On Coercion

Over the past twenty years since losing my daughter to adoption, I have read a great deal on coercion and intimidation. I am always intrigued by those that deny the existence of coercive tactics in adoption. The people I most often hear this denial from are usually the parents of the natural mom and also the adoptive parents of the child. I can only presume that they deny this because they cannot accept fact that maybe, just maybe, something wrong was done.

I denied my own coercion experience for many years. It was my fault. Right? My choice, right? My way to right a wrong? I deserved to lose my child just like a rape victim “asks” for it, right? (Of course not!) My choice to give a good baby a chance at a life better than the one she would have with her “bad” mother? I was easy prey. I believed it all. All the terrible things they told me about me, about raising my child alone, about what she deserved and I did not.

OriginsUSA has an extensive list that outlines coercive tactics. It hurts to see much of my self and my experience there. More than 80% of the items on the OriginsUSA list apply to me. That hurts. Even still. I shoulda known better.

The things that bother me THEE most about my own situation is the following:

  1. Before surrender, before they even took me from my family and home state, they made my parents sign a document saying they would pay them back for any monies given to me.
  2. They took me out of state and told me I HAD to go to Illinois. If I stayed in my home state my child would be in foster care for a year. This was a lie. They were having licensing issues and legal battles with my home state. To get my child, they needed to remove me from that State.
  3. I stayed 1000 miles from my parents home. Phone calls were restricted. Pay phone only. The Caseworker advised me NOT to talk with my family as they were “damaging” to me. (Translation: They might find out how I was doing and might actually offer to let me come home)
  4. The Caseworker met with me almost weekly. Offered me money, clothing, food. Yeah, she “bought me”. I liked her. I thought she liked me. I realized afterwards she liked my stomach ad its contents. Me? My heart? That was not part of the equation at all.
  5. When I asked about keeping my child, I was told that my parents and I would be sued if I did. That I would have to pay back all the money they had given me. It never occurred to me to ask “What money?”. The flight out to the Midwest? The weekly lunches? The salary for the caseworker time? I just did not ask. It also failed to occur to me at that time, that I would be 18 at the time my daughter was born. My parents were not legally responsible for me.
  6. My daughters father was instructed to surrender BEFORE my daughter was born. Since he knew about her, they said he HAD to sign before.  Told me that if he signed afterward or did not at all, it would jeopardize the adoption. (Truth? If he was present with me afterwards, he and I might have felt differently once we had her and ourselves together, right?). It was truly a task of divide and conquer. Keep him away from me and vice versa. Fill my head with all the thoughts of how he failed me and MAKE HIM SIGN.

It really, really saddens me to think about the girl I was then. Sure, I was book smart. I was also naïve and had the worst self esteem imaginable.

I cannot change the past. I work daily on forgiving myself. The only thing I can do is share my story, is try to help others.

If one drop of my pain helps another, than it is worth it somehow.  Some good does come out of it.

Telling Children

Late Spring in 2005, I found my amazing beautiful daughter. A few months before that, for reasons I cannot exactly explain I finally found the words to tell my son, then 7 years old, about his half sister that was 12 years older than him.

Perhaps it was a premonition of things to come, perhaps I had finally found the words and the strength to tell my son. I don’t know. I just knew the time was right. Furthermore, around that same time, my son became very obsessed with the idea of being my OLDEST, FIRST BORN, child. He would often say “Well, I am your first born…”. I would respond with  “Yes, you are my first born SON (whewf!)”.   I took his obsession with birth order as yet another sign that the time had come to let him know that he was not my first born child. He was not the oldest. In my life, he was my second, middle child (just like me). To my husband, he is of course, the oldest and first.

I have seen many first moms struggle with telling subsequent children about their half or full sibling that was lost to adoption. I am often asked what to do, how to say it, when, etc. I cannot answer the questions posed. They are not my children. I don’t know them. I only know mine. I can only share my story and experience and hope that others can learn from it.

Since my son was born I stressed about how and when to tell him about my daughter. I have never kept her a secret and I was not about to do that with my sons. However, I was keenly aware that telling them too young could cause fear and confusion. Telling them too old could cause anger and resentment. I looked for books. Nothing existed. I consulted others. I got a few words of wisdom. I read up on child psychology. I decided the best words to use were my own.

My greatest fear was that my sons would think they I would give them away. I felt I had to position the explanation in such a way that it illustrated things were different then. I stressed that mommy did not have a job, did not have a place to live and that children need money, clothing, food and stuff. I did not focus on the lack of a husband as personally I don’t feel that was the issue for me and there are plenty of single moms in our lives. I don’t want my children to think the only “right” way to have a baby was to have a husband. Preferred by some, yes, but not necessarily required. Families come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, etc.

I was lucky in that my son had been exposed to other children who were adopted so he got the concept of being raised by someone other than your natural parent. I capitalized on that.

So it went like this:

My husband and I called my son into our home office. I was choked up. Shaking. Sitting on the floor. I told him we had something we wanted to talk to him about. With very little set up, I just blurted it out. Not like in a crazy way but just got right to the point. He knew I had been helping others with adoption stuff. So I used that as an ice breaker…”You know Mommy helps others with adoption stuff….”. I then explained why. I told him I had a baby when I was a younger. A beautiful little girl. His first response?

“YES! I always wanted a sister!”. (I started to cry here).

I told him I could not keep her, I did not have a job and I did not have a place to live and I wanted her to have all those things and more. I was crying. Trying to hold it back. I told him what I named her. I showed him her baby pictures. He turned around in his chair (swivel chair in my home office). He kept talking but he would not look at me. I took this as a sign he was uncomfortable with the conversation and with seeing mom upset. I kept it short.

I told him I was looking for her and that I hoped I would find her. I told him it was no secret, it was not bad and he could talk to anyone he needed or wanted to about it. That included both his grammas, his dad, even his teacher at school. He said “Ok”.

I paused. He was quiet. I asked him if he had any questions. Long pause.

“Yeah, I have one”, he says

“Sure. Anything. Ask.”, I say.

“How old were you when you had her?”, he asks.

“Eighteen”, I say.

“WOW!” he says.

And the conversation ended.

During the weeks that followed he would occasionally ask me a question. He really did think it was quite cool that he had a sister and he would often talk about her. He amazed me at the questions he would ask out of the blue.

“How come Amber’s daddy did not marry you?”

“Why didn’t Gramma let you live with her?”

“Why don’t you know where she is?”

On and on. Each question would be briefly, but honestly, answered and he would go back to whatever he was doing.

I remember one night (after we were in reunion), out to dinner with him and his brother (my husband was traveling) he was particularly chatty about her. Talking about how pretty she was (he repeatedly tells me she is a “hottie”), how she looks like me, wears jewelry like me. It got me choked up. I tried not to show it to him. Tried to keep the conversation going and allow him to talk as he needed. He got suddenly solemn, looking down, looking sad. I said:

“It makes you sad talking about her, huh?”

“No, not really, what makes me sad is seeing you sad. I know it hurts you and makes you sad and that makes me sad. Its okay she is adopted, I guess, but why does it have to make you cry all the time?”

Okay, yeah, I lost it at this point. My wonderful, darling, seven year old son. How wise he was for his age! I told him it was okay. I like talking about her. I said the tears were tears of joy and happiness.

During the first few weeks of our reunion, I would let him know when I got email from her or pictures. He always said “cool!”. Once, during an AIM conversation with her, I told her he said “Hi”. She seemed excited and asked if it was okay to say “Hi” back (yet another sensitive kid of mine).  She asked if that would be “too weird” for him. I assured her it was fine, that he was fine with it and he thinks shes cool. So they exchanged a few words via my AIM.

It is coming up on a year now that I am in reunion. My son is fine with it. He talks about her like she is just a regular part of our life and that is what I wanted. He understands she is adopted, that she has another family and that while I am her Mother I am not her Mommy. He likes to see pictures of her and he even tells people at school, etc. that he has a half sister. That’s always interesting.

My youngest? He is 3. My daughter is as normal in our house as is buying a gallon of milk. He will just grow up knowing about her. No need for a big talk. No secrets. No stress.

Just my amazing boys and their beautiful half sister.

Another Mans Crimes

I wrote this in 2003 (I think). I know Skye published it on Lifemothers.com at that time. I may have written it earlier. Its kinda self explanatory.

I should note that the person this was written about has read this. So has my daughter. He hates it. He blames me and this text for his relationship (or lack thereof) with our daughter. I understand why he would feel this. And even why she might feel this. But its real. Its truthful. Its what I felt and a very high level summary of what happened. Its not a lie.

He will have to deal with the consequences of his own actions. (And he has and still is). That all I will say. I am teetering very close to violating his privacy and breaking my own rule of not discussing him.

Anothers Mans Crimes
by S. Bednarz, 2003

He always complained about my inability to be intimate. Not just sexually or physically intimate but emotionally. He routinely stated he felt I kept him at a distance. That I never let him get close to me. That I hid behind a large emotional wall.

He knew of my childhood. He knew how badly my father had treated me. The verbal and physical abuse. The alcoholism. He was convinced that my inability to truly trust Him, to get close to Him, was my fathers fault. When we fought, He would always end it by telling me I was punishing Him for another mans crimes. He told me I was holding Him responsible for the crimes my father had committed against me. He told me we would never go anywhere in our relationship as long as I looked at Him and saw my Dad.

Maybe He was right. Correction. He was right. I did not realize that until years later when I went through my own therapy. I did not realize it until He had also committed a crime against me.

My Dad may have physically and verbally abused me. But the emotional abuse I suffered at His hand was far worse. He left me. He told me He loved me. He told me He would die without me. He wrote me great poetry, sang me great songs, showed me a kindness and a warmth I had never felt before. Convinced me He loved me like no other.

Until I got pregnant. Then He left me. He found a new girlfriend, never told his family, went on with His life as I was violently ejected from mine. Gave birth to our daughter and placed her for adoption. He just left me. With no regard for the life we had created, the emotional state He left me in, the effects of the unplanned pregnancy on my life path. Just left me. No more blaming Him for another mans crimes. He had committed his own…and left me.

Seventeen years later, I am still punishing the men in my life for the crimes of other men. I am now married to the most amazing, caring, wonderful man. I am also the mother of two sons that are as amazing as their Dad. I watch them play and my heart swells with joy. Moments pass and the swelled heart is deflated and the pain is back again. I have three great men in my life. I am still minus one daughter.

My mind wanders to Him. To her. There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled. A hole that not even my amazing sons and husband can fill. There is a sadness they did not cause, they cannot repair, yet they are faced with every day. I am punishing them by not giving them ALL of me because of what He did.

I wonder if they know.

He is still right. I do keep men at a distance. I have an emotional wall. He made sure that wall was solid before he left me