MARY LORRAINE DANROTH
Post Adoption ReunionRejection In AdoptionReunionReunion Contact
Hearing the Rejected Adoptee’s Pain
I hate this conversation.
In my opinion, I have it all too often. I hate it when one of my adoptee friends have come out of their adoption fog, gone through an adoption search, found their personal Holy Grail- their very own long lost mother- only to have her send that adoptee away, denied. Too many of my friends, too many adoptees that I know, suffer the same fate; their found birthmother wanted nothing to do with them.
They all ask why?
I hate these moments in conversation. They are usually reserved for a face to face conversations, often during the Adoptee Right Demonstration time. The talk gets deep, people open up as we can look each other in the eyes. We all see the same sort of pain reflected in the faces across the way. It is a safe place, but I hate that we are here. I hate to hear the sadness and pain in their voices. I hate it with every ounce of my being. Try as much as I do not to judge this behavior, try as hard as I can to understand these mothers: I hate it. I hate hearing it, I hate having it. I hate that it .
But secondary adoptee rejection is a very real reality in adoption reunions. As much as I want to believe that every mother feel like I do, feel like I do and rejoice upon reunion with their adopted child; I know that not to be the case. We all have a different skill set and for whatever reason, in that, I have been fortunate. There are many mothers who were simply told to “never speak of this again” and that has proven to be a real unhealthy bit of advice.
Why Some Birthmothers Slam the Reunion Door
I have heard many different scenarios that all end up the same way; the adoptee is rejected again.
I have chosen to use the words rejected and abandoned here because that is what my friends feel. The sad thing is that many of the adoptees that have searched to be rejected already have processed the information regarding their surrender and have a great capacity for understanding and forgiveness. No one is trying to find their birthmothers to throw stones or cast blame, yet on that emotional level we have to acknowledge that the adoptee can feel rejected by the act of adoption placement whether voluntary or forced. It doesn’t matter how they can now, as adult, intellectualize the circumstances of their relinquishment, the child inside still knows the pain and that child wants it’s mother. There is an innocence there in this need to reconnect. It is pure feeling.
So, it doesn’t matter what their individual stories are, really.
I have heard the range from the tired cliché to the truly bizarre. The stories of the poor birthmother that has pledged to take the secret of her child’s adoption to her grave. The mother that has “moved on”, she married maybe, had more children, and no one knows. Maybe she has completely refused to even admit that the person standing on her steps could have been her baby. Then there are the birthmothers who keeps their “secrets” in the closet under a clock of shame. Maybe she starts the reunion off with a positive feel, but later on just starts to unravel in some way. Some mothers seem to seriously lose it and unleash some confusing anger on the adoptee before the rejection. Some mothers just disappear quietly into the night. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about judging how any one mother has hurt any particular one adoptee, but understanding a mother rejects her grown child in an adoption reunion.
The Emotional Roller Coaster of a Reunion
I have said it before and I know I’ll say it again; I feel just awful for anyone trying to navigate an adoption reunion on the force of sheer emotions alone. It’s just too much. I think almost every single person who I have ever spoken to regarding their reunion experience has used the words “emotional roller coaster”. As wonderful and exhilarating as that roller coaster can be, it also has very deep dips and scary turns. For anyone unprepared for these side effects, it can be terrifying.
An adoption reunion has the ability even the most prepared individual to feel legitimately crazy. There is the great joy of finding those that have been searched for so long. There is the sense of relief that they still live. There are often great unexpected waves of love and thankfulness. There is the fears, healthy or unwarranted, that the other party will be weird, or want something from them that they can’t give or any of the adoption reunion horror stories that get dreamed up. There is the natural let down of emotions that come after the extreme high. There can be residual anger either regarding the surrender, the lies purported by the parties in charge, the outcome if less than as promised. There can be disappointment of how it has all played out. Now take all these feelings, intensify them, shake them up, blend them and subject the unprepared for the full range, often shot through them with such force, that it rocks a person’s daily existence.
And then there is fear. The hope that this other person will want what you want, will want you, will want to know you. There is a great fear of rejection.
Woe is the person who must battle this without any knowledge of its normality.
What Do I say to an Adoptee Who Has been Rejected?
First, as hard as it might be to wrap one’s head and most importantly one’s heart around it, your mother is not rejecting YOU. In many cases the mother does not ever give herself a chance to know you so she cannot reject what she does not know, but even in cases where she has built some kind of relationship before the door slams shut or she disappears, I still do not believe she is rejecting the actual living person. I repeat: It is NOT YOU.
I understand that this secondary rejection can feel even more personal because it’s not just an unformed baby that you were, but this real living formed person that you have become. It’s not just the idea of you, but the actual you that you are presenting in front of her that she says no to. Plus, we can imagine her dire straits at the time of surrender, but now, years later, she too is different and not in the position where she must be subservient to the forces that be.
I think that is where we give the rejecting mother too much credit.
No matter what she says, she has NOT forgotten you. She has not “moved on” even if it looks to be that way. Instead, I see her frozen in time, locked at the moment of the relinquishment. There were no methods of processing her grief and emotions, no support, no way out; just survival. Told only to forget, she follows the creed and makes do the best she can; she buries the pain of the reality.
But it’s still there. It’s deep inside, a hot molten mess of pain. Deep inside her is a mother screaming in horror over the loss of her child and that scares the crap out of her. THAT is what she rejects. She rejects the pain.
Feeling the Pain: You Lost Your Child
Think about it; Now in our “enlightened age” of “modern adoption” the adoption industryhas created an army of happy beemommys who produce children that they hand over in the delivery room and move on to sing the praises of the very machine that removed their motherhood. They follow the Birthmother Rules as given to them, as instructed, and build their new lives identified as “strong and selfless”. They are allowed to cry, but ask them to accept the true depth of the loss and they fight back defending the very institution that caused them such pain. They “support” the decisions of later mothers as a form of justification. The horror of their true loss is buried, but not as deep, they can touch it, but it is rationalized with layers of adoption reasoning. Think of this adoption pain as a precious treasure covered in bubble wrap. As long as the bubble wrap holds, the pain is contained, so don’t you dare begin to unpack.
I say this because I know it too well. Somewhere in this journey, thankfully, I was forced to unpack as others deftly helped pop the bubbles filled with adoption mythology and dead air.
I had already examined much of the layers of grief. I knew it by name, it’s patterns, it’s horror. I had held it in my hands and let it drip down into my soul. I knew when it was gathering strength, when it was getting ready to blow and explode upon my life in some form. It is always more horrible than I had recalled, because it does not decrease in power, but not unknown.
I learned how to wrap it back up again so it could not hurt me all the time, but I recalled where it was so I could pull off a corner of the wrapping to let my tears flow. I can do this now almost by design; I am sure that some of you have seen it personally. I can talk about adoption and I am removed from much of the emotion, but if need be, I can open up that place and “go there” and then, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing, the tears will fall, my hands will shake. I am exposed. I could be 19 again.
It is my belief that all relinquishing mothers have such a package whether they admit to it or not. It’s just a matter of what they did with it, how far down it is buried, and what is on top.
Back to our rejecting mother…
A Life Built on a Faulty Foundation
Imagine this pain. It is raw. It is primal. It is horrifying and all-encompassing. Most of us hide it the best we can because a human being cannot function in this world for long while experiencing this level of distress. We cannot go through life as a howling mess, clutching our stomachs, sobbing on the kitchen floor.
Our mother was never allowed to shed a tear. She might have wept quietly in her own bed late at night, but she muffled her cries so no one could hear. Maybe she had the one friend who knew, the one confidante, but people get tired of hearing about such sad stuff. After a while, we learn to keep it inside, if nothing else, but to spare those around us. She did what they told her to; she never spoke a word about such a thing again.
Her pain was never allowed to dissipate at all. There was no way to let off the buildup of steam. Rather the whole package of pain is taken, wrapped now in thick blankets of shame, of fear, of embarrassment, of horror and shoved down into the very depths of her soul, where she hopes it will disappear.
We know that this is a very unhealthy way of dealing with trauma, but that’s all she had, that was the way. Of course, it never disappears, but festers.
Maybe it comes out in other ways, of which she is just not conscious. Maybe she develops coping mechanisms. Maybe she is self-medicating or depressed or an over achiever, or it comes out as a physical illness. Again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this pain was there. It is real and she had no way of dealing with it. She followed the rules and continued to live, often heaping anything she can find on top of that parcel to bury it further down.
Everything in her life is built upon that foundation of pain. It’s like building a city on shifting rocks and expecting the foundation to hold. Even if years go by and the original builders forget what is down there or think it doesn’t matter, the foundation is still, at its core, broken. No matter what shining building is visible on the surface, the base is faulty.
Twenty years go by. Maybe thirty, maybe 40, maybe 50 before our adoptee finds her.
To face the adoptee is to face her past and the reality of what happened. This is the earthquake she has dreaded she whole life because she KNOWS what is down there, even if she tried to forget. This has the ability not just to destroy whatever life she has built on the surface- that’s just the visible reasoning – the truth is that facing the adoption means finding that pain.
She does not reject the actual adoptee, but the act of feeling that pain.
She cannot do it. The greater purpose of her whole life has been an act of denying that reality because she knows it has the possibility of eating her up alive. This pain holds the capacity to destroy her. Within one second, she could be a howling mess, clutching her stomach, sobbing on the kitchen floor. And that is what she has spent her whole adult life avoiding.
Twisted now with the pain is the real fear of it. She does not know its name nor how to control this force. She has no one to help her unwrap the layers. Unprepared, never speaking of the loss, not connected with theadoption community, she knows not the words to use if she is even conscious of her true feelings. How can you be aware of your true feelings if your whole life has been spent denying them and preparing a false front? She clings to her false reality, whatever rules have been constructed, to keep her falling into the chasm as the ground erodes at her feet. She wraps herself up in these reasonings, using them to tie herself to a poorly constructed life raft, desperate not to drown. She will throw at our adoptee any possible excuse to avoid the final outcome.
To accept the adoptee, to allow one to feel the love and joy that could come from the adoption reunion, she must also face that she lost her baby and that means she must unpack the pain and all the feelings that go with it.
It is Not the Adoptee that Mothers Reject
That is what she rejects: not the adoptee, not her child, but the pain from losing her child and the reality that no matter what she suffered, what she built, she knows that horrible loss is still there.
When I apply this model to almost any rejected adoptee scenario, it fits. The mother who turns away the adoptee on the doorstep without ever knowing the true person their child has become is only one example. I know of many mothers who started off a reunion with high hopes, but somewhere along the line the happiness turns to 50 shades of weird, because under the layers of joy still lurks the pain. When she sees that she is facing the inevitable, the only thing she can do is remove the adoptee and go back to pretending. This works for the mothers who get angry, often for seemingly-impossible to understand reasons, dare I say. She is angry because she feels forced and threatened by the reemergence of the pain and lashes out, again, with her false reasonings, her false sense of security, for that’s all she knows. This works for the mothers who contend that they are “fine” and just “don’t want to know”; they too just cannot face the reality of their life, so they keep the adoptee at bay and skirt the shallow waters to avoid any true emotions. The mothers that just fade away; they choose their false life rather than face the reality of their pain. It hurts too much and they just cannot go there.
I understand it. I am sympathetic, but I cannot condone adoptee rejection. I will admit that I want to sometimes take the mothers of my friends and shake some sense into them. After all , these are our BABIES coming to us because they NEED us. It is the job of a mother to care for her child. We are supposed to love them and be there for them no matter what. But it would not work anyway. These mothers often cannot allow themselves to know that they are mothers on any level, that they have value or their entire lives are again destroyed. To admit that you are a mother means that you must face life as a mother who was separated from your child, and again, know that pain.
It is not about you, my friends. You are wonderful, beautiful human beings that under any normal circumstance are an honor and privilege to know. You cannot make the mistake, allow that adoption legacy to live on, to continue the cycle of shame and unworthiness. Know that you are worthy of your mother’s love, and she only holds it back from you because she really feels that she must. The depth of the fear, of the pain she felt at losing YOU, has broken her, damaged her irrevocably. Your mothers are not normal anymore. They have been damaged so deeply, so permanently, by the loss of you that they cannot find their way out. They do not reject you in their lives, but the reality of what adoption has done to their lives.
We have to, sometimes, to survive.
I know it is hard and unfair and just stinks to the core, but do not blame yourselves, and try not to fault your mothers too badly. Blame the system that broke her so and destroyed the possibility of a loving mother for you. Blame the adoption that took you and broke her.
I don’t have any magic words that can be said to a mother who fears so deeply the real knowledge of adoption in her life. I don’t know where that fine line is, and I am afraid to cross it. I doubt that any one person can make another face what they so fear and I questionthe rights of one to make that call. We cannot make another face the pain. They have to unpack it willingly, in order to see.
I find that I cannot say to another mother “it’s OK, just deal, don’t worry” as I lean into the mouth of a beast with endless teeth. I know the true horror which she must face. It’s never pretty.
But we can come out the other side; still damaged, still broken, but perhaps, for the first time, we are real. It is only through embracing the pain of a mother lost to her child that we can regain the very essence of our motherhood.
I’m so sorry your mother just cannot do that for you right now.
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