An Adoptee Comforts an Adoptive Mom with Painful Truths
Hi I am Caroleena and I am both an adoptee and a birth mother. There’s a lot to be said about both of those positions, but I want to focus on your heartbreak, because I understand where you are coming from and I hope I can provide a perspective that will ease how you feel. I can speak for myself but I imagine your son feels the same way. There was no way to deny that the birth mother really is the birth mother. I noticed you felt hurt that your son’s birth mother referred to herself as his mother. She is his mother–she is just not the only mother he has. When I was growing up a transition was being made from calling birth mothers “real” or “natural” mothers because that would made the adoptive mothers “fake” or “unnatural” mothers. People were just coming to understand that there are two important women in the life of every adoptee.
You have a sacred place in your son’s life, but the painful truth is that his birth mother has one too, and there is no taking that away from her or your son. As much as you probably wish you had given birth to your son, the painful truth is that you did not and this is a truth you must accept if you are to have peace. What does acceptance mean? When I use the word it means saying “that is the way things are and I am ok with it.” There are so many painful, harsh truths when it comes to adoption that I understand why people kept it a secret and lied to the kids. It is just so much easier to pretend that everyone is the same, or it would be, except we all know the truth. Your son did not go behind your back as much as he did not want to hurt you. If he felt like I did it probably drove him crazy to know that there are people out there who look like him. For me, I pondered relentlessly over the idea that I once had a different name, a different everything. For two and a half years the person I knew myself to be did not exist and I was someone else, living with unknown people, leaving them for unknown reasons. I had to know the truth. In my particular case I was adopted by people who changed their minds about adopting me and wished they had not done so. The lady’s favorite expression was “blood is thicker than water,” just to give you an idea about how non-relatives could never be truly accepted. I did not have loving support. I was looking for loving support, but I was also looking for answers. Those were two separate searches and one fully realized goal would never satisfy the need for another fully realized goal. Your son did not need to find support but he needed to fill that void of not knowing something so basic as the sound of your birth mother’s voice. I found my birth mother through professional searchers who charged cash money before they gave over my birth mother’s name and contact information, or what they thought was current contact information. $2,800 later I had the information I wanted (It was not a scam!). However it was difficult to find my birth mother because she lived as a lifelong homeless person on the street, bouncing around all over the mainland United States. Every month her social security check went to a different address. “The Searcher” was a man whose name I never knew to protect me from federal charges in case they were caught. The Searcher was always a month behind her but to his credit he never gave up even though he had my money. The searcher’s assistant told me that they would send letters to my mother return receipt this way if I got nothing else at least I could have my birth mother’s signature. I remember thinking, as an 18 year old, alone in the world, “wow, my mother’s signature, as in something she actually handled and wrote on!” I could not imagine having something so….exotic. My adoption originated in Virginia and I was sent to a “family” in New York. The records from 1976 Virginia are still sealed to this day. If I had not stumbled upon people who could access confidential records I do not know how I would have known my story. And what a sad story. My birth mother met my birth father in a mental hospital where they were both patients. My birth mother had arranged to have me adopted by friends of hers but when i was born there was a surprise. I was half black, and I looked about as white as President Obama. My white mother’s white southern friends did not feel they could take on that burden of interracial adoption, so they agreed to foster me but declined offers from the social worker to adopt me. My mother’s white family had no interest in someone my color and my father’s family did not want custody but my maternal grandmother might have been willing to let me live in a trailer with her son, if he was really my father, and if he did not go to prison for a long time. They did not want custody of me any more than the maternal side of my family. My birth mother lived her whole life in and out of mental hospitals because she was a cutter, or self-mutilator, and no one knew this secret practice was wide spread. The court declined to give her custody after she told them she had tried what she called “the coat hanger thing” when she was pregnant with me. As I said in the beginning of this writing, I went to people who did not want me even after I was accepted to Harvard. Although they did express interest in knowing if there was a way I could sign over my scholarship winnings to them if something, God forbid, should happen to me. As much as all of this tragedy hurt me, I simply cannot imagine going back to the days when I knew nothing at all. That void…there are no words, and you might be able to tell that i like words. I think your son kept his email so short to you because he was trying to send the message that of course it is natural for adoptees to want to know where they come from. Everyone knows that so enough said! He probably hated having to send that email to you knowing that life would change, but he was torn with conflict. He had put it off telling you as long as he could. He felt guilty not being honest but he felt terrible having to hurt you even though his search was nothing personal against you. In fact, his ability to have a relationship with his birth mother, instead of being consumed by rage, just goes to show how balanced he is because of you. I was far too needy, too damaged, to be able to have a relationship with an older version of myself. My resentment made it that I only saw my birth mother once. I have to tell you, you are mistaken in your belief that if your son had been honest with you that you would not be hurt. We do that to ourselves as humans. We think if only I had this thing, or if only things had been this way, I would be happy, but it is not true. You are not hurt that he did not tell you. You are hurt that he wanted to know about his origins. You mistakenly believe if he thought you were enough he would not look for his birth family. Back to painful truths–you can never be his birth family. There is nothing you can do to fill that void, and his desire to know the unknown has nothing to do with you. Sounds harsh but it is really not. His desire to know his birth mother is kind of none of your business. Do not take it as a condemnation, or as evidence that you failed. People want to know where they come from. That is one of the reasons people in the past kept adoptions secret–they did not want to deal with the adoptee’s inevitable desire so they thought the “don’t ask, don’t tell” dysfunctional approach would bond adoptees to them all the more. But secrets are never bridges, but barriers, to connection. Try telling yourself, I don’t like this but I can live with it. If you are really super honest with yourself didn’t you want to have your birth children over adopting a child? That might be hurtful to your son, but you know that the long ago desire for “your own” child has nothing to do with him. Still, he would probably feel irrationally hurt if he heard you say that, but you never would because you know he would be hurt by a truth that is not personal but is so very personal at the same time. Try to see that what he needs from someone who is not you cannot displace you. Hey, I am putting myself up for adoption. I f I can get adopted as a 40 something year old, I would be all in! Just saying, I am available