Posts Tagged Mother
I am truly unapologetic for writing another post inclusive of our new dog Blaze. The parallels between this guy’s anxious way of being in the world and that of many adoptees are so clear. There is the fear of trying new things (NO WAY is he pushing through that big chunk of plastic we call a doggie door; he has survived thus far without one thank you very much). There is the hyper vigilance (Where are my care-givers? Where are my care-givers? Where are my care-givers?), which is so often repeated in the literature as being characteristic of adoptees – along with the idea that while we do form ‘attachments’ to new adoptive care-providers, it is an ‘anxious attachment’ in that we do not see our true biology mirrored and reflected in subtle yet significant ways (and, we are freaked out about our last numero Uno vanishing into thin air!).
It’s an effort for Blaze to live large, free and unencumbered. Something always spooks him. He can’t feel reassured enough that his ‘primaries’ won’t bolt. Yesterday we left him for 6 hours – the longest stint alone in the house yet. And though his toilet needs had been cared for, he projected his pathology as a lovely Rorschach splotch on the living room floor.
Granted, I have never done that. But I feel his need to be safe and reassured.
According to Nancy Verrier‘s wonderfully enlightening books, one of the most common injurious dynamics set forth early in an adoptee/adoptive mom relationship is that of the grieving child exhibiting various unsavory behaviors and the new adoptive parent ‘reacting’ to this, taking it personally, being unconscious of the reality that their infant or toddler needs to process the harsh cutoff from biological mother that spooked him or her in a hard-plastic-doggie-door king of way, and then some .
It is up to the adoptive parents to stay present and give comfort when the adoptee is an infant. As the child gets older it is imperative that the separation trauma be openly explored and grieved, and that the adoptive parents do not get swept up into their own fears about ‘losing their children’ or their ego attachments to these beings as their personal possessions, as belonging to them now. My adoptive mother was still making comments such as “you got that trait from your father” after she knew that we knew we were adopted (which we did not know until we were in our forties). All of our lives she tried to snuff out reality by attributing both physical and personality attributes we possessed as being inherited from her, my adoptive dad, or another family member. These attempts to falsely stamp a child as your own flesh and blood resonate deeply with the adoptee as not just false but as unsound.
As I said to my friend Dennis, “There wasn’t a wet eye in the house.” Which was interesting. Reunions are practically synonymous with wild emotional displays. Not so for mine with Maya. And I am not entirely sure why.
What I do know is that since I found out relatively late in life that I was adopted, there has been no ‘lifelong anticipation’ of a reunion, no fantasy since childhood of meeting my biological people, no knowledge of my history. Meeting my mother at 52 years of age was a bit like picking up a new musical instrument I desire intimate familiarity with but have never touched before.
The importance of doing adoption differently is viscerally apparent to me now. Maya is my biological mother and she feels as if we’ve known each other all our lives. But she has known about me all of my life. How wholly clean for birth moms to have contact from the start. What an anxious life for a birth-mother, not knowing. And I can’t ever wrap my brain around the anxiety my sister and I internalized in the day-to-day lying that was sometimes explicit, always implicit. My adoptive parents also lived with this stress – and, they steered the juggernaut.
I hear the stories from other adoptees, stories of adoptive parents ‘moving to another state’ in fear of biological parents ‘reconsidering their decision’ and coming after their baby. Fear is the common denominator. And it is the lowest common denominator.
I may develop a close relationship with Maya. But when I chatted with our neighbors yesterday about the passing of our old lab Tucker, several months in the grave now, I couldn’t choke out a sentence. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
My partner Margie and I are sitting in a Starbucks at the Phoenix airport waiting for our flight back to San Luis Obispo. It’s been an action-packed trip. Yesterday I drove south from Sedona to Phoenix and spent another afternoon with my birth mother Maya, half sisters Ruth and Katie, their daughters (my nieces!) Kailin and Amy, and Ruth’s husband Dave.
It would be impossible to chronicle the events of both meetings with Maya. But I did get some questions answered. A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of questions I had for her, and here they are – with at least partial answers.
Did you hold me after I was born? No
Did I stay in the hospital alone for any length of time waiting for my adoptive parents? Lots of drugs involved in my delivery and no clear memory of the day.
What did my adoptive parents say to you before leaving with me? See above – drugs and no clear memory of any conversation with Carol and Del.
Did you have any communication with my adoptive parents after that fateful day in the hospital? None
Did your parents know about me? No, she never told them – but her children (my half sibs Ruth, Katie and Geoffrey) knew about me all of their lives.
Did you ever try to find me? Evidently Maya played out the fantasy of searching for me with Ruth and Katie many times but always concluded it might be a disruption to my life and information my adoptive parents would not want me to know (an understatement!).
What did you do in the months following my birth? Maya stayed in Southern California and acted with a Pasadena acting company. She eventually acquired an agent, which led to professional photo shoots, which led to a “Miss Palm Springs” coronation – a fact that 8-year-old Kailin proudly reported to me at brunch.
How did you feel when I first made contact with you? (frightened, apprehensive, relieved, happy etc) It was months after I sent Maya that first letter before she called. My half-sister Ruth recalled, “I picked up the phone one day and mom was on the line sobbing and saying ‘I was sorting through mail I hadn’t opened and….it’s her Ruth….she’s contacted me…what do I do now?’” Ruth said, “Well hang up the phone mom and call her!” Which is what Maya did. From Ruth’s description I would say a combination of all the above came up for Maya: fear, apprehension, relief and joy.
How do you feel now that we’ve met in person? After both meetings (6/1 and 6/6) Maya grabbed my face and plumped up my cheeks saying, “I feel like we’ve known each other all our lives!” Okay Maya here comes a boundary: easy on the slobbery lip kisses.
Now that we’ve spent some time together, do I remind you of anyone in the family? Ruth and Kaitlin, my two half sisters, remarked as we were melting by the pool in our last hour together in the hot Phoenix afternoon air, “You and Maya have so many mannerisms in common!” Here is the short list: Maya is a fanatic about getting her fruits and veggies (and with Kailin getting hers) and is very holistic in her approach to health. Maya has a ‘thang’ about taking food off of other’s plates to ‘taste’ (someone actually mentioned this trait of mine at Margie’s and my commitment ceremony, so characteristic is this behavior of me). We chew similarly. We both seem to be spiritual seekers. We both have a tendency to pontificate. We both seem to be open, non-dogmatic. We both play music by ear. We will both work hard to qualify our loved ones for helpful government programs!
Likewise, I have the ‘math’ gene like Maya’s father and brother, who were both chemists. (I teach chemistry.)
Actually one of Maya’s first comments upon meeting me was, “You sure look a lot like your father Donald,” to which I replied, “Don’t throw me a right hook Maya!”
Over the years…what did you tell your other kids, husbands, family, friends about my birth? All of Maya’s children (Katie, Geoff and Ruth) and her ex-husband knew about me “since they could remember”. As far as I could tell, Maya was forthcoming about all the details leading up to and following my birth with everyone except for her parents (whom she never told) and her brother.
My adopted sister Amy and I were adults in our forties when we were told, “You were adopted!”. Growing up as kids and long before we were apprised of the truth, there were many events and encounters that felt odd and which we could never explain away. One looms quite vivid.
We had a cousin who was mentally challenged. I’ll call him “Donny”. One time at a family gathering Donny announced to my sister Amy, “It’s a good thing you moved away from L.A. before your real mom found you and took you back!” I gasped like a nebulizer shot compressed air into my lungs.
My adoptive mom’s sister Aunt Dodie lived next door to us. Amy asked Aunt Dodie, “What in the world did Donny mean when he said, ‘It’s a good thing you moved before your real mom found you?’” Dodie became stiff and looked straight ahead, repeating mechanically, “I don’t know a thing, I don’t know a thing, I don’t know a thing.”
(And what effect does this have on a child, not to mention a secret-keeper? Fall out from a closed adoption system, still in existence in many states.)
Amy’s adoption circumstances were very different from mine. My sister’s biological mother had several children when she became pregnant with Amy. A seaman came to port in her town. Nine months later, Amy’s birth mother was receiving free delivery care in a nunnery.
In November of 1960 when my adoptive parents went to pick up their second child, the nuns saw that my adoptive father Del was in a wheelchair. The nuns delivered the knock-out punch to my adoptive mom saying, “Oh no, no, we didn’t realize your husband couldn’t walk. We believe this baby will be better off with her biological mother.” My parents returned from the nunnery empty-armed and heartbroken. My adoptive mother told us later that she was in tears, inconsolable.
By February of 1961 something drastic had changed. I suppose we will never know just what. But at the age of 4 months, my sister Amy joined our melded, complicated clan.
Evidently it is not uncommon for a period of gestation (no pun intended) to occur after adoptees make initial contact with their birth moms and before they meet. There are two reasons cited for this: 1) allegiance to the adoptive parents and 2) an unconscious attempt to let her know how it felt to be abandoned.
I find this intriguing. The year I made first contact with my birth mother (2006) coincided with the year my adoptive mother began her accelerated slide into dementia and I began my intensified management of her life’s affairs. It is also undeniably true that it feels easier to reunite with my birth mom knowing Carol Louise cannot be emotionally affected by it.
As for the second common reason for the time-lapse, I don’t know. Like the books say, it’s unconscious. But if a man can mistake his wife for a hat, I suppose adoptees can make their birth moms wait to meet them in an unconscious attempt to let them know how it feels to be abandoned.
I’m starting a list of questions for my birth mom. Feel free to add your own:
Did you hold me after I was born?
Did I stay in the hospital alone for any length of time waiting for my adoptive parents?
What did my adoptive parents say to you before leaving with me?
Did you have any communication with my adoptive parents after that fateful day in the hospital?
Did your parents know about me?
Did you ever try to find me?
What did you do in the months following my birth?