It always fascinates me and surprises me, that every time I think I am finally at a point in my life where I have a handle on all this adoption stuff, once again, it will bite me in the butt at the most unexpected moment. My husband and I, have completely redesigned, and are about to begin the remodeling of our kitchen. I’ve picked out the cabinets, counter top, paint colors, and everything else needed for my new kitchen. The only thing I have left to decide on is lighting fixtures and the new flooring. Last night my husband and I stopped by my Aunt’s house to get her opinion on the two flooring samples I have narrowed it down to. For clarification, this particular aunt is my birthmother’s sister. I never expected the conversation to go from, which flooring she liked best with the colors I have chosen, to a book she had been reading, to a discussion on open access for adoptees to their original birth certificates, to how my grandmother felt about my relinquishment, to what it was like for my birthmother, and finally, what I think must have been a light bulb moment for my aunt in regards to my birthmother and some of her issues.
I’m still not quite sure how the subject of the book my aunt was reading had really come up. For some time now, she and I have not discussed anything about adoption, my birthmother, or the issues and difficulties of my relationship with E, my birthmother. I had hoped everyone had finally understood why E and I do not have the relationship everyone thinks we should have, or if not understood exactly, maybe accepted it for what it was. When my aunt began telling me about this book she was reading, bringing up a character in the book, which happened to be an adoptee, my cautionary alarm bells went off. That good old “Proceed With Caution” sign popped up in front of me.
I listened intently as she began talking about this character, the lawyer, representing the main character of the book. This particular client, and case, which Is the story line of the book, had begun to trigger in this woman the usual, adoptee, identity issues. Who was her birthmother, and where had she come from?
I wasn’t quite sure where my aunt was headed with this conversation as she relayed the usual adoptee story line of letters sent, birthmother wanting no contact, adoptee finding out who birthmother was, birthmother telling adoptee she didn’t want anything to do with adoptee, adoptee showing up on doorstep needing answers, and finding out birthmother was raped. I was still cautiously listening; wondering if my aunt was really just telling me about the book, or if this were going to go a direction I would prefer it didn’t go.
My aunt continued on, telling me that after the birthmother told the adoptee that she had been raped, and, as you might expect, that is why she placed her child and wanted no contact, the adoptee went home to her adoptive parents, who loved her more than anything, and of course, lived happily ever after. My aunt didn’t stop there. There was just a bit more to the story. Still sitting there wondering where this conversation was going, I could not believe my ears when my aunt, my birthmother’s sister, told me how the adoptee had come to terms with the situation an realized that, (Are you sitting down?), “Giving birth does not make you a mother.”
I could very well have misconceived the tone of my aunt’s voice when she said those words. I am fully aware of just how much my aunt has struggled with all the issues between my birthmother and me. It just sounded to me like, in her mind, she was somehow trying to reconcile my feelings towards my birthmother with the character in this book, as well as, my birthmother’s feelings towards me, though my birthmother was not raped. It’s highly possible that I was overly sensitive to this, but it also seemed to me that my aunt, the moment she said those words, realized what, exactly, she had just said, even if she might not have, totally, comprehended the depth of the meaning of it. Something in her mind clicked, and I think she recognized that she had just said to the daughter of her sister, that the fact that my birthmother, her sister, gave birth to me did not make her my mother. I could feel her confusion, and I’m fairly certain, I felt her catch her own mistake in saying it, because she knows how it feels to give birth to a child, and she knows that, even though my birthmother and I are unable to have any meaningful relationship, we still think of each other as mother and daughter, not to mention love each other.
It took a whole lot of self-control, and empathy, to bite my tongue, and fight that angry feeling inside. If you’ve read my post “The Miracle Worker?” that same angry feeling I felt when people told me my adoptive family wasn’t my “real” family, is the same feeling, and anger, that I feel when someone tells me my birth family isn’t my”family” too. I’m sure my aunt had, absolutely, no intention of hurting me, but to put it mildly, “Ouch.”
Not sure where I was going to allow this conversation to go, knowing for both of us this was dangerous ground, I carefully weighed anything I said in response, but my curiosity, and the hope that I could help my aunt understand all this adoption stuff a little better wouldn’t allow me to change the subject. I, cautiously, followed her lead down this slippery road. I could not allow her to take something she had read in a book of fiction and apply it to me, much less my birthmother.
Spoon-feeding your own birth family the reality of adoption is a tricky and interesting thing to do, but spoon-feed I tried to do. Briefly explaining how denying adoptees access to their original birth certificates is wrong, and moving on to how records were closed due to the stigma of adoption and the triad in the 60’s, led to what it was like for unwed girls back then. The conversation took on a whole new context, as my aunt began thinking about everything, and reminiscing about what it was like when she and my birthmother were teens, and becoming young women. How families treated their daughters, when they got “into trouble”, etc. She was listening, reconciling things in her mind, but I all but fell out of my chair, when I was talking about why records had been sealed, mentioning the “illegitimate” stamp, once put on birth certificates and Edna gladny’s fight to remove that, when she, very innocently, said, “Gladny was a haven for girls, who got pregnant.” To her defense, she is truly innocent in saying that. It is what she must have really believed, but I think it’s safe to say that, I have, now, completely stolen her innocence, by telling her the stories that numerous birthmothers’ have told me about their stays in maternity homes.
I was completely shocked that she really had no clue what her sister, my birthmother had really been through. My birthmother probably never told her. AS what I was telling her began to sink in, and I asked questions about my birthmother, and pointed out certain things, the light bulb began to flicker. The last thing my aunt said to me, before we were interrupted, was, “It all makes so much sense now.” There’s no doubt in my mind that my aunt is beginning to really see just how much adoption has really impacted all our lives, and the pain all the secrets, and lies, in adoption has caused.