In clearing out the attic over the past several months, I’ve discovered a few items that hold opposite meanings for myself and my adoptive mother: Greeting cards. But not just any type of greeting card. There are Baby’s First Christmas, Baby’s First Birthday, Baby’s First Valentine. The one that struck me the most, however, was the 1956 Baby Shower Card that reveals the promise of “increasing” happiness with the addition of a baby girl but ignores reality of loss of that baby’s family of birth. Such is the reality of adoption.
Here’s the front of the card:
Here’s the inside showing the cut-a-way window. The last names of the “girls at the shop” have been deleted.
Here’s another view of the inside of the card with the secondary card opened:
Note the words:
“A darling little baby girl
To steal your hearts away —“
Evidently, as a child, I stole their hearts away.
Definitely, they knowingly stole me from my family.
I gained an adoptive family, but lost the family that I had.
It is inhumane what was done to me and my siblings in the name of adoption. They did it – my adoptive parents – knowingly, willfully and intentionally. They did it out of love. And with Jesus’ blessings. Good Catholics they were.
And for this I am to be grateful.
No question about it, for me, there is no way to get through this pain but radical acceptance of the reality. Do I need to mention that I have no forgiveness for the parents and extended family involved with the coverup of the truth at my expense? I am not required to give forgiveness as it was not earned, nor even asked for, except by my adoptive father immediately after he spoke with my natural father on the phone in 1974 just days after I was found.
For whose happiness did I enter their family? Theirs. I was manipulated and tricked into believing the life they fed me. I developed close attachments and love with aunts, uncles and cousins who later turned out to hate me (but other cousins and aunts and uncles were not that way). I loved my adoptive parents, but I was cheated out of life with the siblings I was never supposed to know. Meanwhile, my natural father lost his newborn daughter and his other children lost their baby sister.
Let this be a lesson to adoptive parents everywhere: be as honest as you possibly can with your adoptee. Honesty is the best policy. For when there are secrets and spiteful rage to keep the adoptee from ever knowing the truth, the adoptee suffers at the hands of the very people who are suppose to love that adoptee unconditionally. Withholding vital information and preventing a minor child contact with full or half siblings is a cruelty worthy to be called child abuse of both the adoptee and her siblings left behind.
Yes, today my elderly adoptive mother shares her joyous memories with me of the day she and my father “got” me. She talks of the baby shower that welcomed me into the family. I acknowledge her joys. This is her journey through life. I try to make her as comfortable as possible by listening to her.
I also acknowledge my profound sadness at what I lost: my entire family of birth. My father, my siblings, my aunts, uncles and cousins, and I lost my natural mother due to her early death, a death that lead to my father’s mistaken belief that the only course of action was to give me up to a completely closed adoption. We lived less than six miles apart, but this magical social construct of adoption robbed me of my family, robbed my siblings of their baby sister, and robbed my father of his daughter. The only ones who got away with any happiness and security were my adoptive parents. They got the baby they could not produce on their own. Eighteen years of infertility and voila – a baby is suddenly available by the death of her mother. Take the baby and run. Have a baby shower and pamper that baby girl with all their love. And for what? For 18 years of lies to the adoptee and 36 years of hell to pay after I was found by the very siblings my adoptive mother so adamantly declared I should never know.
The past 36 years have been filed with accusations that I have been disloyal and ungrateful. Why? For accepting the truth of my birth and adoption? Why is it always the adoptee who is expected to accept other people’s viewpoints and opinions? Is it worth it to be permanently separated by arbitrary laws and social constructs to create a falsehood within which the adoptee is expected to live? No, it is not.
I have been told with flippant comments from non-adoptees that “that’s the way it was done back then”.
So? That doesn’t make it right. I am the one to suffer the consequences of other people’s actions. My life as an adoptee was not worth the cocoon-sheltered childhood and the emotional and psychological abusive adult life I have had to endure because of adoption.
Now I must slowly say goodbye to a misguided elderly adoptive mother, make her journey to life’s passing as gentle as possible, and struggle to comprehend the devastation left behind.
~ ~ ~ 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.