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Friday, July 22, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: Messages and Meanings

"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."

At first I hesitated to respond to you, because I often find that communicating with fmoms on the subject of what it means to have been left behind in the hospital is too fraught with emotion. It's really difficult to listen to each other. As Von said in her answer to this question, all sides of the hellagon (thanks to Joy for coining that term, my new preferred way of referring to the "constellation") have trauma, but they are different traumas. We may say that we feel "abandoned," but we are then told "I NEVER abandoned you!" by mothers who aren't OUR mothers. There may be a difference between being abandoned and feeling abandoned, but our feelings can get lost in the shuffle of collective fmotherly anger, shame, and guilt. 

I have been thrown down on the mat by some fmoms for using the word "choice" in relation to relinquishment. They had no choices themselves. I get that. My bad. 

But you know, some fmoms did choose to give up their kids. Mine is one of those. She was slow to come to the reunion table. She took 11 years to talk to me, and among her first words were the charming, "I wish I had aborted you." She wasn't the wounded woman whom you describe in your paragraphs above. Although you say "most," not all mothers "did not EVER give you away." I feel that your use of "most" pathologizes those of us who didn't get the presumably "normative" experience of the distraught mother who had her baby pried from her arms against her will.  

I think that the best discussions about adoption occur when we recognize that while we may share some experiences and feelings, adoptees' relationships with our families are all very, very different. There are as many stories as there are adoptees and mothers. It's extremely important to be respectful of individual differences in how adoptees think of their relationships with their mothers.

The words "gave you away" don't bother me nearly as much as they seem to bother others. To me, that phrase is just part of society's script (yes, a very flawed script) for explaining what happened to us, and after 42 years, I am numb to it. What hurts, by contrast, is not feeling accepted my natural family for who I am. But that's another story.

I grieve for the loss of my mother, the loss of the family to which I was born, and the loss of my connection to personal history that I feel could have grounded me and helped me better weather some of the more difficult parts of my life. 

Intellectually, I thank you for wanting to love us all. Emotionally, saying that "most" mothers love their children, did not give them away, and instead had them taken away, doesn't help me. It's not my truth.

I think all of us in the hellagon do best by listening, recognizing where our own pain stops and another's begins, and paying attention to the infinite variety of experiences out there. 


  1. It is quite difficult for some of us. Many Mothers from the BSE did not "give up" their children. Mine did. Yes, she too was part of that era- but she was not a child. She was 24 with a post graduate degree.

    It hurts even more to realize your Mother willingly participated, and has no regrets about that participation.

    It is frustrating to have some Mothers tell us were were "taken". No two reliquishments/surrenders or adoptions are the same.

    I am hurt and sometimes angry with my Mother. Not other Mothers...just my own.

  2. I love you Linda and Kara ((hugs))

  3. I have really been enjoying (that seems like the wrong word) appreciating (?) reading everyone's differing perspectives on answering this question. "What hurts, by contrast, is not feeling accepted my natural family for who I am." This line really stood out to me from this post. Thanks!

  4. Linda, you are so right. I have many wonderful fmom friends IRL and online. I respect them and love them, and their stories are their stories. I am not angry with them, and in truth, I am not angry with my own anymore. I may not understand her, but I am not angry (although I reserve the right to be angry again in the future).

    I *do* get angry when fmoms come around and paint experiences with a broad brush, because my lived experience tells me how useless those broad brushstrokes are. Saying "she loved you so much" is pretty useless when they don't know my story and when it's pretty clear, using my own well developed brain, that it's far more complicated.

  5. As a fmom I want to thank you all so much for putting your thoughts, feelings, and hurts out there for all of us to read and try to understand. It has helped me to understand my daughter,my children's friends that are adopted, and family members that were adopted. What you do just by writing has given me a greater perspective. It has helped me bond with my daughter so much better. I wish blogs of adult adoptees were required reading for all family memebers and potential family members of adoptees. I hope one day I can intice my parents(grandparent to two adoptees)to come read all of your blogs.

  6. Kara, you really tapped into something for me by pointing out that we all have work toward knowing where our pain ends and the feelings of another person begins. This is something I struggle with a great deal as I come to terms with my own truth. And I'm sure that many others in the hellagon (my new fave term) struggle with it as well.

    Your words and thoughts are so insightful. Love you.

  7. Well said Kara, as usual. I try very hard to understand the feelings of adoptees in particular where there is some element of choice on the part of the mother in surrendering/placing/relinquishing. No matter how one slices it, that is my daughter's reality, her fmom chose this. The emotions are already so complicated. So complicated.... Trish


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