I have always loved to dance. As an adult adoptee, a bio mom, and an adoptive mom, I dance between love and loss regularly. I dance with joy over small victories and small signs of acceptance. I dance to escape pain and to avoid obvious rejection from my family(ies). Let me continue to dance with the pain, the understanding, the surrender, His plan, and not faint.

Posts tagged ‘adoptees’

Our Bodies Remember

In our split-level home around our kitchen table that seats our family of six, we pray for Naika; bringing Naika to us from her orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti will make us “seven.”  We labor to send Three Angel’s Orphanage support money each month, gather paperwork to prove our financial stability, our mental stability, the healthy tone of our home and family, that we have no criminal records attached to our fingerprints.  We are pregnant with the anticipation of bringing Naika to our home, and after ten months, she arrives on U.S. pavement at the Miami airport.  We wait, our unblinking eyes and our cameras fixated on double-doors with double-paned glass windows—limiting our vision.  In a slow moment, we see our little two-and-a-half year old daughter delivered out of customs; she rides in a cart toting her “luggage”—a candy apple red backpack with one change of clothes in it, and the name “Rosaline” written in black marker across the top.  We smile and speak softly to her, and she (with no smile written on her face) lifts her arms up to me—a request to be lifted out of the cart.  I place her on my hip, the hip accustomed to carrying our other four children.

Photos of our daughter this first night together in the airport hotel in Miami prove Dr. Bryan Post’s theories on attachment.  No matter my soothing tones and gentle rubbing of anti-fungal lotion on her skin.  No matter the first warm bath for her and her little Haitian friend who came over on the airplane too.  No matter the My Little Pony new jammies and the Pooh Bear sticker book.  No matter our concern she must be hungry and the ice cream cone she hesitatingly accepts.  Our expressions of joy in the pictures clearly miss her expressions of fear in the moment.  Little do we know, she falls asleep quickly and easily that night in the Miami airport hotel not because we love her and she feels safe, but because her two-and-a-half year old brain is shut down and fear chemicals race through her bloodstream.   

We awake the next morning in Miami, and the three of us get on a plane.  We put Finding Nemo in my husband’s computer to entertain her, and a couple hours later, we land in Minneapolis.  Naika on my hip, we maneuver ourselves and our luggage to our big black Yukon XL with one car seat in it—for her.  My ignorance haunts me still.  In my eyes, it’s our family vehicle with the car seat we have used for years.  Through her eyes?  A strange tangle of belts and buckles, bright colored fabric, in the back of a hollow black vehicle she has never seen.  I would like to think she trusts us enough to get in the car and allow me to buckle her into this car seat apparatus.  But most likely, she simply senses she has no power and no choice but to follow our lead.  Stripped of everything familiar in one night, survival now requires compliance with us—her parent strangers.  I buckle her in lovingly, but still–I buckle her in.  Eight years later, Naika does not remember this trip—only the story we tell her. 

As the years go on, well-meaning friends and acquaintances ask me, “How is Naika doing?”  They smile expectantly and wait for a good report.  I walk down a narrow path to answer them honestly, sharing Naika’s early days of living in an orphanage, of abandonment, of brain development that occurred apart from us, of experiences Naika had that we missed for two-and-a-half years.

“Well, she was so young.  She doesn’t remember any of that, does she?”  No, she cannot verbalize her memories.  But her experiences and memories shape her–just like they do you, I want to say.  And, they surface, like a beach ball pressed under water.

In the orphanage, she experiences hunger in a country where food is life-threateningly scarce.  Our videos and pictures of Naika eating at the orphanage table teach the memory of eating with one hand and protecting her food with the other—her arm circled around her plate.  By the time Naika arrives in our home, she experiences abandonment.  Her birth mom, Mama Marie, visits Naika in the orphanage—each visit surely ending with a newly pricked wound of separation between mom and daughter.  Naika does not remember the visits, but pictures teach the memory of Naika on her birth mom’s lap, Naika’s dark brown eyes—darkened by wondering and vacancy.  Naika learns competition and scarcity in the orphanage.  Visitors and relief workers bring gifts (sunglasses, fruit treats, and such).  Naika and the other children clamor to get theirs—shoving toward the front, afraid they might not get any.  By age two-and-a-half, my daughter’s experiences and memory train her to protect her food, to fear being left by her mother, to push to the front.  Two plane flights (Port au Prince to Miami, Miami to Minneapolis) and one car ride to our home in Brookings, SD does not erase who Naika became before she came to us.

Bedtime in our home her first night, and my new daughter screams terror in my right ear while I press my body over hers and sing loud lullabies into her right ear.  She cannot tell me this, but her orphanage director explains to me over the phone what bedtime looks like there.  I imagine Naika missing all things familiar at bedtime each night—her friends, where she slept, a favorite spot in the room, maybe a favorite set of sheets or blanket.  She gains us—her new family—and loses absolutely everything else.  I try comforting Naika as I have my other children and get nowhere.  She cannot tell me anything.  She is two-and-a-half years old and doesn’t speak English.  And so, screams and hot terrified tears on my cheek pressed up against hers with my singing lips in her ear, until she finally exhausts herself and sleeps.  Night after night we go through this process, until she finally copes better with going to sleep.  We create new memories about bedtime at our house; and eventually, I can simply sit on the floor in her line of sight until she feels secure enough to fall asleep.

Naika’s sadness, her fear, her trauma, her loss, and her confusion show up in her behavior.  I walk down the narrow hall between the bedrooms of our home behind my new brown daughter.  She bounces, jumps, and tiptoes oddly, pounding her feet into our carpet—all in the short hallway walk to my bedroom on the end right.  I am losing it and I don’t know why.  Why does she bother me?  She is adorable.  Everyone says so.  She bounces and moves with jerks and abruptness unfamiliar to me.  I sense disorder, imbalance.  I sense her anger.  Subconsciously, my observations of Naika’s terror in her new home awaken the adoptee in me, and I begin to unravel. 

My twenty-two year old birth mom and birth dad were both in the delivery room (unusual for 1970, I’ve been told).  My birth mom held me–my mom told me as part of my adoption story.  But then what?  Who did she hand me to when she let me go?  Who fed me?  Did I scream terror and cry hot tears while a stranger tried to comfort me?  I recognize Naika’s grief and fear more than I realize at the time, and my grief, my loss, and my memories begin to surface. 

I know the story well because my parents have told it to me since the beginning—every day since they brought me home.  I am chosen.  I am special.  I am adopted.  And I never remember not knowing.  A few months before my birth, my mom and dad receive a phone call from the adoption agency.  My mom rushes in with an outfit she picked for this very occasion—the day they will take me home as their daughter—a one week old little baby girl.  She dresses me anew.  I am their baby now.  They hold me, cuddle me, breathe in my smell, as I breathe in theirs.  They smell differently than the foster mom who cared for me from day three to day seven.  Who was she?  And, she smells differently from the nurses who held me in the nursery at the hospital.  Who were they?  And they smell and sound differently (each one of them) than my birth mom who carried me in her tummy for forty weeks.  Where did she go?  I would ask these questions, but I am seven days old.  And so my parents hold me, their baby, as I wonder and adjust to yet another change.  Do they look into my baby face and see the “blank slate” the social worker tells them I am, or do they see the grief, loss, confusion I cannot express?  Why does writing about this make me tired and make my head float?  I want gum, ice to chomp, coffee, chocolate, ibuprofen, a drink, chips, something.

Early on (for the first few years), Naika hoards trash, wrappers, remainders of candy bars she discovers she doesn’t like after one bite, a hard-boiled egg yolk because she only likes the whites, broken crayons, Barbies with jagged cut hair she must now hide, crumpled paper with scribbles, chewed gum (something we told her she could not have without asking), and more.  Here, under her bed and tucked in corners of her bedroom, lies my daughter’s pre-verbal memories of loss, of chaos—and evidence of how she feels about it.  Angry.  Ashamed.  Frightened.

About six years since coming to us from Haiti, on a sun-filled spring Friday for her first track meet, Naika sprints at the sound of the track gun.  She runs to win.  She must win.  It is scary to be slow and last in an orphanage.  In our kitchen, Naika says things to me like, “I am almost taller than you,” “I am the oldest in our family,” and “Someday I’ll be the tallest.”  It is scary to be small and weak in an orphanage.  At home, Naika’s eyes follow her favorites—sour cream and cheddar cheese chips, watermelon, knock-off Uggs, gum, refried beans to make bean burritos.  She trusts herself to find and get what she needs most.  I fix her favorites, and she eats heartily–to the point of being too full and uncomfortable, just in case.  We stand in the grocery aisle at Hy-Vee checking out groceries; the clerk offers her a choice of maybe eight different flavors of suckers.  It takes her an abnormally long time to pick because when choosing one flavor, she then loses all the others forever.  She does not like the feeling of losing—even if she cannot narrate a memory to explain why.

Naika is a fourth grader now, and she has been in our family for eight years. This day, I drive to pick her up from school.  She sees both me and my car, but I have to go around the block and come back to get her in that same spot.  She watches my car begin to leave—without her.  She panics.  I see it in her face. Mostly, I don’t like that the adoptee in me recognizes that feeling—the panic of not being noticed, not being seen, and being left behind.  On a Sunday morning flurry of our family getting ready for church, I (the 40 year old adoptee, married into this family for 20 years) experience the same.  My husband’s detests being late for anything—especially for church.  I rush around the house, offering breakfast to the children, tidying up everywhere, showering and trying to meet the expectation of all of us going together on time.  My husband gets himself ready, expresses frustration that we are already late, and leaves our bathroom.  I rush to pull myself together, grab mascara that I can put on in the car, run down the stairs to the door leading to the garage, and find my husband and children gone.  He took them all. Deep in my gut, I ache. 

Bringing Naika into our home stirs the adoptee in me.  I see her brown little body running around our house and realize:  I am her.  She is my memory. Strange awakenings begin happening in me, and inconvenient awakenings:  a panic attack in Sam’s Club while pushing my cart, three trips into the emergency room for fear I have a brain tumor and want to be checked over, sleeplessness, anxiety driving me, and an awakening to know whose genes I carry.  One middle of the night, I startle out of sleep with a “ping” released deep in the middle of my brain.  I grab my husband.  I am frightened, I feel lost and abandoned, panicked, and I am being separated from my birth mother in that moment.  This night, a memory buried deep under, now surfaces.  I seek help for this new me by visiting my doctor.  He listens carefully, and suggests I am experiencing the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  “Isn’t that for soldiers who deal with bombs going off?”  He replies, “You had a bomb go off in your house.” 

Naika and I carry memory in our bodies, not always our words.  We carry early memories in our behaviors, not our narrative.  Naika carries some of my memory for me.  I do not remember my experiences as a little baby growing in my birth mom’s womb, separated from her shortly after delivery, held by nurses, sent to a foster home, and then arriving to my parents’ gentle loving care; but, I get a glimpse of the effects of such disruptions as I watch my daughter.  Each of us shaped by memories we cannot recall, but nonetheless. 




To be Known

Recently, sitting down to work through a project (specifically a Bible study), I faced this assignment–and opened a whole can of worms:

“Fill in the diagrams below describing both the positive and negative influences from your grandparents and parents.  If you never knew your parents or grandparents, substitute the caregivers you have experienced.” (italics mine)

Trouble.  The directions kindly make room for someone who “never knew” their parents or grandparents, which would be a sad burden to carry throughout one’s life.  I started to think about kids who lost their parents to death, divorce . . . foster kids.  And how about adoptees?  We fit into this category of never knowing . . . I am an adopted person who “never knew” my parents or grandparents (my biological ones); and, the directions suggest I “substitute the caregivers” I experienced.

Ick.  “Substitute”  “Caregivers”  The words do not taste good in my mouth.  My biological parents are definitely in the category of parents who I “never knew.”  But, my parents who actually raised me are NOT in the category of “caregivers,” and I am not filling in this diagram with “substitute” parents.   I am filling in this diagram with my Family.

Ponderings.  Did I need/have “substitute parents?”  What was wrong with me that I couldn’t keep my first set?  And how do kids treat and view their “substitutes?”  A teacher cannot/chooses not to be in class one day, so the students all get a “substitute?”  All these words/thoughts mingle around in my head together . . . .

In a deep emotional place somewhere inside of me is the feeling that my birth parents left me because I was too much, too much to handle, too much trouble, too embarrassing, too . . . , and substitutes were then called.  If that pill is too hard to swallow, consider my daughter Naika instead of me.  We brought her home from Haiti (which is her first home) when she was 2 1/2; we brought her here because her birth mom (birth dad unknown) had to leave her/couldn’t provide basic nourishment for her.  It was “too much.”  So, my husband and I are substitutes.  Caregivers.  And not only are we substitutes, but we are obviously the “wrong” color, so everyone can tell she has a substitute.  Ugh.  Kind of raw, I know.  But also a fact.  The first ones couldn’t, so now we fill in.  Hmmm . . .

So back to the assigned work.  Here is the diagram . . .

“Maternal Grandparents

Grandfather                                                                          Grandmother

Positive Influence                                                                Positive Influence


Negative Influence                                                              Negative Influence


Paternal Grandparents

Grandfather                                                                         Grandmother

Positive Influence                                                               Positive Influence


Negative Influence                                                              Negative Influence


Mother                                                                                 Father

Positive Influence                                                                Positive Influence


Negative Influence                                                              Negative Influence”

I set out to fill in the diagram with the knowledge of my family and the limited knowledge I have gained of my biological family over the recent past 4 1/2 years.  As I do so, I recognize that perception skews reality.  However, I also recognize my perception is my reality.  So, I set out to “fill in the diagram” from my own memory, reality, and perception.

Here goes:

I have hard workers in my family (adoptive), people who remained in one field of work for their entire adult lives, remained in one home/town for their entire lives, a grandma who preferred order over chaos in her home–and one who preferred just the opposite it seems.  I have a grandpa who I’ve only heard stories about because he passed away when I was a baby, people who are good savers, who try to do “the right thing,” who are loyal, and people with a sense of humor–just to give a brief overview.

On my biological side, I find dancers, a grandma who “loved babies” I’ve been told, a grandpa who had a tender spot for “little girls,” military people, people who are emotionally frail (so I’ve been told), people who sever relationships, some very welcoming family members, and people who keep secrets.

My pervasive response to this exercise?  As I look back over my diagram, I see on my biological half several family members who never knew me, don’t know that I exist, maybe suspect that I exist, or refuse to know me.  And this is where I am stuck emotionally–in a place of not wanting to be known.

Over the past three years or so, I have been fighting the feeling of not wanting to be known.  A ha.  I have been jumping through hoops and crossing all sorts of boundaries to be known.  Strangers, family members, long lost friends, all sorts of people–I reach and I reach and I reach.  This is my reaction to being told by people I wanted to know and love (my birth family)–“We don’t wish to know you.”  😦

Now that I recognize this, I know what I am supposed to do; and, it’s not easy . . . .  I must sit with the realization/feeling that some people just don’t want to know me.  I am NOT comfortable with that.  Can I face not being known potentially for the rest of my life by people I biologically care about?  Given no choice right now, I have to (?) accept this.  And, can I recognize that the people who do want to know me are the ones worth spending time with and chasing . . . ?  What a switch.

My security blanket? . . . Remembering that God was present through “every single day” of my heritage.  “He was there . . . .  He knows every detail.  He knows exactly how you’ve been affected, and His expertise is reconstruction.”  He does not and cannot make mistakes.






Interesting research. Excerpts only follow . . .


The purpose of this project was to design and administer a survey to measure how satisfying reunions are to adult adoptees and birthparents of adult adoptees that have met after years of separation by a stranger adoption.
Adoption is taking a child from its birthfamily, then placing him or her with another family to be raised until an adult. Adoption in this sense has been happening since the beginning of time. The difference is in how adoption has been practiced this century.Late in the 19th century, enactment of adoptions laws gave adopted persons the same legal rights as children born into a family. Social services agencies felt this was necessary because some people adopting children did so to be a source of inexpensive labor. With statutory adoption came the practice of issuing an amended birth certificate showing the adoptee being born to the adoptive parents. In the middle of this century, laws were enacted to seal adoption records from public view to protect the adoptee from the stigma of illegitimacy. 

Until modern social work, the adopted child’s original identity was not a secret. It was expected that adopted children would eventually know their birthfamily, if the birthfamily were not already a part of the adoptees’ life. With the sealing of records, expectations of adoptees and birthfamilies changed. Adopted persons were no longer supposed to need to know their birthfamilies. Society felt a birthmother could go on with her life, forgetting the child was ever born.  The reality is it made it a lot more difficult for adoptees and birthfamilies to find each other.

Reunions are a natural part of family separations. The process and outcome of reunions is what needs study. Are reunions satisfying to the reunitees? If not, why not? Can something be done to have them be more satisfying?

Searching is what adoptees and birthparents do to resolve their issues of loss surrounding adoption.  Sorosky, et al., and Lifton, found in their studies of reunited adoptees that, searching was not an indication of psychological maladjustment, pathology, or a poor relationship with the adoptive family. They feel that search is a healthy response to wanting to know about their past (Sorosky, Panor, Baron, 1978, p. 197; Lifton 1979, p. 74).Research shows that adoptees often feel compelled to deny their need for a reunion, postponing searching for years. They cloak their needs in terms of wanting medical history, or to know siblings. Society makes them feel guilty for wanting to know their birthmothers; they fear appearing like a disloyal-ungrateful adoptee. An adoptee does not begin searching on impulse (McColm, 1993, p. 101; March, 1995, p. 48; Verrier, 1993, p. 154; Giddens, 1983, p. 37; Waner, 1988, p. 119). “Burying and denying their needs for information about their origins have by now become second nature” (McColm, 1993, p. 108).The search itself is a part of the healing.  It is not just adoptees searching for birthmothers. Birthmothers search for their child lost to adoption. “Many [birthmothers] begin to search, realizing in retrospect their inviolable right to the child they bore, and overturning the expectations of both the law and the society that imposed a closed adoption upon them” (McColm, 1993, p. 41). In adoption reform groups, it is believed that birthmothers have as much right to search as an adoptee does. These groups acknowledge how deeply birthmothers have been affected by the loss of their child (Aigner, 1986, p. 65).Searching can become an obsession, with little else able to get the searcher’s focus, until the person of the search is found. Searching has a tremendous emotional impact, and “reunions are almost uniformly described as emotionally draining” (Gonyo, Watson, 1988, p. 20).Nevertheless, Geddiman and Brown (1989) found that those who search are the most reunion ready (p. 68).
Sealed Records
Secrecy has been the practice in adoption for about the last fifty years. Adoption professionals promoted it as being necessary to protect the parties involved from intrusion from their counterparts. “These claims are refuted by this study, which demonstrates that secrecy in adoption hardly serves the interest of the participants in adoption; instead, it promotes fears and misconceptions about each others’ motives” (Sachdev, 1992, p. 66).
Another study finds this secrecy to be “a sadistic violation of their [adoptees] physical and emotional intactness” (Bertocci, Schecter, 1991, p. 192). “Research studies, including this one, consistently report that current adoptive arrangements based on secrecy cause needless grief, pain, and fears among members of the adoption triangle” (Sachdev, 1992, p. 66). Sachdev says the secrecy is contrary to the goal of adoption of serving the best interests of the child. He feels that secrecy is futile in light of the benefits coming from reunions (1992). Birthmothers are not seeking secrecy from their child; they want to know what happened to their child. They welcome the opportunity to talk about the experience after years of living in the closet. They found it therapeutic (Geddiman, Brown, 1989, p. xviii; Giddens, 1983, p. 37).
Effects of Reunion
Reunions are a way for healing through reconciliation. Still though, they can be very difficult. What rights and responsibilities does one have in a reunion? What does one do with intimate strangers?  It can take years after a reunion to surface all the repressed emotions. The reunitees must come to the acknowledgment that they can never regain what was lost. It takes years to undo all of conditioning for what each one’s expected role in adoption was (McColm, 1993, pp. 209-210).   Before reunion, “Women who still lacked any information about their relinquished child showed significantly more negative affect and poorer psychological well-being than those who had at least obtained some non-identifying information” (Field, 1992, p. 233).
Adoptees and birthmothers develop a phenomenon known as a sub-self. This can begin to set up a pattern of expectations within the adoptee and they may have to take onsub-self’ in order to accommodate what is expected of them.”  “The ‘False Self’ [for the birthmother] was created by many birth mothers to accommodate the pain. She needed a new part that could pretend that she was doing fine, when she really wasn’t (Carlini, 1992, p. 18, 94).Reunion for adoptees accomplishes many things. Many adoptees go into search to gain a more cohesive identity. Because they have been cut-off from their past there is a void, a missing piece. Reunion helps adoptees with this. To know someone they look like, have similar personality characteristics, talents, intellect, and are related to genetically (Sachdev, 1992; Waner, 1988, pp. 197-199). “All of the adoptees in the study were able to recognize some aspects of themselves in members of their birthfamilies” (Waner, 1988, pp. 196-197). Similarities found in reunion are intriguing.
Success and Satisfaction of Reunion
There are no bad reunions, because knowing is better than not knowing (Rillera, 1991 p. ii; Geddiman, Brown, 1989, p. 60). Searchers and reunitees have few regrets.The relationships do not necessarily become mother-child relationships, but there is involvement in each others’ lives (March, 1995, p. 110). Other members of the birthfamily are an important part of the reunion process. Seventy-eight percent of Sachdev’s participants had a joyful and rewarding experience with other members of the birthfamily (1992). Birth-siblings are an important part of the reunion satisfaction. Many adoptees developed stronger relationships with birth-siblings than they did with their birthmothers or birthfathers (Sachdev, 1992; Humphrey, Humphrey, 1989; Geddiman, Brown, 1989, p. 195; Waner, 1988, p. 228; Verrier, 1993, p. 178).

What a great article to further my understanding of “the other side”

Why Won’t My Mother Meet Me?

By Carole Anderson
Copyright 1982 by Concerned United Birthparents, Inc., 2000 Walker Street, Des Moines, IA 50317
Why did your natural mother refuse to meet you? There are probably as many answers as there are natural mothers. From some of my own feelings and those of other natural mothers, though, I do have a few possible themes to suggest.

Your natural mother lost a great deal when she surrendered you. She lost the chance to give you all of the love she felt for you, that all mothers feel. She lost the opportunity to share in the important and the humdrum events of your life. She lost all the joys and problems of raising you, of guiding you from infancy to adulthood.

She may feel guilty that she was not there. She may feel cheated because she was not allowed to be there. Either way, loss is both painful and unnatural.

In addition to the pain of the losses themselves, there is the additional pain of feeling different from other people, outcast from society. Often there is the pain of feeling that the loss was unnecessary and that the separation need not have occurred “if only…” If only her parents had helped her. If only the social worker had told her what adoption would really be like for you and for her. If only society had supported single parenthood at the time you were born. If only she had not believed she was unworthy of you. If only she had had the money to support you. If only she had somehow found a way to keep you. If only she had believed in her own feelings instead of in what others told her would be best for you.
The list of “if onlies” is endless. Knowing you could make her losses more real to her, and thus more painful. She may ave worked very hard at denying her feelings, at convincing herself that your adoption was necessary, at telling herself that giving birth does not make a woman a mother, at pretending that she was not a mother and so did not lose anything. She may have denied to herself that it ever happened.

If she has succeeded at numbing herself to the pain by clinging to such beliefs, knowing you would remove the blinders from her eyes, exposing her to the full impact of all the years of loss and pain.

She may have coped with losing you through fantasizing about what might have been. She may see you over and over in her mind just as you were when she last saw you, see herself raising you, see what you would be like at different ages.

If your natural mother has other children, she may be terrified of losing them, too, if she had not told them about you. Many natural mothers were rejected by their children’s natural fathers and by their own parents during their pregnancies. If the people she loved and trusted and whom she thought would always love and help abandoned her when she most needed them, she may be unable to trust anyone now. She may regard all relationships as fragile, and fear that she will be abandoned again if she disappoints the people who are now important to her. Having already suffered the pain of losing one child, the fear of losing her other children and suffering that same pain again may overwhelm her. She may also fear losing you a second time around, if you want to see her only once. Many natural mothers have internalized others’ rejection of them and believe they are unlovable. Not loving or respecting herself, she cannot believe that others could care about her if they really knew her.
Suspecting that adoptees who search will ask about their fathers after they have satisfied their curiosity about their mothers, her rejection may be tied to her feelings about your natural father. If she loved him, accepting you could mean reopening the deep wounds she suffered in being rejected by him. If she did not love him, she may dread having to admit that fact to you. She may not want to explain her relationship with your natural father or her feelings about it, and fear that you will reject her if she does not answer your questions about him. She may fear that you would prefer him to her and she could not bear to lose you to the very person whose abandonment made your surrender unavoidable. She may believe that your natural
father is a terrible person and feel shame at having had a relationship with him, fear that you might hate her if you knew him. She may fear that you would be upset or would think less of her or of yourself if you knew him.

Mothers want their children to be happy, but they also want to feel needed and important to their children. They want to be the ones who make their children happy. Generally, a mother’s needs and her child’s compliment each other, so that both are satisfied by her raising her child, with each needing and receiving the other’s love. The special situation of adoption, though, assures that the natural mother cannot win. If she believes your adoption was the best for you, she may feel worthless or useless as a mother because you did not need her. If your adoption was not the best, she may feel guilty that she did not protect you from whatever happened and she may therefore feel she failed as a mother and as a woman.

Your natural mother’s image of herself as a mother, a woman, and a human being may be at stake. If she has internalized society’s judgments that “nice girls don’t” or that only an “unnatural woman” could surrender her child or that “any animal can give birth but that doesn’t make her a mother”, it will be difficult for her to acknowledge to herself that it is she who is that bad girl, the unnatural woman, or only an animal in society’s eyes.

Subconsciously, some mothers feel that their babies abandoned them. Mothers were often repeatedly told that their babies needed or wanted more than they could give them, and that surrender was necessary for the child. Many mothers were told that to keep their children would be selfish, that they had no right to satisfy their need to love and nurture by raising their children, because the children deserve and need more. Other people spoke for you, telling your natural mother you wanted more than she could give. To your natural mother, this may have been experienced deep within as a rejection by you, as her baby deserting her for other people. Even though she knows on an intellectual level that this feeling is not rational and she may feel guilty for it, on an emotional level what she feels may be that, although she needed and wanted her child, her child was not there for her.
Closely related are the problems of competition and sacrifice. Just as she may have felt that she was in competition with unknown couples for the right to raise you, a contest in which she was the loser, she was also placed in the position of being in competition with you. She may have been told that it was her life or yours, her needs or yours. Because you were not aided as a family but instead treated as individuals whose needs were in conflict, she may have felt that she was choosing between her own happiness and yours.

If she wanted to raise you but believed that your surrender was necessary for your happiness, she may feel that she has sacrificed her life for yours, her happiness for yours. All people want happiness, everyone wants her own needs to be met, and there is usually anger toward injustice. She, however, cannot allow herself to feel or express her anger and resentment, because it was your natural mother herself who decided that you were more important and mattered more than she did, she herself who chose your needs above her own.

If that choice was made by others such as her parents or by her situation instead of by your natural mother, there may be even more anger. There can be tremendous guilt involved for feeling anger, because we have been taught that parents gladly sacrifice for their children. Her anger may therefore be threatening to her, for what kind of person can she be that she could feel anger toward her child?

Yet other parents, other people, do not make sacrifices of this magnitude. What society usually calls parental sacrifice is really more like an investment or a trade-off of some current comfort in exchange for other regards. To give up a full night’s sleep in order to tend a sick child carries with it the benefits of holding and comforting that child, feeling necessary to the child, receiving the child’s love and gaining society’s approval. What most parents think of as sacrifices are small and temporary inconveniences for which they receive personal satisfaction, the child’s loyalty and affection and societal sanctions. The sacrifice of a natural mother’s life for her child’s in unique.

Rather than compensations, the sacrifice is generally answered with guilt, pain and emptiness. Society’s reaction is most often condemnation rather than approval. The natural mother’s sacrifice is unnatural, unrecognized and unrewarded.

Some natural mothers felt less than human during the pregnancy and surrender experience, and may have felt they were regarded as subhuman by society. Just as infants have a need to be nurtured, so every mother has a need to give nurture to her child. You were placed with people who could meet your infant need for nurture, but your natural mother was given no substitute for you. Her need to nurture was not met.

Understandably, many adoptees explain that their adoptive parents are their only real parents and they love them dearly, but that they searched to gain information about themselves. Newspapers are full of articles about adoptees saying that they are not looking for a mother, but for themselves or their own identity.

Your natural mother may feel she is again being reduced to a data bank. Just as she once surrendered you to others while her own needs went unmet, she may feel she is now being asked for information but that again her feelings and needs will be ignored. She may feel she has given everything without receiving anything in return, and will be reluctant to give still more if she fears that you too, will take what you want from her and then abandon her with no thought for her needs.

Even if she is able to struggle through the many pains and losses that have already occurred, your natural mother may fear that there are more to come if she accepts you now. It may hurt her terribly that she could not mother you.

Opening her heart to you would make your natural mother vulnerable to a later rejection by you. If she welcomed you as the beloved daughter or son she lost, how would she feel at being only a friend or acquaintance to you? To what extent would you accept her? Would she be asked to your graduation or wedding? Would you want to spend Christmas or Passover with her? Would you regard her as the grandmother of your children, including her in events in their lives? Or would you want to see her on rare and secret occasions, carefully hiding the relationship from others? She may feel that not only have adoptive parents taken her place in your life as a child and in raising you, but that by accepting you now she would lose you again, this time by inches, by being relegated to a lowly and insignificant place in your life, if she were included at all.

As an adult, you are unlikely to want your natural mother to be the mother she may, on some level, still want to be. Your image of motherhood will always be that of your adoptive mother, not your natural mother. You cannot relate to your natural mother in the same way you would have if she had raised you, nor can she relate to you in the same way. Neither of you are the people you would be if she had raised you. Although the similarities you are likely to share would make her keenly aware that you are her child, the differences resulting from your growing up in your adoptive home would make her painfully aware of the distance between you as well.

Because meeting you requires facing all her feelings about your surrender and loss, it may also challenge your natural mother’s beliefs about the value and meaning of life, the importance of family ties, religion and other basic concepts on which she has built her life. Many people want to believe that the world is fair, that everything comes out even, that people get what they deserve out of life. Adoption issues do not fit into such tidy categories.

If the world is fair, what has she done that is so terrible she deserve such pain? If life is equal why did other people who expressed their sexuality before marriage pay not price for it? If this is justice why did her subsequent children have to grow up in an incomplete family, without their brother or sister. If families are of primary importance and should be kept together why was her family separated? How could her church have told her God wanted her child to be adopted or that God created her child for other parents? How could a loving God want this pain for her? If she allows herself to acknowledge her experience, how can she reconcile it with what she believes about life? If the foundations on which she has build her life
do not match her experience, it will be difficult for her to face her feelings and risk losing those foundations. Facing you may mean reconstructing her entire view of life, rethinking all of her values.

The issues a natural mother must face before she can accept her adult child are not simple ones, nor are they obvious to her. Often there are conflicts between what she thinks and what she feels or between her feelings and those of the people around her. Few natural mothers were told to expect these problems or prepared to deal with them. Since little or no hope of a future reunion was offered to surrendering mothers, there was little motivation for attempting to deal with them. Many were told that they would be abnormal if they did not forget about their children, that they should go on with their lives as if they had never had their children.

Most natural mothers, despite the enormity of these issues, do face most of them in the years following surrender. Most people cannot sustain the fantasy that their loss was a nightmare and not a reality. Most people find the strength to face the truth of their own lives, but growth can be a slow and painful process with uneven progress characterized by temporary regression back to suppressed feelings.

To some people, it might seem pointless to attempt reunions when so much pain, conflict and confusion seem to be involved. Reunion, though, does not cause these difficulties. Their source is the natural mother’s unnatural separation from her child. The feelings already exist, and leaving them buried beneath denials and fantasies cannot resolve or eliminate them. However painful the separation experience may be, it is her experience, her life. Attempting to suppress the most profound experience of her life separates the natural mother from herself as well as from her child and is not healthy for anyone. It requires that much emotional energy be spent on denying or numbing feelings, limiting emotional growth in all areas.

Your natural mother’s fear and dread are evidence of the intensity of her feelings for you. If she had no feeling for you, you would be no more frightening to her than a store clerk or a stranger asking for directions. What she feels may be an overwhelmingly intense but undifferentiated fear and she herself may not understand the reasons for it. Her reasons are her deepest emotions, hidden under so may layers of intellect, rationalization and denial that she is unaware of them. She may try to give sensible reasons why she cannot see, understand or articulate the real reasons without much self analysis.

You are offering the opportunity for your natural mother to grow by facing herself and becoming reconciled with her feelings about herself. You are offering the gift of knowing the person her surrendered child has become. These are enormous gifts and you should be proud for offering them to her.

In order to accept them, though, your natural mother must climb a painfully steep and rocky path through her many feelings about your surrender before she can move forward to reconciliation. Her ability to walk a part of that path or all of it is not a reflection on you or on your worth or on your importance to her but on how well she herself can deal with the fears and pains that your loss and society’s attitudes about the surrender have caused her. With time and support your natural mother may grow to accept the gifts you offer.

Why I write . . .

Several of my friends have blogs for the purpose of sharing their family’s life with others.

I, on the other hand, started this blog to have a place to write specifically/exclusively about adoption.  Via seeking months of counseling, receiving the support of friends and family, reading many books on the subject, attending support groups to help me learn about parenting my little one who has some attachment struggles, participating in educative adoption conferences, and participating in research, my head and heart get full!  Writing this blog, writing in general, is therapeutic for me–as is dancing and running.

Each person is a unique individual–of course.  I wondered if my desire to search and know my birthfamily had come at a late stage of life when I first began.  But, one of my favorite stories is of an eighty year old man who called a Social Worker in Illinois from the golf course–ready to search for his birth parents.  🙂  He was a “young” eighty year old man, and he believed that his birthparents were of the same fabric–that they would be “young” still also.  On the other hand, I also talk with teens (or their adoptive parents) who are ready to search as soon as they turn eighteen.  Some adoptees never choose to search–not in their entire lifetime.  When asked throughout my years as an elementary student–throughout high school–throughout college–at my dad’s company Christmas party as a teenager–in doctor’s offices–and as an adult if I wanted to find my birthmom or any part of my birthfamily, I had a pretty standard answer; my answer reflected my unreadiness to search during those years.

Something changed for me.  Something changed for that eighty year old man.  Something pulls those eighteen year old adoptees early . . . .  Each adoptee has their own story/their own unique experience.  Everyone is different–thus it is not a surprise that every adoptee’s thoughts and choices are different.

And yet, through all of my counseling, networking with other adoptees, reading books on these subjects–there are similarities.  There are thoughts, issues, and feelings that only birthparents “get,” only adoptees “get,” and only adoptive parents “get.”  My pleasure–I am both an adoptee and an adoptive parent.  I hope that someday, when Naika goes through stages of sorting out how she landed in our family, that I will have insights for her/commonality with her that will help her along her journey.

Fact: Adoptees have more than one family. FACT.

 I am ANGRY at pretty much everything around me these past few days.

*I spent twenty-two years in one state.  Once I got married, I was “removed” far from that state.  And now, in order to touch “home base,” I drive at least nine hours to get to my home state and twelve hours to get home for a holiday.

(This parallels “I spent nine months in one tummy.  Once I was born, I was “removed” far from that tummy.  And now, in order to touch “home base,” I have to fight my way/crawl on my knees/dig/break rules/drive miles and miles/put my heart on the line/and then face rejection after it all.)  See?

*I am told, “Your family is here.  I wish we were enough for you.  I wish you were connected enough to your kids/husband, etc. . . . that you considered us your true/main/real family.  Instead, you keep running away from us.  You have a relationship with God.  We love you.  What else do you need?  Grow up.  Be thankful.  Stay here–we are your answer/your family.”

(This parallels “Here is your family, baby newborn girl.  This family will be your true/main/real family.  What about your biological family?  (a question I couldn’t ask then because I was a newborn) . . . Oh.  We will seal the records/names/documents/what they look like/what was said about you for the nine months before you were born/what happened to you during birth/where you were the first seven days of your life before you came to your family.  You have enough now.  Just go on, little girl.  You’ll be fine.  Connect!  Connect!  You’ll be blessed.  Be thankful!”–said lovingly with a smile.)

*I tell you now:  I always want to go home.  Home to me is where I was born and raised–where there are people who knew me “when.”  People there knew me from seven days on, knew me in preschool–knew me.  I am like them and they are like me.  We have shared experiences that shaped us into people with similar backgrounds.  Familiarity is important to me.  Do not misinterpret my longing for home/familiarity as a refusal to shape my life around my husband and children.  I have been doing that since we were married and we moved away–for almost nineteen years.  I have memorialized our lives together in photo albums, memories, choices to go where you go.  I have shaped my life around my family here.  A desire and love for BOTH exist inside of me–my familiar home that is uniquely mine and my family and friends who surround me now.

(This parallels ” I lost my first family.  They knew me in the womb.  I am like them and they are like me.  We shared nine months together.  I shaped them and they shaped me.  Finding them and going back to see them is important to me.  Do not misinterpret my longing for my birthfamily as a refusal of my parents/beloved extended family (who live far away, mind you).  I am my parents’ child, my aunts’ niece, my cousins’ cousin, etc.  I am Crazy about the family I have had since I was seven days old.  Are you kidding me?  A desire and love for BOTH my birthfamily and my family exist inside of me.  Fact.)

I guess I’m a little angry . . .

I’m still reading that book . . . And I know it’s got the right stuff in it–the good stuff.  I’m stuck for just an hour or two.
Direct quote from Questions Adoptees are Asking:  “If we were created by God from the very fiber of our birth parents’ physical and emotional beings, don’t you think our need to think about them would be innate?  If we had primal conversations with our mother in the womb, wouldn’t you say it is natural for us to think about her as we are growing up and growing old?  And if our birth father’s DNA helped determine the color of our hair and yes, wouldn’t you say that he is just as much a part of us as our mother and it is normal to want a relationship with him?”

Then a little later, she writes, “So what must we do for ourselves?  What healthy choice must we make to move closer toward who we were created to be by a loving God?”

Here is where I discover some anger inside of me.  What must I do for myself??  Are you kidding me?  Me, the baby, . . . my adoptive parents have given me money for the search, my husband gave me cash for my birthday towards the search, I have driven to search–all over Illinois and St. Louis suburbs (even around Orlando in search of a YMCA where my 1/2 sister and her son might be!) which equals time and money away from my own husband and five children/business/two dogs. . . . .  I have sat in an office in tears with a social worker who has SPOKEN to both my birthmother and my birthfather but could not/would not release any identifying information to me.  I have sat in tears across the table from a social worker who had my FILE in her hands and could not release any identifying information to me.  I have two search angels who walked me through the search/journey step-by-step and once I had the smallest bit of identifying information started to search/find for me . . . volunteering all along the way.  I have spent HOURS digging for my family on the computer, ENERGY and COURAGE to make phone calls/inbox messages/emails/send friendly presents/jump through many many hoops to find and know them.

So what am I mad about?  I know this is a rebellious spot that I am in . . . .  I was doing better . . . just need a space to breathe this breath:  I am angry that I now have to fight to make healthy choices.  Me.  The baby me.  I made many healthy choices as a teenager/young adult/young married woman/prior to finding my birthparents and being told to stay away.  Post-search, however, I now struggle.  There is pain to anesthetize that I don’t think was there before–at least not so acutely.  I was pretty busy being “really good.”  So, I must make healthy choices while I am in pain?   I am angry at how much responsibility falls on my shoulder to heal from a choice that was made for me, not by me.  And their choice to place me for adoption was followed 37 years and about 4 months later with another choice to place me STILL . . . outside of their family.  :((

I know this rejection to be a source of my pain because in contrast, I have precious birthfamily members who– once found, embraced me.  They do not cause me pain that I then need to anesthetize.  I trust them, and I am amazed at how each time we talk, I feel their love and assurance that they accept that I am also one of them/part of them.  I have a dual identity.  And I LOVE both sides of my identity deeply.

It is the rejection that drives me to anesthetize, not the acceptance.
It is the rejection that leaves me feeling victimized, not the acceptance.

Finally, in her “action” portion of this chapter, she suggests that I write a letter to and from my birthmom and birthdad . . . “even though they’ll never be sent.”  I sensed anger at that . . . feeling as if she is telling me “you better not send them.”  And in fact, I probably shouldn’t.  But sometimes I’m not sure why.  They are just people.  Why should I be afraid to communicate with them/send them a letter–write them letters that I never send . . . .?  I just don’t understand.

Here is the “good: adoptee–wrapping up for the rebellious one above:

I KNOW better.  I have tender thoughts and accepting thoughts towards my birthfamily.  And as soon as they would want to know me (if they ever do), I will jump to care for/about them.  🙂  And, I love my adoptive family dearly . . . . would never not want to be theirs/be with them/know them.  And I am thankful for the family I have now with my husband–would never want us all to break apart.  These things I know.

In the meantime(s) which I think are fewer and farther between, I get angry/sad/chaotic/and feel unattached.

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