Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Playing Hooky, Managing the Abyss

I haven't posted recently, and in trying to figure out why, I realized it was because I was just having too much danged fun to sit in front of my computer very much these last two weeks; I finished my teaching semester in mid-May, and I've been playing hooky from being an adult ever since; for fun I have gardened like crazy, mountain biked in the leafy spring woods, celebrated my birthday by surfing, buried my 5-year-old up to his neck in sand (his idea, not mine), decorated sand castles with clam shells and crab legs, went on a few dates with my husband, saw the Cezanne and Beyond exhibit at the Phila. Art Museum (gorgeous), sometimes spent three hours a day at the gym (!), went thrift shopping, and hosted my parents for a nice little visit. Generally, I have been packing all the fun that I should have been having during the past five months into the last two weeks. That's what summer is like for us teachers.

So, on to my latest thoughts about adoption.
Let's talk about Abyss Management, shall we? What is Abyss Management? It's the term that Dr. Joyce Pavao, adult adoptee, author of the excellent book The Family of Adoption, and founder of the Center for Family Connections, uses to describe the task adoptees are faced with post-reunion, which is to recognize and deal with the missing spaces in both places in one's life--the feelings of longing and loss we feel about both our adopted family and our birth family; for while reunion may engender feelings of wholeness, completion and healing in the adoptee (it certainly did for me), reunion also throws into stark relief the holes that remain--holes that really cannot be patched because they have existed for so long. One way I try to deal with these abysses is to think of myself--an adopted person--as being from two "countries," wherein one country is my birth family, and the other is my adopted family. Working to integrate these two countries is a lifelong process. I have been told it gets easier the longer you work on it.
Here's hoping.

Your thoughts? I'd love to hear them!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adoption in the News

What do you make of the news stories about adoption reunions that appeared on NPR around Mothers Day?

In one, which aired on May 8, two days before Mother's Day, the adopted daughter calls her birth mom a "Mentor" as well as a mother. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And In this NPR story, which aired on Mother's Day, an adopted son and his birth mother describe their reunion after 20 years of separation.

And finally, consider all the buzz about "Raising Katie: What adopting a white girl taught one black family about race in the Obama era." See My American Melting Pot for commentary.

I think something's afoot with regard to adoption in the media; are we approaching the critical mass of attention required to become a mainstream, highly publicized topic of discussion? What do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Word About Mother's Day

(Pictured left to right: My mom; me, 8 months pregnant with my son, and my grandmother)

Finally becoming a mother myself at age 36 helped me to better understand how much my mom has loved and cared for me ever since she received me from the adoption agency when I was three weeks old. I never understood, until I had my own child, the bonding that goes on between a mother and her baby during all those hours of holding, wiping spit-up, changing diapers, rocking, strolling, and nursing or bottle feeding. Doing all those things with my infant son birthed a new relationship between my mom and me.

So, Mom, Happy Mother's Day. I love you.

Then there's the birthmother issue. 2001 was the first year I had the opportunity to wish both my mothers (my mom and my birthmom) a Happy Mother's day. I had found my birthmother, Carol, and had exchanged emails, phone calls, letters and photographs with her, but I had not yet met her. I was elated that my birthmom was finally in my life: I could actually wish her a Happy Mother's Day, and it made me feel more whole to have access to her and the part of my personal history that accompanies her.

We have since met each other, visited on numerous occasions, and we have become a part of one another's lives. But to live in reunion is to navigate uncharted territory; we don't know who we are to each other. She is my mother, but she was unable to mother me; I am her daughter, but I am a stranger to her. When I reunited with Carol, I felt as if I had finally arrived at a place I had long yearned to be, but when I got there, I didn't know where I was. I'm curious to know whether other adoptees in reunion feel this way.

So now, when I go to the stationery store to select Mother's Day cards for my mom and my birthmom, I get a little stymied trying to find an appropriate one to send Carol. Mostly the cards wax poetic (albeit Hallmarkily) about all the things the mother has done for the child--all the boo-boos kissed, dinners cooked, long talks enjoyed in the middle of the night while snuggled up tight in bed. None of them, of course, says "Thanks for relinquishing me, I know it was an excruciating decision; Happy Mother's Day." I mean, really.

I usually end up making a card, or buying a card with no salutation inside and writing in my own sentiments. But my own sentiments are conflicted, so even doing that is difficult. I want to acknowledge Carol, to let her know she's important to me. I want to forgive her for giving me away, I want to absolve her of all the guilt she feels. I want to wipe it all away. I want her to be the person she would have grown up to be, had she not become an unwed teenaged mother in a society that condemned her. I wish all these things for her. And I also wish that my feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and confusion related to being adopted could be wiped clean. Finding Carol and building a relationship with her has helped to repair some of these wounds, but it has also opened up others. Becoming a mother myself has also helped bridge some gaps. But it's an ongoing process, a lifelong one, I suspect.

With that in mind, I wish a Happy Mother's Day to Sharon and Carol, and to all the brave adoptive- and birth-mothers in this confusing, wonderful world. Love to you all.