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.

15 responses

  1. USM, I’m not surprised at their reaction. I wonder if they made negative comments before you and your son were in contact?

    Sharing a child is not easy; it can’t be easy from your perspective either (can it? or is it?). Sadly, it seems to me that so many adoptive parents react fearfully and take that fear right over into aggression, anger, or negativity (sometimes all of the above!). So many feelings, and so little support. And naturally the agency or attorney who took one’s money (or child) at the beginning and was so happy to help is long gone. And so then people are left to work it out on their own, and they probably don’t have the skills.

    It does sound like you’re paying a price for your son’s situation with his parents. I hope for his sake that any or all of his parents will step up to the plate and become Real Parents. A Real Parent does that: supports the adult child in individuating, even if the way they choose to do that isn’t what the parents themselves would choose. Even if it means one has to go around feeling as if they are forever sharing the child and their future with people they do not want to share with. Yes, even then. I’m sorry your son doesn’t have enlightened adoptive parents. Let’s hope for forward progress over time, and for strength and patience for you in the meantime.

    Sending you a virtual {{hug}}.

  2. I don’t want to say too much but I feel I am dealing with just such a adoptive parents. The negative comments about me from both mother and father started the moment my son and I were in contact with each other.

    Because of his on-again, off-again, extremely positive, then extremely negative behaviour, I fear my son is being manipulated, pressured and guilted. Because I don’t want to add to the pressure, I feel I am paying a price.

  3. Tammy, ah, the wisdom of middle age and having children is upon you, isn’t it? I remember when I was in my 20s, I believed that most everything I didn’t like about me could be blamed on my parents, pretty much.

    At the risk of going off on another tangent, I’ll say that it didn’t occur to me until later that even babies may choose their responses; I too am possibly responsible, even from early childhood, for “every action has a equal and opposite reaction.” If that’s true in realms other than physics, perhaps my parents were not wholly to blame?

    About being all of who we are: I’ve wondered sometimes if I ought also to teach my kids skills for being less than they are. That sounds funny, I know, but still. So many people are less than they might be; does that take skill? Do we always have to be all we can be, or can we slack off sometimes?

    Sitting here with no makeup on, my hair all messy, and my bed unmade I think I’m going to vote for “we can slack off sometimes.”

    My friend Bettina is someone I admire a great deal. I need to tell her so more often. She’s a living example of what faith and love can do for a person, regardless of the raw deal they’ve been given.

  4. You write this post in the context of adoption. It is something that has affected my life greatly. BUt as I read, I can see how this is more than about adoption. It’s about relationships. Period. I have a wonderful mother who birthed me and raised me. And as much as I love her (and it is much) I have learned once again, that she cannot be everything to me. She can not take the full credit or blame for who I am. And no matter what has happened in my life ( and there’s been stuff… we’ve all got stuff) in the end, I am fully responsible for being who I am, for making my life what it is/should be/could be. And because of that, I have searched for varied and many authentic relationships that reach beyond my family. And each one has been a part of making me who I am.

    And that is the love I want to give my children… to never deny all those who have a real affect on them, whether it be through nature or nurture, and to give and teach the kind of love that allows them to be all of who they are, in spite of who I am on my own journey. It’s my job not to be stuck so that they don’t get stuck, but ultimately it’s about parenting them to be free to be all of who they are.

    This is one of the main reasons I strive so hard to keep what sometimes feels like barely a thread of contact with their other families. As much as they struggle with their own issues, they are still a part, a large part, of who my children are.

    And my heart breaks for Bettina, and applauds her at the same time for not letting words change who she is, and how much this world needs her here. I hope more and more that for others, they will see that living is worth the pain that it takes to get here. That death before life starts is not the answer to that pain.

  5. Hello, Helen, and happy anniversary! I should probably have left that on your blog, but I didn’t. So I’ll say it here. :o)

    Yes, I do have a lot of information and personal experience on transracial adoption. My children are from different races and cultures, including African-American. Our decision was to not even try to pretend that we could give our children what they needed; we enlisted the aid of our friends of color, and we opened our adoptions as soon as we could, in spite of opposition from agencies and social workers, for all our children were adopted as kids with “special needs,” and several had been neglected or abused in their families of origin.

    What I learned about being black in my part of the country I learned as an observer. But my friends who are African-American, and my kids’ birth parents and relatives, tell us that we’ve done a great job.

    I will give you one example, but it’s pretty typical. About the time he became an adolescent, my black son got huge. He could be a bouncer, he’s so big. Though we live in a multi-racial, multi-cultural community (and so we should, raising multi-racial, multi-cultural children!) and neighborhood, I am all too aware of the racism among our predominantly white law enforcement agencies locally.

    I told my son, “whenever you go for a run or are driving home in the wee hours, be aware that when you’re stopped, the cops will probably hassle you because you’re black, and they’ll stop you more often because you’re black. You’ll be stopped, at some point, and questioned for simply jogging through your own neighborhood.”

    And, sure enough, he was on many occasions. Eventually we decided to move a little farther north, where the neighborhood blends looked even more like our family, and changed to a church where there were even more people of color and culture. Our kids’ friends are all different races, and our black kids have no problem moving from one culture to the next.

    However, their friends are always surprised when they meet us.

  6. Eve, I’ve been thinking further about adoption and mothering but I don’t know which post this comment really belongs with.

    As I said I am neither adopted nor have adopted and there are no such cases in my immediate family. Well not so, my grandmother adopted her granddaughter (when the child’s mother died) and raised the girl as her youngest (eight years younger than my mother, who was the last child to whom she gave birth.) But I meant in my generation.

    I did hear a story, however, from a man I know. It was about white people in the US who adopt black children. The criticism had come from blacks who felt this was bad because the children would be deprived of their heritage. No so, said the writer, “People should not be criticized for taking in an orphan. ” He said, “if they are the only people in the whole damn world who will love a given child, they should be lauded not put down.”

    Do you have any knowledge of how “mothering works” in inter-racial situations? I’d guess it be the same as when race isn’t involved, but in this country one never knows.

  7. Peach, hello, and thank you for your comment. Since we most probably have different definitions for “true self,” I’m going to have to leave your comment alone on that point, anyway. As a depth psychologist, I have a different take on it that influences my thinking in many other areas, including adoption, as well.

    Also, from another viewpoint, I also see human beings as spiritual beings in earthly bodies, bodies that are not eternal, whereas our spirits are. So I just don’t see it your way, but I do understand that your perspective is common. I actually once believed as you do, too. I just changed my mind over the years.

    About some adoptees searching and wanting only information, I have known many who only wanted information (history, photos, etc.), but didn’t want relationships. I know them, in fact, to this day. When they were contacted by birth parents, they simply refused ongoing relationships. I think this is their decision to make, since they were the ones who had no choice at the start. Do you disagree?

    Maybe I should apologize for using “wandering waifs,” but over the past few weeks I’ve glutted myself on adoption wrecks, er, blogs, and there are just a lot of wandering waifs out there. It does have an emotional charge to it, doesn’t it?

    You wrote, “What I didn’t like was your inference that some adoptees search just for information and others for real reunions, based on whether or not they had good upbringings and good aparents.” I don’t believe I inferred that at all; I think you inferred it, actually.

    If you’ll go back and re-read those paragraphs, as laborious as that will be (I’m sorry!), I think you’ll see that I wrote what I meant. I wrote about “torn” adoptees, and I made sure to say in my first few paragraphs “some” and such… I just can’t universalize about adoptees, other than to say all adoptees have been separated from their birth parents at least legally, if in no other way (we can infer that much, can’t we?). Other than that, I am not sure there is a universal. A universal would be a 100% statistic. Maybe we should make a 100% list or something…

    But in the meantime, I’m writing about torn adoptees, adoptees who did have some problem in their adoptive families, and that in turn motivates them to search for what I called a “real reunion.” I am writing in this particular post to that category of adoptees, and it’s a large one. I didn’t even touch on the fact that many adoptees were abused in some way but aren’t aware of the subtleties of the “For Your Own Good” (Alice Miller) variety child abuse and so have no idea (yet) that there was a problem with their “good adoptive parents.” But that big, gaping hole did not come from the primal wound, for if it did, 100% of adoptees would have that big gaping hole and a primal wound. All do not; and in fact, many do not. Therefore I think there’s a reason for wandering waifdom and “torn” adoptees, and I personally am considering the possibility, even probability, that the problem originated with birth and adoptive mothers. Yes, both mothers. And it will end up being an adopted person problem if that adopted person doesn’t do something on her own behalf, and grow a whole self.

    But that’s a different topic, and maybe I’ll work myself into a froth and go after that topic next. But I do not at all mean to say that all searches arise out of poor/bad/inept adoptive parenting. I don’t think so; but I do think that adoptees whose selves are like train wrecks and who are torn all the time and anguished have a lot of suffering manifesting out of unconscious stuff, and they could feel better if someone stood as a witness for them, and showed them why.

  8. Just found your blog and don’t really know what to say (yet). I enjoyed reading your latest posts about “love” and authentic relationships. I do, however, have to agree with Mei Ling, above, that our identities, families, and true self are intricately defined and related to our biology, and that cannot be replaced by the most loving adoptive parents. I feel a little defensive when reading your explanation of adoptees as being “wandering waifs” but I kind of like it. lol Kind of for the same reason I kind of like the name “Bastard Nation”. What I didn’t like was your inference that some adoptees search just for information and others for real reunions, based on whether or not they had good upbringings and good aparents ~ I totally disagree with that, no matter how many you might know personally to make your assumption on.
    Blessings, and thanks for writing.

  9. Yes, Anthromama, exactly… I agree that both my friends who heard this from their birth moms (abortion would have been better) believed their mothers said so out of their pain. But it illustrates how our own pain can obscure what our deepest intention might have been, which (I would hope) would be love.

    I am just not sure whether a person’s birth mother can be replicated emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually or not. I know or have known, or have worked with, far too many people separated from their mothers to be able to say that all waifs feel thus-and-so. I have first-hand knowledge of situations in which original mothers were, in fact, replaced emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. But, of course, they can never be replaced in fact of biology.

    I don’t know what accounts for the fact that some mothers are replaced in the hearts of their offspring, but I am quite sure that some mothers are replaced that way. My thoughts currently are that, when a mother or father are replaced in a child’s heart, it is only after the parent has failed over a long period of time to do any sort of authentic parenting.

    But, coming from a child welfare perspective in which many parents do not, in fact, appear to love their offspring at all, I admit that my perspective has a sort of macabre balance to it that most infant adoption folks do not have.

    I think I’m about one post away from finishing what I wanted to say about real mothers, by the way. I feel I’ve gotten a bit of what I’ve wanted to write about off my chest.

  10. Bettina’s story made me cry. And feel shame that I ever suggested to my cousin that she might abort her first child because she was only 17 at the time. I know I was just trying to be helpful by talking to her about options, and I also know that she had some very unhealthy needs she thought she could fulfill by having a baby, but still . . . how could anyone say what Bettina’s mother said to her? All I can think is that the mother didn’t realize how that would sound because she was too deep in her own pain.

    I think there is something fundamentally distinctive about one’s birth mother that cannot be fully replicated by someone else. Spiritually as well as emotionally and physically. But I also agree that love can be found anywhere.

  11. Mei-Ling, we seem to be talking about different issues using the same words. Welcome to my blog, by the way!

    I’m writing at the moment about “real” in the sense of interpersonal relationships. Of course I don’t deny any other type of realness, such as genetic inheritances. I’m merely writing about human relationships.

    Without intimate contact, a person may have many types of relatedness, such as relation by DNA, relation by political party, relation by hair or eye color, relation by handedness, relation by brand of toothpaste used, but obviously there is not an authentic, intimate interpersonal relationship.

    When I write “real” lately, what I am meaning is the actual you as you exist at the moment. I’m about to post something about love that will, perhaps, shed some light on what I personally think at the moment about what it means to be loved by someone, including one’s mother.

    Your perspective is that you have two complete families. Your level of interpersonal intimacy with each side is different, though, right?

    My perspective is different, but then I am quite relational and have a peculiar mish-mash of spiritual traditions I adhere to, along with Christianity, that leads me to see wholeness instead of division. I see one family and I expand my view to be inclusive rather than to keep dividing. So, as my children’s first families have consented to be part of our lives and vice-versa, our families have enlarged. They don’t see the division because that’s the way we’ve raised them, just as when you marry, your husband’s family becomes your family. You take on the perspective of your child, who is genetically related to both mother and father, and all those cousins etc., even if you personally are not DNA-bound in any recent sense.

    I hope I am not starting to ramble and become muddled, but those are a few of my thoughts. I guess what I’m saying is that 1 + 1 = 1.

    Very bad math, but then I’ve never been good at math. ;o)

    Put another way, I’m peeling an onion and writing about different parts as I get to them. You are probably writing about other different parts; but we will probably arrive at the same core if we’re both intent on truth.

    Thanks for the invitation to read your blog. I definitely will. I always like meeting new people who care to comment intelligently on what I write, particularly those who help me to see more clearly. I’m glad to meet you.

  12. … whoops. I meant to say “I don’t have two *incomplete* families, I have complete families. Each family isn’t torn apart in its own way – I am the connection between them. My adoptive mom and dad aren’t “torn” about anything – they gained *me.* They have no biological or relative connection to my first parents. And I am also connected to the people who gave birth to me. So… simply put, I have two families.

  13. I’m too lazy to login and I’m on my lunch break at work so I scarcely have time to login.

    Just wanted to say – both my mothers are real. There is no differentiation. You say that a mother is real depending on how she sees you and depending on what her actual role has been in your life.

    How on earth can you possibly claim that a mother is “real” depending on how she sees you if there’s no intimate contact? It’s not that she can’t see you, it’s not that she doesn’t want to know you, but just that this “you” is the adult you and not the baby you. She doesn’t know “you” as the adult yet, only the baby. So what image is this “real” even being based on? :\

    As for the actual role, I persist on believing both are real. And I don’t have two “complete” families, I have two *complete* families. One is by a legally consented adoption and the one is by blood.

    And yes, you are of course welcome to stop by my blog to see my perspective on this, as I have written about this many times in various posts in various ways.

  14. Helen, maybe you have been and will be that authentic mother figure to others. You’re truly blessed, but then I figure you already know that from reading your blog.

  15. I have a feeling there is much more to this than meets the eye. I am not adopted and always had and still have the love of a real mother. So that means I’m one of those who needs to learn to understand, because I have enough love and mercy to share.

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