Courage

I have recently been corresponding with an adult adoptee and she asked me why I never opened discussions on my thoughts about adoption.  I had to tell her honestly that I feared being attacked.  Also–this blog has just been a celebration of my son and I wanted it to be full of happy memories.

Still, I know what a life line adult adoptee blogs have become for me. As much as adoptive parent blogs that deal with the tough stuff that I am usually scared to tackle.  It’s a tricky business–raising a child outside of your race from a foreign land. So many of us are struggling day by day to do the right things for our children to ensure that they grow up in an open and honest environment that is full of love.

We cannot make up for their loss. We cannot make up for their lives being so drastically changed.  I hope to love Morgan through it–to give him the support that he needs to face the world that has not always been kind to him.

It will take strength to help my child go back to VN one day if that is what he decides. It will be hard because I know that he won’t blend in while visiting his home country. He will always be “American” and different, just as he will be “Vietnamese” and different in his adopted country.

It hurts me when people tell me that he is a “lucky child” or that his life will be “so much better”.

Excerpt from an email written today:
Last week our accountant was at the house and mentioned that he has a brother adopted from VN in the 1970’s. He looked pointedly at Morgan and said “I hope he realizes what a gift he has been given”. I could feel the bile rise in my throat but all I said is “We have been given a gift that we will never forget.” Then the guy shrugged and said ” I guess it goes both ways” grrr…
How do you respond to them? As a child–what did you need to hear from your adopted parents?”
Who can answer these questions for me, other than an adult who has lived through these moments?
That is why I have to brace myself and open the discussion.
 
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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Courage

  1. I suppose one could say “Well, it’s quite complicated. As happy as I am with my adoptive family, I still miss my original family.”

    But then the problem is, people will hear “as happy as I am with my adoptive family” and so they will not understand why the adult adoptee is grieving the absence of the family of origin.

    For every gain, there is equivalent loss. Some would call it balance. I call it an emotional cost that’s never quite re-compensated, even by reunion.

  2. Great post, Jen. As you know, my world essentially changed several weeks ago. I have been thinking a lot about the adoptee’s place in the adoption triad and how being adopted will affect Aiden as an adult.

    I have learned a lot from Mei-Ling….some of it is hard to hear. All of it I need to hear. I may not agree with everything but who knows how I will feel 10 or 12 years from now. I am just glad I am starting to think about it now…

  3. You know . . . I never have understood why anyone would think I was providing a “gift” to Aven or “saving her life”. When they tell me “well . .. you KNOW what I mean . . . ” Hmmm. . . I get how their mind is working while they are saying these things, but it is so far from our reality. Then I realize they will probably not understand that my child means the same to my heart and my life as a child that came through my womb. Any child is a gift to this world. When we stop separating children by how they are a part of any one family, then perhaps we can accept ourselves as gifts to the world . . . as it were.

    I also with great regularity, consider feedback I have gotten from adult adoptees. Most of them just think my daughter is awesome. Not my ADOPTED daughter. My DAUGHTER. Their feelings about their adoption vary, but that makes sense to me as they are individuals, with unique personalities who all process their life experiences differently. The reality is that as I tried to educate myself about attachment in adoption, I found it quite difficult to get through more than 2 pages without breaking down as my own personal experience is littered with a detachment from my family. I am living proof that you do not have to experience the process of adoption to feel grief over the loss of a family of origin. I do also agree with Mei-Ling, in general, in regards to the gain vs. loss. It is a balance or sometimes lack of balance in life. However, there are many circumstances that create that dynamic. Most people that are paying attention to their experience in this world feel that dynamic on a deep level at some point and time and some of us experience it with great regularity. There will be no compensation for some of my own losses that have carried quite a heavy emotional toll in my own life. Transcending these losses and experiences have made me who I am. These were my crosses to bear, fair or unfair. Aven will have her own. As her mother, I hope that my own experiences might provide a soft, compassionate place for her to fall, if and when that time comes for her. However, it is the same place that any child of mine is welcome regardless of how they entered my life.

  4. mostlymorgan

    Sharon–I could not have said it better myself. Thanks 🙂

  5. “When we stop separating children by how they are a part of any one family, then perhaps we can accept ourselves as gifts to the world . . . as it were.”

    But we don’t say that a biological mother was “gifted” by her biologically-related child. I mean, OK, maybe mothers do that on occasion because they are so full of pride in their children’s accomplishments.

    But I rarely witness it in such emphasis. This is just my opinion and I’m sure others will bluntly disagree, but this is a phrase that is often used to evade having to say “God planned this child to be raised by her natural mother, but things did not work out that way, so the back up plan was for me to adopt her.”

    Nobody wants to say “This girl should have been raised by her natural mother” because then what? Where would the adoptive parents be? Non-parents?

    So instead of saying “This girl was carried in another woman’s womb JUST for me” (which sounds rather presumptuous, and which I *have* seen online), people prefer to state “Our children aren’t really our children, they are God’s children.”

    Far too often the child is like a possession in an adoptive family, as emphasized by the “forever family” statements, as emphasized by the “God planned for us to be her parents.”

    But if people don’t mean to dismiss original families by saying “God’s Will planned for this to happen”… they certainly don’t *want* to say “This girl should have been raised by her natural parents.”

    Let me see how I can phrase this…

    Do biological parents go around saying “This child is a gift from God, let me introduce her”, or do they say “This is my child xx”?

  6. mostlymorgan

    I think for me–the idea that Morgan is a “gift” to us–is my non-religious way of saying that he blesses our lives. Because we waited for years– ANY child biological or adopted would have been a gift to us.

    Perhaps I need a better response to people who believe he should be grateful to us? My meaning is always that we are grateful for him.

  7. My dear Mei-Ling . . . I would love to sit down face to face with you. I wish you could see my sincerity when I say what I write.

    I was pregnant 3 times. Every time, I felt gifted . . . blessed. . . overwhelmed. That is what a child means to me. That is what being given the opportunity to mother means to me. I weep that it isn’t that way for every one blessed/gifted with a child. But it isn’t, is it?

    I am also not one to believe that God has anything to do with children and who parents them. I stopped believing in God in that way when I lost my 3 babies. People often said to me, “It must have been God’s will” or better still “God must have wanted you to adopt one of those poor, unfortunate children that needed a home”. Well, people. . . . I do not believe that and I never, ever in my whole life will. God doesn’t play with our lives that way. I believe we are left at free will and to live a righteous, loving, compassionate and purposeful life is its own reward. I do not feel promised anything upon death, I do not think good things will happen as a result of living a good life. I think it is what I make of it. I also believe that for my daughter. And make no mistake Mei-Ling . . . she is MY daughter as much as if I had given birth to her physically. I will never underestimate the spiritual channel that my precious girl entered my life and subsequently changed it forever. I would write the same exact words if she was my biological child. I claimed her the moment I accepted the Idea of her in my heart. Our greatest desire as human beings is to have a sense of belonging. I have sought that all my life and I was reared under the same roof as my biological mother. Being under the same roof did nothing to secure nor nurture that sense of belonging with me. I promised myself that no child of mine would ever doubt that a special place had been created to provide a safe haven from the world’s perils at my chest and under my roof.

    Her birth mother has her own experience and relationship with the universe and with Aven and that is not my business unless she chooses to make it my business. I will stand by my daughter in whatever way she wishes to connect with her country of birth or her family of birth. I will remain as close as she needs me to be or give her the space that she may require while doing so. I love her enough to let her walk her own path and hope that the way I have raised and nurtured her will always leave her a path back to her father and me knowing we will always accept and love her.

    I think so many times assumptions are made about adopted children that will not necessarily apply to all adopted children. I KNOW assumptions are made by MANY people (adult adoptees, friends, family, society in general) about adoptive parents that couldn’t be further from the truth. I would love to keep an open dialogue so that I may learn, but I don’t wish to be judged because I have adopted my daughter from anyone. I appreciate your communications so far, Mei-Ling and I hope that there can be future opportunities for us all to learn from each other. No matter what label is put on ANY of us, we all still remain students of life.

    Namaste,
    Sharon

  8. Mei-Ling

    “And make no mistake Mei-Ling . . . she is MY daughter as much as if I had given birth to her physically.”

    There is a post which touches on this subject. I’ll even link to it, because this adoptee/a-mom says it better than I ever could:

    “I have to admit that I cringe whenever I hear people say that bringing a child into the family through adoption is no different than giving birth.

    Yes, I see each of them as my children whom I love dearly, but first I try to see them in their full totality as individuals; individuals who came from dramatically different beginnings that cannot and should not be forgotten.”

    http://heartmindandseoul.typepad.com/weblog/2009/05/one-perspective-on-parenting-through-the-lens-of-an-adoptee-ap-and-bio-parent-.html

    I understand (as best I can) when I see an adoptive parent say “I love my child just as much as if I had given birth to her” because I know the good intentions behind that, I know what they mean.

    But it is incredibly easy to sound almost off-handed about the way in which the child entered an adoptive parent’s life – if it was not by birth.

    That is not stating a diminishment of parenthood.

    As an adoptee, I am fully aware that if my adoptive mother said she loves me as much “as if she had given birth to me” that does not diminish her love for me. I don’t compare the love she has for me to my Taiwanese mother who DID give birth to me, because both of them are my mothers in different ways.

    And yet, I am reluctant to witness the phrase “as if she had given birth to me” when it is not the truth. I believe she loves me as much as she loves her biological son. I also believe she has a primal connection with her son that she doesn’t have with me – the same connection I have with my own mother.

    Her love is truth. All these years would be testimony of that. I am her daughter. But having said she loves me as “if” she had given birth to me… well, she did not give birth to me. That cannot be denied.

    (general you) Your love is truth.

    (general you) Having given birth [to the adopted child] is not.

    Therefore, there cannot necessarily be a comparison in the way an adopted child came to the adoptive family in the “as if” structure, because that child was not born in the adoptive family, and so that beginning should not be dismissed in the “as if” hypothetical.

    I know it’s going to seem as though I am merely dismissing families. I am not trying to convey that message. I am saying that it might be better phrased as opposed to saying the “as if” hypothetical because it is not necessarily the truth.

    I believe that an adoptive parent can love an adopted child as much as a child of biology – but it is not by default. My brother’s beginning started in my adoptive mom’s womb. Mine did not. That is also truth.

  9. Mei-Ling

    “But it is incredibly easy to sound almost off-handed about the way in which the child entered an adoptive parent’s life – if it was not by birth.”

    What I mean by this is – adoption is not the same as birth. It just isn’t. The love might feel the same, but it starts in different ways.

    • mostlymorgan

      Mei Ling– you are right that it is easy for us to dismiss the significance of our child’s birth in effort to establish belonging in our family. However, there is a delicate balance I think between making a child feel like they belong and acknowledging the first family. How would you phrase it?

      • I always see the term “forever family.”

        For children who were adopted as infants and who were not moved from foster home to foster home, do they understand that adoptive families are forever? (I know the term originated from foster care placements as a way of indicating the foster family would not give up on the child…)

        Is there a need to emphasis that the adoptive family is forever? Or is the risk of psychological after-effects of “abandonment” too high?

  10. “Yes, I see each of them as my children whom I love dearly, but first I try to see them in their full totality as individuals; individuals who came from dramatically different beginnings that cannot and should not be forgotten.”

    I can do both. I could see a bio child in this same way. We all are individuals. My daughter may not have the same view that you do as an adult about her experiences in how she entered our lives. The fact that she is an individual AND my daughter are not mutually exclusive. Nor does my description (the best way I have learned so far to describe it to a stranger such as yourself who doesn’t have a clue who I am and what I am about nor the relationship with my child) mean that I have no insight, empathy or compassion for how she might struggle with the fact that her mother placed her with adoptive parents.

    I also want to point out, as it may have been lost in what I was trying to say earlier, that being born of someone’s womb DOES NOT in any way default into love. I am a prime example of that. I have spent my life searching for a mother, and yet the one that gave birth to me is 18 miles away and her name is on my birth certificate.

    If my daughter experiences her adoption as a cross to bear, it is my sincere hope that I provide her with the tools she will need to transcend the experience, learn, live, love and grow. Life is too short to be miserable over something you cannot change for one minutes longer than necessary. It is through my own introspection that I have transcended my experiences so she will have a skilled teacher, even if she sees me as a 2nd choice of a mother.

    Jen . . . I also realize that I have taken over your blog with my opinions. Thank you for indulging me up to this point, but I’ll back out and let you get back to Morgan’s space.

  11. jen

    Not at all–sharon. I love to hear your thoughts. Each of us has a different experience to share. Feel free to talk 🙂

  12. Mei-Ling

    “My daughter may not have the same view that you do as an adult about her experiences in how she entered our lives”

    I completely agree.

    “being born of someone’s womb DOES NOT in any way default into love”

    Not saying that adoptive parents cannot feel all encompassing love for their children, obviously not…

    But isn’t there supposedly an instinctive [primal] bond that is developed by mothers who give birth?

    Where love is concerned, it can be argued to which extent this invaluable emotion is given… but I was under this impression that most mothers’ hormones become equipped with the primal instinct to love and nurture her baby…

  13. mostlymorgan

    Mei ling — I can tell you that by working in the healthcare field, I have seen maternal instinct notably absent time and time again. For every mother in nature who loves and adores, another eats her young.

    I have seen grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents love children unconditionally– while the child’s first parents exit the picture as quickly as possible.

    Nothing is guaranteed….whether you remain with the people who gave you life or not.

  14. Mei-Ling . . . I so wish you were right about this primal drive to love your offspring. I have spent enough money in therapy to purchase 2 vehicles for my therapist and I can assure you, this primal love that you refer to isn’t even almost a given. I don’t just have myself to look to. . . I unfortunately have countless people that I have come to know in my own recovery process that have a very similar experience.

    I would love nothing more than to promise to Aven that her birth mother loved her so much she made a choice that would ensure Aven’s future to the best of her ability, but I would be lying if I promised that. I can only hope that is the case. I have a written letter from Aven’s mother detailing very specific and very unselfish reasons that she had to place Aven in the care of others. I honor and respect her decision and know that the only way I could do that was for the very reasons that she did. I have decided that no one will ever know what the details of her placement were unless Aven decides to tell her own story. It is something that her father and I made a commitment to never reveal as we consider it her sacred right to be the first to know and be the only one to decide whether to share it.

    I do know that the disconnect between my mother and I had everything to do with her inability to be a mother. It had nothing to do with my ability to be lovable. You wanna talk about heartache? You wanna talk about loss? I feel that same pain Mei-Ling. I can go ask my mother “why?” and I have. I found a blank face staring back at me with nothing but excuses that have never stood up to examination. I guess the reason this is so important to me to continue to engage with you is not only because I am an adoptive mom, but because I have spent a lifetime fighting my own demons and as a result, I have missed so much life. I thought I would find happiness if I could figure out the puzzle of “why”, but it turns out that happiness is not something you can search for . . . it is a decision you make, regardless of the circumstances of your life. That was a hard pill for me to swallow. I truly hope you feel love from your adoptive family like I feel love toward Aven. You do seem like a thoughtful, introspective, deep and caring person. I hope you are happy too and I hope you have found the peace that I sought for so many years.

    Again . . .Namaste,
    Sharon

  15. Mei-Ling

    “I can assure you, this primal love that you refer to isn’t even almost a given.”

    Adult adoptee Joy says she has researched infant and child development, as well as pregnancy – without the issue of adoption even included.

    Supposedly an infant thrives best when left under the care of the biological mother.

    Of course there are many many cases where an infant cannot – or should not – be looked after by their bio mother due to unfit circumstances or possible harm.

    But I do believe there is supposed to be a primal bond existing between the two. It doesn’t always seem to happen – and I question its validity in abuse/neglect cases. I question its validity when I see online about how mothers really don’t want their children.

    However, we are geared to care for our own, whether we act upon it or not. That is the way nature has designed us – to care for our own offspring. And that is why I believe what research has documented and what other adult adoptees like Joy have stated.

    Call me naive if you wish – or simply desired thinking that just doesn’t exist in mothers as much as I would like it to – but I would take the face-value word of those who have given birth themselves and done the research.

    Those who set out to harm and/or abuse their children, or who simply do not care (or so they state)…

    That is unnatural.

  16. jen

    Ouch on the “to those who have given birth” comment.

  17. Sorry, jen. Just realized that the “to those who have given birth” comment could have been perceived as a thinly-veiled insult. I was using it as a fact to state what I have heard about research. My apologies for offending you.

    Comment briefness is due to iPod texting…

    • mostlymorgan

      Thank you. I know you are passionate about the subject. I agree that most mothers would do anything for their children and that love is primal. Still, children are abandoned and abused every day–fortunately it is a minor percentage…but enough. There are other mothers who do not give up their children and also fail to nurture and protect them. I doubt that any of us could do enough comprehensive research to explain the way that life is.

      Society, Economics, Mental Health, Drug Abuse–it is a mixed bag. I think most of us in the adoptive community admit that our primary motive in adoption is our willingness to love and mother a child. Hopefully, we can change a child’s life for the better with this love.

      Your comments help us to realize the obstacles we are up against and to recognize the flaws in the system. However, intentions are usually pure and sometimes there are happy and positive outcomes from adoption as well.