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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: Do I Know I Wasn't "Given Away?"

"I would like to know if those of you that have been reunited with your mother, realize that you were not 'given away'. I keep seeing that in most of your blogs and it must have been a terrible thing to have inside one's head, especially a child's head.

Most of the the mothers of loss that I know, including myself, did not EVER give you away. Most of us were coerced and had absolutely NO choice in the matter. Most of us had our babies ‘taken away’, never did we ‘give them away’. I would love to say to the children in you all, NO your mother did not give away. Be interested in hearing your comments."

An asker implores us.

The short answer? Yes. I do know that I was not "given away."

As for the long answer....

"Given away" has become part of the language used in adoption discussion, especially by those of us who have heard it so often in relation to our adoptions.  Being "given" was supposed to make us feel special but for many of us, it didn't.  And thus, we shake our heads at a society that still encourages young women to "give" their babies as gifts to those deemed more deserving.  "Given away" has become part of what adoptees say for many reasons.  Here I present just one.

Language doesn't always describe what we know; sometimes it describes what we feel. When you spend your childhood and a large portion of your life with the "given" language and message, changing what you feel is extremely hard to do.....even once you've changed what you know.

Many of us are told we were given to a better life, given away as a gift, or given up "and at least she didn't abort you!"  The "given" language is stitched into nearly every "you were adopted" revelation there is.  Yes, I personally have not found comfort in the thought of being "given."  To be "given" is a reminder of our powerless in the matter that changed our lives (and saying that I was powerless does not mean I am pointing the finger at mothers either, many of which I understand were powerless themselves).

"She loved you so much she gave you away" and so the young adoptee may wonder, does love = leaving?  These are things we have had to attempt to come to terms with, even pre-reunion, and without information.  It's hard for a young person to do.

Many of us feel given away or feel as though we were left and have felt that way for as long as we can remember.  Reunion beings new information and it is a relief that many find to know that they were loved and wanted and that the circumstances and powers that be weighed against our mothers so heavily that many of them had no choice.  Some of us are angry on behalf of ourselves and our mothers but glad to have been wanted.

But knowing does not make the feeling suddenly nor magically go away.

For adoptees who have heard their own mother's stories, is not for lack knowledge of the details of what actually happened.  It just is.

I know my mother's story and even from the little bit of it I knew growing up from the agency.  I have never felt that she did anything wrong and I do not want to appear to be assigning blame to her by talking about how I feel.

And this is why I don't often get into this topic.  I do not want what I have to say about being "given away" to be mistaken for assigning blame when I'm not talking about what someone did.  I am talking about how I feel.

A lifetime of feeling "given away," left, or unwanted may for some need a consider able amount of time to heal.  It often takes plenty of love and reassurance and the support of others.

And not everyone had the experience of a warm welcome at reunion.  It's very sad, it's heartbreaking, but is nevertheless true.

Let me close by saying, I am just one adoptee with one experience; my own.  These are my thoughts about the topic of being "given away."  Some of our other authors are working on their own responses from their perspectives.  I hope everyone will come back to read what they say.

Photo credit: Master isolated images


  1. The intellect does not compensate for the way we feel.

  2. As an adoptive mother in an open adoption I feel compelled to ask: Do you believe some of these feelings might have been alleviated had you known your birth family from the start? Not just the "Yes, we met your mother and you can meet her when you are 18" style of open adoption, but regular, on-going contact with your extended biological family throughout your childhood?

    If not, what might we do as adoptive parents to help our children?

  3. "Yes, we met your mother and you can meet her when you are 18" style of open adoption, but regular, on-going contact with your extended biological family throughout your childhood?

    The issue that this could potentially bring up is *knowing* if your mother had kept other siblings.

    Then the question is: "Why did she give me up and keep the others? Why didn't she love me enough to keep -me- as well?"

    The truth is, there is no good answer *which will satisfy how one feels.* All the logic and intellect in the world may not and will not necessarily prevent this.

  4. Following up here from your other post.

    Mei Ling has it right.
    "The intellect does not compensate for the way we feel."

    You can reason all day about the times and the circumstances and the reasons. You can try to understand and sympathize. But in the end I feel how I feel about it, abandoned and given away. I can't talk myself out of it, its at my core. Its a feeling that comes back when my XH cheated on me, when I fail at something, when someone doesn't seem to like me.


  5. Global Librarian,

    Open adoptions seem to assuage many of the problems that adoptees have reported with closed adoptions. However, it is possible that they too present new issues and paradoxes of their very own.

    As Mei Ling said, I can imagine it would be very hard for an adoptee to wonder why their siblings were kept but they weren't. Especially because many closed adoption adoptees have reported a feeling of guilt or being at fault for their own surrender---how might an open adoptee feel and would they compare themselves to kept siblings when processing why they are "here" and not "there?" I can also imagine feeling left out when the original family and kept siblings do something together where I wasn't included. Open adoption adoptees may perceive things as rejection when they aren't meant to be taken that way, just as many of we closed adoption adoptees have.

    Not everyone agrees with the primal wound type theories, but I will mention it any way. Nancy Verrier theorizes that many of these type of feelings an adoptee has occur not with the telling of being adopted or how their adoption is or isn't, but begin at the separation of mother and child. This feeling which does not yet have cognitive labels is recorded by the brain. She suspects that this emotion is able to be felt and remembered giving reason as to why so many adoptees fear and avoid situations where rejection or abandonment may occur. Verrier discusses healing this wound in her second book "Coming Home to Self: the Adopted Child Grows Up."

    At any rate.....

    A loss is a loss. An adoptee may grieve that loss differently than another adoptee (recent research has shown that there are known 4 stages of processing being adopted in adolescence as well as 5 known stages of processing being adopted in adulthood. The stages are similar to widely accepted models of processing grief). Important to helping an adoptee grieve is truth, honesty, unwavering support, acceptance of exactly who they are and have to say, validation, and love...lots and lots of love.

  6. I have read "Primal Wound" and intend to read "Coming Home To Self" at some stage. Although I do not agree with everything she writes, I think adoptive parents can still take away a lot of useful information and suggestions for our parenting.

    Our children are biological siblings. Their mother chose to place them for adoption at birth because she knew it would be just a matter of time before DFS became involved. They have two older siblings who were removed from their mother's care and were placed with their grandmother. Due to their circumstances in early childhood, the older siblings have many emotional & behavioral challenges so the grandmother did not feel equipped to care for additional children. But we are in close contact with their grandmother (who we call "Granny") and their brother and sister. The grandmother and we all have very limited contact with their mother because she lives a chaotic life and makes choices that cause us to question whether it would be safe for any of the children to have contact with her.

    I have no doubt our children will feel grief and loss. I want to identify the areas we should watch for to make certain that we are there to love and support our children through the process. At this stage we intend to be as open as possible and give them the truth about their situation at age appropriate stages. But I am always searching for ways to prepare them and improve our "adoptive parenting."

  7. Marcia MacInnis7/23/2011 7:02 AM

    My first mother was a 31 year old professionally employed woman with a solid job and veteran's benefits (she was a WWII Navy nurse). With those resources, she must have hated me a great deal to toss me to strangers without knowing anything about them. They had a daughter of their own 2 1/2 years later, and our "relationship" deteriorated at that point. I am very sorry that my first mother didn't have the option of abortion. That seems to me the best solution to the evil known as adoption.

  8. Marcia,

    have you searched for her or reunited or anything like that?


  9. Marcia MacInnis7/24/2011 8:45 PM

    Hi Amanda. Yes, I found out about her in 2004, but she died in 1979. Her family, my half-brothers and half-sister, want nothing to do with me and resent my revealing our mother's "shameful" past. Especially since "she's not here to defend herself." They are very pro-adoption and very much against open birth records.

  10. I'm so sorry Marcia. Your life so well illustrates the untruths of those statements that we were all loved and wanted, never forgotten and taken coercively or our adoption forced.You have seen the way biological connection often trumps other connections in such a painful way. For most adoptees it matters little whether we were the subjects of forced, coerced adoption, given away or 'torn from our mother's arms' the damage is the same, the result the same in our lives. While we may have sympathy for our mothers and their predicament and trauma it really is time we stopped hearing one size fits all reasons for our adoptions - each of us has an individual story and has to live out an adopted life.

  11. I suppose the facts of the trauma are not that important. The outcomes and reasons mother's and children are separated is still occurring. Adoption creates a have and have not class. Those who can not have their own child want someone else infant. They want to (gag) build their family at the expense of separating a child from it's entire identity.

    Often times the social workers and lawyers involved in these adoptions are adopters themselves. How could such selfishness tend to a child as fragile as one who is separated from his mother?

  12. Yes the semantics are so important when it comes to adoption speak. Neuro linguistic techniques are used insidiously in this culture and influence the way we are made to feel about things. As far as I am concerned as an adoptee and as a mother, unless 'they' tear the baby out of the mothers arms, then she has, in fact, given away her baby. Just because it may have been painful for her to do, she did it. She left. She was able to be talked out of her BABY. Instead of an absolute refusal from the bottom of her heart to never part from the baby that was hers. I can't stand it when non adopted people try and tell me I wasn't given away. As if I haven't thought about what words really mean before.... I am willing to face the hard fact that both of my birth parents did actually give me to other people to raise in the knowing that i would not know anything about who I was or where I came from.


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