Empty Spaces

16 Mar

Sipping coffee my pre-dawn musings were reflecting on what informs us of who a person truly is deep inside. That set off a cascade of ruminations which culminated with a distinctly unsettled feeling about the adoptees growing up in what passes as an open adoption these days.

My ruminations drew on my relationships, what made each of them what they were, what they weren’t. Of course, similar likes and mindsets were important; but the consistency of time spent together over decades seemed equally important to the depth and fulness of the relationship and the value I placed on it. Further reflection yielded the realization that both similarities and quality time spent together are needed to instinctively know how the other would react, feel, deal with whatever was happening around them. That, the fulness of knowledge also guided me in how I think, react, more in confirming I’m on solid ground and not missing relevant considerations,and comfort in knowing we were similar minded.

I came away another acute awareness that the lack of quality time spent over a lifetime leaves you with empty spaces of who that person is. How I am only now, more than a decade later, beginning to instinctively know how my aunt by birth would instinctively react and feel. That I have so many empty spaces that will never be filled about who and what type of person each member of my family of birth is. That loss is weighing heavily on me, a loss I can’t mitigate, nor fix, it just is.

That loss could be mitigated in an open adoption; but is it in most is the question I’m left pondering. Looking around at what passes for openness today, my guess is that most adoptees growing up today will have many empty spaces in their relationships in their family birth. Relationships that should be full enough that they’d know instinctively how that person would react and feel about whatever challenge or event they were dealing with, but likely won’t.




Posted by on March 16, 2019 in Adoption


Tags: , , ,

22 responses to “Empty Spaces

  1. Laksh

    March 16, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I mull over this a lot too. We are fairly open in our home, yet physical distance and the fact that there can only be so many visits in a year limit how my children know their birth family. I kind of see their relationships like the one my children have with their aunts and cousins. People they meet consistently over the years and therefore know them in some measure. Because I have no particular idea of how I want this relationship to mature, I suspect it will take the form of extended summer visits if their mom/they want to spend that kind of time. One thing I have seen is that there is only so much I or anyone can orchestrate, the rest has to be organic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TAO

      March 16, 2019 at 3:37 pm

      I think that type of relationship is what I was trying to explain – the continuity of same values held that you hear in what is said, the memories of consistent visits, conversation familiarities. It all adds up and offers foundation of knowledge to build on. Not making a whole lot of sense as I’m not finding the words, why I put this on ‘paper’ to explore.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Laksh

        March 16, 2019 at 3:44 pm

        I hear you. I struggle with it in the sense, their relationship with the mother’s side is stronger as in they know uncles/aunts/great grandparents etc. With the dad’s side, it is fledgling and because of factors beyond our control restricted to just him. Intention seems to help in that (I hope) my children understand our will to help them and keep the lines open. Openness in adoption seems to be this thing everyone bandies about but there seems to be no real narrative documenting adult adoptee voices who have lived it and can reflect on what it is like.

        Liked by 2 people

        • TAO

          March 16, 2019 at 3:50 pm

          They will – and it’s perfectly normal for one side to be more complete than the other. Hopefully I’m wrong for the majority, but I doubt I am – too many seem to treat it as a requirement vs a benefit and the difference will be known/felt by the little one and that will affect the quality.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Laksh

            March 16, 2019 at 3:52 pm

            I see that amidst my adoptive parent friends. I also realize I am past the point wanting to change the world. If I can do good by my children, my job is done.

            Liked by 1 person

          • cb

            March 17, 2019 at 7:24 am

            “Hopefully I’m wrong for the majority, but I doubt I am – too many seem to treat it as a requirement vs a benefit and the difference will be known/felt by the little one and that will affect the quality”

            I see that happening too.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. maryleesdream

    March 16, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    This was a big problem in my reunion. I had no idea who my family was, so I had no idea how they would react to me. I thought, since we were family, we would have similar ideas. We did not.

    It’s heartbreaking, actually.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TAO

      March 16, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      It is heartbreaking – I blame the lack of consistent shared memories.

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Lara/Trace

    March 16, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    I had my b-sister 18 years before she passed – she filled me with current events, not old stories so there were still holes even she could not fill when I was adopted out. I still feel the emptiness in my early 60s.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. cb

    March 17, 2019 at 7:59 am

    I’ve been in reunion with uncles and cousins for about 9 years. Age wise I am between 9-24 years younger than my 5 uncles and between 5-23 years older than my 9 cousins.

    My uncles are lovely people and often share what they can remember about my bmom (who died in 1980) but brothers don’t always remember the little things about their sisters in a way that another sister might so I’ll probably never know some of the little things about her, so there are large holes in that regard. I sort of feel both a connection and a disconnection to her, the connection being that when they talk about her, I sort of feel that I get some things in a way that they might not because I can see myself perhaps doing things that way as well, but the disconnection being that in reality I can never really know.

    As for my cousins, because my bmom did die so long ago and my 2nd eldest uncle lived in another state while his children were young (his 3 are amongst the oldest of my cousins), only 1 cousin (my oldest female cousin) remembers her at all. 4 were born after 1980. Also, I am my bmother’s only living child. I have always been made to feel as if i am part of the family and when things happen I do get told so I appreciate that. Having said all that, it would have been nice to have known them all from the beginning. I could have made contact in 1987 (when i got my OBC (decided not to do anything)) so I sometimes wonder how things would have gone if I had done so. My grandmother would have still been alive and maybe I would have gotten to know my cousins even more while they were growing up.

    There are definitely times that I’ve felt like I’ve missed out, the only thing that really tempers that is that I am used to having never had cousins/uncles/aunts/grandparents around when growing up because most of my extended adoptive family are in NZ while we live in Australia and my adoptive grandparents died before I was born. So in a way, I feel closer to my extended bfamily than I ever was with my extended afamily. I know all the names of my a/uncles and a/aunts but only the name of 2 of my cousins.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pj

    March 17, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I have many “empty spaces”…While b-mom and b-dad we’re deceased when I searched, I found all my b-sibs and sevaral b-cousins. Sadly, believe I’m just a reminder to them of how dysfunctional b-parents were.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lisa-Jane Erwin

    March 18, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Such an interesting (for lack of a better word) issue. I immediately thought of my own extended family in which there were three intra-family adoptions. That is three children across 25 or so years who were born to one family member but raised (and in two cases formally adopted by) another family member/s. The youngest of them is now in his late 50’s. The oldest, if she was still living, would be about 84. The adoptions were all very open. They each intimately knew their birth mothers and grew up along side them as they were raised by their birth mothers’ sister in two cases and the birth mother’s aunt in the third. Despite the openness, despite them all coming from the same family of origin, despite us all looking alike there was for each of them always a certain something missing. It’s hard to say exactly what it is as I am speaking of someone else’s lived experience and not my own (well at least not directly my own). But I suspect that they each struggled with abandonment issues.

    Intellectually, it flies in the face of everything we think we know about abandonment because they were never for one second actually abandoned by either their birth or adopted mothers. The adoptions happened in infancy so there wasn’t the obvious separation trauma that comes from older child adoption, and the thinking of our elders was keeping the children in our family better guaranteed their safety and would help to keep them from feeling displaced. They also thought it would give the mothers a better sense of wellbeing. Again, I don’t know for sure but I think the placements came much closer to achieving the goals intended for the mothers than for the children.

    I think about my cousins and the trauma no one understood when they were growing up. I think about my elders who so altruistically thought they covered all the basis but had not; and I think about myself and my son who I adopted when he was 14.5 years old and I wonder if there are any solutions to the trauma. There are countless differences between my cousins and my son in that he endured 14.5 years of trauma before he and I became a family and that trauma was magnified by the death of his mother, loss of country, culture, language, friends, extended family, and everything familiar. Such a high price to pay for safety. The only real difference between my parenting and that of my elders is that I’ve gotten counseling for my child because I knew to do so when my elders did not. But still I don’t know that it’s enough. Can there ever be enough?


    • TAO

      March 18, 2019 at 2:16 pm

      That’s a question I don’t think has a satisfactory answer – either short term or long term. So many variables like personality that factor in that at the end of the day it truly is: we did the best we could with what we had. I can say it is possible to step back and see the gaps and acknowledge the loss, all the while holding no animosity towards anyone, it is what it is and we continue on. I am thankful though and think it will be even more helpful to the current and future generations of adoptees to have social media so you can have comradery with other adoptees who get something on a deeper level and how validating that is. What I’m trying to say is that just that can offer the opportunity of less challenges than us old guys faced alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Stephanie

    March 18, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Open adoption may continue to leave big gaping holes where familial knowing should be in all but those with strong, close and aware first and adoptive parents. Too often any sign of grief or mourning upon leaving first families that is intense or lasting is seen as a reason to pull back. I honestly don’t have any answers to this. Is open adoption better? Easier? Kinder? Even though it sounds hard as well. I think yes, but I truly don’t know and I can’t even fully comprehend it myself.

    I was telling someone recently that I am so lucky as a baby scoop era adoptee that I was able in the last two weeks to meet my first father, hug him, talk on the phone as he nears his last days before he dies. He is in end stage and may have days or weeks.

    Then I think “what is this cruelty?” where we consider ourselves “lucky” to reach our parents for the first time just in time, when it’s too late to know them but soon enough to touch their hand before they die. For us, “lucky” is anything but a grave.

    As I read the words of other adoptees in groups and blogs, I’m starting to realize that for a lot of closed era adoptees, it is not until our 40’s and 50’s when we finally comprehend the magnitude of it all, which is when a lot of us grieve in earnest. The loss of familial knowing then has compounded, adding decades and generations of relatives we don’t know and deaths.

    Maybe true open adoption in which families are nearby and can flow in an out naturally will mitigate this for the next generation, but I agree that open adoption as it is too often practiced my not be enough to prevent the loss of deep knowing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TAO

      March 18, 2019 at 4:03 pm

      Oh Stephanie – big hugs and know this space is here for you. Thank you for such a deeply thoughtful response.


    • beth62

      March 22, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Stephanie, I don’t know what kind of cruelty it is, but it certainly is. I don’t think many people can look at it, see it, think about it. Even when it comes to the point where you are now, when the cruelty is plain as day, right there to observe, it can be hard to grasp. So many still grasp at bandaids.

      Congratulations/Sorry for your loss
      What a cruel sounding response to give 😦 Don’t even know how to punctuate it.

      Best wishes to you, I hope you find much knowledge about your family, and yourself during all of this. I hope there are many in your families who can help you with that.

      It truly is cruel to think someone would not deeply grieve this kind of loss, these losses. As-if that grief will pass in a few days. As-if the grief of lost knowledge won’t be lifelong in itself.

      I hope you can contain the anger better than I do, I’ve been in a livid state lately.
      I Hate Cancer.
      I Hate Closed Adoption.
      I want to kill both, and I will attempt it at every opportunity.

      :/ Not really what I intended to type to you, I’m sure you’ve gotten some interesting responses. It can’t be easy. Hang in there, be good to yourself, take time for whatever you need, keep looking for the pieces and peace. Thinking of (((you))) I have a strong feeling everyone reading here is, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nara

    March 21, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    I think at the age I am now, I’m finally realising what I lost. But how I react to it is also maybe a function of my personality, which may have been shaped by adoption – not to expect more than I could reasonably hope for. I try not to dwell on the loss because it would floor me. Instead I try and make the best of what I have, which isn’t bad at all. I don’t think I dare hope for reunion and I still haven’t taken active steps towards it because it just seems so gargantuan – and likely to lead to intense feelings of loss… Better to understand and accept it without feeling it too much. For me anyway. I know at the time I decide (if/when) to pursue it, it will eat me up until I know one way or the other. And I don’t think I’m willing to risk my sanity right now.


    • TAO

      March 21, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      It’s definitely a process over years, that’s for sure. Maybe having a little one added awareness too. If/when you are ready, you’ll do whatever you need to do.

      I passively searched via registries after they sprung up on the internet, but I also had no other way that I knew of, until I got sick.

      At the end of the day, we all get where we need to get too. Glad you stopped by.


  9. Tiffany

    March 21, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    This hurts my heart so much as I think of my daughter. We are in an open adoption, but in a unique twist that is so cruel, our daughter’s parents do not want the openness she herself craves and we try so hard to encourage to grow.

    She would love to see and talk to them more frequently, but they do not, apparently. I couldn’t tell you their reasons as I don’t ask or pry. It is my role to protect and nurture the relationship as much as possible until such a time as our daughter is old enough to take full control, so I tread ever so carefully.

    We try so hard to get together with them, and our daughter loves seeing them and spending time with them. We encourage them taking her places and doing stuff with her- we would be ok with them having her for vacations and visits and summers. Anything! But we just get lots of excuses about being busy. We haven’t seen them since last summer when we made a special trip to where they had moved specifically to see them. They moved back several months ago to our area, and we still never see them. I didn’t even know they did until it came up in a phone call I arranged for our daughter. I ask them often when she can see them and tell them how much she misses them.

    She wants so much to be in their lives…. I am scared for her heart in the coming years as the awareness dawns on her how they could have a very close relationship if her parents wanted it. It’s almost like a second rejection.

    I cannot imagine their pain, and I won’t pretend I can or that I could possibly understand how it feels to be in their position. I do know though that there is a little girl who never asked for any of this and is experiencing pain and heartache from choices over which she had no control.

    I wish so deeply open adoption was some salve to the wound, but it’s not. Adoption hurts no matter what it’s flavor.


    • TAO

      March 21, 2019 at 10:55 pm

      Big Hugs Tiffany – what you’re experiencing seems to be the norm instead of the anomaly. You’re right, it hurts, whatever type. At least she has you to walk along side, that will help. Hopefully someone will have advice as I wouldn’t know what to offer except to be a willing shoulder.


      • Tiffany Button

        March 22, 2019 at 4:54 pm

        Thank you for your kind words. I’m at a loss, too… everything I had prepared myself for was that adoptive parents are the ones who mainly close off the open adoption. We were absolutely determined that we would work through any and all problems to keep that relationship because we believe it belongs to our daughter and is not ours to determine. I pictured something so very different from our reality based on thinking all that needed to happen was for me to put in 110% effort on my side. It was a shock to get to this point where no matter what we try to do, there is not the effort on the natural parents’ side.

        There are some complications which I can’t share that I am sure factor into their lack on interest in being more involved. But… those complications are the ones that I fear will cause my daughter to reject them once she is old enough to really understand the situation.

        It’s such a mess of hurt all around.

        Liked by 1 person


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