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.