Let’s pretend that you are married, and one day your husband says to you, “Honey, I love you very much, but I’m sorry to say that the love that I feel for you just isn’t exactly the same as the love I felt for my first wife. It’s different. I’m trying really hard, and I’m reading all these books about loving your replacement wife, but, honey, it’s just really, really difficult to love you.” How would you feel?
Let’s pretend that, some sunny afternoon after a family get-together, your mother takes you aside and says, “Son, I love you, I love you so very much; but I’ve been wanting to tell you that the emotions I feel for you and your sister just aren’t the same. I’ve tried and tried, and I know I should not feel differently about you, but I just don’t love you the same as her. I’m sorry.” How would you feel?
Let’s pretend that your best friend regards you over her chef’s salad a few months after your mother’s death, and soberly announces that she finds your crying over your loss “irrational,” explaining, “Sorry, dear, but I just feel so detached and frustrated with you for making such a big deal over your mother’s loss. I mean, can’t you just get over it? It’s just so irrational. She isn’t coming back, you know; and in the meantime, you’re being a real drag for the rest of us who have to stand here and watch you suffer.” How furious would you be with your friend? And wouldn’t you think twice before maintaining a friendship with someone so callous?
Let’s pretend that your daughter confides that she has to “intellectualize” her love for you, because she never really felt love in her heart for you, but that as she keeps working at it, she will probably finally be able to really love you emotionally. How would you feel if your daughter said this to you?
Let’s pretend that you’re at the movie theatre, and in the scene you’re watching, a helpless infant lies in a crib, red-faced and screaming. Nearby stands his mother, her arms folded over her chest, watching him scream. The sober, detached look on her face says it all, but just in case it doesn’t, we (being movie goers) can hear her thoughts. She is thinking, “I just don’t feel the least bit attached to you. Your crying doesn’t move me. In fact, I feel like your babysitter. I just want a break!” How sympathetic do you feel toward that new mother? How good a mother do you think she is at this moment? And what prediction would you make about that baby’s future with his mother? Would you want to have that kind of a mother? Would you feel good about leaving your baby in the care of a woman with a heart like that?
I would think not. I know I would not want to entrust my baby to someone who can write of a crying baby, “his crying doesn’t move me.” Most women instinctively move toward a crying infant and want to pick him up and comfort him. They’ll hold him to their breast and make cooing noises, pat him, stroke him, cradle his tense little body until he is soothed.
What sort of a woman would regard a keeling infant with such detachment?
A certain sort of adoptive mother: that’s what.
Everything I quoted in those “let’s pretend” scenarios above are actual statements quoted directly from adoptive mother blogs.
This is how some mothers feel about their adopted children.
Jim Crow Love
A week or so ago I ran across a blog written by a mother who has both adopted and biological children. She had written an article about love that dumbfounded me because it so blatantly illustrated the occasional tunnel vision one runs into among parents that is so deeply disturbing in its lack of empathy for the child. What this mother wrote was antithetical to what I know to be true about loving one’s children, regardless of how they enter the family.
Love is love, I say. Prove me wrong.
But some, perhaps many, adoptive parents exercise Jim Crow love for their adopted children. Jim Crow love is a “separate but equal” doctrine that coolly explains to others that adoptive parents love their adoptlings, all right, but that the love is just different. This particular adoptive mother actually wrote on her blog that the love, feelings, and emotions she has for the child she birthed and the ones she adopted are not the same. She said they are separate and different, but equal.
I’m not joking about this. I read this post a week ago, and it made me froth at the mouth. I posted, and then deleted, an immediate, knee-jerk reaction titled, “I’m a freak,” which was about just how completely 100% the same my love, emotions, and feelings are for all of my children. Regardless of how they entered the family. Regardless of whether they are related to me by blood or not. I have birthed babies into the world and nursed them at the breast, and I have gone to the ends of the earth to adopt children (and some have not even been children any more), and I’m an expert on one thing, and that’s my own experience as a mother. I know for sure that what I feel is the same. I know I’m not alone in that; I know other mothers through birth and adoption for whom adoption was not a second-best choice, and they laughed when I called and asked them, “tell me how you feel about your adopted children as compared with your biological children.” My friends laughed and said, “The same, of course! You know that. Why do you ask?”
Some mothers love their children authentically, with a love that is not false or imitation; it is reliable love, trustworthy, and real, and its actions are supported by unquestionable evidence. They love with real, true, actual, genuine, unfeigned, sincere, unfettered, absolute, compete and utterly genuine regard, empathy, feeling and action. They are real, authentic mothers because they are real, authentic lovers.
Real, authentic love is what all children deserve. It is the birthright of children born into this world. And if they can’t get it from their own first mothers, then by all that’s holy, they have a right to get it from the parents who raise them!
This is what I think and feel most deeply about love and adoption.
So, I realized after my knee-jerk reaction to this other adoptive mother’s post that I was not doing any service to the truth by writing in a way that denigrated my self by calling my self a “freak,” for though I may be unusual, I am no freak. Loving my children all the same, exactly as if I had birthed them all or exactly as if we are all, equally and individually, human beings is normal and right. The ones acting like freaks are those who do not love their children equally, who seem to want to stop there and shrug their shoulders and say, “This is the way it is, oh well,” and then write flowery posts about it and pretend that there is something noble about being honest about maintaining such a small heart.
This other adoptive mother I’ve quoted went on to write that, while the love she felt instantly and overwhelmingly for her natural daughter came effortlessly, she had to grow to love her adopted children, and this was difficult. Very, very difficult.
When her adopted babies cried-and cried and cried and cried-she felt detached, and then frustrated, and then guilty. She considered the crying and screaming of her adopted baby and toddler “irrational,” even though later she admitted that the baby possibly missed his birth mother.
She had to think about loving her adopted children, “intellectualize” love (how do you do that?!), “before I actually started to feel it in my heart.” I wondered how long—how many days, weeks, months or years it was—before she was able to feel a love feeling for these orphan children in her poor, overworked heart? How long? And what was the child experiencing during that time? Did his second mother not merely reinforce, day by day, the wound of abandonment that he already felt so keenly, the wound that makes one wail?
And yet, she writes that she loves and adores her adopted children. Really. It’s just different love.
Perhaps even worse than what this adoptive mother wrote was the way other adoptive parents flocked around and high fived the author for her brutal honesty. Such comments, (and I quote them verbatim) included one from an adoptive mother who wrote of her adopted baby, “I would watch him scream, [. . .] but still felt somehow detached from it,” and another who wrote, “I did not feel the least bit attached or bonded to him,” and, “I felt like I was babysitting and really just wanted a break.” These adoptive mothers, all of whom waited a long time to become mothers and no doubt earnestly prayed to heaven to receive a child, finally received the human answers to their prayers and discovered that God had given them lemons.
I can just hear them moaning from their lower, egoistic selves: Oh, why did those birth mothers give the babies up in the first place, making them cry so? And why do those irrational little babies have to keep on crying, even after they get shiny new mommies like us? Why didn’t anyone tell us that the only real mother is the birth mother? Why didn’t anyone tell us that adoption would ruin all of this and we would never get our fairy tale lives, and our adoptlings would arrive wounded and grieving and that we were actually going to have to do some healing work?! Why can’t everyone see that we’re the ones who were hurt, and we needed our adoptlings to make us feel better? Why can’t anyone see that we’re suffering too? Why can’t we just live in our happy fairy land with our perfect lives, filled with perfect fulfillment of our every wish, and have some perfect biological children who favor us in every way and always remember to say PLEASE and THANK YOU? Why are we stuck with these screaming little ingrates who so clearly reject us because we are not their real mommies?
Why, oh why?
Perhaps worst of all, though, was the adoptive mother who wrote that “it’s hard to be totally honest when you know people will judge you (that’s what needs to change about the adoption community).”
I don’t know about anyone else, but, honey, you are damn straight that I will judge you! I’m not going to change so as to become less judgmental about people who won’t put their best selves forward when a child’s life is at stake, either.
There’s such a thing as being brutally honest, and that’s what you mothers are being: brutal. Where is your empathy? Where is your care? Where’s your best self? Would you say these words directly to your adopted child? Is this a sentiment you plan to print out and paste in his baby book? Would you want your blog post read out loud at the next Parent-Teacher Association meeting at your child’s grade school?
And what about your child’s birth parents, the ones you say you have so much empathy for? If the birth mother or father of your adopted child read what you have just written, how would you feel? If you had to give your precious biological child to another mother to raise, how would you feel if she admitted that she felt this same way about her adopted child, your baby? Do you want others to understand you to be this sort of a human being?
If not, think about it. Think about what you just wrote and about how it inspired so many other adoptive parents to high five you, and then think about the Golden Rule. If you wouldn’t want your own mother or father to feel and be this way about you, and you wouldn’t want another mother raising your biological child to be this way about your child, then why do you grow and maintain a heart that is so far removed from this little child? Why are you choosing to be such a small person, such a pale shadow of the loving human being you could be, if only you dared? Why don’t you do something Buddhist and think and look deeply into your little boy, and ponder what his life was like from the moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb to the moment he was placed in your arms.
Think. Use your imagination. Ponder. Feel.
Feel, dammit! Can you not use your feelings for someone other than yourself? Can you not empathize with your little boy? Enlarge your heart to love him deeply, for we are all genetically alike, my friend, to the tune of more than 99% likenesses. Did you know that? Did you know that we’ve all sprung from the same root, from some original biological Eve and that, at our core genetic selves we’re related?
No? You don’t believe me? That’s fine, because next week I’ll be writing about DNA and genetics, for I there is a lot to be learned from DNA. Adopted people and others separated from their genetic relatives are searching for and finding their families through DNA, did you know that? Did you also know that if you did a deep DNA analysis, you might find that you and your adopted children are genetically related?
It’s true, and it’s mind-boggling, I tell you. And it supports what Buddha taught about oneness. And it supports what Jesus Christ taught about oneness. And this is why I believe deeply and passionately that real, authentic love loves everyone.
This is why, my sister, I want to put my forehead against yours, look you in the eyes, and say listen here! Listen! There is such a mother as a real mother, a good mother, and a real, good mother. And the real good mother doesn’t rely on genetics or biology or sentiment for her substance. She relies on real love. That’s where real parenting begins.
I hope I make myself clear here: being a real mother, an authentic mother, behaving as real mothers act, is not only about biology, and it’s not only about having title to a child, either. Your adoption decree and amended birth certificate and the time you spent raising your child mean nothing if you don’t have love. And, my birth mother sister, your DNA, your story of how you lost your child, the brown eyes you passed on, the genetic predisposition to being musical and to left-handedness your son has from you mean nothing if you don’t have love, real love.
Real love is about having a caring, empathetic, reality-based relationship to a specific human being, your child. Whether you birthed that child or adopted that child, or simply care for that child like a mother does not matter. What matters is where is your heart in relation to that child? Is that child’s pain something you detach from, or do you enter into his pain so you can help heal it? Is he a mere specimen to you, someone to stand away from when she cries, or will you not be moved to tears, as well? Do you need to have him or find him so that you can feel whole? That is your self-love talking; you have yet to really love your child.
Real love loves its way into the place of the Other without so identifying with him that we lose ourselves. Real love gives the other person exactly what it is that we want, with no strings attached. Real love does not look to the other to complete us, nor does it expect that I can complete another, for I am no god or savior.
As Robert A. Johnson writes,
Love is the power within us that affirms and values another human being as he or she is. Human love affirms that person who is actually there, rather than the ideal we would like him or her to be or the projection that flows from our minds. Love is the inner god who opens our blind eyes to the beauty, value, and quality of the other person. Love causes us to value that person as a total, individual self, and this means that we accept the negative side as well as the positive, the imperfections as well as the admirable qualities. When one truly loves the human being rather than the projection, one loves the shadow just as one loves the rest. One accepts the other person’s totality.
Sister mothers, I think we can love this way if we will grow up in every aspect into wholeness with the help of the Divine.
The question is, will you answer that call?
Art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law