This was a post in reply to the blog Adoption in the City.
My situation is not similar to domestic adoptees (I am an adoptee returned to his place of birth overseas) but I think that I might have some advice for getting through what is more and more an “impasse” that blocks any dialogue between mothers and their children.
So much of this discussion is wrapped up in the personal, and for obvious reasons. The pain of abandonment, relinquishment; the sense of rejection; the questions of “why”, etc. All of these emotions, when left to founder in the stasis of “not knowing” about one’s origins, at the very least can be “dealt with” in a controlled manner. I can box it all up and deal with it on my terms (or not at all).
The criticism you received of repeating the original offense is, to me, an acknowledgment of a change to this ability to “contain” the personal, emotional aspect of things. If I am constantly reminded of the original rejection, outside of my ability to control such a reminder, then I might as well be throwing salt into an open wound, or ripping out stitches.
There is a reason why many of us rarely examine our original papers, for example, or photographs, if we were old enough to be posed as part of a family. This is a normal self-defense mechanism in terms of emotional well-being. I call it my “iceberg”; I go near it, but not too near, and I also know how deep and unfathomable it is.
I think what is most troubling for me as an adoptee is not based in the personal and emotional, but in the economic and political. By this I mean to say that I do not bear ill will against my parents for whatever reason(s) they abandoned me. I am not angry at my adoptive parents. At the same time, I am angry at the fact that there was a societal and cultural differential between them that allowed the one to take the child of the other.
That either side might be comfortable with this, the economic and societal disparity between groups that allows one to not come to the aid of the other, but to take advantage of that class difference to their own benefit, makes me sick to my stomach. That a mother might not only be okay with this, but in fact aspire to it, reveals the adoption to be a double-abandonment: The child was given up to allow mother and adopters a leg-up on the class ladder. As an adoptee, I want nothing to do with this.
This was probably the main issue that did not allow conversation between my adoptive father and me on the subject. He never let go of his political views, even after I had come back, and started challenging them in no small way. An avowal from him of the politics and economics concerning adoption would most likely have made our relationship completely different. But any action here needed to come from him.
Along these lines, I have been in conversations with adoptive parents who have decided to move to a neighborhood far from their comfort zone, to be closer to the place the transracially adopted children temporarily in their care are from. This is a different situation, and it shows an effort at understanding the reason for the adoption, as well as attempting to right something that is admittedly wrong on all levels. It doesn’t fix anything, but I can respect someone risking their class status for the benefit of the children they are caring for.
And so if a mother chooses to maintain an aspired-to or actual class standing that is the same as the adopters of her child, then this to me is like a gobsmack full in the face; an exponentialization of the original criminal act. This is wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.
I hear many mothers speaking of the “fact” of having relinquished, and I have utmost sympathy for the situation they were in, the weight of societal/cultural/familial pressure on them. I am not the one to cast judgment on anyone for decisions they have made, especially when living with that decision is often punishment enough. I also realize the eggshell walk they perform in hoping not to upset adopters, to whom the legal, religious, medical, social, and mediated systems all cater.
But it seems to me that if I realize a mistake I’ve made, especially one so life-changing or gut-wrenching, I am not going to care what the consequences of my actions are. By actions I mean activation, or activism. Why should mothers accept the status quo of the legal system? This is a class issue and a feminist issue; it is often a racial issue. Why do we accept such classism, misogyny, and racism? What does that say about us? How do we expect children to react to that? Respect that?
In the parable of the judgment of Solomon, the mother was determined to be the woman who was willing to keep her child alive by giving him up. The parable ends here in the minds of adopters. But the end of the parable has the child coming back to her; returned to her, the arrogance of the adoptive claim rejected. Justice does not prevail in the act of adoption until the child returns.
If you want to show your child that you care, then you need to be angry with those who took him from you. You need to be angry at a system that allowed that to take place. Perhaps you need to be angry with yourself. (At this point, I’ll ask everyone to spare me the lectures concerning “free will” and all that. We might as well say I have the “free will” to swim in the direction a maelstrom is turning in.)
Everything about this blog, this medium (the online realm), the mediation of the situation, all speak to a very particular class in a very particular language that doesn’t want to rock any boats. It’s time we have a revolution of mothers demanding their children back. Mothers in Guatemala are suing to repatriate their children. Why not join them? If mothers are serious about wanting a relationship with their children, frankly, I don’t see a middle ground. Rise up! Fight!
I’ve belabored this way too much; but this has been on my mind a lot lately. Primarily because I don’t like the rift between adoptees and their mothers. I don’t like the fact that those for whom there should be common cause are separated by the sheer emotional weight of what has been wrought. It seems to me a focus on the systemic injustice of what has happened might be a way around it.
If you want to maintain contact with your child, in my view, you have to fight for it. Literally.