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 ‘reunion’

Practicing Ekphrasis

 Practicing Ekphrasis

Reading My Birth Mom

For thirty-seven years of my life, I could only read who my birth mom was from a piece of paper with “Non-Identifying Information” on it.


Hair:  Light Brown

Eyes:  Blue

Height:  5’3”

Weight: 120

Nationality:  Polish

Hobby:  Dancing

I’ve been trying to define her, describe her, to find her essence, her form, to bring her to life.  My whole life.  As an adoptee from the era of closed records, I practiced ekphrasis (way before I knew what “ekphrasis” was) from this 8 ½ x 11 yellowed sheet of paper.  A representation of her.  In print.  Its edges and creases worn with years of wonder.  Memorized.

I hold on to her hobby.  I carry it on, still.  “My birthmom’s hobby was dancing,” I tell everyone.  Ballet (my favorite), tap, jazz, modern.  I earned toned and defined legs over my years of dance instruction.  Tendues, pirouettes, and pliés.  Pink ballet tights, pointe shoes.  My daughter dances too.  She carries it on.  “Dancing is in your blood,” I tell her.  Ballet, tap (her favorite) and modern.  She too, at age eleven has toned shapely legs.  She dances on stage, eyebrows lifted and engaged.  Easy grace.  Beautiful placement.  A natural turn out.

Dear birth mom, did you take dance lessons?  Did you walk to dance class or did your mom take you?  I’ve always felt connected to you because as a young girl I believed that my love for dance came from you.  I mean, that’s what the sheet of paper told me.  That’s pretty much all I had to go on until I found a yearbook picture of you when I was thirty-eight.

Reading This Print


This woman.  This print.  This representation.  She is not you.  She is Joanne Seltzer—daughter of Leo M. Seltzer, M.D.  She did take dance lessons and piano lessons in 1954.  I can follow the paper trail.

Check #1582 on 2/20/1954 for $90 to Mr. John Hiersoux for piano lessons.

Check #1846  on 10/26/1954 for $24 to the American Academy of Ballet for shoes.

Check #1914 on 12/14/1954 for $32 to the American Academy of Ballet.

Joanne Seltzer.  Pink parfait tutu—probably a poodle skirt.  Loose long and feminine hair.  But no sign of ballet in this print, no grande battements, arabesques, or pas de chats.  Instead, Joanne’s ghostly girly figure reaches see-through arms up, towards a partner’s neck, as if to hold on.  Did she learn ballroom instead of ballet?  Did she practice with her dad, Dr. Leo Seltzer, M.D.?

Dear birth mom, did you sometimes practice with your dad?  Did you dance with my birth dad?  I don’t like ballroom much, do you?

Reading the Backdrop

Dance lessons in 1954.  I imagine money for dance lessons was hard to come by in 1954.  But Joanne’s daddy was a doctor, and I (perhaps naively) assume the Seltzer family could afford dance and piano for their sweet daughter.  Still, in Joanne’s print—I read the backdrop of sacrifice in the backdrop of the checks her daddy wrote.

You sacrificed for me, didn’t you, birth mom?

In fact, that’s kind of the standard definition of adoption, isn’t it—the birth mom sacrifices raising her child to give the child a better opportunity in life.  My adoption story tells me my birth parents didn’t feel financially prepared to get married and raise a family.  They were both seniors in college at the University of Illinois—my birth mom in accounting and my birth dad in geography (going on to be a pilot).  They got pregnant in October 1969 of their senior year, and my birth mom dropped out of college. Her parents were befuddled and dismayed, I’ve learned; they never knew why and they took the mystery to their graves.  My birth parents never told anyone—not their parents, their siblings, no one in their family that I know of.   I can read the sacrifices.  My birth mom sacrificed finishing her college degree. She sacrificed her body for nine months and then more.  She sacrificed the joy of keeping and nurturing and nursing her first born child.  She sacrificed living in freedom and truth.

I know this print is about Joanne, but I can’t stop thinking about you.

I would read every letter of every paper trail of yours 1000 times.


Reading Natalie

The Doner auditorium goes dark, and I light up the paper program with my iPhone.  My daughter’s ballet routine is next.  Budding 5th grade girls, budding ballerinas in light pink leotards and tights under soft blue light, light blue sashes made of see-through taffeta float from the girls’ wrists.  On stage, her hair pulled up in a bun, held in by bobby pins, my daughter wears a little blue eye shadow, a little blush, mascara, and a little red lipstick—just to keep her from getting washed out by the stage lights.  I read Natalie as a leader on the stage.  She tells me she is nervous, but she knows what she is doing.  And without trying or forcing or faking, she expresses the message of the composition to the audience.  I can tell and I know—she feels a fullness in her heart when she dances. Gentle grace in her eyes, her legs–curves of muscle that match mine and match the dancing training she has taken so far, her arms and fingers extended . . . soft billowy poise. She communicates with her eyes to the other dancers on stage, her friends, and she shares herself as she dances.

Natalie and I read each other well.  She sometimes says exactly what I’m thinking, and vice versa.  I wonder about my mom.  When she saw me on stage at dance recitals, what did she see?  My biological daughter gives me moments of self-recognition and self-awareness I never knew I was missing.  I recognize my hands when I see Natalie’s hands.  I recognize the shape of my legs and arms when I see Natalie’s figure.  I recognize the hugs I give and like to receive when I hug Natalie.  And I recognize the many personality traits of hers that are also mine.  She writes.  She talks.  (My dad always called me “windy” growing up.)  She likes to learn.  She likes to read.  She likes to dance.  She likes music.  I recognize what I see.

Dear birth mom, do you give good long hugs?  Do you like to learn?  What else do my daughter and I have that is also yours?


Reading my Birth Mom’s Picture

I found a picture of her in my thirty-eighth year of life.  It wasn’t easy.  I chased a paper trail which began with my adoption file:  her upside-down, written in cursive, complicated long Polish name on the folder of a file (which I am not supposed to see), to a computer that tracks births and deaths in the state of Illinois, to a Polish obituary that lists my birth mom as a survivor, to searching on the internet for recent addresses and such, to digs into the archives of libraries for yearbooks, to finally a friend’s mom who still had her yearbook from the University of Illinois and found your picture in a sorority composite photo from 1968.

Dear birth mom, you were beautiful.  Simple stylish dark hair.  Petite young woman.  A beautiful smile.

I tried to see myself in you.  Everyone who knew me tried.  We compared smiles and hair color and eyes and cheekbones and ears and eyebrows and noses and chins and expression.  We poured over your photo.  The joy of seeing you in print.  The joy of imagining you as a sweet, full of aspiration sophomore at the University of Illinois recently pledged to a sorority.  When I look at your picture, I see the hope of your future and the terror of an unplanned pregnancy around your corner.  I feel like I want to say sorry, but I don’t want to apologize for my life, really.  I love my life.  Could I say thank you?

Dear birth mom, did shame make you a pink ghost?  Were you vibrant and visible before you gave me up?  Did your dancing attract my birth dad’s attention in college?  Your dancer’s figure? And now, do you regret it?  Because now, you hide.  You hide from me.  I found you.  I wanted to know you.  But you say you don’t want to know me.  And so I research who you are, I find images of who you are, but I can really only imagine who you are.  I found you, but I still can’t make you surface. 

Stuck in ekphrasis.

Wiki on Ekphrasis:

“Socrates and Phaedrus:

The painter’s products stand before us as though they were alive,
but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence.”

Your majestic silence breaks my heart.



What “no contact” feels like . . .

Could you please understand this?

Wait. (and please read to the end . . . otherwise you might be helplessly left depressed.  :/  Plus the song is linked at the bottom.)
Let me say what I think I understand.
*I understand that I pursued connection with my biological parents and siblings, etc. with a passion.
*I understand that I angered them, scared them, made them feel threatened.
*I understand that I have done nothing perfectly nor ever will.
*I understand that my conception was unplanned by my birth parents and perhaps devastating to their lives at the time–maybe even still today.
*I understand that I do NOT understand them or my biological siblings, for I have never walked in their shoes.

And why do I write with some anguish today . . . because somethings in my day-to-day life happened (insignificant really) which made me feel unworthy again.  I was pushed back, blocked, scammed, condescended upon . . . again all really pretty insignificant happenings that occur in our daily lives.  But for me (adoptees in general I dare say), it only takes a few happenings like these, and our rejection wound is scratched.  Really, after a while, it gets embarrassing and exhausting.  I know that I have been “pushed back” to my hurt today.  And, I seem to not be able to get past it until I express it.
So here goes.

Again, could you understand this please?  As you continue to choose to not know me nor my husband nor my kids (four out of five of them are your biological grandchildren) nor my parents, etc., I continue to try to breathe without air.

Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air?

If I should die before I wake

It’s ’cause you took my breath away–when you said no to me, in all forms–the antiseptic “no,” the nicer “no,” the brutally mean “no” and “never” mixed with threats . . . especially when you said “yes” and then “no”  😥  that took my breath away.  Yes, IT DID.

Losing you is like living in a world with no air, oh–see above blue.  😦

I’m here alone, didn’t wanna leave–I was alone as a baby for a few days in a foster home until my parents came to get me, and now I’m alone without you still–the only birthchild of yours–left out here.  I don’t need anything from you.  I just need you to not leave me–not leave me alone.  I am one of yours.  I didn’t ask to leave.  I’m still not asking to leave.  You left me and then asked me to leave.  Both.

My heart won’t move, it’s incomplete–today, yes.  My heart won’t move away from this place of feeling incomplete.  It never did move.  How could it?  My heart was formed in your belly and from your DNA and your genes.  How do you think my heart would move away from that?  And, how do you think it would ever be complete without knowing it’s origin.

If there was a way that I could make you understand–I wonder if you feel this way.  I feel this way–wishing there was a way for us to understand each other.

But how do you expect me to live alone with just me?–This is what you have asked me to do–to live as an O and a B (birthmom and birthdad’s names) ALONE.  I am an O, and a B, and Stirrett, and a Nagy, just as my daughter is a Nagy and a Norelus–both.  Her birthmom’s picture is on our fridge because we acknowledge that she has more than one set of parents.

‘Cause my world revolves around you it’s so hard for me to breathe–my world/our family’s world did revolve around finding you.  Not anymore.  You have shut us out.  And once again, I am left to revolve and to breathe without you/knowing you in my life.

Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air?

Can’t live, can’t breathe with no air  

It’s how I feel whenever you ain’t there–just an emptiness–a place of trying to breathe on my own apart from what she knew in utero for nine months–GONE

There’s no air, no air

Got me out here in the water so deep–This is how I felt when I was searching, finding, wading through all of the effects it was having on my faith, my marriage, my parenting, my relationships, . . . I felt like you got me out here in the water so deep–that I might drown.  I was drowning.

Tell me how you gon’ be without me?–I wonder this.  How are you going to “do” the rest of your life without me–knowing that I’m out here, that my kids know about you and love you from a distance and so do I.  Really?  Is this how you thought it would be?  That you would never be with me again?  I know that’s what they told you at the time–from what I read at least.  I think you had to sign away your rights to me, and that you were told that everything would be sealed and that you should just go on as if nothing ever happened because that is what would be best for me.  Did they think that is what would be best for you?  Has it been best for you?  It hasn’t been the best for many, which is why they do things so differently now.  Answer me.  How are you gonna be without me . . . all the way to our death beds?  Don’t they say that life is too short?

If you ain’t here I just can’t breathe

There’s no air, no air

I walk, I ran, I jump, I flew–You already know this.  I took planes, trains, and automobiles along my journey, and I run too!  I run half-marathons because it was good for me when you were denying my existence to feel my feet hit the pavement–proof that I really do exist!  I worked hard and traveled hard to find you–did crazy stuff, stuff I’ve never done before and stuff that I took a ton of courage. . . see lyrics below!!

Right off the ground to float to you with no gravity to hold me down for real

But somehow I’m still alive inside  You took my breath but I survived–Finally!!!  I like this part of the song best!  :))  I am still alive inside.  You did take my breath, but I’m still surviving.  My breath, to me, is my connection to who carried me in my tummy, whose DNA I have, my siblings who welcomed me at first and then saddened me with their refusal.  That was my breath.  

I don’t know how but I don’t even careI sing this the most loudly now.  It’s a miracle really.  And it’s not perfect or finished yet, and I’ll have days that set me back.  But are you kidding?  I am different than I was and I don’t even really know how.  God pulled the splinter out without me asking Him to or watching how.

So the lyrics below are still true.  I still don’t have air, and I am left out in the deep.
But I’m doin’ OK.  That will be my next post because I already feel better.  🙂

So how do you expect me

To live alone with just me?

‘Cause my world revolves around you

It’s so hard for me to breathe

Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air?

Can’t live, can’t breathe with no air

It’s how I feel whenever you ain’t there

There’s no air, no air

Got me out here in the water so deep

Tell me how you gon’ be without me?

If you ain’t here I just can’t breathe

There’s no air, no air

No Air lyrics  Click below to watch. 

Songwriters: Griggs, E; Fauntleroy J Iii; Mason, H; Thomas, D;

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).

A Theatrical Approach

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 do some adoptees delay their search, or never search?

 The Nonsearcher

The attitude of those who don’t search is sometimes explained as a lack of curiousity. These nonsearchers often maintain that they simply don’t think about searching, and don’t need to. They are seldom critical of others who do search, and in general have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy surrounding the decision. These are sometimes adoptees who do in fact search later in life, but often remain noncommital or outright ambivalent about the prospect throughout their lifetimes.

Other nonsearchers are what BJ Lifton, in her work “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” refers to as ‘militant nonsearchers’. These nonsearchers are, unlike the first group, generally very critical of those who do search, and are belligerent about their own status. BJ Lifton quotes an anonymous letter writer in “Lost and Found”; “Spare me, then, the histrionics! I feel sorry for those who are beset by imaginary monsters;please, however don’t try to set them on those of us who are busy with the reality of living in the present.” (p.75)
Those sentiments are probably very familiar to many of alt.adoption’s citizens, as we’ve heard them many times. Other phrases that might ring bells are ‘why disrupt all those lives?’, ‘why open up a can of worms?’ ‘why rock the boat?’, or another quote from “Lost and Found”, “I don’t think there could be a more selfish quest than this.” (p.75)

Just as there are theories about the reasons for searching, there are those about NOT searching. Lifton writes: “Nonsearchers, for all their sense of righteousness and loyalty, have always seemed to me self-denigrating. There is the implication that they don’t have the right to rock their own boat, to open their own can of worms. They seem to accept that they don’t have a right to their own heritage.” (p. 75).

The Brodzinsky team is even more blunt. “A good many adoptees consider the stress of adoption to be something they cannot change and would be better off ignoring so they can get on with their lives. These people reveal little inner turmoil about being adopted; they have either suppressed or denied or minimized the significance of adoption in their own lives.” And further, “Denial or avoidance….can be a highly adaptive strategy when an individual is faced with a stressor she cannot change, such as being adopted. In this view, an adoptee who can suppress, avoid, minimize, or deny the significance of being adopted….is able to compartmentalize this aspect of her identity and get on with her life.” And finally, “This is simply a coping style, and for may people it works…at least until a phone call from a birth mother or the uncovering of a genetic illness makes denial no longer possible.” (p.151)

The Adoptive Parents Factor

One of the main factors in making the decision to search is often the perception one has about how one’s adoptive parents might react. Kimberly Stone writes further about her decision not to search: “I also feel it would hurt my adoptive parents, whom I adore and am very close to, and who adore me.”

Quoting ‘Trudy’ in “Lost and Found”; “I am willing to sacrifice finding my biological mother rather than risk hurting my parents.”(p.180) Underlying these sentiments is a fear of appearing ungrateful, and this is where the status of adoptee as a ‘chosen’ or ‘saved’ child can come back to haunt the entire family. Society at large has picked up on this gratitude theme and often uses it to beat unsuspecting adoptees over the head. I am sure that many of us have seen, or perhaps even written or said, some variation on this theme: “Who held you when you were sick, changed your diapers, kissed your boo-boos, fed you, clothed you….???” Of course, most of us bear some measure of gratitude towards our parents, but for the adoptee, the expectation hangs heaviest over the decision to search, as if that decision is in itself, a choosing, a taking of sides, a question of loyalty.

In “Being Adopted”, Brodzinsky et al write:
” . . .these instances of bitter feuding seem to be increasingly in the minority. Many searchers who were afraid to confront their adoptive parents with their search, find that often their parents react in very positive ways. Trudy, who Lifton earlier quoted as willing to sacrifice her search for the sake of her adoptive parents, continues: “I had always discussed problems with my mother, so why not this problem? And my mother was delighted with the idea of my search. She called the agency to get background information for me, and even petitioned the court.” (p. 181)
Leigh’s experience also concludes on an up note:
“So with tear filled eyes I asked my aparents to sit down and talk with me. So serious. I can only image what was going through my poor amom’s head. I said that I loved them and that I had something to tell them. I said that this is no way means that I do not love them or think that they are great parents…I still hadn’t said what it was…I spit it out…I want to find my bfamily.
My amom looked at me and smiled and said..”We always knew you would. How can we help? We love you baby. We could never deny you this..it is part of you.” We all cried. I get really choked up when I think about it today. My aparents are truly capable of unconditional love. My amom has never been threatened by my search. And she and my adad have been part of my reunion. They have welcomed my bmom and sisters like members of the family. And likewise my bmom has embraced them.

Birth Mother, First Mother Forum: Oprah’s mother didn’t die when her secret daughter was revealed




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