“Have you found your birth-mother?” is, more often than not, the first thing people ask me when I mention I am an adopted child.
Think about that.
When you share information about yourself, it is the first response that matters most; the first reply has the biggest emotional impact.
So, if the first response to news of adoption is wanting to know if you’ve found your birth-mother (often stated as Real Mother), one begins to feel they need to seek her out.
People ask this particular question, breathless with excited anticipation of an affirmative answer — they’re wanting a feel good story, with a big, bold headline: “Adopted Child Reunited With Real Mother!”
The question ends up making me feel as if the asker somehow views my adoptive parents (the people I think of as my only parents) as being inferior to Real Parents. It’s like they imagine I was kidnapped from my Real Mother, raised by people pretending to be my parents, and that I need to be rescued and returned to The Real Parents.
And, it’s hurtful.
I’ve not spent much time thinking about my birth-parents. Sure, I’m curious what they look like, what their story is, and, more importantly, what their medical history is, so I know what to watch for. Other than that, I have little interest in them. Not for bad reasons — I don’t hate them for giving me up for adoption. I think my birth-mother made the best choice she knew how to make at the time. When people want to know if I’ve sought her out, I begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Am I supposed to find her? Is there supposed to be a yearning for my Real Mother’s loving arms?
They say mothers have an unbreakable bond with the child they carried in their womb, that they’d do anything to protect that child. Am I, as the child in the womb, supposed to have that same unbreakable bond?
I don’t feel that bond.
I thought of searching, but when I began to think about the consequences of finding my birth-mother, I lost interest. What if she was married to a billionaire? Would I then hate my middle-class roots? What if she turned out to be a meth-addicted prostitute? How would I feel then? Knowledge can be dangerous. I was scared of what I might find — and what I might or might not feel.
I’ve spent many helpful hours in therapy over the years, though I’ve left several therapists because they’ve tried to convince me that my issues started by being abandoned by my birth-mother; that even though I was newborn, I was able to sense her abandoning of me, and its impact is at the root of many of my issues.
One thing I have absolutely no doubt about: I do not feel that my birth mother abandoned me.
We don’t know what communication passes between mother and fetus — though we often surmise. Perhaps because giving up a child is such a gut-wrenching decision for a mother, the trauma she feels imprints itself on her unborn child, and, perhaps, leaves some children with a sense of an emotional abandonment.
Maybe there is a reverse that is also true: maybe a mother can tell her unborn child that it is being given up for the best reasons, that the decision she is making is one made out of an unimaginable love — a love that wants her child to have a home better than the one she can provide. And, maybe, communicating that love can leave an adopted child feeling that it hasn’t been abandoned, but that it is a child, being given as a gift — a great gift.
Sentimental claptrap? Maybe.
Our society runs on the belief of individuality. We take pride that we’re all different, that everyone’s story is not the same. Yet, we’ll try to claim that every adopted child should feel abandoned? It makes no sense. We are either all different, with different stories, or we’re not.
Growing up, my mother told me a story:
“There was a man and a woman who loved each other very much. They wanted to have a family, but, unfortunately they couldn’t have kids. One day, they got a phone call — there was a young woman who was having a baby, but, she was young, and was struggling to make ends meet. She wanted her baby to have a better home than she was able to give him. She knew that the man and woman would give her baby a loving home. So, the man and woman got on a plane, and, when they came home, they had the young girl’s baby with them. They were very happy to have him, and they loved him very much. There are many kids in this world who live in homes where they aren’t loved or wanted,” my mom would say, “and adopted children are special: they’re wanted very much.”
Mom would ask if I knew who the man and woman were, and I’d say “you and dad”. It was a story I liked to be told, and would often ask to hear it. I especially liked the ending: they were happy to have him; they loved him.
Adoption gives birth to thoughts and feelings across the emotional spectrum: from feelings of profound love, to feelings of despair and abandonment. Mixed in with those feelings, at least for me, is a sense of loyalty to the people who adopted me, who opened their hearts and home to me. Along with that sense of loyalty goes a sense of obligation: to believe that adoption is ok, that it’s a wonderful, loving thing. I grew up in an environment that felt loving, so it was something I never questioned.
I’m adopted, but it doesn’t change the fact that my family is as much a family as anyone else’s family. We’ve managed to look past the wounds and the scars that all families accumulate over the years. I like to think that in spite of all the pain and hurt, that when we look at each other, we see the love, see the strength of a love that’s been tested and that still holds us together.
Afterword: “This is my telling of one person’s adoption: mine. I am in no way trying to say that my words apply to all adopted children. My opinions on adoption may be different than yours — and, that’s ok. Adoption, just like any other family issue, is unique to each individual and each family. Please do not interpret my words as a generalization of the experiences of all adopted children. This is my tale, my story, my thoughts.”
© John Nooney 2014