Saturday, February 23, 2008

Helping Adoptive Parents Understand the Role of Families of Origin: From the Viewpoint of Another Mother Who Lost her Child to Adoption

~by Suz Bednarz

How could I, me, a mother who lost a child to adoption in 1986, possibly help adoptive parents understand the role of families of origin?

Didn’t my role end the minute my child was taken from me and given to them?

Harsh question but until a few years back that is what I was lead to believe. Clearly, I struggled with this blog topic. The more I thought about it the more I struggled. I then began to think not about the topic but about why I was struggling with it.

I have come to one very painful conclusion.

The reason I feel I cannot help adoptive parents understand the role of the family of origin is because I have been made to feel, most of my daughters life, I had no role. Correction. I had one role and one purpose and that was to provide a baby to an infertile couple. In that context, I was not a family of origin (in fact I never even heard that word 20 years ago), I wasn’t even acknowledged as a mother -- I was an incubator. I, me, the cute curvy redhead honor student, president of student government, did not exist. I was dehumanized. I had no voice. I did not matter. She mattered. Her adoptive parents mattered. My parents mattered. The Catholic Church mattered. My family’s reputation mattered. The agency and the fee they would fetch for the sale of my child mattered.

I did not.

I had no role outside of supplier to the demand. It should be no surprise that I struggle now to find that voice and as a result define my role.

To understand this and why I use what could potentially be viewed as harsh words, one must understand and reflect upon adoption as it occurred in 1986. Not only did I lose my daughter twenty-two years ago but I lost her to a known baby broker (and by known I say the fact was known to others but not to me) against my will. While my daughter was born years past the Baby Scoop Era (BSE), my experience was not unlike that of many of my BSE sisters.

I was sent away to a maternity home. I was not provided with any legal representation. I was not told my rights. I was alone, abandoned, intimidated and coerced into surrendering my child. My parents signed a promissory note (obligating them to pay the agency for any services they rendered to me prior to surrender). When I told the agency a few weeks prior to my daughters birth that I wanted to keep her, I was reminded of the promissory note and informed that if I did not give them my child I, and my parents, would be sued. I was reminded how I was young, without a place to live and a job, and that my child was better off without me. I was reminded of the pain I would cause the family that was anxiously awaiting my daughter.

My role? Produce a child for someone else, be quiet about it and go away.

As I matured and educated myself (and underwent extensive therapy for PTSD), I began to realize I did have value to my child – incredible value in fact. I realized the value of the mother – child bond. I spoke to adoptees and learned the importance of genetic mirroring, medical history and more.

I realized that while I made an infertile couple extremely happy, I had also caused damage to my child and myself. Whereas I once viewed myself as nothing more than a breeder, I began to realize my value. No longer was my role to service an adoptive parent. My role now was to be my child’s mother - something I should have done many years prior. My role was to find her, to assure her she was always wanted and to welcome her with open arms into our family – should she want to be there. My role was to stand up for myself, for her and mothers and children like us. My role is to be there for my child and to never ever allow myself to be intimidated into leaving her again – even if it is she that is doing the intimidating. My role is to do whatever I can to ease the pain of my daughter’s primal wound, a wound I caused, however unknowingly.

In contemplating the blog topic at hand along with my own experience, I feel as though it is not my job or my “role” to help adoptive parents understand the role of the family of origin. That task should be undertaken by the agency, the adoptive parents, and society as a whole.

More importantly, there should be no question as to the role of the family of origin. If a prospective or current adoptive parent questions the value or role of the family of origin, I would have to question if they should even be adopting. You are not adopting a doll. A child is not a blank slate. The child comes from somewhere, was born to someone.

The child HAS a mother and a family before you even adopt them. Respect the family of origin and you respect the child. Refuse to acknowledge the family of origin? Why bother adopting? The child will likely never feel completely connected to you for you are only acknowledging a part of them and not their entire being.

I don’t mean to sound harsh but my role is to be the best mother I can to my child – even in light of present circumstances – years after the fact. My role is not to make the lives of adoptive parents easier or better.

I already did that.


Dawn said...

I shared this on my google reader because I thought it was such an important voice for adoptive parents like me to hear. It's writers like Suz who helped me understand that my daughter's family matters whether or not they are able to be a part of her life and that as her adoptive mother it's my job to honor and respect their ties to her.

Joe B said...

Ever order food off the vegan menu at a Chinese menu? Simulated beef, simulated chicken, simulated pork...

Why simulate? There is viable nutrition in vegetable products that look and taste like the vegetables they are, with textures and flavors all their own; delightful in their own right. There's a great little vegan place 5 miles from my home that produces food that is beyond bliss without trying to simulate anything.

A similar absurdity presents itself in popular adoption. Simulated mother, simulated child. But why? So you look like you're having what everyone else is having? Seems silly at best.

Adoptive families are different in essence from biological families. The adoptive parents bring with them their share of the baggage and the child's can't be wished away; facts have permanence. Likewise, the first mother is still there; more or less wounded, depending on a host of factors; a specter on the fringe of sweet illusion; a potential benefactor shunted off into irrelevance.

And yes, of course, my trite culinary metaphor has it's limits. As Suz rightly observes, serious human losses are incurred in the drive to replicate a "normal" family in the formation of an adoptive family.

I know it's bad manners to call people names, but I have to ask the adoptive parent who is intent on simulacrum, aren't you being silly? You can stop. Just do it.

Anonymous said...

As a BSE mother, my hat is off to Suz for her courage to write the truth, even though many adoptive parents won't want to hear it. I have been in reunion with my son (now almost 38) for 12 years. I wanted to contact his adoptive parents, from whom he was estranged by the time we met. But I was afraid. He was so wounded, so troubled and angry, not the perfect child by any stretch of the imagination. I thought they would blame me for giving them a "defective child." Imagine that?! I was angry that he didn't have a better life without me, but when push came to shove, I felt like I had let them down. As if that was my only job. So it seemed from what I was led to believe in 1970. By the time I got the nerve to contact them, they had both passed away.

Paragraphein said...

EXCELLENT post, Suz. My god, you articulated all kinds of feelings bubbling in me that I couldn't even pinpoint.

Thank you. From another mom of adoption loss... thank you, thank you, thank you.

I needed this, this reminder that I'm not just here to help along adoptive parents.