adopted families

Every time I meet someone in my natural family for the first time, I learn something new. New information about my family specifically or generally, or something about myself sudden comes into focus. It makes me angry because it shines a harsh light on the lies I was told growing up adopted. I was not supposed to question or miss what I had lost when I was taken from my mother. None of the things she could give me where considered consequential in any way, and I have come to discover as the years roll by that nothing could be further from the truth.

The basic lie of adopted families is that they are no different at all from families of origin. Taking someone else’s child to raise as your own is the same thing as giving birth to a child. It’s not a win-win. It’s not harmless solution for solving the infertility issues of one couple or the single parenthood issues of the mother. Harm is done, and I would argue just as much to the infertile couple as to the birth mother who is being asked to abandon her child for some nebulous greater good.

Why do I say that infertile couples are harmed by adoption?

First, adoption allowed them to pretend they aren’t infertile. At least publicly. It doesn’t erase the damage that infertility as wrought on them personally or on their relationship. In fact, it might make both those things worse as it gives them an excuse to not deal with the issues.

I know my adoptive parents did not deal with the damage done to their relationship because my adoptive mother couldn’t have children. He blamed her. Blamed her mother. Was quite angry for the majority of my life about being denied a biological child. He thought we didn’t notice, but he wasn’t subtle about his disappointment. Every time we didn’t live up to his expectations, it was there, an elephant lumbering about the room, trampling us children.

Second, adopted families aren’t viewed as “the same” by societies in general. I have lost count of the number of people who praised my adoptive parents for “taking those children in” as though we’d been left on doorsteps. Adopted children are less than. Adopted families are “better than nothing”. That’s the harsh truth.

Finally, it never gives the couple proper space to mourn and heal from their infertility. Everything they went through trying to get pregnant. Treatments. Miscarriages. An adopted baby is a band-aid for a gaping wound. It’s not the job of a child, suffering their own separation trauma, to fix the adults who’ve acquired them like one would rescue a kitten or puppy.

I don’t bother to discuss this with my adopted mother anymore. She is too deep in her own feelings to see mine. She’s too old to really have the in depth conversations we needed to have decades ago in any case. It’s unfortunate but reality can’t be amended to suit my needs at this point.

I do not support non-familial placement of infants and children. Reunification is best. Keeping children with extended biological family is next best. There should be a concerted effort by the government to make sure all efforts are made and that includes financial support if necessary.

What can be done for infertile couples? The obvious financial support for assisted reproductive health measures for one. Mental health support for those who cannot because parents if medical intervention fails. Finally, society supporting the idea that having children is something not everyone does. The absence of children is not a personal failure and should never be sold as such by anyone or any institution.

For almost all my life, I didn’t know who my real mother was. I didn’t know what she looked like. What her hobbies and passions were. If we shared any common likes, dislikes, quirks. And I didn’t know when her birthday was.

Her birthday is coming up at the end of the month. My half-brother makes a xmas wreath to hang on her gravestone. Very Christmas Carol if you ask me. This year, I asked him if I could contribute decorations for it.

Generally, Bro’s wreaths are pretty standard wreaths. Very colour-coordinated and indistinguishable from a wreath you might see on a door in your neighbourhood.

I went to Michael’s and found a wooden heart, which I wrote a personal message to her on, and I found a packaged of cute animal themed ornaments at IKEA, which I choose for two reasons. Cute animals. But also very durable plastic that should be able to stand up to most anything an Iowa winter might hurl at them.

I mailed them to Bro and when they arrived, I asked him if they were okay for the wreath.

“We’ll get creative,” he replied.

I told my youngest daughter later that had Bro and I grown up together, he would have been the one to painstakingly plan something and I would have been the one to come along after and blow it up with “creativity”.

But cemetery decor aside, I don’t really know what else to do for her birthday. I don’t really like the idea of birthday cakes for the dead. However, she loved cake and having a cake would be a fitting observance.

I want to flood my FB with pictures of her because I will get the most response there but my adoptive mom will be hurt by this. She will put on a brave face publicly but she will cry to my sister and brother about in private and they will tell me, which is the point.

I hate that I have to temper my feelings to spare Mom’s feelings. Had she not lied to me about knowing who my real mom was, I’d have been able to meet her before she died. Got some semblance of closure.

As the death of Twitter looms, I have started a Tumblr account I could use but it would be somewhat like this blog. Just putting words and thoughts out into a void to echo until it fades away.

Maybe Instagram?

I really don’t know. There are no handbooks on best practices for adoptees and reunionification.

I wonder what it was like for her on that only birthday we spent together. She was very pregnant. And alone except for me though I was probably not much consolation as I was just weeks from being born and whisked away for what turned out to be forever. It must have been horrible.

I am going to need to give this more thought. Get creative. As my Bro would say.

A recurrent theme for adoptees is the notion we should be grateful to our adopters and to whatever private organization procured us from our families of origin and delivered us to our adoptive parents. I have been thinking about this a lot of late, and the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada reminded me of it yet again in his recent acceptance speech when he referenced his own adoption and talked about how it was an example of the superiority of a private system based on charity as opposed to a government funded system. The latter was a bit odd. There is the foster care system, and of course, there is Canada’s not all that long ago child snatching of Indigenous children in an attempt to annihilate their cultures. But the state merely regulates adoption. Adoption is largely a private industry, and it is in no way socialist or benevolent.

In my own family, my parents adopting four children was viewed as generous, loving, and even brave. Everything about the gushing my extended family has done in terms of praising my parents for adopting us is insulting and maddening. My adoptive parents were infertile. Adopting babies was the only cure available to them. There was nothing altruistic about what they did, and had they been able to have biological children, that’s what they would have done. They never would have adopted us at all.

Society’s reliance on adoption via agencies and private lawyers is a business model being utilized to avoid supporting women, children and families in general who are in great need. It’s basically the privatization of one aspect of public safety net.

When I was born in the early 1960s, there actually was a federal program that provided financial assistance to mothers and their children. Teenage girls and young women were not routinely told this was among their options when trying to decide what they wanted to do in terms of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. My own mother desperately wanted to keep me but her family deliberately cut her off financially to force her to relinquish me for adoption. Two years later when she was pregnant again with my brother, and single again as her short, ill-advised marriage had ended in tatters, she knew far more about her options, and she didn’t allow a lack of money to force her into giving up another child even though her family, again, put pressure on her to do so.

Adoption agencies and lawyers, who handle private adoptions, are businesses. Babies are the commodities they acquire, market, and deliver. Adoptive parents are the customers. In this light, it’s really difficult to find heroes and saviours, which is why they re-frame this into a narrative designed to lift themselves up in the eyes of society and coerce gratitude from adoptees. Couple this with that fact that babies and young children have really no choice but to depend on the adoptive parents.

The dissonance for adoptees as they age, and begin to really think about what happened to them and their families of origin, leads to justification narratives and deciding that though some people have horrible adoption stories, they are the exception to the rule. In terms of adoption narratives the rule is that natural mothers were unfit is some way so relinquishment was in the best interest of the baby. However in reality, the rule is most natural mothers would have kept their babies and been fine parents if only they’d had the support they needed, which a systemically misogynistic society simply wasn’t interested in supplying.

Adopters need to believe that satisfying their desire to be parents is a no hurt no foul situation. The “where did I come from” stories they make up for their adopted children are fairy tales designed to pacify and bind someone else’s child to them while shoring up the narrative that the natural mother and her family were unfit.

I was discussing this with my adoptive mom the other day. I always knew I was adopted. She couldn’t remember when she told me, but she did so against the wishes of my adoptive dad, who felt it was better I didn’t know.

“You always asked a lot of questions,” she said. “Do you remember what I told you?”

I remembered a book from the library she would read to me about a girl named Ann, who was adopted. That book made many visits to our house. So many that when I discovered it as an older child of about 11, I was shocked to discover the little girl’s name was Barbara and not Ann.

My adoptive parents had a lot of information about my natural mother, her family, my natural father. They even knew her name and the name she gave me. My adoptive mom never told me much in comparison to what she knew. Superficial things and mostly the same narrative adoptee gets.

“She loved you, but she couldn’t take care of you. She wasn’t ready to be a parent.”

Of course, this wasn’t true. Not when my adoptive mom told me it and not when other adoptive parents tell similar things to their adoptive children. It’s a fiction adopters and the the adoption industry agreed upon because it promotes and serves their needs.

As a society, we should be looking at something better for pregnant teens and women in crisis than a system to steal their children from them and denies those children their origins. More of the same is only going to get us the rather unsatisfying and often damaging status quo we’ve had for decades. It doesn’t surprise me when conservative government and parties push for the status quo in glowing terms, but it should be called out for the bullshit it’s always been.