Blog Prompt: Becoming a Parent. Did becoming a parent change your perception of adoption or being adopted? Or did it strengthen what you already believe or feel? How has being adopted affected your own parenting philosophy?
~~~NOTE TO READER~~~this entry is long but thoughtful. But I hope to encourage people that experience adoption. Over the last week, I tried my best to condense this piece into a 2 minute bit, as suggested by many websites. However, the topic was impossible to write as a news flash. My suggestion is to take little breaks and read my piece over time. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ written by Dorothy Sands
“What is a Mother?” asked the Lost Boy.
“Well, a Mother, a real Mother,” softly replied Wendy, “is the most wonderful person in the world. She’s the angel voice that bids you good night, kisses your cheek, whispers, “Sleep Tight.”
~1953 the American Classic Peter Pan Disney Film
Watching this film, as a 7 or 8 year old girl, I remember wonderment and dread. On the surface, I loved the idea of Wendy caring for the little lost boys. Now, I realize that my mother was in the image of Wendy. My mommy was caring for me: The Lost Girl. But also, the words, real mother, did not fit into the scene. My real mother gave me away. So, my two worlds, the adopted girl and the orphan girl, with a lost history, collided. And thus I continued my ideas of adoption.
Imagine, that years and years later, after you have created your adoption perceptions, that you become a Real Mother. The Mother is you, both genetics and environment tangled up together. What happens (as adult adoptees) to our perceptions and ideas about adoption? How does that influence our parenting philosophy?
Motherhood and/or parenthood ties itself to our Personhood. Then, Our Personhood links directly to our Adoption. What do I mean, Personhood? I simply mean, Who We Are. Our heart, mind, body and soul create our Personhood. Motherhood not only ties into our being, but our child’s being.
We, as adoptees, when becoming a parent, we confront our adoption in the daily ordinary events. The simple tasks become mind-blowing events.
A conversation with my youngest child:
Mommy, I got my school pictures back.
Ok, great. Let me see them.
Well, I didn’t dress up.
That’s okay honey. (Now, I am looking at picture). Wow, you look just like I did when I was your age. Same smile, same eyes.
(His eyes roll) No, mom, I do not. You are a girl.
Adoptees understand the impact of these daily connections. Non-adoptees or those not affected by adoption cannot possibly understand. But, imagine that these connections never happened when you were a child.
Parenthood changes our adoption perception in the daily connections we make with our child.
My adoption perception evolved the moment of my son’s birth. As adoptee parents, we enter the world of genetic connectedness. Even the reunion with our Natural family years ago did not offer this connection. Why? A reunion with the natural family connects us to our genetic history with mixed and painful emotions. So, becoming a parent and parenthood connects us to another person through our DNA, but in a pure sense, without heartache. No secrets and no closed files. We become Real and Connected to Humanity without the pain of loss.
And now we move back in time…..to my closed adoption system
My early years and adoption perception
As a child, teen and even young adult, a closed adoption system existed. I did not question the system because it was too big and in the grown-up world. By the time I reached adulthood and then parenthood and now middle age, my perception has evolved. I no longer understand or accept the old system.
As a young child, my mother taught me how to cope with adoption. My perspective built on her patience and love. She was a fantastic story-teller and read countless books, many amazing fairy tales to explain and fill in my missing pieces. I say missing pieces because I did not have a scrapbook of old photos that some kind person created and sent with me in life. I did not have a medical history. I had no letters of love and explanation. After all, my secret identity was filed away in some state government office.
I was fortunate. My parents were open and encouraged me to question my background. Even though, there were no real answers. So, as a child, my perceptions about adoption were very much grounded in the fantasy I created about the Nice Lady called my birth mother.
I suggest a little break….maybe a walk?
More history about my adoption perceptions…..
I was adopted in the late 1960s. Vietnam and Flower Children raged as the news reported a terribly turbulent time in our American History. This is my era and the backdrop of my adoption. The term ‘Real Mother’ was actually used to describe a biological mother. The other term used quite frequently, birthmother, was also the language used to describe the woman that carried me for 9 months. These facts, built the frame, the social context and the language I used to process my ideas about adoption.
Today, we use the words Natural Mother, Natural Father and Natural Family to express a kinder and gentler label for the people that gave us a genetic code. And, then by some twist in fate, these Natural Parents could not parent. So, I will continue to use these terms as applicable to my text.
As a girl, I remember thinking about the Natural family as a vague entity. How could it be anything other than vague without any information to link me to myself?
The following, short story was the only information given to my parents from adoption agency. The words in parenthesis are the truth that I discovered much later.
The Nice Lady (really, a child herself) and the Guy (also a child when I was conceived) were college students (not true, they were students in a small town in a 6 month high school romance) that could not take care of me (well, the grown-ups in their lives decided that they could not care for me). The guy was a musician (not! completely false, but he and she come from a musical DNA. )
Wow. I remember thinking. What did they look like? Why didn’t they want me? But there were no answers. And later, in my teens: Oh, they must have been hippies; of course they did not want me, free love and all. And on my birthday I would wonder, do they remember me (yes, they did and do and always will).
I did not tell people that I was adopted. And if I did, it was a big SECRET. What was the point? What was the story? I did not have any information about why, how, when, where. So, personal introspection or other was an abyss of nothing. No knowledge. Closed doors. I wanted to be a normal girl. The story in parenthesis was locked up in a file cabinet.
~~~~~~I suggest a Coffee Break ~~~~~~
Try to imagine…What if your real mother, or the term ‘real mother’, the mythological lady that you created throughout your childhood was something that bothered you. What if you just wanted one mother to be your real mother?
What if your natural mother is your friend now? What if this friendship caused a lot of mixed emotions and caused anxiety, as well as joy? Imagine now that she and her family have similar physical traits and interests as you and your children. And, when you interact with her, the emotions, even today are so powerful that it takes months to feel middle ground again. For twenty years, you have tried to be nice and friendly and game face on. Because you don’t want her to see the sadness and anger that she and he caused. You don’t want to see anything other than perfect. After all, you were given away. You want to look like success and a champion. But, now, as a parent, you no longer have the energy to play games and the relationship goes into a tail spin.
Or what if your mom, the one that kissed you goodnight and hugged you tight, adopted you as an infant, well, what if she is now a grandmother, still guiding you. And as much as you want her to share physical traits with yourself and children, she never will. What if her visits to the newborn nursery, baseball games, holiday and birthdays, well they are followed intermittently by visits from your natural mother and her family? And these complicated emotions keep coming back to you. Guilt enters because you feel bad for feeling anything for the Natural Mother. Your mom is the one that parented you. She did what you are doing now. The Nice Lady wasn’t even there. And you feel really very sad.
And then much more time goes by and the natural father and his family are found. Again, you fold in another dimension. In essence add a foreigner and their foreign cultures into your life as person and as a parent. Fast forward, and then one strange night, you are having a dinner in a restaurant with your two children, husband, two sisters and natural father. And your children look similar to both sisters and the man you didn’t ever let yourself consider. For the very first time in your life. Ever. All the physical traits are exposed. No more mystery. No more fantasy. Finally, you see in your children the thing you never saw in yourself. You see your complete history. And the experience appears so very late and in the middle of your life.
Your Natural Father calls you a month later and says that he was sorry for not being your Father. He tells you that he will feel guilt for the rest of his life and that he thinks you are great. And in the middle of a grocery store, with your children, you hide your streaming tears under your sunglasses and head for the checkout line.
My shift in adoption perception continues with parenting and my integrated family
Although heavily emotional, my experience sounds so Oprah. One giant integrated family! A Big Reunion! Hoorah!!! But, here is the conflict. I have an entire family from way back in childhood, along with an entire clan that shared my maiden name. I also have an entire set of maternal natural family and her entire group. And just recently, my natural father’s family walked into the picture. Throw in global work force, literally thousands of miles in-between all of us (with the exception of my husband’s family). And a very scary real question starts to form. Where are the resources to spend real time (face to face) with my integrated family?
Here is the answer: In my humble, middle class life, there is NOT enough time and/or money. Believe me, I tried visiting and going back and forth and then about 10 years ago I stopped working to parent my children. Hmmm. Not so much of a disposable income to fly myself, let alone a family anywhere. And when extra cash is available, who do I go visit? Seriously. I am torn. My parents always come first, because, well they were my Mommy and Daddy. But then, how do I pick without feeling horrible?
The reality. I lost my ‘true identity’ long, long ago, just as the Natural families lost rights to me. I formed my Person with a lot of missing pieces. My big moment last fall with my Natural Father brought wholeness. And I am in the middle of my life. And you know what? He felt the same. And he’s the guy that is usually overlooked in adoption. For 40 years, I overlooked him. Closed adoption was supposed to be OK. Well, you know what, it was not ok.
Now, I wonder, would it have been so terrible to have the records open? Perhaps from the onset? Would it have changed my struggle? My emotional baggage that includes abandonment, anger, loss, and more may have been addressed head on. Not stuffed in a dark closet in my mind. Would open records have helped my parents with me? I was so different from them. I had the same ethnicity, but completely different. In most ways. Maybe knowing a little bit about my identity would have helped us all. What about my Natural Families? Remember, I’ve met them. And I think knowing me or at least that I was safe would have been therapy in itself.
It is something to think about and question.
~~~~~~another break and message from our sponsors. ;)~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Conversation between myself and teenage son: An example of the reality
Another Example of the Adult Adoptee as a Parent: Here is an ordinary and recent conversation between myself and son. A moment in the daily life as a parent and an adult adoptee in reunion with both Natural Families:
Mom, What are we doing for Thanksgiving?
Well, honey, your grandparents (my parents) are coming.
My parents. They are flying in the Monday before.
What about Nana and Jimmy (my husband’s mom and husband)
No, well, they are going out of town with your aunt and your cousin.
Why? And Gramps? (my husband’s father)
Nana wants to go to the beach and Well Gramps, he is not well enough to travel. And so, he will stay at his home and we can’t travel there.
Oh, that’s sad, Mom, Poor Gramps. He must be lonely. Oh. What about Gwen? (my natural mother).
She’s going with her husband to visit his sister.
Okay, What about James? (my natural father) and Elaine, Clair and Taylor(my half sisters? And his wife (that we have not met).
He’s going to be with his wife and Elaine and her new husband.
Oh, so it is just grandma and grandpa (my parents) and us?
Yes, honey. Won’t we have fun?
Yeah, but why can’t we all be together?
The truth, an identity was lost between myself and the Natural Families. I can’t go back in time and replace all those missing pieces, even though I have all the pieces now. To quote another Lost Daughter, on this site…”I wake up every morning and I am still adopted.”
My son’s last question is something that I tried, in earnest to solve for many years. In the early years of reunion with my maternal natural family, I attempted to integrate my family and natural family by inviting them to my wedding. The wedding was a spectacular success. I had the illusion that I would continue with this pattern of cohesion. Not so much. In the end, my children’s life includes additional natural family.
These are planned events at different times and places and not so often. And each and every time, I hurt. I feel the original loss. Does this sound dramatic to you? And maybe you are thinking that, I should, somehow, as I’ve been told by members of my integrated family to “Get Hold of Yourself”.
Well, I consider stuffing these emotions back in the dark closet. The dark place in my heart that was literallyblown wide open when my Natural Mother found me in my early twenties. Well, I tried, I tried and I tried. I do not want these emotions, but to deny them causes additional damage and internal chaos.
~~~~~turn the channel and tune back in later~~~~~~~
Now, you may be getting a glimpse of the complications and shift in my personal perceptions on adoption. My former perception, that a closed system that did not allow medical, identifying or any other information to me was simply satisfactory. My perception was so simplistic. In my middle-age, my perception changed. Parenthood has been a huge chunk of my change of heart.
Anyhow, but if you truly put the best interest of the child first; how do I arrive at any other conclusion than an open system? The idea that many adoptees will go to the grave not knowing their medical and identifying history, well, as a parent and an adoptee, it is impossible to understand. I was fortunate to gather up all my missing pieces and put together the puzzle that made me complete.
My parenting philosophy is about guiding a child, to the best of your ability. We teach them to one day live without us.
We use millions of years of Genetics, Family Heritage, Social Mores, Culture and Tradition. As a parent, we must tap into this wealth of dna and experience and help our child find their passion in life. This parenting knowledge forces me to realize that my closed adoption was not so perfect. My parents were missing a lot of information that would have helped all of us. There are big cracks and broken places in the system.
And so I conclude…
My humble goal is to draw a frame around adoption truth. In hope, my perspective will help others that are a part of the adoption experience.
Adoptees, similar to the Lost Boys of Peter Pan, lost their ‘real’ mothers (and entire genetic heritage) long ago. In my lifetime, parenting is one of the powerful experiences to challenge my adoption beliefs and force me to analyze the current adoption system.
Of course, we are grateful and respectful of our parents. We love them; they are part of us, our history. They adopted us from the only system that existed at the time. But, take a little time and look behind the curtain of a closed adoption system. There is another powerful story of resilience and heartache for adoptees, their parents and the natural families.
Why can’t adoption be a gentle and open system?
Are we really in a Closed Adoption System for the child?
And I wonder to myself, in my 40s: Why wasn’t I given more information from the start? Why weren’t my parents given a little “care package” that helped our family. Here is a memo to all those concerned:
TO: all People of Influence and Participants of the Adoption World
RE: Care package
THE SHORT LIST to be included in the care package
1. Medical Records
2. Birth Certificate
3. A few photographs of natural family would be so very kind
4. A letter from both Natural Families that explain the circumstances of my relinquishment
5. If we start to open up and actually tell you about our feelings and thoughts; please be ready to HEAR us. Don’t shut us down. Thank us for opening up. Acknowledge our pain. Tell us that you are sorry that we hurt. We know you can’t fix us. Please don’t tell us to pull ourselves together. We know you are trying to help us. We simply want to be heard. And, truly being heard and not dismissed is absolutely the best way to love us.
* * * * *
Dorothy Sands: Born in the late 1960s, in a closed American Adoption system. At three weeks old, I was adopted and lived without a genetic identity for my entire childhood. Then, in my early 20s, I was found by my natural mother. Several years ago, I found my natural father and now I am attempting to integrate all the pieces into my life. Writing draws a frame around adoption so that I can sort out the experiences. Early on, the writing appeared in my childish poems, later, pages and pages of teenager journals, then essays, and finally formal academia. Now, as an adult adoptee, blogging creates a supportive place to heal. My hope is to encourage others that also are part of the adoption experience.