Adoption Enlightenment

I recently had a comment conversation with Robin Westbrook, whose blog Motherhood Deleted is one I have been reading more and more recently. Robin pulls no punches - she and her family have been hurt badly by adoption, and she works toward nothing short of its end.

I struggle finding the words to introduce Robin's comments, because they cut so completely to my core. Seeing them here, right after my thoughts about my son's first mother, make the feelings I express there look, well, shallow. Heartfelt from my perspective, but far from the reality of his first mom's experience.

If our family's circumstances - the fact that we haven't been able to reunite - allowed it, I would be doing many of these. But there is one thing I could never do, and that is return my children to their families if that meant disavowing our family and our ties. I have rationalized why this shouldn't apply to my family - our children are teens, so any decision on this should be theirs, not mine; it would be legally impossible; they would be lost in Korean culture without knowing the Korean language. There's truth in these, but that's not the point. The point is whether or not I could relinquish my ties to my children and hand them to another, just like that.

And I could not. Yet, as another commenter to this dialog pointed out, it's exactly what I expected my children's mothers to do all along.

For me, these questions are a kind of litmus test of adoption enlightenment. I will fail every time, because I could and would never return my children to their first families. This, I think, is the chasm that separates me from really understanding a first mother's experience.

These are the points Robin made - food for much thought. I'll be posting more on these, I'm sure.

Adopters will be unenlightened until

  • we get to the point where there are adopters and foster care providers who can say that the first and most important priority is to unite the original family
  • those who have adopted release their "parental" claims on the children they have taken "as their own
  • adopters realize the difference between a want and a need, an attachment and a true bond
  • adopters, who know that the awakened mother, who surrenders while affected by her seeming "crisis" and the rampant hormones of pregnancy, wants to reclaim her child, freely return that child to the mother with no media hoopla or court battles
  • people don't jump in to tell me how different THEIR case and how that makes adoption so "right" for them
  • adopters realize and ADMIT that they did something wrong by seeking that adoption and doing all in their power to restore the original family

If there is reunion, there may be a desire on the part of the adopted person for true reunification.

  • Will the children you adopted not be able to fully relate to their original family out of fear of hurting your feelings?
  • Can you dissuade them of the misdirected fears and loyaties to which they are prone?
  • Can you stand back and allow the never-disappearing bond to be re-strengthened?
  • Can you refrain from fighting over the adopted person's presence on holidays, etc?
  • Would you deny the Mother the right to a place of honor at her child's wedding?
  • Can you encourage any children born to the adopted persons to call the original Mother "grandma?"


I can agree with about half of those statements. I think the adopted child needs parents who are totally committed to them and can't consider 'giving them back" as an option. Families need an absolute committment to make it through the tough times.

I don't think I expect the first family to ever let go completely either, even though they are not visable.

I have lived through sharing holidays with someone I wanted to fear and abhor with my first son, and by God's grace it worked out pretty well. I think I could share holidays and vacations with another family that loved and cared for them.

I hope they do know their other grandparents some day.

I don't think these things are such a far stretch. But I will also always be their mother and wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't give that up for any reason.
Irshlas said…
I'm completely ready to go down in flames but I felt if the topic was opened, why not share my slice of the pie.

As a (future) adoptive mother, I can honestly say that I will support my son's desire to reunite with his birth family if he so desires. I will help him to the best of my ability.

In the same breath, however, I completely disagree with the sentiment that a child's first family is where they belong in all circumstances. Sometimes that just isn't the case. So many times I read or hear people say "it's about the child"... "whatever is in the best interest of this child." If this is truly the frame of reference we should all be starting from, then we have to be willing to say that sometimes the first family is NOT the best place for that child. I can't speak for every adoption that occurs. However, there are children who would / will be better off emotionally and physically in another family. Obviously first families can make their lives better and get to a better place; but, if we're thinking of the best interest of the child, how can moving a child from the only home they have ever known and "returning" them to someone who may, at that point, be a complete stranger, be in the best of interest of that child?? I cannot possibly ratioalize how this is in the "best interest" of said child.

I also respectfully disagree that I "expected my child's mother to relinquish her ties." In my case that was not the case. She made the decision to relinquish those ties long before I came into the picture. For those who choose adoption from foster care / orphanages, etc. that decision could have been made years before the adoptive parents even started the adoption process. Every adoption is different; every child is different; every first family is different.

For the writer to say adopters should "realize the difference between a want and a need, an attachment and a true bond" - is this not the epitome of a two way street? The "need" of a first family to "reclaim" their child. Depending on the way the mirror reflects, one might call this merely a "want" on the part of the first family to make up for the past. I say this regardless of what that "past" might be. That past may truly have been a decision during a "seeming 'crisis'" that is now seen in a less horrific light. But adoptive parents are not babysitters. They are parents. Period.

As an adopter, I have no intention of "admiting" that I did something wrong by seeking this adoption. How I raise my son, the respect I intend to instill in him for his first family, the kind of man I hope he will be - these, among other things, will determine how "wrong" I am as a person.

While I try on a daily basis to determine my feelings on the first family issue, I have to admit that the open hostility flying across the aisles between first mothers and adoptive mothers is sad and scary all at the same time. I can't help but think "it's all about what's best for the child" is conveniently blurred while mud is slung. I'm trying to find my way through the mire and mess..... but its hard when I'm constantly bombarded with the notion that unless I agree with every first mother's take on adoption, I'm one of those who "just don't get it." I'm trying.... I really am.
MomSquared said…
Everything Irshlas said.

Particularly on the "expecting". I'm not expecting anything. A situation exists in Vietnam where lots of baby boys are waiting for homes (in Vietnam it is apparently still true that families wait for girls and girls wait for families). Does that situation suck? Yeah, it sure does. Lots of things in this world suck. But like Irsh said, I'm not in the picture when ties are relinquished and I'm not expecting anything at all from any particular person.

And I also agree that a unconditional committment must be made from the parents to the child. At finalization, he will be forever my child. No chance of that connection ever being broken. He should feel secure in our family.
MomSquared said…
I'm kind of confused and not sure if I'm reading you correctly. Are you saying that ideally you should be willing to relinquish your children if their first mothers come a-calling? If so, I rebel against that idea completely.

The other thing is that the question never *was* whether you could relinquish your children. Fortunately you were never in a situation that would require you to think about it. I don't know that it's necessary to even ask that question. I think I'm missing some logic here.
MomSquared said…
Ohhhh I get it now. The blue part is her comments.
art-sweet said…
I feel all Rodney King here, but why does it have to be so us-them?

My partner loves and cherishes both her mom and her step-mom. That's a relationship that's taken time to work out, but it did. And yeah, holidays are just a bloody stressful mess between two religions and three families, but that's life.

I hope my child will get to know his/her first mom and first family. I honestly think, the more people who love my child, the better. Am I being pollyanna? perhaps?
petunia said…
I didn't read all the comments yet (i'm putting my adopted daughter to sleep-a very bonding experience)but I am amazed that because the "first mothers" feel this way, it must be true. I will say, as an adopted child, I am SURE glad I was NOT "united" with my "original" family. I've met them, they are nice enough but I am MUCH better off with my TRUE parents - the adpted ones. I have not been a biomom but i am an adoptee and an adopted mom. I know how I feel and think it's a plus for my situation.
The adoptees that are happy (and there are many) don't feel the need to blog so there are not many happy stories on the blogs. We ARE out there.
Margie said…
Hi, everyone, thanks for commenting. I definitely need to clarify above that the dark blue are the comments that came from my conversation with Robin, sorry for that confusion.

I think what Robin was trying to say to me was that for some first moms, there's a bottom line to their ability to really communicate with a-parents, and it turns on our ability to say we would relinquish our children back to their first families if possible. The points she was making is that adoptive parents expect that from first mothers, but could not do it ourselves.

I know that it's a very simple, sort of black-and-white view, but it has pulled me up. I know that I could NEVER EVER turn my back on my children. But could I allow them to legally return to their first families if they chose? Yes. Could I accept a name change back to the parts of their first names if they chose? Yes. And the others on the list are, as Clouds say, not too much of a stretch.

Given how much I'm thinking about this, I know I'll have some other posts on it.
Margie said…
Two more thoughts:

Mom2 - your second comment is right, and I added a line to make that clearer. The quotes in blue are the things Robin said that she felt were her bottom line for an enlightened adoptive parent.

Irshlas - don't go down in flames, these are hard things to read. Remember that I'm at the other end of the adoption experience, I have children who are nearing adulthood, and my thoughts are far from those I had when we first adopted. Because of my family's personal experience they focus very much on my children's mothers and fathers, and on my feelings of sadness, guilt even (although I expect no one to share that), that they went through what they did and I have their children.

And I have no answers - just questions. Honestly, I think I'm already in flames and on the ground.
MaeDay said…
For all the posters who have read and considered Robin's POV, I think you're magnificent.

Personally I don't think it's necessary for any adoptive mother (father) to be put to the test of , turning their back on their children. I would not wish it upon another living soul.

Please no one go down in flames.
Susan said…
"the adoptees that are happy."

Petunia, this is the kind of polarized thinking that drives me nuts. It's like adoptees have to be divided into these two completely artificial camps -- the nice, well-adjusted, GRATEFUL, LOVING adoption adoptees, vs. the bitter, angry, ungrateful, maladjusted ones. It's like if we want to have relationships with our birthfamilies, we are ungrateful. If we question the circumstances that led to our adoption, we are bitter. I just read a great passage from an essay written by an adoptee that said, "I was proud of the fact that I was adopted, happy about it. I still am. I always have been. Along with rage and sorrow, happiness and pride are the two emotions I associate most strongly with adoption." That's real. Adoption IS a complex, complicated and many layered experience and for people to simplify it into "HAPPY/GRATEFUL" vs "BITTER/UNGRATEFUL" are just doing a huge disservice to everyone involved.

I was adopted. I love my adoptive parents infinitely. I am grateful for the time, energy and love that they have given me and continue to give. But am I grateful for the screwed-up, shame based society that made my birthmother feel that she couldn't possibly raise me? No. I think there are base reasons for adoption (shame, lack of social services, poverty) that are just inexcusable. And until we start dealing with THOSE things, adoption is going to continue being tinged with huge loss and regret.
Margie said…
One more, sorry for monopolizing the discussion.

Petunia, Susan, thanks for adding your voices to this discussion, because indeed in the conversation I had with Robin, it was all about us, that is first and adoptive moms.

Yours is the voice that HAS to be heard on this issue. You had no choice in the decisions made by your first or adoptive parents. And you must be heard now. Your experience touches both families, both sets of parents, as well as the social issues that cause adoption to take place.
Anonymous said…
What would it be like for an adopted person who is still a minor to have their adoptive parents "give" them back. What about the adopted person's feelings? What about the relationships that they have developed over the years? How on earth could this possibly be good for a child?

There are those who advocate returning children, no matter how long they have lived in their adoptive family, because they say no bond is stronger than the birth-bond. I don't believe that. Placing the desires and grief of the birthparents above the life and feelings of the child is absurd. In all this business of first parents versus adoptive parents, the child seems to be practically irrelevant. It seems to be much more about how both sets of parents feel. How could the child not end up feeling rejected?

If it was wrong to treat the baby as a commodity then, it's wrong to treat the child as a commodity now.

Even telling adopted adults that they can basically nullify their adoption has deeper implications for their psyches than I think people are willing to face--the people who created the life, the people who raised the child, and the child him/herself.

It's all well and good to want to right perceived wrongs, but we'd better be careful that we don't create another whole set of wrongs.
Margie said…
Anon, this post and my next are clearly all about first parents and me, I don't address the adoptee perspective here at all because that's not the point I'm trying to make here.

But it is most definitely the point in reality. Adoptees do post on this often, and several adoptee commenters have pointed this out, too. And as I continue to talk about Robin's questions and comments, that will be raised.

In these posts I am simply trying to point out that adoptive parents generally could not take the very step their children's first parents took when they relinquished their children, thereby creating the adoptive family. Adoptive parents claim an unbreakable bond with their children, but discard the notion that the first parent bond could be as strong. THAT is what I want adoptive parents to think about, to really think about.

Because when we do, we are better able to see the horrible inequities that allow adoption to continue as it does today - with pressure and coercion on mothers to surrender their children, with secrecy, with lies.
Third mom

This is what I have loved about you since I first found your blog, that you are willing to ask hard questions and to give an honest reply.
I am glad you are in blog land.
MaeDay said…
""""This is what I have loved about you since I first found your blog, that you are willing to ask hard questions and to give an honest reply.
I am glad you are in blog land.
MSP """""

You said it perfectly MSP.

Third mom.....I also read your blog also for exactly the reason MSP stated. Should have stated that point myself before this.

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