“I wonder when I stopped saying mama? I was two years old when she left, so I must have uttered her name for a while. What did they say when I called for her?
I have a cigarette burn on my right hand; they say it’s from her. The recurring nightmares of a time I should have been too young to remember, turns out they’re true events. Funny what our minds can remember and forget.
‘Why did you push so hard to preserve a relationship between Dad and I, but work so hard to push her away? Dad wasn’t a healthy influence either you know. They both struggled, so why? Why did you speak so poorly of her and make excuses for him?’
‘I don’t know Raquel. I don’t have an answer for you.’
She doesn’t have to say it, I already know. Because my father was her son, but my mother was nothing to her. Had they adopted me from two strangers, I’m sure both biological parents would have been a taboo subject growing up. Instead I was exposed to unhealthy and unsafe moments with my father, and encouraged to tell him exactly how he made me feel, but discouraged from ever mentioning my mother. Until 13, I didn’t even know her name.
I’m not angry, just frustrated. I’m a grown woman and feel like I deserve honest and direct answers about the other half of my biology. I’ve never gone without feeling the need to walk on eggshells to start the conversation and then use critical thinking to separate facts from emotionally tainted memories.
Unlike most adoptees, I could easily find my birth mother if I wanted to. She lives in my hometown. I have half siblings who found me through social media, and all three of them grew up with her in and out of their lives. I could reach out and get her contact information. I could ask her to meet me at a coffee shop or sit on a park bench and hear her side of the story maybe. But I don’t want to… not yet anyways… and I may never want to. I’m the minority in that. From the conversations I’ve had with hundreds of adoptees, it’s a rare stance to take, and perhaps it’s more of a wall I’ve built out of necessity than my actual stance. I’ve been slowly unpacking that box and am not quite sure how I feel about it just yet.
So, more than a story to commiserate over or evoke empathy through, I want this to be a launching point for current and future adoptive parents to educate themselves on the need for open and honest communication with their children in regards to their beginnings.
Our curiosity is not a threat; your jealousy is.
Here are a few suggestions to help you lay a healthy foundation for your child and their story:
- Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. It only becomes so when the honest facts are mixed with big emotions. For example: ‘Your mother didn’t want you, but we did.’ This is an emotionally charged statement. ‘Your mother and father struggled with addiction which rendered them incapable of giving you a safe or stable home, so we became your safe space.’ This is both honest and critical for a child forming healthy thoughts around their worth. Do you see how the first statement can solidify a feeling of abandonment whereas the second places blame on substance abuse or circumstances? It may seem insignificant, but I assure you, it’s not.
- Bring them up in casual conversation, but don’t try to make it a focal point. Sometimes kids can sense the discomfort and/or feel sad, mad, or too nervous to bring up a birth parent. Example: ‘When you smile like that I can see glimpses of your birth mother. I think you have her beautiful eyes.’ Or, ‘I was thinking about your birth parents today. Would you like to send them a picture or a card?’
- Let them feel without trying to discourage or correct their emotions. There is a time and place for political correctness; this isn’t that time. If your child is crying they miss their ‘real mom,’ try not to take offense or correct their verbiage. Instead, hold them and let them feel. ‘I am so sorry you miss her buddy. I know that’s really hard for you. Would you like to talk about her? I can tell you my favorite memory we’ve made together and you can tell me yours. We could also make a countdown until the next time we get to see her! Would you like to do that?’
- Don’t stop offering. It’s not uncommon for a child to refuse to share how they feel about their adoption or their birth family. Maybe they don’t know how they feel, maybe they don’t know how to vocalize how they feel. Either way, give them space to process, just never close the doors. Perhaps you’ve asked if they would like to send a drawing to their birth mother a dozen times and a dozen times been told no… that 13th time may be the moment they’re waiting for. The moment they’re finally ready. Many kids won’t ask if you don’t offer.
- Check your heart. It doesn’t matter that I’m an adoptee and a birth mother, when I became an adoptive mother I still had to check my own heart. I still had to remind myself our child could love me AND her birth mom. I still had to swallow my pride when she began processing her story and started saying hurtful things. I still had to remind myself it isn’t about us, it’s about her and her wellbeing.
By no means is this meant to be an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Adoption is complex y’all. Every story is different, every child is different, every family is different. There isn’t a step by step manual to help us walk this journey; it takes a lot of intentionality, a lot of continued education, a lot of sitting and listening, and accepting and holding and processing. You’ll need to extend grace and empathy, you’ll probably need to apologize more than once and cry it out at least a dozen times. You’ll scream and yell and hurt and heal and then you’ll wake up the next day and be prepared to do it all again if that’s what it takes.
Because love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You’ll do it for the sake of unconditional, unselfish, relentless love.”
Read Raquel’s backstory:
‘I was 14 and pregnant. ‘Can we meet?’ 9 years after she was born, my birth daughter’s family encouraged her to hug me. I didn’t want to let go.’: Woman shares perspective as an adopted child, birth mom, and adoptive mom
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