This blog entry is a response to reading Cedar’s blog post: Adoption Practice: “What is coercion?”
Many years ago I was the only adoptee rooming with a half dozen mothers-of-adoption-loss in a hotel room. They were surprised at my support for them, saying that adoptees were hostile to them because of being given away, but I wasn’t hostile to them.
Maybe it was because I before I entered into adoption awareness in 1974 I was introduced to feminist thought in 1971. I was 15 at the time. Womanhood came first and with that came the understanding of what it means to be able to carry life within and the struggle to gain independence from men. So, I understood womanhood long before I was thrown into shock at being found by siblings I was never supposed to know.
So, when I hear of women’s voices telling of what actually took place for them, I believe them.
It is a great burden to have reunion thrust upon an 18 year old who was raised in a sheltered life. My upbringing lead me into believing that sex before marriage was a sin, and was bad, that pregnant teens were, well, you know. That was what I was forced-fed in home and at school and at church. The cognitive dissonance really hit me in 1971 when Canada Jane came into my life. She was a beautiful traveler who had a perspective that was so unlike what I had been taught. Her freedom of self lifted me out of the holds of suppression. And she did it through poetry and photography.
So I am female first and adoptee second. And, the experience of being a real bastard is not mine so when I hear (rather heard in the past) adoptees speak of rage at being abandoned or given away, I did not experience abandonment in the same way. I knew my mother was not a teenage mother. She was not a “tramp”. She was not a seductress nor was she seduced. She was a wife and mother of four other children at the time of my conception, gestation and birth. My mother was nothing less than my mother in the full sense of the word. My father was nothing less than my father in the full sense of the word.
I knew these points instinctively at the moment I was found and heard my sister’s voice on the other end of the phone. When I met my father for the first time and developed a relationship with him, he was my father, he was not some sperm donor or a cad or a womanizer or a creep. He was my father.
My father was talked into giving me up for adoption. His experience in relinquishment is different from that of a mother. Mothers and pregnancy and giving birth are a different experience. But from his perspective as the husband of a pregnant wife, and the father of four children expecting the fifth in the mid 1950s, well, he was the breadwinner, the paycheck, the head of the household. It was his responsibility to take care of us all, to pay for us to provide for us. We were all dependent upon him.
When my father was faced with a pregnant wife who was violently ill, he was frightened. He did not think that the baby has to go, he thought that this was his family and he had to figure out how to fix it all. Illness made his wife go into pre-term labor. She delivered her infant two months too soon on the hospital bed before the nurses could get there. A few weeks before that, she was X-rayed to determine why she was so sick. A massive tumor filled her abdomen along side of the “fetus” who was guessed to be five months at that time. The tumor was real but the age of the “fetus” was wrong. When I was born the doctor determined I was 32 weeks of gestational age; a real feat of birth and survival in those primitive days of 1956.
I survived my mother’s cancer. I survived a premature birth. I survived six weeks in an incubator. My mother died. My father was stressed. Instead of help all he got was talk. The baby needs two parents. The baby? The baby was part of the whole family. The five children needed two parents, but the reality was that the mother died and the whole family needed help to cope with that loss. But no help was given. Just convince the father that the baby, alone, needed two parents. Make him believe he was not worthy to be the real father of his own daughter… make him believe that the only solution was to give her up permanently to another couple so she could lead a better life without him or her siblings.
I say that my widowed father was coerced into giving up his youngest child to adoption. And for that, he was crucified and his given-up daughter was both smothered in love by her adoptive parents and isolated by them. Stockholm syndrome is the better name for what I feel for my adoptive parents for I have those 18 years of a bliss or happiness of childhood gooiness. Yeah right. How do I justify the sad feelings I have for the father who died in 1982 when I see his picture playing with me as a one year old on the floor with the reality that he knowingly and willfully kept me apart from my own siblings for his sake of raising a child of his own? How do I justify the sad feelings I have to recall those happy times when Mom sewed those matching mother-daughter-doll dresses when she wanted me to grow up as she dreamed I would to fulfill her visions of the daughter she called her own? Did I have any rights or feelings? How did these two people justify within themselves what they were doing to me and to my siblings and to my father? How did they justify taking a child away from her family so they could call me their own?
Coercion is just that. There is no rational explanation.
~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.