Where is my ice cream?
The tea for this blog must be strong. This visit to Blogville might be hard. You might not be able to finish reading it all at once, and that is ok.
I never had the chance to celebrate even one of my birth mother’s birthdays with her. When I look at the family photos my birth half-sisters have of her 80th year celebration I immediately feel the absence of my older birth half-sister and I. We never met her, and she passed away. Do I even have the right to grieve?
I have started and restarted this blog so many times because the topic is difficult. On the one hand, I’m so afraid of offending or even triggering anyone, but on the other hand, I think it needs to be talked about. It may validate, or even make sense, for so many other people when they are feeling their feelings.
Maybe I am meant to be their voice.
I am reminded of seeing an old black and white picture my birth father sent to me once I had found him. He was posing with his small children after a visit to the ice cream store. Each of them had a cone, and I distinctly remember strongly feeling, “Where is my ice cream?” I felt a great loss at that moment. Grief at not being a part of my birth father’s family, and sadness that I met him so late in life that we had so little time to get to know each other. I felt a loss that his other children, my paternal half-siblings, were already adults.
I want to talk about rejection in this blog. I want to qualify that this is my experience, and mine alone, however, I feel there may be meaning in here for others. Rejection in adoption can be a bit of a theme.
Loss for birth parents is it’s own journey. When the pregnancy was discovered, they may have felt rejection from each other, from their families and friends, and even from their community. The mere fact that there were homes for unwed mothers to hide or be hidden in supports this concept. Many pregnant girls were rejected by their immediate circle and sent off to live with a ‘sick aunt’ in another community. For birth fathers who wanted to make a plan to take responsibility for the pregnancy, their thoughts and ideas were often rejected as their own future needed to be ‘protected’ in the bigger picture. The theme for birth parents? Rejection and powerlessness.
Fact: Did you know that birth mothers did not, and do not, somehow rob their boyfriends of their sperm just to impregnate themselves? Something to think about.
Loss for many adoptive parents begins when their own bodies rejected the idea of creating a biological child. For people struggling with infertility it may be a lonely journey, friends becoming uncomfortable sharing pregnancy news, baby shower invitations dwindling, society’s awkwardness apparent. Hormone therapy, temperature taking, intimate moments becoming clinical, all in an attempt to achieve what seems to come easy to everyone but them. Smiling through advice about relaxing and letting nature take its course. Listening to stories of people just having to ‘look at each other’ and finding themselves pregnant. More rejection by what feels like everyone around them, and by their own bodies.
That is just the beginning for adoptive parents. Then they faced fear of being rejected during the adoption home study process or never being selected to parent a child. Loss of a dream. They fear that their family may not accept their adopted child. Then they fear that the adopted child might reject them as parents.
Step-parent adoptions are not immune from feelings of loss and fears of rejection either.
For the adopted child, rejection comes in many forms. Adoptees can only assume that the news of their existence was not a welcome experience for their birth parents. To be rejected before you are even born may not be felt in those critical nine months of gestation (that we know of anyway), but it is felt for life. How does one cope with their accidental existence?
So, I was a ‘chosen child’. My point of view? That someone had to reject and release me, so that I could be chosen. For international adoptees I feel that they may experience even more levels of abandonment: first by their birth parents; then by their extended family; then by their community; and finally, by their whole country. Did no one value them enough to make a plan to keep them home?
It is a lot of work to find value in yourself when your existence was and is surrounded by so much grief and loss . But adopted persons do it every, single, day. With or without support.
So I want to talk to you about interacting with adopted people. This may not apply to all adopted people, but I believe it applies to many of us. Again, these are my own feelings and reactions, however, I don’t feel they are unique to me. In our interactions, if you reject me, or if I perceive you are rejecting me, I accept that I deserve it. After all, if my own birth parents did not want me, why would you? These types of feelings may be what you are facing from deep within the adopted person you love, and they cannot tell you because this sense of abandonment is buried so very, very deep.
Some examples? When you look at your phone when I am talking to you, and then you don’t pick our conversation back up, I feel that what I had to say did not matter. I will likely never bring that topic up again. When you say you will help me with something, I trust you, and then if you forget, or make other plans, I feel I deserve your abandonment. I will figure out a way to get it done myself. When you spend time with other friends instead of me, I understand, but at the same time I feel that they are better friends than me. You value them more. Given that I was not valued by my own birth family, how can I expect anyone to really, truly, value me? In my case, if these things happen, you should picture a small blonde child covering her head with blankets, or pouting and stamping her foot, because she is my ‘child-me’ reacting. Please do not mistake this blog sharing as self-pity. I have already had so much loss. Losing people I care about is my greatest fear, and the fear of many adoptees, so I just wanted you to know. Why do you think I, and many adoptees, are such people-pleasers?
If you ever meet me, you will meet a strong, confident person who appears to be very self-assured. But if you don’t return my call, cancel a lunch date with me, criticize me (constructive or otherwise), or ignore me in some way . . . inside me a child hides and cries. I withdraw, not to punish you, but to punish me for thinking I deserved your attention, your friendship, your love. The people who were supposed to love me the most, did not value my existence, why should I expect you to love me or care about me?
Oh and let’s not forget society’s obsession with the term “real parents”. Ironically, birth parents grieve the loss of their parental rights when society never seems to fully transfer them to the parenting parents. Side note, when people talk to birth parents about searching, do you think they ask if they want to find their ‘real child’?
People used to ask if I wanted to find my real parents, and I continue to acknowledge my mom and dad as my real parents, and I not only met them, I grew up as their daughter. But, did I want to find the birth parents who created and then rejected me? YES!!! Unequivocally YES! But maybe not for the reasons society thinks. I needed to know why? What had I done that made them abandon me? I was just a tiny baby. Maybe if they can explain this to me I can forgive myself for having been created and causing them so much pain. But then, I am afraid. What if I find them and they reject me again? What if they tell me it really was my fault?
From the birth parents’ perspective, I believe they are thinking, ‘what if my birth child finds me and hates me for what I did? What will my other children think of me if they know I had, and relinquished my rights to parent their sibling (half or full). What will my friends, coworkers, and extended family think of me? Will they still value me?’ For my birth mother, who declined the opportunity to meet my birth sister and I, I believe it was fear of this rejection that caused her to say no. I don’t need to tell you that accepting her decision to relinquish her parental rights to me as an infant was one thing, but her rejection of the adult me (no matter how valid her reasons) really left a mark. She has four beautiful daughters whom she raised with her husband in the way it ‘should’ be done. I think she feared what would happen to her relationship with them, and her grandchildren, if they learned about us. Would they no longer respect her? Would they think less of her? The sad truth is, when we met our birth sisters following her passing, they honestly wished that she had told them, and wished that she could have met us too. My birth sisters do not believe they would have felt any different about their beloved mother as a result of learning about us.
I believe that what truly matters in adoption is: Do I have value? The answer is YES. You have and are living a life path. You matter to so many people and to yourself.
Birth parents, your child is living a valued life because you allowed that to happen for them. Birth children, you are living your best life because of all the parents that you have or had. Adoptive parents, your child is living a valued life because you allow that to happen for them. Step-parents, your child is living a valued life because you allow that to happen for them. Kinship parents, your child is living a valued life because you allow that to happen for them. Whomever you are to a child, if you value them, you matter to them, no matter who or where you are.
You know what my take away is from this? I am valued. Equally important is that I value others. I value them enough to hurt when they don’t have time for me, or when I feel rejected by them. I value them enough to keep trying and to keep working on the self-image of that little blonde girl in me so that she feels valued too, because in my heart, I know she truly matters to you!
In my heart, I know that I matter to you, and to me, and that I am valued. Thanks for reading.
As always, I would love to hear your comments. If you would prefer a less public forum, please email your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adoptee: coming of age
Welcome back to Blogville! Thank you for joining me. The tea of choice today is Red Raspberry or ginger. The reason may, or may not, become apparent as you read on.
If you aren’t comfortable with the word puberty, you should probably stop reading now and move on to another blog.
I was with some friends today and for some reason, the discussion turned to puberty. Weird right? After all, we are more menopausal than pubescent. As you can imagine, my friends are a bit odd, just like me. That’s how I keep them! Anyway, it seems puberty developmental events were different for me than my friends who were raised by their birth parents. I had not really thought of that. Not knowing when my birth mother, or any of her sisters started their period was a bit of an issue, a mystery, a game of chance, (not that I knew whether or not she had sisters). In today’s world, when you adopt a child who identifies as female, her social and medical history should contain the approximate ages when others in her family began their menses. This is to give adoptive parents at least some idea of when to prepare their daughter for this life event. (Not so in my day.)
So, this is how it went, to the best of my recollection. When I was around 10 or 11 years old my mother dutifully bought me the pads and belt (remember I was raised in the 1960s) to put/hide in my closet for “that day”. She told me that I could not use tampons before I got married because I wouldn’t be a virgin (Oh, that is a topic for another blog . . . Or not lol). My mom had apparently started her period, or got her “monthly visitor” quite young. So into the closet these secret supplies stayed, gathering dust, for what seemed like a very long time. I think I even once took the belt out of the closet only to find it had lost most of its elasticity. My mother kept trotting me to the doctor to ask what the holdup was, why was I not starting my menses? I felt like I was doing something wrong, but not exactly what.
During today’s visit, my friends and I started figuring out how old we were when we each actually started ours. One of them was around 10 or 11 years old and the other was slightly older. I had still not started by those ages. By those ages girls were usually busy figuring out how they could go swimming, or if they could wear short shorts, for fear that people would notice they had their “monthly visitor”. I was busy reading pamphlets and books and using a mirror to see if I could figure out what was going on down there that was preventing me from starting my menses. So, my mom decided that I was not humiliated enough with being 14, 15, 16 years old and still not having my period, so she took me to the doctor AGAIN for a reasonable explanation. Essentially he told her that I was too busy growing tall and when my body stopped doing that, it would begin to develop.
You are going to love this bit. Keep in mind that I was adopted. I honestly remember being afraid that I’d be like my mom and would not be able to have biological children. How many of you just re-read that sentence? Yep, I was afraid that I had inherited my mom’s infertility. So don’t tell me that adopted children don’t feel like their adoptive parents are their parents. Having lived that herself, I believe my mother was afraid of the same thing. By the way, I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure infertility cannot be genetically transmitted. Just a guess.
Oh, I’m also pretty sure that teen pregnancy is not genetic either. So many adopting folks I have met were not sure if they should tell their children that the birth parents were teen parents. Or they extra supervised adopted children in their teen years. Pregnancy is caused by the same thing no matter how old the birth parents are. Again, I’m no doctor, but I am pretty sure that pregnancy is caused by the fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell. I do not think that people are genetically predisposed to having that happen at a particular age. So, adoptive parents, please stop worrying that your adopted child is at any greater risk of teen pregnancy than birth children are.
If you are interested, my adoptive mother, who loves me and has always been dedicated to caring for my brother and I used an unusual method of birth control, or preventative tactic with me. When I was of dating age, she would warn me that should I become pregnant, I would be making adoption plans for the baby. I was very confused by how she made it seem like a bad thing? I will admit, given that she was speaking to an adoptee, she was really kind of making an empty threat. I thought adoption was a good plan. I was living that same exact plan. (Plus, I still didn’t even have my period yet so it was rather a moot point.)
So, back to the present, sitting with my friends talking about menstruation. One of them asked me if I knew when my birth sisters started their periods. Nah, I never thought to ask them that. By the time I met my birth sisters I was closer to menopause than puberty and my daughters were all adults by then so I guess I just didn’t think about it.
Instead my friends and I began talking about the horrors of puberty.
Remember, my family doctor said I was too busy growing tall than developing? I must say that I paid the price for that in grades nine and ten. There was a toy made by the Ideal Toy Company from 1969 until 1973 called Flatsy Dolls. By the way, these are valuable collectors’ items now, but for me they were an instrument of torture. If you look up ‘Flatsy Dolls Jingle’ on YouTube, you will hear a song that some of my loving peer group would sing to me as I walked down the hall in grade 9, or when I was at my locker. The chorus went like this:
They’re flat and that’s that
I think you get the picture. Those dolls and their jingle, plus the fact that I was taller than most of the boys I knew, combined to make a miserable start to high school. I started signing out using the excuse of “cramps” to either go lie down in the nurses room or go home, hoping that people signing out after me would believe I had my period. It was really a cover story for the fact I did not start until I was almost 16 1/2 years old. I could drive a car before I had to go to the store to finally replace that elastic belt in my closet.
So, my advice to social workers completing social and medical histories today, please don’t skip the question of when birth family members began their menses. I know it is an uncomfortable question but it is less uncomfortable than it will be for a child or adoptive parent later on. My advice to adoptive parents, please ask the question if it is not readily apparent on the social and medical history. Even if you are adopting a child identified as male, one day this information may be important for his daughters. Maybe you should consider asking for a family history of when facial hair and changing voices began in the birth family? Puberty is tough to begin with, knowing when to expect changes can make it easier!
As always, I welcome you to share your thoughts here or more privately via my email at email@example.com.
I cannot decide what kind of tea to have during this blog. Something calming would likely be best. Welcome back to Blogville, my little chat room of random thoughts.
It is difficult to describe my experience growing up raised by my parents, while having a ‘mystery mother’ on the side. It will not be the same experience for other adopted persons but there may be some aspects that they can relate to. If you recall, when my parents adopted me they were told to forget about where I came from as I was their daughter now. But, I was always someone else’s daughter too.
Who was my mystery mother? Where was she? Did she think about me? Was she looking for me? Had she changed her mind and now wanted me back?
I think that as a society, adoption planning focused on the role of the birth mother pretty exclusively. The role of the birth father was, sadly for many young men, nothing more than a passing thought. The role of the birth father appears to have been sorely under recognized in the adoption process historically. As a result, I always considered my mystery mother to have been a poor innocent girl who was taken advantage of by my birth father, became pregnant, and was then forced by her parents to make an adoption plan for me. They even made her go to a home for unwed mothers, they were so ashamed. I think you can see how I thought she would be searching for me.
I distinctly recall swinging on the swing set in the back yard of my childhood home, pumping my little legs to swing higher and higher. I was about 6 or 7 years old. I had been singing at the top of my lungs, louder and louder, swinging higher and higher. Suddenly I began to wonder if my birth mother could sing like me, or me like her actually. If we did sing the same, what if she could hear me, would she know I was her daughter? I can still feel the butterflies of anticipation that I felt that day in my stomach. My feelings darting between excitement and fear.
In my fantasy of thought I pictured her walking on the sidewalk in front of our house, stopping in her tracks when she heard my singing, and then running towards me to gather me in her arms, crying and saying, “I have found you! You must be my daughter with your beautiful voice! I have been looking for you forever!” (By the way, I have no ability to sing, just please don’t tell my little girl self that ok?) The fantasy then changed to her trying to tell my parents that now that she had found me I must go live with her. I do not believe that I really wanted to find and go live with my birth mother, (except maybe when I was really, really, mad at my parents lol), but I’m sure I wanted to know that she cared about me and wanted to know that I was ok.
I knew, and know, that my parents loved me but our relationship was often shadowed by the mystery mother. After all, when the person who is supposed to love and protect you above all others does not, or can not, care for you, it leaves a mark. Adoptive parents, I believe that children who are adopted need to know that the actions of their birth parents in no way defines them. Thinking that maybe you cried too much, or your ears were too big, or that you had done something to cause you to need an adoption plan can impact on a person. When I got in trouble as a child I would sometimes regard it as proof that I should have been given away, or that my parents must regret choosing me. I would even sometimes think that my mystery mother had made the right decision, I was not worth keeping.
I believe that discussions about decision-making need to happen, especially decisions that impact on others around them. Children need to know that the fact they needed an adoption plan was a decision that, though not caused by them, had a huge impact them. Literally a life-changing one. They need to be reassured, frequently, that the decision was not made because there was something wrong with them or because of something that they did. They need to know that choosing an adoption plan is a grown up decision usually made before they were even born. Adoption plans made for older children and youth are also made because of the behaviour of the adults, not the children. Children and youth deserve to be in families who can love and care for them safely. Be sure to tell them this, kindly, respectfully, and often.
I believe that children and youth who were adopted need extra reassurance when they are experiencing consequences. Saying things like, “We love you and want you to be a kind person. That is why you need to sit and think about the way you just talked to your sister.” Or “We love you and know that you just made a wrong choice. Let’s talk about what better choices you could have made.” Or maybe, “We love you, and people who love you need to set limits so you can learn and grow up to be a responsible person.” Some phrases that hold the child or youth accountable but separate the behaviour from who the child or youth is.
When you adopt older children, they are even more vulnerable. You do not know what former caregivers may have said to them and you will be competing with that. Don’t be afraid to ask them who told them they were, “dumb, stupid, useless, ugly, fat, skinny” and so on, and talk about it. Talk about the impact people’s words have on other people as a teachable moment. Don’t be afraid to ask them who told them they were probably, “bad blood, risky, just like their mother, their father” or other thoughts people may have stated about adopted older children. Then talk to those people and educate them about the impact of their words. You cannot always know what children might over hear accidentally, or be told outright. You cannot protect them from other people’s thoughts or beliefs, but you can protect them by talking about it. Talk it through and chase that elephant out of the room!
Even as an adult I still sometimes struggle with insecurities. I remember times when I would be having a disagreement with my husband, or having a difficult parenting day, and I would sometimes think that they must be right, after all, if my own mother did not think I was worth keeping, why should my husband accept me, or why should my children listen to me?
I often use humour and sarcasm (I’m sure all of you that know me are shocked to learn this) as a defence mechanism to protect myself. This behaviour comes from that insecurity, even to this day. My parents did what they were advised to do by the social workers, they forgot I was adopted.
I do not want your adopted children or youth to experience what I have experienced. Communication is the key in my view. I am communicating one adopted person’s experience and opinion on how you can help. There are many experts in adoption, kinship, attachment, trauma, emotional regulation, and other related fields, who know much more than I on the subject. There are support groups who will welcome you. Parenting is best done as a community! Reach out to yours as needed. Your children are worth it!
As always, I would love to read your comments. If you are not comfortable commenting on this public forum please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org