Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Jumping into the deep end

I have noticed over time that I consistently read the following phrases on blogs:

“You misunderstood what I meant.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“You can’t understand tone from my words.”

“I’m sorry if you took it that way.”

Nonverbal communication. It’s the gold standard when relating to people. I can write a sentence on a piece of paper and ask 20 people to read it. I’ll get 20 different intonations, facial expressions, speaking styles, and body stances. Some people will use their hands as they speak. Others will look directly at me, or at the ground, or at the piece of paper. Unless I give them directions… a screenplay if you will… they have no idea what message I wish for them to convey or the message I intend for the listener to receive. One better, even if I give explicit instructions as to how to deliver the message, I can’t govern how the receiver will receive it. I can try to explain. I can mean one thing and have the receiver gain something completely different. That’s language.

I begin this post with those thoughts to begin writing a very difficult post. It’s been “brewing in my head” for weeks but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. No matter how hard I tried, the words sounded cold and harsh. I couldn’t find a way to ask the questions I wanted to ask without worrying I would hurt someone in the process. I thought if perhaps I tried to write my post from both points of view, that I might come to a better understanding. The truth is, I can’t see the other point of view. I honestly have tried. I continue reading blog after blog but I never seem to come to an “A-ha” moment where I see the light. After much contemplation I realized that it wasn’t possible for me to see it at this point. The truth is the hard questions aren’t always the easy ones to hear. There’s no way I can possibly grow if I don’t ask the questions in my mind. So here goes….

I spend a great deal of time reading the blogs of women who no longer have their children in their custody due to adoption. Call them firstmothers. Call them birthmothers. Call them mothers. As I don’t want to use the wrong term, for this discussion I will refer to this group as “writers” because I only know them through their writings. Most of the writers’ blogs are very angry and the writers obviously feel a great deal of pain, anguish, and sorrow. I have found very few who have a positive outlook on the adoption process as a whole. Adoptive mothers are portrayed as evil, heartless women who have “stolen their children.” The writers are “victims” who have been lied to, duped and mislead. Adoptive mothers “don‘t get it.” The writers explain that they have been marginalized by society, including adoptive mothers as “dirty,” “sluts” and “inferior.” They point to adoptive mother blogs that ignore their pain or, even worse, attack them on websites through posts or comments. Very little energy is spent exploring any of the positive aspects of adoption.

Obviously, I also spend a lot of time reading the blogs of women who have or are in the process of adopting. I’ll call them AMs for lack of better term. Some are adopting from another country; some domestically. Some have fostered their children prior to adopting them through a state foster care system. There are transracial adoptions. Some are queer families; some are single people who wish to be parents. Some have open adoptions where there is a relationship in some form between multiple families. The AMs often write of the experiences that brought them to adoption. These stories are generally filled with pain, too. There is generally discussion of how “hard” the path to motherhood has been. There will be posts about how “unfair” things have been as the “crack whore down the street” just “had another one.” AMs write about their grand plans to spoil their children. As long as they love the children, nothing else matters. The outside world should not view their family any different from any other family. Questions about the adoption are seen as insulting. For the most part, “adoption” is over once the actual process is complete. Very little energy is spent exploring any of the negative aspects of adoption.

I'm willing to concede I have absolutely NO experience in the feelings of the first group. I am not a writer. I have ONLY experience in the AM group, as this is what I am. I am struck with the notion that neither one of these groups has a monopoly on pain. But I have the overhwleming feeling that it really doesn't matter which group one is a part of. Shouldn't it be completely about the child ? If so, then I pose my first of several questions surrouding adoption:

IF the absolute bottom line is “what is in the best interest of the child,” why is there a need for the adoptive family, including the adopted child, to bear a responsibility for any pain/anguish/sorrow/guilt/[insert experience here] that the writer feels?

Let me try to explain my confusion:
A writer states that her life has been taken from her. The adoption that occurred shattered her self esteem and has been the root of many of her problems in life. The world needs to understand that she deserves to know her child and be a part of that child’s life. There is a genetic bond that cannot be broken. AMs do not have a right to the writer’s child. AMs don’t have the right to interfere with a reunion between the writer and said child.

Okay – but is this not the burden of the writer to bear? Why does the adoptive family, including the adopted child, now have to change their lives and accommodate a possible stranger because this reunion will help the writer ease her condition? Is this in the best interest of the child?

At this point, I feel the need to throw out clarifications. Maybe they’re needed; maybe not. I am not referring to an adult adoptee that seeks a reunion with their first family. I feel adults should have the right to make these decisions. I feel genuinely sorry for adoptees from “back in the day” that have no access to this information or were lied to about their adoptions. I am also willing to concede that this still occurs today. I'd like to think that it occurs less often now, but I could be wrong. (Sorry, I don't see how the two pale faces from Idaho can lie to their daughter from Beijing and convince her that she was born to them. Call me kooky.)

I also understand that a blog is for many people, myself included, a kind of journal where their thoughts and feelings are shared. Often times it may appear that writers only think about adoption and nothing else. A reader should keep in mind that the blog is but one outlet for the writer. In real life, the writer is no different than anyone else, so to speak. The writer could be your co-worker, your teacher, your mail lady…. your mom. Who knows? The point is that the writer is putting her feelings out there to see. They are her words to be heard. As a reader, I try to keep this in perspective.

Having said this, I still feel confused. I often find myself reading, “They just don’t get it,” referring to adoptive mothers. I get the overwhelming feeling that unless AMs recognize that adoption is a terrible thing and allow the writer to be a part of her child’s life, no matter what, that AMs will never “get it.”

I don’t follow the logic. I can think of several examples to illustrate my point but I fear using any of them for fear of angering readers even further. I’ll stick to the here-and-now.

Here’s my current take on the matter: If my responsibility is to ensure the best interest of a child and said child has been entrusted to my care, then I must and will make all decisions for said child. This includes the foods he eats, the clothes he wears, the activities in which he engages and the people with whom he interacts. This includes all people at all times. It is not my responsibility to foster a relationship between him and his first family. If he seeks such a relationship in the future, then I will do what I can to support such a relationship. I will assist him to the best of my ability and provide him what information I have in my possession. That is my plan at this time. It is what I feel is in his best interest.

I can’t stress enough that I genuinely feel for the writers I read. Their pain is obvious. Many of their stories are horrific and heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine what their experiences have been. I can understand where such angry and vitriol comes from when I read of how many of these adoptions came to be. I can “see” many scared, lonely young women who were given no other option during their pregnancies. They were abused, used and tossed to the side. There is absolutely nothing positive that can be said regarding the way they were treated. For many this pattern of treatment has continued throughout their lives. I am truly sorry for that. I, for my part, have tried to be a good steward of resources and helped the women I have encountered in my life who have found themselves in the same situation. Some I have been able to help; some I have not. Some refused to be helped. Each of these women has made the choices in their lives that lead them to the place where they were then and are now. Some are in better places now; some are in worse.

Having said all of that, I still do not understand how an AM can make things better by encouraging a relationship between the child in her care and a writer if she does not think it is in the best interest of the child. Regardless of what the writer needs or wants or thinks, the child is not in the writer’s care. The AM has been given the responsibility of that child. For better or worse.

The truth is that I have very few readers. I don’t think any of them are writers – first mothers, birthmothers, mother of children who have been adopted by another person. I’m hoping a few might drop by and say hi….. give me their opinions, their wrath…. Truly, I’m hoping so. There’s no way in the world I’m going to learn a darn thing if I’m not willing to stick my neck out. Someone very dear to me once said, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.” I truly do want some answers. I may not like them but I’m wiling to listen.


art-sweet said...

I'm thinking about this post.

I'll come back to it when I have more time.

But I wanted you to know that I'm thinking about it.

MAMB said...

I think it is probably impossible for either side to "get" the experience of the other side unless you've lived both. Even then, events effect people differently so you probably can never entirely understand another person's experience.

That said, I agree that it comes down to what is best for the child - not what is best for the AM or the writer. And when we adopt a child, that child is ours in our heart and no one can be asked to do something other than what is best from her child. I am sure there are some AMs who are fearful or jealous of the writer being a part of the child's life but I like to think most AMs are trying to sincerely do what is best. Our birthmom has requested no contact in the future. But if my daughter grows up and wants to try and find her I will support that decision.

Don't know...complex issue with pain on both sides. And pain can't be qualified or quantified. No one can rightfully say "Look at me. My pain matters more than yours." We just need to support one another in what ever ways make the most sense while protecting the children who are caught in the middle.

Anonymous said...

You left some comments on my blog, I am not sure what it is you want from me. The purpose of my blog is for other mothers in reunion to read in case they are needing to see how someone else copes with it. Reunion is such a bizarre situation to be in and when I went through it there was so little information that I could find and NO blogs at all. I was one of the first to start writing a reunion blog that I know of and now there are a few.

If you want to learn about adoption then ask adopted adults, listen to the interviews on the adoption show, read the blogs of adoptees and try to ask questions repsectfully.
Since you want to adopt internationally then why not read some blogs by international adoptees. A mum I quite like that adopted from the same country you want to adopt from has a blog called Tales From the stirrups. She is a very nice woman.

I am not the one who can make you understand whatever it is you want to understand. I do wish you all the best on your journey and hope that you will get what it is that you are looking for.