I made a promise to myself, that as a fellow birthmother, and her daughter, I would do anything to help my mother begin the healing process after reuniting with her lost daughter. After all, regardless of the fact that my sons adoption was open, I too, knew the devastation of losing your child to adoption. I knew how it felt to have that festering wound in your heart that never heals. In those days, I was still in my adoption fog. On the outside I told people that I was at peace with my decision, and that open adoption was the greatest gift ever. This reunion between my mother and my sister I saw as a sign that I made the right decision for my son, because he would never have to wonder who I am. I would always be there for him, I would never walk away. This cemented my desire even more so to be the “perfect birthmom” in this open adoption.
I had read alot about adoption reunion, and felt confident that if my mother had any questions, I could answer her, or I knew where to find the answer. I saw this reunion as a way to bond with my mother in the spirit of healing. I would call to check up on her, but if I brought adoption up, I was hushed and she suddenly had to go. She was skittish, I get that, but even after years of her yelling at me, being physically, emotionally and mentally abusive to me, I still, in my heart of hearts, wanted to help my mother heal. I, more than ANYONE in our family knew intimately what she was going through. As a birthmother myself, we had common ground with which was a starting place for growing together in our healing. As a daughter, deep down, I was selfish. I thought that if I could help her heal that “ground zero” moment in her life, that maybe she could finally bond with me. Maybe, by having all three of her children in her life again, that my mother would feel that wholeness, that I dared hope would include me.
I was so very wrong…
It didn’t take long before my mother would call me and ask if I had spoken to my half sister. (That was the first wedge. She would always remind me that Liz was my half sister. Never, just my sister.) I always had to be careful. If I had, and I answered “no” to avoid the third degree, she would say that she had talked to Liz the other day, and she said we had. Then I would get the third degree for lying because that meant I must be hiding something from her. If I said yes, she would immediately spring on me and ask me what we talked about, for how long etc. It was crazy making.
I was very weary of my mother. As I’ve spoken of in previous posts (Being the first “kept” child of a birthmom):
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.
My mother, like alot of narcissistic mothers, triangulated the relationships around her. From a very early age, my mother pitted my younger sister and I against each other. I have never known what it means to be close to my younger sister, because my mother took any sort of step towards sisterhood as a betrayal to a relationship with her.
I had dreamed of having a relationship with my older sister at that point for more than half my life and I became scared that my mother would find a way to derail it. I didn’t know about narcissistic moms back then. I didn’t know that my experience with my mother had a name. I didn’t know either, that my relationship with her in that sense was textbook. This article explains so well, what I can’t find the words to say, and I quote:
In functional families, sibling rivalry naturally occurs and, with adequate parenting, ideally turns into respect for each other as children mature. Siblings are encouraged to be close and love each other.
This isn’t the case in a family with a narcissist as the matriarch. Children are pitted against each other and taught from very early on that if they wanted any sort of “love” or attention from their mother, they’ll have to compete for it against each other.
If you grew up in a narcissistic family system, you may now see there’s a constant comparison between siblings—who’s doing better and who’s ranking higher in the narcissistic mother’s eyes. Because of this, you may not feel connected to your siblings, and distrustful of them because you can’t be sure what you say won’t be held against you.
I had to be very careful what I told my mother. I was very vague with her about anything concerning Liz. I knew that my mother was going to do her best to ferret out details so she could use them against me later, either by twisting what I said, or by embellishing something I said. I knew this behavior well, I grew up with it as the scapegoat child. My mother was most dangerous to me when I had something in my life I valued, something that mattered. My sister Liz was the top of that list. She was #1 and my mother knew it. She knew how I yearned for my sister since the day I found out about her, She knew how I begged to be reunited with her. She knew how important having my older sister in my life was. My mother was like a poisonous snake coiled and ready to attack. I was terrified.
My younger sister knew how my mothers games worked, she grew up with me. Of course, my younger sister didn’t really see the sinister depth of them, because she was the golden child. She couldn’t do any wrong. In fact, my mother, by adulthood had pretty much convinced my sister I was just a spiteful, angry trouble maker. She encouraged her not to talk to me. She was also never to stand up for me in any context, or she would get the brunt of my mothers wrath.
The roles often switch and reverse. For example, the narcissistic mother can start out as the villain and the scapegoat as her victim. If you try to become your sibling’s rescuer when your brother or sister is in the villain role, you, instead, become the villain in your mother’s eyes for betraying her. And, she in turn, is now the victim of you and tempts your sibling to become the rescuer to gain mother’s positive attention.
My younger sister was less resilient than me. She had grown up with all my mothers “love” and “affection”, so when my mother turned on her for standing up for me, she took it really hard. I had a thick skin, so to protect my younger sister, I kept her at arms length so she wouldn’t “get into trouble.” I allowed myself to absorb the abuse, so that my younger sister wouldn’t become her target.
Liz didn’t grow up with our mother. She didn’t know that by giving our mother information, even just that we had spoken on the phone, was dangerous. She didn’t know she was feeding our mothers sickness. That our mother would log that information away, and then at a later date twist it and warp it into something of her own making. Our mother was the queen of control freaks. Privacy between siblings was a betrayal to her. She wanted to know every word spoken between Liz and I and she wanted to know when we talked, how long we talked, and how often we were talking. This blog post explains it well:
To gain control over the information flow in the family, the parent creates indirect communication between the siblings, putting themselves in the role of “go-between.” In doing that, he or she controls the content of the information, the way the information flows, and the way it gets interpreted. And there are more benefits; with everyone relating directly to him or her, the parent is always in the information loop and always remains the center of attention.
Since the NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disordered) parent cannot prevent all communication between the siblings, he or she tries to create conflict and mistrust between them. The parent will fabricate information, tell lies, and confide in them then tell them to keep secrets from each other. The parent may badmouth one sibling to another. The parent may share information with one sibling, hoping that it will get back to another one and create drama. NPD parents take great pleasure in the upheaval they can create among family members
I wanted more than anything to keep my arms length relationship with my mother and younger sister separate from my relationship with Liz. This was a relationship I craved and wanted so very much. One I had lovingly, and patiently waited years for. Even though I didn’t know Liz really well, it was early days, I wanted to savor every moment without worrying what our mother was doing, or possibly orchestrating. I wanted a private relationship with my sister.
The NPD parent maneuvers in ways that they can never be called on, whether it be the way they carefully phrase their words or the fact that they are careful to make sure no one else witnesses their behavior. They forever remain the innocent. Should anyone try to call the parent on his or her behavior, he or she will erupt into narcissistic rage. Since this rage terrifies the children, over time they learn to do everything and anything within their means to avoid it.
I wanted to avoid my mothers rage at all costs. I knew if I told Liz not to say anything to our mother, she would question that, possibly even ask our mother about that. Or worse, ask our younger sister, who in turn would tell our mother. My mother always played the game well. She somehow would always end up in the middle. She would pit my younger sister and I against each other, and then in the same breath lament about how we were sisters and that we should have a close and loving relationship. Now, with the addition of a new sister, one who hadn’t grown up in that dynamic…the game had become unstable, and our mother wanted control.
My relationship with Liz meant everything to me but I was worried all the time what she was sharing with our mother, or my younger sister. I couldn’t tell her not to, because she would learn how dysfunctional our family was, and I was deeply ashamed of that. I feared that if she knew she would walk away from our family, and naturally, I would be blamed. I wanted Liz to like me, to love me even. I wanted Liz to want to be my big sister, the sister I had dreamed of having for more than half my life.
Over the years, my mother has physically abused me, she has psychologically abused me and has continually played innocent. She has told me over and over, no one would ever believe me if I told them what she had done. I was made to look like the trouble maker and the crazy one, because my younger sister would sing her praises. She would say we had never been abused, that I was making it all up. From her perspective…she was telling the truth, because she very rarely had ever been abused. It’s hard to find the words to describe what it was like growing up, so I am relying on quotes from this article to say it so much better than I can right now.
There is a theme that runs through responses that I receive from children of a narcissistic parent(s). The child is subjected to unbearable levels of ongoing abuse–scalding criticisms, withering humiliations in front of other family members and alone, routine secret physical beatings and other horrendous acts of brutality including psychological and literal abandonment. When the child lets family members know what is happening to him, this person is not believed. When the victim of a narcissist tells the truth about his dreadful pathological parent, he is not treated with kindness or understanding. The family is shocked; the victim is treated with disdain and often told he/she is the sick one or that this is all lies to get attention. The narcissistic mother or father gets a complete pass. A masterful coverup takes place and remains ongoing. The child victims become family pariahs. Often the suggestion is whispered that they belong in a psychiatric institution or are in need of intensive psychotherapy.
It sums me up in a nutshell. Really, every word. Yet, I don’t see myself as a victim. I am a survivor. The reason I am finally able to write this entire blog is because in September of last year, my mother and younger sister attacked me publicly on Facebook for speaking out about how the many generations of adoption in my family has affected me. ME…NOT THEM. MY WORDS, MY FEELINGS. They hijacked that thread, and came out swinging calling me all sorts of names and told everyone not to believe me. What they were not counting on is having HUNDREDS of adoptees and birthmothers rush in to defend me. I sat there at my computer watching the post take on a life all it’s own right in front of my eyes. Over and over again, more words of support and encouragement from people who “got it”. I was deeply shocked. I realized that all those years of absorbing that abuse and downplaying it, had only hurt me. I also realized that although I had kept contact with my mother to a minimum, keeping my younger sister (who is her puppet) in my life was allowing my mother to continue to “have a way in”. On September 24 2014, I severed my relationship with both my mother and my younger sister.
It took me a few months to decompress after that experience. I was shaken to the core, and yet at the same time, I was free. In November of 2014 I was able to write my first blog post. My mother and my younger sister do not know about this blog. I am now free to be able to tell my older sister the truth of what really happened, and why.
My dear older sister, our reunion was sabotaged. Our mother wanted to control every aspect of any communication I had with you. If she had heard that I had called you and talked to you, I would immediately get a phone call from her telling me that you had told her that I was calling too often and that you were overwhelmed and wanted me to back off. I wanted to ask you if that was true, but our mother also said that you had told her in confidence, because you didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I realize now, this was our mothers way of controlling our communication.
I downplayed our communication to our mother so she wouldn’t think we were getting close. I feared that if she knew, she would drive a wedge between us, either by telling you awful lies about me which, not knowing our mothers ways you might believe, or by twisting something I had said for her own purposes later. I didn’t want our mother to “taint” me in your eyes. I wanted you to be able to get to know me without her interference. Now that I am free of both our mother, and younger sister, I feel safe in telling you that. I was made to feel like I was wrong and selfish for wanting you in my life. I was told by our mother that this reunion was meant for you and her only, and that we would never be sisters. That you had a family, and that you only ever wanted medical information. I was told by her that you didn’t want me around your children, my niece and nephew, because you didn’t want them to know who I “really” was, as in, I am their aunt.
Free from her influence now, I can see, most, if not all of that was lies, carefully constructed to keep me from knowing you. As an adult, I shouldn’t fear my mother, and yet, shes always made good on her threats. She loves to tell people I burn all my bridges….she leaves out the part where she struck the match when I was in the middle of the bridge. Most of my family doesn’t communicate with me. They have been told I am a drug addict, and mentally ill. Since I was young I have been the outcast. I feel shy and embarrassed being anywhere near her side of the family because of things shes threatened and/or said over the years. When you grow up that way, it is hard to break those chains. Standing up for myself has always made it worse, so I just absorbed it, and tried to stay out of the line of fire. For so many years I realize I’ve been walking on eggshells around you. My gut tightened into a ball of anxiety every time you asked me how our mother and sister were doing and I felt guilty that I couldn’t tell you the truth. We are not close. We never have been. I didn’t want our mother to pull out the matches, so I quietly went away. I became too busy to have time for you.
I am the chain breaker in our family. I am the one who has pulled the skeletons out of the closet and dared to ask the hard questions. I don’t believe anymore in family secrets. That has made me even more of a pariah. The final straw for me was when they wanted to silence me from talking about adoption.
Adoption has been a part of my family for 100 years. There are four generations affected by it. I was shut down for asking about you. I was shut down for wanting to know my family history. I was shut down for wanting to know my son, and I was shut down for missing him. I stayed quiet for 20 years. I didn’t make waves. The silence guaranteed that there was no support for me to honestly talk about my feelings as they came up, so I stuffed them. Keeping the secrets of my dysfunctional family meant I had to walk away from you, and for all these years, I couldn’t tell you why, because I was scared.
I have now, and I can tell you that I’ve missed you. I miss all the time that has been wasted since we met, because I was scared to reach out and risk our mothers wrath. I have broken those chains, and I can see myself clearly now.
Stepping out into the spotlight, and being loved, and supported by the adoption community as a whole has given me the courage to speak up. I don’t get that lump in my throat when I speak about adoption anymore. In fact, I am contacted by people everyday whose experiences mirror my own, and they want to connect. I help people find their families, and I support family preservation. I give people hope, compassion and understanding…three things I never had this 20 years of being a birthmother. In my speaking candidly about adoption, and opening a dialogue about multi generational adoption issues, I have found healing, both for myself, and the adoption community at large. My voice matters. I give people something to think about.
It has all come down to this moment. This moment after years of mostly silence I can now speak. I’ve given you alot to think about, and even more to digest. I don’t know what your relationship with our mother and sister is like. That doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is you finally knowing the truth.
I love you Liz. I always have, and I always will. You were a secret I never wanted to keep. I was raised to believe that the only way to really love something was to let it go. As a result, I have unconsciously believed that I have to lose everyone I love to prove that. I’m working on that one right now, and I’ve challenged that belief by writing this.
If you something, let it go,
if it comes back, it is yours.
if it doesn’t, it never was.
My door is always open, I miss you.