Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Coming to Terms

I read a blog post the other day. As Rebecca was triggered by Christine Murphy's book Taking Down the Wall, I'm triggered by Rebecca's post, not only as an adoptee but as a first/natural/birth mother. It was a difficult post to read. My adoptee status is different from most of my sisters at Lost Daughters. I'm a late discovery step-parent adoptee. It's not quite the same as what my dear sisters have had to deal with in their lives. I was raised by the woman who birthed me but at the same time, that same woman was the deciding factor in me losing my own daughter to adoption.

I know some adoptees have a hard time with that phrase - "losing a child to adoption". How do you lose a child that you surrendered? It's a legitimate question from where they stand. I can understand their problem with it. Intellectually, you can know about the coercion that happened to us yet at the same time, aren't parents, mothers in particular, supposed to move mountains to care for their children? I know as a mother, I would move mountains to do what I needed to save or help my children. But - why couldn't I move that particular adoption mountain out of the way of my oldest daughter's life? What was holding me back? My age, my unwed status, my upbringing, my parents, my naivete, my insecurity, my fear, my church - these were the obstacles that were too much for me to overcome at that time in my life.

Rebecca says....

"This anger is not an entirely new concept for me. I've acknowledged it before and identified it as "the baby rage." I've long been aware of its existence and intensity. I've simply never allowed myself to acknowledge its direction: my original mother and father."

I understand Rebecca's anger. I also have "the baby rage" toward my own original father. He certainly didn't "lose" me. He looked at me and walked away willingly and permanently. How could he just walk away from me - an innocent baby? I'm told that he never held me - only looked down at me in the crib. I'm told that his first words about me when he saw me in the hospital were "she's so ugly". He wanted nothing to do with  me. How can a man who fathered a child be that way? How could he? He failed me.

"I am angry because they didn’t fight for me. I am angry that they didn’t rise up and rage against the system that was tearing us apart. I’m angry that they didn’t realize what was truly being lost until it was too late. I am angry that they allowed themselves to be tricked into believing it would all be okay. Because it wasn’t and it never will be. Not entirely."

Just as I had no choice in whether or not I had my original father in my life, my daughter had no choices when she was born. I left her behind in that hospital, unseen and unnamed. Yes, I take the blame for not being there for my daughter. I feel the guilt daily for not being stronger and fighting harder for my daughter. I feel the guilt daily for not screaming at the nurses with their BFA protocol, the ones who took her from me in the delivery room and didn't let me near her. I feel the guilt daily of not standing up to my own mother when she told me that I couldn't bring a baby back to her house. I feel the guilt daily of signing the relinquishment forms that Catholic Social Services pushed in front of me as I sat there sobbing. I feel the guilt daily of not reaching out to others who might have helped me keep my daughter. I feel the guilt daily of what all this means for the relationship between my children as siblings and I feel the guilt of being the cause of the baby rage in my daughter.

"The baby me has no interest in the rationalizations of grown-ups. 
She is raging mad--and she has every right to be so!"

My daughter has every right to be angry with me and not be interested in my rationalizations. As an adult she says she understands and doesn't blame me but I certainly couldn't blame her if she does feel this "baby rage". She may very well feel it but may not want to express it to me. I may never know if this rage has kicked her in the gut and I'll just have to live with that possibility.

Over the years I've learned to come to terms with the guilt and it doesn't sting as badly as it used to. I'm sorry for what I've caused my daughter and I've learned to forgive the 19 year old me for not being able to fight harder, not being able to put my foot down and defy everyone. I've worked hard at being here for my daughter in the last 11 years of reunion and will continue to be here for her. Actually it hasn't felt like work at all. I spent so long looking for her that it feels more like relief. It's such a relief to call her my daughter and tell everyone about her. It's a relief to say I have 3 children instead of 2 and it's a joy to have her and her children in my life.

Did I "lose" my daughter to adoption? Yes I did. It was a forced, closed adoption. I had no choice at that time but my daughter was the one left behind and truly voiceless so I understand if there's a part of her that rages and it's ok if the rage is directed at me. I was afraid to use my voice but she was too young to use hers. What I can do is accept my part in it and I can feel better about being here for her now. It's also ok for me to direct rage at the man who walked out of my life and never looked back. He didn't try to know me. He never tried to find me even though it would have been easy for him to do so. For him there really are no rationalizations and I think that's why I haven't tried to find him. Why would I look for someone who obviously didn't want to be found?

My baby rage is directed toward my father but a different kind of rage is directed toward my mother. That's where a lot of my work is yet to be done. I've worked on forgiving myself yet I have a very hard time forgiving the woman who turned away her daughter and grandchild. Even after 34 years it's a rage that can blindside me. Many, many first mothers deal with this same issue and I've written about it before. It's an ongoing process that I'll continue to work on for the sake of my health and my family.

All we can do as adoptees and as mothers is work on mending ourselves and hopefully in the process we can connect with our families.


  1. Rebecca's post has weighed heavily on my mind since I read it the other day. Twenty-three years later I still don't know how I could have "move[d] that particular adoption mountain out of the way . . . " I begged for help, for anything and/or anyone to help me to hold onto my son.

    Upon meeting my son two decades later all I could think was that he would hate me or be so angry with me for letting him go, for giving up, for surrendering, for capitulating. I told those people way back when that it would hurt my son to not be raised by me. I was so concerned about his pain after we met again that he finally said, "You have never caused me anything close to pain." He stopped communicating with me a couple of years ago. I am a bad mother, a bad parent. I would love to get to a point of my son realizing I'm a bad parent, but instead I'm invisible. It's too far gone, too damaged, and I am nothing. I wish I knew how he felt; all I have is the silence between us. Silence means he doesn't accept what occurred -it's just my excuse for bad parenting- when I gave up on him twenty-three years ago.

    1. ""You have never caused me anything close to pain."

      I have a hard time believing that. In my, admittedly, limited experience, I have found more male adoptees to feign indifference while actually being angrier than their female counterparts. My pet theory, that may explain some of this, is that males have always had more freedom and power in society and would have a harder time understanding how someone could feel so coerced to give their child up for adoption when they really didn't want to do it. I think men have always been allowed to do more of what they wanted to do and not be branded as 'selfish' for doing so. Like I said, just a theory of mine, which may or may not be true.

    2. I'm so sorry, Maru, for what you are experiencing with your son.

      Yes, though I was lashing out in this post I was also taking a step closer to my parents. A "bad parent" is a parent nevertheless. My post was an acknowledgment of that relationship. The "bad parenting" statement may have seemed hurtful but I wrote it deliberately as a counterbalance to what we so often hear: that adoption is the "loving choice" made by a mother who puts her child's needs ahead of her own. That's what the industry tells us, but I call BS. Adoption rhetoric persuades parents to ignore their basic instincts, convinces them to let go when they know in their heart of hearts they should hold on with everything they've got. It convinces them that they are not worthy to be parents, that the child needs something that they cannot provide.

      I'm mad at my parents because they didn't protect me from the harm our separations caused, but I can acknowledge, at the same time, that they had very little power in the situation themselves. I'm mad at them _because_ they are my parents, but my acknowledgment of the anger is a step toward them, not away. I am chipping away at one more piece of the barrier that adoption erected between us.

      I'm sorry to hear about your son, but I also understand something of his side of things. Throughout my reunion I have had to work against the impulse to pull away. I am steadfast in my determination to push forward into relationship (even when doing so is painful), but I understand why some adoptees (and some first parents) can't do this. Relationship is risky, and the self-preservation impulse is so strong.

  2. (((maru))) There just aren't words for this. I don't know why so many adoptees stop communicating. Maybe the pain is too great. My daughter and I have our times too. Right now we're in the middle of a silent time. She's in my life but it's very limited at the moment. I only hang on to the hope that she'll talk to me again soon. For your son, he's younger. Maybe over time things will change. Don't give up hope.

  3. "He wanted nothing to do with me. How can a man who fathered a child be that way? How could he? He failed me."

    I really struggle with this issue as it is the sole reason I was given up for adoption. My n-father was single, in his thirties, and self-supporting. In other words, he was in a position to raise a child. But he adamantly refused to do so. We talk a lot in the adoption reform community about how not only are looks, but our personalities and character traits, are inherited. Well, as far as my n-father is concerned, my apple couldn't have fallen further from the tree (at least character wise).

    I know my n-mother would have done anything to keep me. She was even willing to have a short marriage and get divorced so I would get my father's name. But my father was having none of it. When I found my paternal relatives they assumed my father must not have known I existed. I assured them he did. He was at the hospital when I was born making sure that I was taken by another couple. But even with all this, I still consider his surname to be mine. It is my lineage, my heritage. And even though he was a supreme jerk, it's still my name.

    This whole father issue is another reason I am so devastated over what happened to Veronica BROWN. To see a little girl with such a wonderful father who wants to step up to the plate and to watch that STOLEN from her, based on lies and breaking laws, has been more than I can bear.

    1. I'm sorry you also had that type of father. I don't understand it and the men in my life who are fathers certainly don't understand it either. I'm with you on the Veronica Brown case. I've never been so affected by a story before. I think of her and Dusten every single day. My heart breaks for that little girl and her whole family grieving the loss. It's so wrong and that's another place where the rage is directed - the industry, the lawyers, the court system and the C's.

  4. Thank you, Carlynne, for continuing this conversation. Since writing that piece I've come to refer to it as my "temper tantrum of a post." I recognize it as the equivalent of a child yelling "I hate you" or "you ruined my life." Such words are emotionally true for the child in the moment, but they are not necessarily an accurate reflection of the child's true beliefs or of how the child feels when in a more regulated state. My inner child has been sleeping quite peacefully since I let this all out; I've also been experiencing a renewed sense of compassion for my young parents, faced as they were with such a lack of choices and support. Their loss. My loss. It's all intertwined.

    And yet, the head/heart split remains. So much the adoption experience is contradictory, isn't it? I can accept intellectually that my parents were not to blame for our separation and yet still have a strong desire for them to take ownership, to lift the weight of what is between us. The responsibility for what happened to us may be "out there," but the pain and trauma lodges itself in the middle of the relationship. As I wrote in the comment section of my post, "When I encounter a first mother who says 'I was hurt by adoption and I deserve empathy and understanding for what happened to me,' I agree 100%. But when I encounter a first mother who says 'My CHILD was hurt by adoption and I will stand up and acknowledge that so that I may hold a piece of that pain for them' something powerful happens for me. I see the mother stepping back into her parental role, and something is set right again." So I love, love, love that you wrote "Did I 'lose' my daughter to adoption? Yes I did. It was a forced, closed adoption. I had no choice at that time but my daughter was the one left behind and truly voiceless so I understand if there's a part of her that rages and it's ok if the rage is directed at me. I was afraid to use my voice but she was too young to use hers." I appreciate how you hold both pieces (yours and hers) simultaneously, in a way that makes it clear that the one does not subtract from the other. Her trauma and voiceless is not mitigated by your lack of choice in the matter; the two things coexist.

    As you wrote on my facebook wall, "We're all in this adoption mess together." Amen to that!

    1. (((Rebecca))) Mothers and adoptees were both so damaged by this institution. It helps all of us if both recognize the pain and injury the other suffered because it wasn't a one time event. We all live with it every day in small ways and large and we have to find ways to make things "set right again". Waiting for someone to take ownership of their role in the injury can make it very difficult to let go of the rage and that's where I find myself right now - forgiving is an ongoing process. Maybe that's why I want to be sure to take ownership for my part.

    2. "We all live with it every day in small ways and large." <-- So true! xoxo

    3. I'm so glad you had a public *temper tantrum* Rebecca. I can't tell you how much it means to me to know I'm not the only one.

      I said that I understood for SO long. And rationally, I do. But the baby (and my heart) is still broken. And now that I myself am parenting an adopted daughter - it's all much clearer.

      When adoptees shut down, I truly believe it is out of pain. Whether they admit it or not. Reunion will not erase that pain. All the birth certificates and biological information in the world won't erase it. Even if you do find it all out - you'll still be adopted. And coming to terms with that is our responsibility alone. Yet, to be validated by others the the MOST important thing I think can happen to us.

      Again, thank you.

    4. I agree. The validation is so important. Thank you for validating ME!

  5. Excellent post, Carlynne. I need to hear from first moms like you. I don't feel like my natural mother would have agreed with any of this, and it hurts so bad at times. Reading your words helps me make sense of things. Thank you for opening up and sharing. It means so much to me. Much love

    1. (((Deanna))) I understand how she must have hurt you. Maybe she would not have agreed with any of this but I don't think we can ever really know what's in someone's heart or why they do the things they do. It's so hard for me to understand first mothers who don't or won't share with their children or be there for them. I guess some are not capable of behaving any other way and we can't know why. I'm just glad that I'm able to help in some small way. Love to you Deanna.

    2. Thank you SO much Carlynne. I have always appreciated your voice. It means so much.

      I too have been very triggered by Rebecca's "temper tantrum" post, and then some comments by disbelieving adoptive parents.
      But I needed to be, as I still work through my grief. Always working through.....


    3. Thank you for being here Holly. I appreciate all the voices like Rebecca's that bring us to thinking and feeling about this. It needs to be done to work through this grief. It doesn't seem to matter how many years have gone by, there's always another aspect, another thought to process, another wave of grief and hurt that has to be dealt with. That's why it's so important for us in the community to connect to each other - we understand each other better than anyone.