Friday, December 6, 2013

Journeys to Healing Adoption Loss and Devastation

Laura Dennis writes an interesting blog post about “Coming Out of the [Adoption] Fog.” She uses an airline safety message metaphor to tell us to put on our own oxygen masks first before helping others.

Circumstances, however, do not always allow for us to do things in a neat and orderly way. 

I lost my firstborn to adoption in 1968. My first jolt out of the stupor of "I did the right thing" brainwashing I had received came just three years later when I met, by chance, an adoptee who had completed his search and was taking his birth moms name. I was shocked. The words that blurted out of my mouth that day were: "You don't hate your mother?"  I didn’t realize this is what I thought until I said it. I was apparently living with so much self-incrimination about having lost my child in this manner, that I naturally assumed SHE would hate me for having let her go – not fighting harder to keep her (with no support and in defiance of being told it was the “best” and “loving” thing to do and to not do so would be selfish and hurtful to my child.)

That encounter led me to ALMA and a meeting with one other birth mother, Mary Anne Cohen. I was thrust into the world of adoption reunions and now had POSSIBILITIES.

I had absorbed well my brainwashed messages including that I had “no right” to ever THINK of her again, much less seek her out and interrupt her wonderful new life.  My world was turned upside down as I contemplated HER wanting or even needing to know ME!  

I was among the first members of CUB and in 1980 Mary Anne and I along with three other NJ birth moms formed the original Origins and I was helping others AS I helped myself.  We held in-person meetings in those days and were able to give real live hugs – not cyber ones – and help dry one another’s eyes. One by one women came through the doors of our homes – or libraries – where we met and expressed the ultimate relief in learning each of us was not ‘”he only one” this had happened to, as we had lived with feeling.

My healing came as I helped others heal.

It was another decade after that – and after having published my first book, shedding light on…The Dark Side of Adoption (1988), that I had yet another major aha wake up moment. It came, appropriately enough, from a book entitled Wake Up Little Susie. Ricki Solinger awakened me to a new level of self-healing. Not only was I not “the only one” but what happened to us, and our families, did not happen in a void. Not only was not our “fault” – or our families’ fault – what happened was a sociological phenomenon that occurred within in a far broader context of morality and social engineering to reduce single households by punishing mothers for their sins and removing the children we were judged as “unfit’ to raise.

My education into all of the forces that work to promote adoption continues to this day. Awareness of the exploitation, corruption, deception and commodification that underlies what is presented to – and believed by – the public a noble, altruistic, saving grace simultaneously heals and enrages me.

My healing comes to me through my activism.

In the introduction to The Dark Side I relate my passion to reform adoption to the work of people like Cindy Lightner who founder Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the mom who got amber laws in every state to help find abducted children. These mothers never had a spare second to metaphorically put on their own oxygen masks before going to work to prevent other losses. Their healing – like mine - IS in working to prevent other atrocities through education.

Each of us has our own path through – and perhaps – out of the fog of denial. Some never make it out. Some find the fog a warm blanket that keeps them safe from the pain they might face if they lifted it.  

Like Laura Dennis, I too sometimes find myself wanting to shake some free of their kool-aid (yes, kool-aid, not ade!) daze. (Sometimes it infuriates me.) 

I have fought for equal access for adoptees from the very beginning back in the late 70s and early 80s.  I signed the full page as in Oregon to help that state break free of discriminatory laws…I testified at NJ hearings, met with congress people, and have written more letters than I could count in our state’s thirty year long battle to restore adoptee rights, wrongly denied them.  I thus want to scream at adoptees to break free of their fog of indebtedness and gratitude and stand up for their rights!  I watch the gay equality movement gain marriage rights in sixteen states while we have varying levels of “open records” on eight – and we’ve been at it since the 1940s when they became sealed and Jean Paton began the fight.  I want to scream and cry and many days I want to throw in the towel and give up.

But I cannot.

In The Dark Side introduction I write about Bonnie Lee Black, author of Somewhere Child, about the abduction of her daughter by her estranged husband. When asked why she wrote the book, she said:
". . . I want to live a normal life, but find I can't. Someone shot me in the back of the soul and made me a cripple from here down. The dead legs dangle from the wheelchair, lifeless— see? I can no longer dance or make love. Only the hands of my heart can move. They move along the smooth paper, dragging a pencil, leaving a trail of jagged marks that spell: I AM STILL HERE.”
If “healing” means we get to live a normal life, the answer for me is what is normal. I am forever impaired by what happened to me in 1968 just as if I were run over by a truck and lost my legs. Rather than oxygen, I found what I needed: crutches, wheelchairs and orthotic legs – even some pretty nifty blade runners that let me run marathons and speed races!  I am a fighter! I get it done! But at night I take off all the equipment that helps me through the say and in my bed I am an amputee who lost her daughter and can never, ever change that or what it meant for her life. And the next day, I get up and do it all over again.
That is my journey. All are different. 

Some run toward the fire in an effort to put it out and save whomever we can; some run from it to safety.  Some find the loss to overwhelming to ever get out of bed, out from under the warm blankets and the peace of sleep. Some mothers - mostly older women - obediently go to their grave never telling anyone. Even some of my contemporaries never told their husbands until decades later - or until they were found!  I cannot imagine living with the fear of having such a secret "found out" but such is the nature of denial. If I do not speak of it, it doesn't exist.

I have known some of the many mothers who suffered secondary infertility - never able to bear another child after the loss of a child or children to adoption. Some tried and were crushed. Others have told me that they consciously refused to "replace" their lost child. They felt it disrespectful; like it would render their loss meaningless. I have also met double-surrender mothers who shared an after-the-fact hindsight awareness that they got pregnant almost immediately after their first loss in some subconscious effort to replace the lost child, only to lose another.

I heard one adoptee say their medical history was their adoptive family's medical history! That's beyond denial and into delusion - dangerous, life threatening delusion.  I have also known of both adoptees and birth parents who go beyond denial and into justification. These are the adoptee/birth parent adopters and social workers who arrange adoptions.  

Whether our choices are conscious or not, the underlying devastation is the same. Whether it happens to us with or without or knowledge that it is happening.

Beyond the sheer physical pain of loss there is the day-to-day reality of how much was lost to us when adoption severed us from our loved ones. The effect it has on our choices; the poor choices we make. We didn’t loose limbs; we lost huge chunks of our self-esteem! Adoptees are constantly reminded by societal messages that they are lucky not to have been aborted; mothers that we were shameful and unfit. Mothers can never heal as long as we worry about the well-being of our child(ren). For both us of us the loss is devastating to our souls. We all feel like damaged goods and effects all of our choices or creates an inability to make any decisions lest it be as wrong as that monumental “choice.” The ripples affect our families and all we come in contact with.  We are forever wounded, even if we form layer upon layer of layer of scar tissue.... and with or without our conscious awareness.

Many of us wait for reunification to heal us only to find the sad reality that what is lost is lost and cannot be replaced.  For too many reunion results in secondary losses or loosing again and again as the reunion open and closes; starts and stops for endless, painful periods of time lest we close ourselves up once again - protectively revert to lie under our safe warm covers in the dark. What else can one do? 

For me, the answer is to fight back with activism. I am here now, 46 years later, still running back into fire-engulfed building. I am not "healed" and never will be, or can be, but I must keep on fighting because I didn't fight enough in 1968... and because if I ever stopped I don't know what would be left of me.

Much as I would love to see more soldier sin the fight against adoption discrimination and corruption, I understand that in terms of healing - as with religion - there is no ONE WAY.


Robin said...

Remarkable post! Thank you.

Gail said...

Although you don't know me, I sort of know you through Origins. I lost my daughter to adoption in 1969 and it wasn't until the early 80's that I found comfort from others - first through ALMA and then Origins. Actually I probably have most of my newsletters saved in a box that I keep - not sure why, but I do. I remember how I used to wait and wait for the day the newsletter would arrive in the mail and I could spend hours reading and rereading it. So you touched my life in a very positive way and I thank you!

Mirah Riben said...

Thanks Gail. I guess the blind CAN lead the blind! Groping our way together in the darkness - a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on - is far better than going it alone.

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