Friday, June 13, 2008

Other People's Shoes

When someone outside of adoption says that adoption is best for the child, that it's a good decision (or something similar), it's very annoying. I've had enough pablum for one life-time. But it's also not surprising. Naivete and ignorance run rampant in our society when it comes to adoption. However much it might annoy me, it doesn't surprise me.

But when I hear it from a first mother, it really tears me up inside. I would think first mothers would understand that this is not the best thing for the child. That part of me that hurts from adoption doesn't want to hear women who have relinquished say that they know it was the right thing.

I have never, to my knowledge, felt angry at my first mom for relinquishing me. I know she was doing what she thought she had to do. And she has never told me that she "did the right thing" by giving me up. (She might feel that way. She might not. I'm not sure.)

But when I hear other first mothers say it, I feel hurt, and maybe even a little anger. Whether or not things turned out for the best, it seems dismissive of the pain and loss experienced by adoptees.

The more I have thought about this, though, the more I've tried to understand this reaction. I cannot possibly know what it's like to relinquish a child. And it strikes me that this attitude (that it was the right decision) is a defense mechanism. That doesn't mean it's never true (sometimes the right decisions lead to painful consequences). It's just that it must hurt to give up a child, and it may provide some consolation to believe that the child is better off.

As much as I don't want to hear it, maybe I shouldn't begrudge first mothers this consolation. I don't know.

But there is another wrinkle that has occurred to me while I've thought about this. I worry about the impact of this attitude on expectant mothers who might be considering adoption. Whatever adoptees feel about this, whatever first mothers need to tell themselves, I don't think this is a good message to send to expectant mothers. We should not be selling adoption as the best decision for the child. We should be trying to find ways to help mothers and children stay together.

First mothers likely don't want to hear that adoptees do not share the view that adoption was the right decision. And adoptees likely don't want to hear that there may be circumstances in which adoption was the best (though I suspect there are far fewer of these situations than people typically acknowledge). I know I don't.

I'm trying to find some equanimity about this whole thing. I don't want to deny the truth of first mothers. Just as I don't want my truth denied by others.

This attitude is the first thing that has really driven home the difference between adoptees' perspectives and that of (some) first mothers. Just another danger of the minefield that is adoption.


carol said...

I never felt - emotionally - that surrendering my son was the right thing to do, but I believed the logic of the words. I believed the social worker when she said, "two parents are better for your child than one." I think this had a lot to do with my age. I was a young adult still trying to form a sense of myself. I didn't listen to my gut instincts, my intuition, I listened to "authority".

I also cringe when I hear fmoms even 20 or 30 years later say that it was the right decision. At that point I think it must be a defense mechanism. For mothers who have surrendered more recently, I wonder if the brainwashing by the agencies is still in effect. In any case, I think it is an extremely dangerous message to be sending to expectant mothers, unless you're an adoption agency, in which case it is an extremely effective message to send.

I also cringed when my son's amom told me that she "still thinks it was better that my son was raised with them instead of me." Dismissive of me, dismissive of any suffering that my son has felt and may continue to feel over his life.

I imagine it must be incredibly hard for an adopted person to understand how a mother could "voluntarily" part with her child. Honestly, most of my days have moments when I think to myself, how could this have happened, how did I become a woman who surrendered her son? "Youth and ignorance" is not a very satisfactory answer.

Thanks for the post.

Canuck First Mum said...

Couldn't agree more. As an fmum, I've had to tell myself my daughter wasn't hurting; how could I have survived the last 20 years believing she was? I know that when I placed her I was SURE it was my only choice, but I can't remember why I thought that so certainly. Age, support, maturity blah blah blah ... more likely the "crisis" part of "crisis pregnancy" was the real answer. Who thinks clearly in crisis?

phil said...

Thank you both for your comments. I really was thinking about this a lot, and the last thing I wanted to do was come off sounding critical of first moms. It's good to hear your voices on this. Thanks.

maybe said...

I never thought it was in the best interest of my son, but my mother would never have allowed me to bring him home, and for whatever reason my father gave into her demands. My mother was only concerned about how it affected her, not me or my son.

But how do I reconcile this with the comments from adoptees who say they are glad they were adopted and have no interest in the natural families? Are they truly happy, or is denial the order of the day for a great many adult adoptees?

This confuses me and makes my burgeoning reunion even more difficult to navigate.

phil said...


That, for me, is one of the harder questions to answer in all of this. I do not understand adoptees who think it was for the best. I mean, I understand adoptees who were abused being glad to be out of that situation and can understand why they might think it was for the best. But adoptees who don't even know their first family... Why do they think it was for the best? I'm not sure.

Part of me wants to say it must be denial. That comes from desperately wanting to believe my experiences weren't crazy, that I'm not defective somehow. That my experiences are comprehensible to others.

But I do not feel that it's my place to tell someone else that they are in denial. I don't like it when others speak for me, so I should not speak for others. That's hard for me.

I'm not sure why some adoptees don't feel the same. I'm glad I've found others that do, just so that I don't feel so alone. And part of me does wonder if it's denial. But I don't feel right speaking for others that way.

I think I know what you mean about all of this making reunion even more difficult to navigate. I haven't asked my first mom about this (she's just my mom in other contexts, but I try to be as clear as possible here). I don't want to make her feel badly, and I don't want to hear that she thinks it was a good thing. So I don't know how she feels about this.

Anyway, thanks for your comments. I wish all of this were easier to understand.

maybe said...

I posted this on Adoption Animal House, but I would like to ask here, too, if that's ok.

I've noticed a disturbing trend among families that are touched by adoption. There seem to be so many cases where an adoptee ends up surrending a baby -I just wonder why this occurs as often as it appears to (at least I see a lot of it on the blogs; would love to know what the "hard" stats show).

Is there some pyschic wound that is transferred from the first birth mother onto her baby? This worries me becuase so many groups are pushing for an increase in infant adoptions and I wonder if there will be a long-term negative affect on society.

phil said...


That's a good question. I haven't given up a child, though that seems more common with women. One reason I've heard speculation about is that female adoptees feel some connection to their first moms that lead them to emulate them (or feel doomed to follow in their footsteps, as the case may be). But others are probably better able to answer that question.

If it's true, though, I think you're right to worry about the self-perpetuating nature of adoption. Not something to be encouraged by.

Lori A said...

As you know I am one of those mothers who feels it was best for my daughter to be raised by her parents rather than me. It wasn't me I was against. It was my family. At that time I had no help in any form and I was affraid she would suffer the same life I was handed if I were to take her home. I have not changed my mine on that. I will say that I was in a fog for the first several years about how wonderful her life must have been. I thought all adoptive parents were the Clevers. As you know she did get all I wished for her and more. She escaped the violence and abuse I lived for many years. I do believe in adoption if it is done for the right reasons. The only thing I can say to first mothers is it's a crap shoot and one of the longest rollercoaster rides I have even been on. I do not recommend it. I know that grateful is an unappriciated word among adoptees, and for obvious reasons, but I am not an adoptee. I can not think of another word that accurately discribes my feelings toward my daughters parents. I am so very grateful she got them. This does not take away the years of worry on my part until I knew for sure she had faired so well. It also does not mean she doesn't have issues from being adopted. It simply means in the crap shoot she got lucky.

phil said...

Lori, I have the greatest respect for you and your daughter. You will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you generalize from your, very specific, case to that of adoption in general. You wouldn't, I would hope, tell an adoptee that their adoption was for the best. And, I think, you and your daughter agree on your views about her adoption. Would you tell her that it was for the best, would you insist upon it, if she didn't agree? If, despite having great adoptive parents, she didn't feel as though it were for the best, would you still maintain it was?

My basic point in all of this is that making the "it's for the best claim" publicly gives society the idea that adoption is a good thing. It's coercive towards mothers who might be considering relinquishing (they're doing what's best for the child, after all). And it's dismissive of the adoptee's feelings. It might be true, in some cases, but it should never be made a general claim.

That's my position, anyway.

As for your situation, I hope you won't be upset with me, but I don't think adoption was for the best. I do think it was better than other possibilities. But for the best would have meant both of you getting out of that situation, not just your daughter. I realize that that might not have been possible and the adoption may have been better than the alternative. But that's different than being "for the best," in my opinion.