The tweet on my twitter feed read:
“Any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience.” -Rebecca West (b. December 21, 1892)
The quote struck me as it reminded me of Jane Edwards post on First Mother Forum. In her post she writes about the newly published book by first mother and author, Denise Roessle titled Second-Chance Mother. As is to be expected with any book about adoption, particularly one that paints a negative picture of the sacred bovine, First Mother Forum posters challenged Denise. They objected to her sharing such personal details about her reunion story and her son’s life-long challenges. They questioned her integrity, her love for her son and her morals.
The critical commentary did not surprise me. I was around Denise’s adoption blog, Write-o-Holic, when she was eviscerated by several adoptees for sharing parts of her reunion story along with a picture of her son. At that time, Denise retracted several of her posts, edited a few others and removed the picture. With the book now being published, I found myself wondering, what, if anything she would do in reaction to the commentary on Jane’s post. I realize all works of art are subject to criticism and personal interpretation. However, adoption related media (photos, blogs, books, etc.) seem to attract more negative attention and generate more arguments over what is appropriate to share and what is not. The thought of arguments over adoption blogs, memoirs and the like once again took me back to Rebecca West.
Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, is the pen name for Cecily Isabel Fairfield. Rebecca was an author, journalist, travel writer and literary critic. While she wrote in many genres she was most committed to feminist and liberal principles. I had no idea that West had a thread run through her life that was very similar to the challenges faced by those of us who dare to speak candidly, and publicly, about adoption and the state of our reunions. West and author H. G. Wells had a son, Anthony Panther West. Anthony, also a writer, published a fictionalized auto-biography titled Heritage. In the book, Anthony West highlights a relationship between an illegitimate son and his world famous unmarried parents. The mother in the story is portrayed very poorly and it is assumed by Rebecca West and others that Anthony was referring to his own mother when he developed the character. The depiction of the maternal figure in Heritage so wounded Rebecca she broke off all relations with her son. Their relationship was rocky from that point until her dying day where when asked if she wanted to see him, she refused, citing his apparent hatred for her.
The similarities between West life story and that of those of who write about adoption, particularly difficult adoption reunions should be self evident. A mother lost her relationship with her child due to the publishing of a story. The mother was upset about the way she was portrayed. The mother tried to block the book from being sold. The parent child relationship remains strained until the mothers dying day.
Individuals outside of adoption, those that have never written about a personal relationship, or had text written about them, probably cannot relate. Adoption bloggers, writers, we can. Consider the following scenarios (totally made up, btw, they do not refer to anyone I know personally. Any similarity to real life persons is coincidental.):
- Adoptee writes long scathing nasty blog with details of reunion. Posts include references to natural mothers bathing habits, housing (or lack thereof), alcoholism and more. It is all true and from the adoptee’s perspective she is venting, looking for support from the adoption community and highlighting for others what reunion might mean for them. If you are an adoptee, even a general adoption blogger, you may understand. You may say been there, done that. What if you aren’t? What if you are the dirty, housing project drunkard being written about? What if you are the kept child of that parent, the half sibling of that blog author? Will you be able to forge a relationship with the adult that wrote the blogs?
- Mother writes about reunion and shares intimate personal details about reunion including mental illness, drug use, and prison sentences served by adopted adult. She is confident her reunion is over and that her now adult child will never speak to her again. She bases this assumption on the behavior; written correspondence and the fact that child has taken a restraining order out against her for her repeated attempts at contact. It has been many years since she has heard from her child. Mother feels others, particularly those considering adoption, should know what adoption might do for their child and what it may mean for their life. Mother is compelled to change adoption for future generations and uses her own experience and life story as an example.
- Adoptee in reunion makes up a lengthy completely false blog about natural parents. Blog is found by natural parents and half siblings. Natural parents are startled as they had no idea their child was feeling this way about their reunion. Moreover, the accounts were so grossly off base the natural parents begin to question the adult adoptees mental health. When confronted the child (really, adult) denies the blog and later deletes it. Adult adoptee then turns the tables on natural parents and calls them liars because the blog can no longer be found. Adult adoptee tells all extended family members and even goes so far as to mail a letter to natural mother’s employer, a banking institution, that she is dishonest. Natural parents are not technically savvy enough to disprove the statement. Lacking ability to produce it, they appear to be liars. Adult adoptee rages at parents for years for not only abandoning adoptee as an infant but for making up lies about the blog, a blog that a more technically savvy person could have retrieved via archive.org or other service.
Venting, blogging, looking for support, activism. Call it what you will. What are we doing and what is the price we pay for doing it?
Lorraine Dusky alludes to a similar topic in her January 5 posting on First Mother Forum. A post on the blog generated much commentary and the focus of the commentary seemed directed at Lorraine’s grand daughter. Lorraine, much like Denise, was criticized by others for her statements. After some thought, Lorraine removed certain comments. She acknowledged the possible pain the commentary could cause her granddaughter. She also acknowledged something that is the real point of my post here.
How can we, adoption reform activists, illustrate the need for massive change if we do not show, discuss, share, how it damaged us? If blogging is not acceptable, is it acceptable to speak at conferences? Conferences are often recorded. No? Perhaps writing books is okay? Maybe under a pen name? Oh, but wait, individuals who have pieces of their identity stolen from them tend to be resistant to changing names.
Our silent voices brought about this mess. Silence should be no more.
Or should it?
Does it depend on your situation and personal motivation?
I don’t have any answers for these questions nor am I am innocent myself of the possible emotional crimes I am referring to. While I have taken care (frankly, too much care in my opinion) to keep my daughters identity a secret (at her request), I know for certain she is not happy about my being so “out” about adoption. She has visited here at least three times that I know of and while she has never told me to stop writing, or threatened me if I did not do so, her discomfort was obvious.
She told me this blog made her puke. I tell myself it is her cognitive disequilibrium. What she might read here is completely at odds with what she was raised to believe. Therefore, she prefers I not write about it. She wants me to support her version of the story. She believes one thing about adoption and I believe another. Can our differing opinions co-exist? Can we not agree to disagree and still have a relationship? I want to think so.
Would closing up my blog make a difference in my reunion? Zipping my proverbial trap, effect any change? Would ceasing all efforts I undertake to help single mothers, have any positive correlation to my reunion? I believe, strongly, the answer is no. My blog is not the source of the contention or difficulty. The topic of it, what generated the need for it, is. My blog is a symptom of the larger dis-ease affecting my reunion. I firmly believe, at this time, there is nothing I can, or more importantly, should, do. So I continue on.
Holding that belief so firmly, I do blog and I do speak and I do share (with some degree of reservation). While I feel I can effect no change be it positive or negative with her, I do feel I can make some change for others. Shouldn’t I do that? How can I not? How do I do that, establish credibility, if I don’t use my own story as the backdrop? If I wish to sway the oppositions opinion towards single mothers and adoption, the burden of proof is on me, no?
And yet, in doing so, I cannot help but wonder at what cost? What if I am wrong? What if there was something I could have or should have done differently? What if I my work that I thought was so well intended actually ends up leaving me on my deathbed with someone asking me if I want them to call my daughter? Will I say “no” because I don’t believe she would care?
Or would I say “yes, please do”. Will I reflect on all the mothers and children I helped or will I still long to meet my daughter?