19 years old when I was born and one of the few souls who knew of my mother's predicament, has changed her mind about meeting me.

At least for now. I guess.

This coming weekend I'm heading south to check on my adoptive Dad who's in lockdown in a dementia unit plus getting together with my niece and meeting my birthmom for the first time.

Had planned to see my half-sister who cried when we first talked. She was very welcoming. Said a day had not gone by that she hadn't thought of me and wondered how everything had turned out. In fact, she said she'd begged our mother not to go through with her adoption plans but that our mother was determined from the start.

I always wanted a big sister so I took care to take it slow and easy. I was never emotional or clingy or needy.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when I called to confirm our plans only to discover that she'd had a change of heart. Not that she said so directly. It was all sort of mysterious and vague.

I suggested coffee on Friday and she said, Oh no, you're having dinner with our niece. No, said I. That's Saturday. Then she said she didn't want to be there when I met our mother on Sunday because that would be too many people, and concluded by saying I'd be very busy and she'd meet me next time I came down.

To be honest, yesterday, I just shrugged my shoulders and thought, "Oh well, I guess she's just not ready to meet me yet." But now it's beginning to nag at me. There are the faint stirrings of what I now recognize as my old fear of abandonment and rejection except, this time, I can identify those feelings. It's a sort of bubbling up of panic. I hope it doesn't get too bad and that I can overcome it. Especially because this half-sister is much more significant than my dog sitter who didn't call me back for days or the guy I once dated who disappeared from my life without a phone call or explanation.

Intellectually, I can understand her reluctance. She didn't ask for me to come back into their lives. She may be scared. The reason may be simple or complex. Maybe she doesn't know why she isn't ready to meet me but simply can't. She's obese. Maybe she wants to lose weight, first. Our mother, apparently, brags about how well I turned out and are siblings ever too old for rivalry?

I mean, really, who knows?

But I care.

Okay. This is definitely a trigger. Someone pulls a fade and I get all freaked out. Okay, okay. I'm gonna reach into my imaginary cupboard and take two chill pills with water.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Adopter Gets His

Admittedly, I'm stuck on a groove. Trying to get a handle on my job as only child and caretaker to my narcissistic adoptive father, who has Lewy Body dementia. He lives in a special unit of an Assisted Living facility. In short, I'm seething with resentment because I'm the only person in his life and I am responsible for someone who never acted like a parent. Instead, I parented this child-like man since I was a child.

So why didn't I cut him off? Because I was so caught up playing the good adoptee and being overly responsible and rushing around trying to cater to him that I didn't even realize until ten months ago just how screwed up he was...and I was. BTW, he was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder about a year ago. Finally.

You reap what you sow.

You get what you deserve.

You get as good as you give.

What you do comes back to you.

I'm sure I could come up with some more, but why bother? Okay, just one more. He had it coming.

Oh, the irony!!!

Just the other day, I posted about a disturbing chat with my Dad. He confirmed my adoptive mother didn't like talking about it with me because my curiosity about my heritage was not important, that it hurt my mother to discuss it, that he thought adoption was ugly and "leaves a bad taste in your mouth" and that my mother didn't like to think of me "that way" and would rather pretend I was theirs.


Dad called yesterday and sounded like his old-pre-dementia self. He was lucid and said he'd just realized he'd been imagining things. I explained he was having hallucinations and that it was part of his "problem" and did my best to reassure him.

Apparently, I wasn't sympathetic enough because he said peevishly, "You don't know what I'm going through. This is terrible way to live and all you can say is, Uh uh, I understand (imagine mocking in girly voice). But you don't. You'll never understand what I'm going through."

And then he went on to say he never knew what was real and what wasn't and how maddening it all was.

Well, how about that.

The man who...

(a) said my curiosity about my adoption particulars was not important,
(b) informed strangers I was his biological child (in front of me),
(c) told me I was a German Jew because he admittedly wasn't paying attention to the social worker (I'm Hispanic, my birthfather - or, "the man who made you" as he's usually referred to, was a blond Mexican national with German ancestry),
(d) told people I looked like my dead adoptive grandmother (again, in front of me)

To recap, my Dad said I'd never understand what it was like to not trust your environment because, who knows, it might not be real.

Well. How about that?

Of course, I wanted to say, "How do YOU like it, Mister? It sucks, doesn't it? You try living in make-believe world for four decades and then we'll talk."

Of course, I didn't. I'm not cruel. That would probably consitute elder abuse.

I must have spent all evening thinking up witty comebacks. None of which I'd ever dare utter.

But the whole thing IS rather karmic. Subject your adoptive daughter to a life of lies and pretense and what do you get in return? Hallucinations. I mean, how fitting is that most cruel of punishments?


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Talking and Not Talking About Adoption

Context: I was born in 1960 during the Closed Era of Adoption, which many social scientists have referred to as "a failed social experiment." While my parents did tell me I was adopted when I was around four or five, further discussion was discouraged. Between 1970 and '73, as my curiousity about my background grew, I tentatively raised the subject again. Each time, my adoptive mother became nearly hysterical and very angry. "I'm your real mother," she would cry. "That's all you need to know. She gave you away. I'm the one who gets up with you in the middle of the night when you're sick, I'm the one who..."

But that was a long time ago.

I remember it, clearly, but could I be wrong?

Once again, I decided to revisit the subject with my father who, in the past, has confirmed my memories.

For the last two weeks, my adoptive Dad seemed worse than ever. His dementia is progressing fast. He's becoming more needy, emotional, sleepy and incoherent. And then, last night, he sounded perky and coherent and perfectly reasonable (and narcissistic, of course).

This may be the last time I can ask him a question about my adoption, I reasoned.

I took notes. Here's the conversation. For the record, we've had this conversation a decade ago before he developed dementia. It's pretty much the same except for the "bad taste in your mouth" bit...which I've always suspected.

Me: "Dad, when I was younger and I tried to ask Mom about my adoption, she acted very angry. Did she?"

Dad: "Oh yeah. You made her really mad."

Me: "Why? Why did that make her mad?"

Dad: "Because she didn't like to think of you as adopted. She thought of you as hers. She liked to pretend that you were hers. And you kept bringing it up. You know how you are, so stubborn."

Me: "But Dad, didn't she think I might be curious. Might want to know about where I came from?"

Dad: "That didn't matter to us. We thought of you as OURS. You ARE ours. You BELONG to us and that's all that counted."

Me: "I know, Dad. But, didn't you ever think I might have some questions. I mean, YOU would if YOU were adopted."

Dad: "Your mother didn't like you to talk about it. She didn't like to think of you that way."

Me: "But there's nothing wrong with being adopted, Dad. It's a fact. I AM adopted."

Dad: "If you want to go around telling people, go ahead. But we didn't do that. No way. We would just tell people you were ours."

Me: "So you thought being adopted should be kept secret?"

Dad: "That was our business and nobody elses. As soon as you tell people you're adopted, they get a bad taste in their mouth."

Me: "A bad taste in their mouth? What do you mean?"

Dad: "It's such an ugly thing. That's why your mother didn't like you to talk about it. It leaves such a bad taste in your mouth."

And, because I must like punishment, one more time...for the record:

"Dad, didn't you ever think it might be important to me to have more information about my history?"

Dad (almost puzzled at the mention of the word "me." I don't say it often, nor do I use its twin "I" because both are useless when talking to a narcissist-there is only "them"): "No. That wasn't important to us. You belonged to us and that's all there was to it."

Okay, this sort of crazy talk makes an adoptee feel like she's Alice in Denialland.

It's a wonder I didn't end up in the looney bin.

It's no wonder I am resentful toward my adoptive parents for making me live such a repressed and lonely life while under their roof.

It is no wonder I skipped town as soon as I could for college and limited contact because, being with them made me feel invisible and diminished.

There was no me. There was only their needs. It did not once occur to them that the daughter who "belonged" to them may have an inner life that needed attention.