everyone’s gain/everyone’s loss
With November being National Adoption Month, the #flipthescript movement was trying to give voice to the side of adoption that isn’t just “yay! We got our baby!” which is good. We typically think of adoption as a happy thing for everyone in the beginning: the first parents can’t raise the child, and in domestic adoption they choose a family to take on that responsibility. They do not have the burdens or responsibility of then parenting the child in difficult or impossible circumstances. The adoptive parents want to raise a child, and they get one to raise. The child needs parents who can raise her. Win-win-win.
So while that’s overly simplistic, it’s also overly simplistic to frame adoption as a loss-loss-loss, which it seems so many grown adoptees are trying to do. The first family loses their child. The child loses their first family. The adoptive parents lose the chance to see their genes reflected in their children, or to feel that they are the “only” mom or dad of the child.
Even though the truth lies very much in between these two opposing views, it’s still ok to acknowledge and grieve for the losses. For too many decades we forced everyone to take the overly glass-half-full approach that led to sealed records and a loss of identity for the adoptee, a loss of connection for the first parent, and when the adoptee was grown, a loss of a good relationship with their child for many adoptive parents, because of the latent grief expressed by the adopted child.
So that being said, the open adoption movement will, I hope, incorporate both the joy, security, and solutions that adoption provided to all parties, as well as how to grieve the losses.
I have long wondered how to express my own loss. Everyone, including myself, expects the adoptive parent to be 100% grateful and to see the adopted child as “just the same as if they were my biological child”. The truth is, it’s not the same. It doesn’t mean worse, or better. But it is not the same. I do have a feeling of loss, not only for the baby who died , but in general for what it might have been like to breastfeed, see my physical and personality traits reflected in the child, and to really know that I am “the only mom”, both biologically and biographically. Most women who want to be mothers grow up expecting to do all of those things (minus the breastfeeding, possibly). Most women don’t think about having to share the title “mom”, having to have an open enough heart to accept and even encourage your own child to form a mother-child relationship with another woman.
Not only that, but no one even tries to prepare adoptive parents for what this all might be like. No one says, “you will sometimes wish your adopted child was your biological child. You will sometimes wish you had biological children, too. You will struggle with how to share your title with a total stranger, one who might have made choices that hurt your kid. You will wonder if you should try to have a biological child, or if that will be harmful psychologically to your adopted child. You will be jealous that another woman got to be pregnant with your beloved baby, knew her kicks, knew her birth story, so intimately. And all of these feelings are normal and ok.” I feel like this should be a pre-requisite talk for adoptive parents! Or at least on some kind of required reading list.
I never imagined sharing my title of “mother” with a stranger. With a female partner, sure. With someone I never met, someone who made questionable choices, someone who comes from a background/culture I’m not always comfortable around? Never! Not only that, but I got the feeling that I should not share my title. That I should make very clear to everyone that I’m “the” mother. That other person, she just gave birth. “Just” gave birth. But for me, it wasn’t possible. Cindy was “ever present” (as my aunt, another adoptive mom, told me she would be). I considered myself fully and completely M’s mother, but I also called (call) Cindy M’s mother. For me, that fits together. For others, the title cannot be shared.
It is the love in my heart, and the connection I felt, for M’s other mother that led me to pursue and delve into the topics of open adoption. It is the desire for M to be as whole as possible, despite being adopted. It is my selfish desire for her not to resent me, pull away from me, or feel she has to hide any of her feelings for her other family from me when she is grown. It is a feeling in my mother-instinct that tells me what is right.
So here we are.