adoption, affects, birthmom, birthmother, closed adoption, grief, multi generational, open adoption
I am the first “kept” child of a birthmom in a closed adoption. Being the first kept child of a closed adoption birthmom has damaged me in ways I am just beginning to understand, as a birthmother myself.
My mother, as I have described, was just barely 16 when she was forced to give her child up for adoption in the late 1960’s. I was seven years, at that point, from even being created. She was expected to go home, pretend nothing had happened, never speak of it again, and go on with her life. She has never spoken much about her life prior to her marriage. I can’t imagine what she went through during that time. I have asked about the adoption portion and I got little snippets of that time, that were spoken with a flat voice and finished with, “I don’t remember, it was a long time ago”. What I know for sure, is my mother went through absolute hell keeping this secret.
When you are a birthmother in a closed adoption, the art of stuffing emotions becomes synonymous with survival, and keeping the secret. She did tell a few select people of her daughter, but until reunion, no one knew her “shameful” past. The strain of keeping this secret, lead to multiple issues that even today cloud her life. You see, when you stuff such an enormous amount of grief, it takes an equal amount of denial to keep it at bay. The coping mechanisms she used are commonly known by those who have suffered trauma. The need to distance yourself from the trauma, and to survive birthmotherhood at the same time can have a terrible consequence for those who come after such a trauma. In order to cope my mother turned to alcohol. Remember the brandy snifter I spoke of in my first post “The pieces of the puzzles”? Where that piece left off, this one begins.
My mother had been shunned by her family. They welcomed her back into the fold once “everything was taken care of” but she was always looked down on. She was “tainted”, and “emotional” and even though she always worked, she was looked down on because she didn’t make it past a grade ten education. She got pregnant, had the baby, and never went back. Meanwhile her other siblings, of which there were many, went on to rewarding careers, marriages, and lives.
My mother and father got married approximately 2 years before I was born. About 6 months into their marriage they started to try for children. My mother was still drinking, but not heavily, and the opinions of the day stated that drinking during pregnancy was okay as long as it was in moderation. My mother began to panic when she didn’t get pregnant right away. The trauma of a forced adoption in those days, has in some cases lead to secondary infertility in some birthmothers, and usually the diagnosis is “unknown”. As I have stated before, the effects of unresolved trauma and stuffing of emotions can lead to many health issues for a birthmother. My mother was terrified this might be the case for her. She became anxious and obsessed with getting pregnant, and each month that went by, she became more forlorn. When it did finally happen, and I was on my way, my mother was thrilled. She had spent so many years thinking of her first daughter, and what she might be like, that I think in part this was transferred to me.
When a birthmother goes through a pregnancy post adoption, many thoughts and feelings come up about the previous pregnancy. You compare the two, the thoughts and feelings you had in the previous one, to the one you are in now. Being that my mothers experience with her first was in an unwed mothers home, under a cloak of shame and secrecy, this new pregnancy was validating for her. She could speak to friends and family about her experiences without fear of any ill effects. The other piece not so much. She was consumed by fear she would lose me. Those fears raised her anxiety level during the whole pregnancy, raising her blood pressure and her need to push all those feelings down with alcohol.
In her 37th week of pregnancy she developed what was then called toxemia. It is now called preeclampsia. Her blood pressure was high, and she was retaining water. She was admitted to the hospital right away, and they kept her under observation. The doctors were very concerned for her health and the health of her unborn baby (me) that the doctor said to her “If you don’t go into labor by tomorrow, we’re scheduling you for a c section.” She was terrified she would lose me, and she was also terrified of having surgery. She was so scared in fact, she went into labor with me that night.
I don’t know anything about her labor with me except that it was hard and fast, but I can only imagine how scared she was. Apparently a team of doctors were rushed in to assist and the room was swarming. When I was born, she saw me briefly and I was whisked away into an incubator, because my lungs were under developed. After the various “after birth” things that happen, she was left alone.
As a mother myself, I know that even the best laid birth plans can go up in smoke if there are complications. I was a very low birth weight (just under 4 pounds) and I couldn’t breathe on my own. My mother was released from the hospital…and I wasn’t.
My mother went home, and according to my dad would sit by my little perfectly made cradle and cry and cry. Nothing could touch the pain she was in. To leave the hospital again, WITHOUT your baby snapped something in her. I didn’t find out till years later what happened and put the pieces together.
I finally came home three weeks after my birth (on my due date), but the damage had already been done. My mother had already “lost” me in her mind, and we would never be able to bond because of that.
I think it was during this time my mother began drinking more heavily. There was guilt there that she could never speak of. She didn’t feel close to me. She went through the motions and did all the things a mother did, but her heart was somewhere else. I was daddies little girl. My dad adored me, I was his little mini me. I think this also may have had an effect on my relationship with my mother because she, for so long, had fantasized about her first daughter, and I was nothing like those fantasies.
My little sister came along a couple of years after me, and their bond is strong to this day. I grew up in the shadow of this bond as an outsider. I was somewhat protected from this when my dad was around, but after their divorce I was very aware that there was favoritism in my house.
Growing up, I was always labeled the trouble maker. I never felt I could do anything right. If I got in trouble for something, and then my sister did the same exact thing later, it was brushed off because “I” was teaching her to do these “bad” things. As my mother drank more our lives became more turbulent. I tried to reach out to my dad, but he would just call my mother and she would convince him I was just trying to make a big thing out of nothing. I was the typical scapegoat child of the narcissistic mother. Growing up I was called many names, and I was abused physically, emotionally, and mentally. I was told that if I ever said anything no one would believe me. I got the brunt of it, my sister not so much. To this day, other that having our heads bashed together by my mother, she claims there was no abuse in our family.
When I was in my early teens, I left my mother’s house. She had slapped me across the face for some miniscule thing I had done, and I snapped. I backhanded her back across the face as hard as I could! “Don’t you EVER hit me again!” I screamed. Needless to say, she never did again.
I went to live with my dad after that whole incident. I told my mother that if she didn’t stop drinking, I was going to make sure she lost my sister too. She did stop drinking then. Losing me was nothing to her, but losing my sister? That couldn’t happen. Even though our relationship was difficult to say the least, I still tried to have a relationship with my mother. I would schedule a lunch or I’d drop by the house. She never once made the effort to come to me, I always had to go to her. Then, the outing that changed everything.
We were in the car driving somewhere to go shopping. We stop at a traffic light and I could feel her tense energy. Something was coming, and it wasn’t going to be good. “So I brought you up at a meeting last night” she said (by then she was in A.A). Trying to lighten the mood I said, “What did you say about your favorite daughter?” and she replies calmly ” I told them I have resented you since the day you were born.”
Time stopped. This was a defining moment in my life for so many reasons. The first was that she just admitted what I had been feeling all my life, but was denied knowing. The second, was when she explained herself. She explained to me, that she had resented me from the day that I was born because I had not come home from the hospital. I was born early, and I was born too small. She resented that the dr’s and the nurses were there to take care of me, not her. (she was there all the time though to feed me and visit). She resented not being able to bond with me (another thing she finally admitted after years of denying that too), and that it was because of that we didn’t have a good relationship.
Now that I am finally allowing myself to explore how adoption has affected my life, I have a crystal clear picture of just what she meant. For more reasons than I can list, I can’t stand my mother. She kept a roof over my head and food in my belly, but in many other areas she failed me time and time again, and still continues to do so.
It came to me one day when I was thinking about the differences between closed adoption birthmoms and open adoption birthmoms. My mother (and sister) had just finished publicly shaming me for speaking out about adoption, and I started to think about why it’s so hard for her to have me talking. It took me a bit to formulate the words but I get it now. Shame and denial run very deep for a closed adoption birthmom. Even though she is reunited, she must never “appear” in any way shape or form to be anything less than “grateful” for the “opportunity” to “give” her birth daughter more than she ever could. She also must also continue as she was taught so long ago to use the rhetoric the adoption “professionals” gave her to navigate any conversation around adoption. To this day, she will tell you about my older half sister “she is not my child, she was always meant for someone else, I am so “grateful” to her family for giving her such a great home.” That is the “distancing language” I told you about in my last post. She still can’t fathom the reality of the trauma she lived through when she was forced to give her baby up for adoption. She survived, but she is broken.
To lose your child to adoption is an unrelenting grief. Some think that it will be made better by having another child. Some call it the “replacement” child. I was not a “replacement” child. I was the ghost of another child. I was the fantasy that didn’t turn out like the my mother had hoped it would. I wasn’t born healthy and strong like she had hoped. I wasn’t born when I was supposed to be born. I didn’t look a thing like her. The most important piece though, is that I have been punished my whole entire life because I didn’t come home from the hospital. That is significant, because when I didn’t come home, my mother relived the horror of losing her first child. She revisited not being good enough to parent. She ached with guilt wondering if her drinking during pregnancy had caused all this, that she was the one to make her child sick, and then it went back to not being good enough to parent….and on and on and on. The reels and reels of adoption rhetoric playing over and over again in her brainwashed mind. She regressed while I was in the hospital, she regressed into that scared teenage girl who was forced to give her child up for adoption. She also, again, had a team of dr’s and nurses with their charts, and rules taking care of her daughter. Like a flashback to her first time, the drs and nurses again were telling her that “they knew best” and not her, my mother. She shut down. She didn’t stand a chance with what she had gone through, and the similarities of that situation again resurfacing with my birth.
It is because I am a birthmother that I have great compassion for my mother. I completely understand why she resents me. If I had been in her shoes, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have reacted in the same way. Adoption damaged my mother. I didn’t.
My mother and I are not in contact. I cannot have a relationship with her. I’m okay with that these days. I had hoped one day long ago, that with the shared pain of birthmotherhood we would finally bond. That she would see me as someone who could understand and that she would open up to me. Adoption could have brought us closer together, but it’s only moved us farther apart. I will always be on the outside looking in.
Reblogged this on adoptionhub.
You are such a great writer. Thanks for posting your story.
Thank you Frank, im deeply touched you think so.
Another incredible post. I’m sitting here trying not to cry. I’ll be thinking about this all day, that’s for sure.
thank you pam, i’m so touched, that I touched you.
Jen Snow said:
The amount of adoption/loss history in your family is incredible. I appreciate your beautiful writing voice and how you articulate your experiences and perspectives from so many different angles! I can learn so much from you. I like your term “distancing language”. My birthmother continues to speak it, 25 years + into our reunion. Thank you for introducing yourself to me. I really look forward to hearing more of your stories.
Hi Jen, Birthmothers from that era were heavily brainwashed, and many cannot even years later break away from the only words they were given. it is so heartbreakingly sad to see women so broken, so being fertile, for being young, and for being so trusting. I’m happy that my writing resonates with adoptees too.
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These posts should be required reading for any woman considering adoption.
Bless you for your courage to be fierce with the truth.
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Thank you so much Melynda. I feel so blessed to have finally found the courage to write. i have followed your blog and have wished i could write as well as you. thank you for taking the time to comment, it means alot to me. I agree, anyone considering adoption should read this.
I can relate to you SO SO much it’s incredible! You see I am a “kept daughter” also. I also was not aware that my mother had a daughter before me that she lost to adoption until Jan 2010. As the time has went by I sat about a year and a half ago while I was on vacation and suddenly my life finally made sense.
My parents got married and shortly after that I was conceived. I was born in 1969. Eighteen months later my brother was born. I was told my both my parents that I was the “perfect” baby that never cried, slept thru the night and my brother was colicky. As long as I can remember my mother and I never got along. I was always “daddy’s girl” and my brother was “a mommys boy”.
My parents divorced when I was about 5 years old and my life was shattered! I am very grateful for my Grandparents as they pretty much “raised me”. Growing up and up until I wrote on vacation I always thought that my mother didn’t like me because I resembled my father so much. I thought that I was a constant reminder to her of him. I know that may sound crazy but it’s the truth! I always knew that deep down my mom loved me but she definitely favored my brother. She lacked affection towards me and also I think there are very few pictures that I have of her holding me. As strange as this sounds I “accepted” that and even in counseling sessions prior to my knowledge of my sister and the adoption I came to terms with it.
You see my life was so chaotic when my father left. There were numerous “boyfriends” that my mom had that were physically abusive to her and I was the “tough” child that would jump in and end up getting hurt. My mom also suffered countless “nervous breakdowns” during my childhood so much time was spent with my Grandparents. I was also a Grandmas girl too!
My mom remarried a couple of times also and I was extremely rebellious and also when anything went wrong, I was to blame. One incident sticks out. My brother had skipped school one day and had a party. The house was a mess, they ate all the food, and I found my brother passed out drunk in the bathtub and there was puke everywhere from him and his friend. I cleaned everything up the best I could for him. I didn’t want to see him get in trouble, got him into his bed and went to a friends house. When I came home my mom went ballistic and accused me of skipping school and having a party! As much as I denied it she didn’t believe me and it took her calling the school to verify that I was in school that day. I never told on my brother, and I know that my mom still thought it was me even though she knew I was in school.
Finally I couldn’t take any more of the craziness and I went to live with my dad out of state. That lasted a month because I had a very evil stepmother. I came back to my state moved in with a friend and became emancipated.
Even with everything that I endured thru my childhood and so forth I still loved my mom very much and to this day I take care of her. She’s physically ill along with mentally ill.
When I found out about my sister my world was crushed! I couldn’t believe it and I felt so betrayed and angry. How could she keep a secret like that from me? My brother committed suicide on Dec 4, 2005. I had a sister out there somewhat and no one ever told me? Well come to find out very few people knew. Even my moms dr that she has had for 18 years had no idea. My anger towards my mom slowly subsided as I began to “understand” this is how adoption shaped my mothers life. She has suffered over 50+ “nervous breakdowns” throughout her life, has/had difficulty with relationships. So many things! My anger turned to empathy and sadness as I realize that my mother never spoke of the adoption until the day I found out in 2010. It destroyed her. As I am in reunion with my sister, she is not a part of the reunion. My sister is not ready to reunite with her at this time.
But in writing I realized and I call it my awakening moment because all the years I thought my mom didn’t like me because of my father I don’t believe to be true now. I think that my mom had difficulty bonding with me because of the adoption. My mom doesn’t have the ability to answer that question. I never shared that with my sister as we don’t have that close of a relationship. But I believe that my mom probably felt so much hurt and kept it inside and couldn’t bond with me because of guilt and so forth. I look at my mom and feel so sad for her. Keeping all of this in for over 48 years has destroyed her. And I lost having a mother and a sister! Thank you for sharing your story! It has been hard for me dealing with everything.
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Closed adoption birthmoms are really a different breed. They have been broken by a corrupt system that has chewed them up and spit them out, not caring where they land. There was no counseling back then. I have great compassion for what my mother went through, but, she is untouchable. Still so many years later she is brainwashed completely, but after talking to so many birthmoms from this era, I really get just how absolutely soul stealing the whole process was. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. You are very right, we have alot more in common than most.
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I just got the results of my AncestryDNA kit last week. There was a person with a “strong likelihood” of being a close relative or 1st cousin. I messaged the person. Several emails (and guesses) later and she confirmed that she is my older half sister, born to our bio mom at 16. Mom was forced to give her up because of stigma and age. She went on to have a pretty nice life, marrying my father who provided for her very well (he knew about #1). I was the first born “kept child”. I have no relationship with my mother. She was cold, distant, dismissive, critical, and emotionally abusive. I thought she hated me because I was a girl and she wanted a boy. I distanced myself from her (and my father – who was very protective of her) She was a big alcoholic most of my developmental years. She had my brother 14 most after me and then 3 more!! She treated my brother and I the same. The last 3 could do no wrong. I am the scapegoat for everything. If it goes wrong, it is my fault. My parents never divorced, but aside from that the things I have read here are so (sadly) familiar. I called her and told her I knew about #1. Nothing – silence on the other end. She asked me why I called to tell her I knew….as if I just called to hurt her. She is 74 and will never change. I am grateful to have found out about and be in contact with #1 because I finally have a weight off my shoulders thinking I somehow deserved her “not loving” me. Truth is – she does’t love herself – how could she love anyone else?
Cindy A. said:
Attention world! Why, why, why can’t this nation and the world for that matter see the dysfunction and horrendous damage that is done to families by coercing/forcing mothers and fathers to give up their children? It affects and disables for generations and as such, affects the functionality of the world. Wake up world! This is a great big part of why the world is in the mess it is in today. Don’t agree? Give it a little bit of serious thought. View it in light of the world stage. View in light of ‘shame and SECRECY(as in, I knew there was something seriously hurting ______(whomever) but they would never talk about it.), ‘tough it up’, ‘pick yourself up and go’, ‘that was in the past, get over it’ attitudes that have been prevalent for so long. How do you know that it ISN’T due to a parent/s being forced to give up a child/ren, or from being abandoned (the adoptees true feelings) ALL OVER THE WORLD? How much stinking dysfunction, trying to drown the pain in alcohol, etc., while damaging through the pain of loss, the next child or children, next generation…. for generations. WAKE UP WORLD! I can see the brokenness in my family resulting directly from “””adoption””” losses. That brokenness extends far beyond the immediate family. Just admit, that what you all (system) thought was a ”good” thing wasn’t so damn good after all—- and STOP IT. That simple. Yes. .
i don’t think any woman upon losing her baby to adoption is thinking about the consequences of generations later. that’s why it’s so important to talk about. when your in the midst of the actual act of adoption, its survival. its one foot in front of the other. it’s RIGHT NOW and getting through to the next moment. that’s all we can do at that moment. I hope to be that voice for the generations later of unanswered questions, due to the secrecy, shame, and that so so damaging SILENCE. I will be silent NO MORE!
Cindy A. said:
I’m sorry. My previous comment was for those involved in the adoption machine/system; family members, social workers, adoption attorneys, governments and lawmakers who continue to pass laws and take children using any means at their disposal and condone this practice, including adoptive parents. It was not directed at all to the mothers and fathers who have been misused and abused by the system. Many of those who run or benefit from the system know or understand the immediate and long term ramifications for mothers and children and since so relatively few mothers, children or fathers ever speak up, that it’s easy for those ”in charge” to say, ”oh, they are the ‘disgruntled few’, they’re angry, they’re bitter.. they don’t know what they’re saying”, or ”adoption isn’t like that any more.” My comment was more directed to the world-wide impact of this thing of separating true/real parents from their children -**to those not directly hurt by the loss in adoption**, meaning to adoptive parents, and to those that make rules and work to remove in one way or another, children from their families- they only ‘see’ an effect on a few people, they do not see the ripple effect where-by everyone is ultimately damaged or suffers loss by the results of adoption loss. They need to see how it’s possible that the whole world is, in many ways, affected by it. China for example.. forced to one child only policy.. how much harm has that done to that whole nation.. if not the world? I know the pain and the hurt and the loss that has to be there. How much has that effected their entire society? That’s why I say wake up world… it ripples to friends, extended family, employers, co-workers, in-laws and their family…..it ripples out a very long way.
You are so right about the ”so so damaging SILENCE”. We who went before and were shamed to silence did not help in any way those mothers or fathers and children who came after us.. and for that I carry more shame for not speaking up, for being convinced that what I had to say when I did attempt to speak, was not worth hearing. Forgive me all you who have come after 1981 down this painful path for my complicity, my sin by silence. I’m working to change.
You phaydramorgan are surely on a better, truthful, healing path… and you are a strengthening influence for those of us who still find ourselves often talking to the walls/journaling in shame and fear instead of speaking out to educate and ..liberate others from this path, this prison, if you will.
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