The Light Bulb Moment

31 Oct

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.


Posted by on October 31, 2010 in biological child, Uncategorized


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5 responses to “The Light Bulb Moment

  1. The adopted ones

    October 31, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    My aunt who never knew about me said something very similar – it all makes sense now why she changed…

    Amazing how family can be so clueless until the penny drops…

    Glad the conversation turned out okay in the end.


  2. Von

    October 31, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    It’s interesting isn’t it how people, even those indirectly affected by adoption can bring out their beliefs and feelings and expect to have them heard.The truth is unwelcome sometimes but what success when someone says it begins to make sense.
    The penny dropped for my sister after the WA Apology to mothers, she’ll never see adoption the same way again after talking to some of the mothers.These moments are difficult for us adoptees and catch us when we least expect it but the more of them we have the more others will begin to see the reality and truth of adoption.


  3. cb

    November 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I think all of us know exactly how you felt when she said that bit about giving birth not making someone a mother. It sounds in the end though it was a conversation worth having as your aunt now seems to have a new understanding of her sister. It would be interesting to see if it has some sort of ripple effect.

    It really is hard trying to help your bfamily understand adoption isn’t even. Even though my own haven’t been too bad, one of my birthmother’s cousins said to me something along the lines of “with your birthmother passing away when you were 16, it was probably for the best that you were adopted”. I know she was just trying to say that it would have been a very hard thing for a 16 year old to cope with so I cowardly sort of agreed with her but I actually found it really hurtful on so many levels (especially since her own brother died at the same age as my birthmother and had young children himself, I doubt that she would have thought that it would have been better for his own children to have been adopted to save them from the tragedy of their father’s death). Having said all that, she is an exceptionally nice lady and I really didn’t want to argue with her.


  4. cb

    November 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

    sorry, not sure how to do correction but first sentence should read “isn’t it” not “isn’t even”


  5. shadowtheadoptee

    November 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I’m still just so surprised that my aunt really didn’t have a clue as to just exactly what her sister, my birthmother, had really gone through. They are very close, so I assumed they must have talked about it. My aunt remarked, after I made the comment of how I wished I had had the courage to aske my grandmother about her feelings in regards to my relinquishment, “You kids, you always want to Talk about things. We never talked about it.”. I had to choke back what was about to flow from my mouth. lol I wish I could have seen her face when I next said, “I know Mimi wouldn’t have been able to talk to me about it. I was too afraid to ask her, but I don’t understand how you could do that to your own flesh and blood.” My aunt paused trying to reconcile this. I meant, by my comment, how my grandparents and family could turn their back on my birthmother, but I’m not sure how my aunt took it. She told me she always just thought Mimi had been devistated. I guess fair is fair, because I’m not sure if she meant devistated by my relinquishment, or what she had done by abandoning her own daughterr, when my birthmother needed her the most.

    My aunt was surprised to find out I knew that my birthmother had been told, “Don’t bring that baby home”. She didn’t quite know what to say, or really want to acknowledge the comment. I refused to speculate on my birthmother’s thought and feelings, as my aunt tried to rationalize my birthmother’s issues in her mind. I had to stop her from doing that. She’s only continueing to enable my birthmother to continue to be a victim by doing so. When I explained how everytime I had tried to talk to E about this stuff, she gave me the, “It was just such a painful time in my life, and those wounds go so deep.” with her head tilted downward in shame, and her hand placed gently at her heart, and the heavy sigh that followed after, I felt so guilty, like this was all my fault, and I was to blame for my birthmother’s pain. My aunt didn’t know how to respond, but I think she understood where I was coming from.

    Pointing out just how many of my birthmother’s issues are directly related to my birth and relinquishment is no fun. I hope my aunt really is starting to understand. Maybe she can help my birthmother face her past. Honestly, I think it’s just too much for any of my birthfamily to really face.It’s sad, because until they do, there is always going to be a wall between us…that dang white elephant…adoption. kwim? I guess I can always hope, right?



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