It’s About You, Orphan Child

Yesterday I mentioned Jesus’s teaching that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I’ve seen over the years that people seem easily duped by sentimental words, and will even overlook obvious truth if enough sentimentality expressing what they long for is thrown at them. What people say they mean to be and do, and what they actually are about, are often two different things. We’d be wise to look to people’s fruit, and to follow the investment trail before making up our minds to trust people. What do they do with their time? What do they do with their money? Are they just and fair? Are they honest? Essential questions, if one really hopes to discover the truth.

I’ll give a fairly common adoption-related example to illustrate, a situation I’ve seen occur numerous times after adoption reunions, and which is easy enough to find commented upon in various adoption-related blogs. It begins with the reunion of birth mother and adoptee. In many cases, the adopted person initiates a search because she grew up feeling that something was missing, and in fact something (or someone) was missing: her real mother! Here, I am not writing about the I-want-to-know-my-medical-history sort of adopted person. There are many adopted people who had wonderful, authentic mothers in their adoptive mothers and they just don’t want to have another woman, even their birth mother, in the mother role. Though this fact infuriates many adoptees and birth mothers who feel things should be otherwise, and that only one’s biological mother is a “real” mother or should be in the authentic mother role, the fact is that many adopted adults feel this way. They are happy to have their histories and original birth certificates and perhaps photos and other information about their birth parents, but they do not want relationships. Many times they are accused of being dead to themselves, when it’s just as likely that the person pointing the finger at them is dead in a part of herself and projecting that deadness; these things need looking into, and the finger-pointing of projection can help, if we let it.

On the other hand–and this is the sort of adopted person I’m writing about at the moment–we have the adopted person who wants a real reunion. Adoptees who were abused or had narcissistic or disordered adoptive parents and are aware of this know what their searches are about. They’re happy to go looking (and hoping) for better birth parents, with whom they might build a different life, or even repair the original family. But there are other adoptees, whose adoptive parents were selfish, dishonest, and sneaky in the most innocent-seeming ways, like woves in sheep’s clothing; these adoptees are conflicted when they have reunions and feel always caught between two mothers, divided selves who feel unwhole and think this is the case because of adoption.

This is where I’ll digress; the problem of being torn is sometimes not because of adoption only, even though adoption played its part. Many times adoptees are simply caught between two self-centered mothers who are not authentic enough to do what the real, good mother did in the sight of Solomon, which was to make sure the child lived and thrived and would sacrifice herself if she had to.  In this sense of real, authentic mothering, I agree with the birth mother who blogged that Solomon correctly gave the stolen infant to the mother who cared about his welfare more than she cared about herself (and no, I do not mean that giving the baby up is the solution! I mean exactly what Solomon meant, which was to find the authentic mother).

So, when we start reading birth mothers who say that one should have an abortion rather than an adoption, it’s our first clue that they are still in some way the same women they were back then, at the root, for they are suggesting once again that they would rather sacrifice the child than do the right thing. If you are the adopted person, and you’ve been raised in a deceptive and false adoptive family atmosphere, you’re already handicapped in your ability to perceive this sort of deep, emotional truth; you can’t catch your birth mother being selfish because you can’t catch your adoptive mother being selfish, either. Two selfish, desperate women took their flaws, threw them out there, asked you to be the container for their needs, and said they loved you. And many an orphan has believed such a tale.

And maybe they did love you, in their own limited, selfish ways. Most people probably don’t have very enlightened parents (ourselves excluded, of course). But sentimenal, romanticized love is not real, authentic love. You know this because somehow, impossibly, you grew into a better woman than they, maybe simply by virtue of the fact that you birthed and raised your children, or by virtue of the fact that you said “yes” to grace.  As you hold your own baby in your arms, you know you would die before you would give your baby to someone else, let someone take your baby, or kill your own child. You know, somewhere inside you, that your birth mother saying that an abortion would have been better is still a betrayal and that she has not (yet) arrived at the place where she sees you as a whole, independent human being. Perhaps she will, one day–but not yet.

Likewise, all the falsehoods of your adoptive mother are not lost on you. You know something is awry there that’s not awry between you and your child. Something was broken inside her, and someone (your mother) didn’t bother to repair it because you became the fix for that broken part of hers, and you’re only reliable insofar as you will agree to keep on being that fix for your broken mother.

If you were lucky enough to search for and find a birth mother who grew enough through her suffering to truly love another human being, then your birth mother will perhaps love you truly, too. You’ll feel odd and disloyal, maybe, if you had a “good-enough” adoptive mother or father, but something keeps niggling at you. Something isn’t right; you’re not sure what, and you feel guilty. But eventually, you just may come to realize that the only authentic mother in your life is the one who acts like your authentic friends: she is there for you. For you. Not some image of you. Not some projected, imagined idea of you, but the real, actual, you. You’re very lucky, very blessed. If you have a mother you’ve found like that, and your adoptive mother is a stunted human being for whatever reason (or, worse, a psychologically misshapen one), then maybe your adoptive mother will reap what she sowed. Maybe you’re loyal and good and you do your duty as a daughter, but you keep your real self for your true mother, the mother who is true not because she gave birth to you, but because she is a true human being, acting most always like an authentic mother.

But, supposing you do not find a birth mother quite like that. Supposing you are on again, off again, on again, off again. Perhaps she says she sees no reason for any adoption, and says like my friend Robin’s bith mother said to her, “Nowadays I’d have an abortion instead,” then perhaps you are like my friend Robin, and this keeps bothering you. You’re not sure why; after all, she has a right to her feelings, her reality, her thoughts. She knows her own suffering; maybe you would all be better off without you, the waif, never being enough to become whole, much less help anyone else to feel whole. If that’s the sort of birth mother you found, and you also have that sort of adoptive mother, then you are still an orphan beyond the usual pale of our common, human orphanhood, and you know this. And it hurts.

An authentic and trustworthy mother will never say, “abortion would be better.” My best childhood friend, Bettina, was adopted as an infant and later found her birth family. Her birth mother told her that abortion would have been better than the pain of adoption, too, which Bettina translated as meaning, “It’s still only about mom and her pain.” She nursed both adoptive and birth mothers through cancer until they died, and then cleaned up the mess after her birth sister committed suicide and her adopted brother ended up in prison. She only ever had one parent who really loved her, her adoptive father. And he, she called her Real Dad. Yet she was a dutiful, loving, devoted daughter to both her mothers in every single way. Bettina says that between two moms, she didn’t even get one good mother. And yet she still praises God for His mercies, and she’s a wonderful mother to her own children.

That’s grace. That’s love.

An authentic and trustworthy mother will never say, “you saved me” or regard her adopted daughter or son as the ones who made her complete with the expectation that this is the job the child has to do. Certainly, many of us can say that the love we have found in relationships, through the mercy of other people’s love, is what taught us grace and pointed us toward eternity. Nevertheless, if the adopted child’s job is to complete the mother, if that mother didn’t find wholeness within herself, with or without a barren womb, she won’t find it anywhere else, either. We do not carry our children to heaven with us, nor our spouses; what families we get or build in this life, we leave here, so to speak. So what are we doing, then, mussing with partial solutions and fixes when we might have what is authentic, real?

I’m with Bettina: the real mother or father is the one who sees you as you are, and who believes in you when you aren’t quite yourself yet, but waits for you anyway. Your real mother or father will never say or even think that a dead baby is better than a live one, that a child is the cure for childlessness; and a real mother will see your pain because she’ll keep asking you about it until you talk, and she’ll be trustworthy with your truths.

A real mother is self-contained and grown up and blames the people who deserve it to whatever extent they deserve it, like dishing out appropriate pieces of pie, rather than blaming other victims. They don’t polarize or encourage split identities, families, or lives. They want you to be whole, and they are willing to sacrifice their own needs and want to help you because it’s not about them.

It’s About You, Orphan Child

It’s about you, adopted person. It’s about you, orphan child. It’s about you, wandering waif who has been caught forever between two worlds, you who are the precariously-stretched suspension bridge, uniting two families whether you like it or not. You want to get up and walk away (run!), but neither side is worthy of you (yet), and you know it because you know truth, deep inside you. You know it because you have a husband who loves you, a partner, a child, someone who loves you truly. You just haven’t quite gotten to the part where you look at the fact that, between two families you don’t even have one real, authentic family. You can’t combine your two mothers and get one real one. You are, like my friend Bettina, a real orphan who needs to find her mothering elsewhere: in God, in the Blessed Virgin, in an older woman at church who befriends you; in your sister, your cousin, your best friend; in your husband, your daughters, your sons; in your writing, your art–somewhere in the universe, most probably, finally, within yourself–but not in the arms of your birth mother or your adoptive mother, for these two are very much alike at their core, and that’s why they hate and fear one another, and project all that crap onto one another and ask you to continue to maintain the tension of that suspended bridge.

But it’s a trick. You know the truth; we all do. You can figure it out if you think deeply about it and listen to your depressions and your anger and sit with them awhile, as nobody ever sat with you and listened to you. Don’t you get it? Every time you shove your sorrow or anger, your irritation or whatever strong feeling you’re having back down inside and put the lid on it, you’re shutting up your real self, the authentic part of you who was never loved by either mother (yet). You have to stand up for that person and start treating her with some respect and love.

Only after that will you be able to see the truth and decide what to do about your Fake Moms.

I love you, waifs and orphans, and I pray Real Mothers and Real Fathers for you, “pressed down, shaken together, running over,” an abundance of love and more than enough mercy, acceptance, and honor for the glory of who you are. I wish you all freedom and blessed relief as you rest in the arms of safe mothers and fathers, wherever you find them.

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