Featured Post

Adoption and Child Separation at the Border

On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #Ke...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask An Adoptee: Given Away?

The Question: -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

This remark of Amanda's in her post on the question struck a particular chord - 'Many of us feel given away or feel as though we were left'.
I was a product of the forced adoption era in Australia, the subject of a current Government Inquiry. Many things will come out of this Inquiry and have done so already. It has been illuminating and useful for adoptees in particular and there will be some practical and supportive outcomes hopefully ...long overdue.
What is clear for me personally, is that my mother, with whom I was reunited when I was 50, followed the practice of the times. She did consider raising me, but realised that it would be too difficult and impractical. She clearly loved me, wanted me and was glad to have me back in her life after reunion. Her account of peeking through the window at my adopters as they walked away after viewing me, would break any feeling person's heart, as would her account of the day I was collected, taken away and made an adoptee.
Having that knowledge, however much sympathy, compassion and lack of judgement I had for her situation, both then and  in later life, did nothing whatsoever for the loss I suffered and the fact that I was given away. There is no way to put a different slant on that, for me or for many other adoptees. However much mothers put their ideas, views and feelings forward about their situations and circumstances, it never alters the fact of being given to others to raise and being made an adoptee.
I understand that that is often a big sticking point in understanding and in moving forward, in what here in Australia could now best be called reconciliation. There has been much damage because mothers, in insisting on their truth, have ignored, criticised or denied the experience of adult adoptees. Yes it's hard, yes it's painful but it is the next step in adoption understanding.
Adoption for mothers is a very different adoption to the one adoptees experience and live with for life.It is time to separate out the experience of mothers and the experience of adult adoptees. They are connected but separate, unique and often very individual. The trauma of mothers is not the same trauma for adoptees, adult adoptees are not 'our kids' and the stories of adult adoptees are valid and deserving of respect. Until that separation is achieved, we will continue to be asked questions about being given away and continue to be told we were not. All adoption begins with loss and that painful fact will never go away, whatever words are spoken.

Ask An Adoptee: Semantics

 The question being posed to us was as follows:

"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."
 

A lot.  Several.  Most.

I have come to hate these words. 

“A lot of adoptees I know grew up happy and well-adjusted.”
“Several adoptive parents adopted because they wanted to save an orphan.”
“Most natural mothers did not give their children away.”

My own mother and I have a very special bond.  After our first contact, we clicked instantly.  Bonded immediately.  But she did give me away 37 years ago.  I was left at the hospital as she walked out…not adopted until six days later.

I was given up.  Abandoned. Adopted.

Honestly, the language doesn’t matter.  It all boils down to a mother and child being separated. 

Embrace your story...it's yours.  But please don’t take away mine.

 I'm not sure my adoptive parents ever actually said, "You were given up".  They just told me that they wanted another daughter and the agency called them.  The whole "given up" conversation never came up...and wasn't something that was ever explicitly said to me.  But it's how I felt.  Then and now. 

I deserve to live my truth.

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

Is the Portrayal of Adoptees/Adoption on These TV Shows Offensive?

"Oh wow...did that character just refer to orphans 'dumplings'?!" I thought to myself when watching one episode of Futurama. "Dumplings" as in "dump...lings." Do things like these just stick out to me because I'm adopted or would anyone have taken notice? I wonder. Adoption is everywhere in television shows, movies, and even commercials. I discussed a while back on my blog the kids show "Dinosaur Train" with its nauseating "its healthy to learn more about who I am while making it exhuberantly clear that my adoptive family is my one and only real family" theme. But television shows with bizzare adoption themes are not exclusive to kids shows. There are quite a few shows for older audiences that use adoption themes for humor. Do shows like Futurama and American Dad cross the line when it comes to using adoption themes to poke fun

Turanga Leela, one of the main characters in Futurama, grew up in an "orphanarium." Abandoned as a baby and treated as an outcast in the "orphanarium," Leela spends a considerable amount of her adulthood searching for who she is and where she comes from. She believes that she is an alien and thus searches far and wide throughout the galaxy for her people. She finally discovers that she is not an alien but a mutant. As mutants themselves, her parents are banished to living in the sewer system. Believing that Leela could pass as human, they abandoned her in a basket on a doorstep where she is taken to the "orphanarium." They have watched her wherever she has gone throughout her life; she just didn't know it.

(From episode 4.5, Leela and the "warden" at the "orphanarium")

Leela:  Mr Vogel?, Remember me ? 
Warden Vogel:  Leela., You're worthless and no one will ever love you. 
[both laughing and hugging] 
Leela:  You used to say that all the time. 
Warden Vogel:  Those were happier days. 


The show features Leela's emotional breakdowns, poor and rash decisions, and her suseptibility to being taken advtangage of whenever her past as an "orphan" or her search for her roots and people are brought into play.

American Dad, another cartoon, also has a main character who spent part of her childhood in an orphanage. Francine Smith, wife, mother of two, and caregiver to an alien the family is hiding and a talking goldfish, is adopted.  She also became a surrogate mother as a favor to the neighbors. Francine was adopted by Chinese parents who saw her at the orphanage and wanted to adopt her immediately but waited until the price went down so they could get her cheaper.

Scenes featuring Francine's adoption are heavily saturated with Asian stereotypes. It is difficult to tell if Francine doesn't see eye to eye with her parents simply because she's adopted, because she's portrayed as a "dumb blonde," or because of how they are so heavily stereotyped in the show.

We have our own jokes in the adoptee community as do we women amongst ourselves. As Von stated so well on a past post on her personal blog, a sign that a group is doing well is when they have the ability to make fun of themselves and incorporate some humor into their movement. But what about when it isn't adoptees making fun of themselves but other people doing it? Shows like these leave no topic untouched. Is it funny? What is the difference between "being able to take a joke" and feeling disrespected?

There's a fine line between the two, I suppose.

"All I really wanted was a mom and dad, to hold me and stroke my hair and tell me they love me."  --Turanga Leela, Futurama