For maybe seven years I championed adoption and birthmother-hood. I blogged on a birthmother blog and on my own, I spoke for and contributed to adoption fundraisers and felt affirmed by the narrative of courage and self-lessness of birthmothers. I resolved to be the perfect birthmother and looked forward to the day we would reunite.
I read ‘Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew‘ around the time I was pregnant with Kay*, four years ago. Being married and having more children encouraged me to seek out my own identity in many ways and I became curious about the biological family I never knew (long story). This was in conjunction with reading the book, and not only did I realize that I was harboring many of these problematic emotions she described, but that perhaps Jay* was too. I read adoptee blogs and the First Mother Forum (a blog which initially enraged me and now I appreciate). I was confronted with the possibility that the positive lens through which I or his adoptive parents viewed adoption might not be shared by the adoptee himself, Jay. By the darkness being exposed, I was immediately thrown into a sort of limbo because I didn’t want to take any extreme stance until I knew where my son stood. That’s ultimately what I care about, and I likely won’t know for a few years.
I couldn’t imagine singing the praises of something by which he felt subconsciously wronged. Even worse, after hearing story after story of adoptee suicide, I was compelled to keep my mouth shut until I understood more. I wanted to anticipate and be receptive to the beliefs he might secretly harbor; the same negative comments new birthmothers often spend so much energy trying to disprove, I wanted to absorb and feel and thus be prepared for if he should hold those fears and anger and insecurities. So often the dialogue is just about how the birthmother feels or how the adoptive parents feel, and rarely do we all stop to put ourselves in the shoes of the adoptee. Yes, some adoptees have none of these negative feelings and in fact spend quite a bit of time emphatically saying so. If that’s how Jay turns out to be, I’ll support him fully. I’ll still go into it with apologies and empathy, though.
And sometimes adoptees don’t think they have them. In fact maybe they go 25 years without feeling them or with rolling their eyes at people pitying them, and then something spurs them to dig deep and they discover it was there all along. I relate to that; that’s what I’ve been experiencing with my own biological family and also as a birthmother. People change. Eyes open. I’m just one of many birthmothers who “came out of the fog” as they say – the same concept exists for adoptees. For adoptive parents. Many might just be speaking from the fog.
We can go back and forth arguing about technicalities and theology and laws and reform, but we have to stop to consider that what we’re speaking about are actual people with complex feelings and experiences and opinions of their own. Not just babies. Babies who grow into children who grow into adults, spouses, parents, grandparents. And if they could speak without a deep fear of displeasing those around them to whom they likely feel indebted, or without the fear of opening up wounds they’d rather deny, maybe they wouldn’t parrot back the same positive adoption lingo everyone desperately wants to be true. As a birthmom, I spent so much time arguing with others who wanted to cast me in a negative light because of my decision. When I finally stopped, I realized I was running away from those accusations simply because…well, who wouldn’t? I needed to face them and accept them. And then recognize that it’s not black and white. It’s not all negative and it’s not all positive. I’m not either brave and selfless and heroic OR selfish, irresponsible, and unloving. It’s scary and difficult to hold positive and negative truths about yourself in balance. It’s easier to try to prove that actually what looks like a bad thing is really an awesome thing. That’s human nature.
Why do I want to share? To encourage dialogue which will hopefully result in everyone considering the adoptee in a more constructive and empathetic manner. Maybe you can’t have an open adoption (maybe – and I’m not talking about justifying your fear of an open adoption with excuses), but you can resolve to have a relentless “openness about adoption” in your family. You can initiate conversations and not shy away from how they really feel instead of censoring and correcting their terms and thoughts. The burden lies with the adoptive parents and the birthparents – you both resulted in the child’s circumstances and you both hold the responsibility to do them justice. There’s a term – AP fragility- which more often than not, is the reason why openness doesn’t exist. We need to have honest conversations about that. And that often starts with understanding that adoption is not just another way of creating a replica of a biological family. Holding that perspective is to invite damage.
But at the same time, thanks to online groups, I’ve spoken with birthparents who have put their pain and victimhood ahead of the needs of their children and refuse to get help themselves, refuse to do what their child needs them to do so that they can be available. Only 5% (some say less than 1%) of birthmothers refuse contact with their adult children, but that second rejection adds trauma onto trauma. And even among those who do reunite, the emotions of both adoptees and birthparents can be volatile, causing all sorts of heartache. These issues and wounds need to be dealt with long before adulthood. The APs need to recognize that and work with their children while they are young, and the birthparent’s need to use the time following relinquishment for facing their fears and deep pain-if not their own, then the primal pain they’ve caused their children, however necessary, not running from it or trying to cover it up with platitudes and denial.
This perspective released me from my desperate clinging to justification and instead wanting to know how my son, the one currently voiceless in the matter, might feel. And recognizing that how he feels will evolve with each year. Just as every year has changed my perspective one way or another as a birthmother.
As usual, letting go of self is the first step to really seeing.