Not Lost in Translation

I have taken a lot of heat over the years from various adoption effected parties when it comes to that name thing.  I have mothers tell me I am wrong to call my daughter by her amended name as it erases her original identity. I have had adoptees tell me I am wrong to call her by her original name as it erases her only “real” identity. I have had adoptive parents tell me they “bought” the right to name the child what they please and that my daughter’s original name went by the wayside once the check was cashed (yes, they actually said this to me). Those same adoptive parents tell me I am disrespecting the “wonderful” people who raised my daughter. (How do I know they are wonderful? I have never met them. More importantly, how do they?).

I will admit the name thing flummoxed me for a few years.  Until I found my daughter, I referred to her by her given, original name, Amber Lyn.  It is all I knew.  Once I found her and learned her amended name, I did my best to refer to her by that. In my own head I would do this quick translation of Amber to [name].  I would force myself to write her amended name when I wrote the few emails I wrote to her.  It was odd. Felt like I was learning a new language. You know that feeling you get in your head when you are searching for a word in a different language?  For me it’s a buzzing, clicking, scanning type of sound. My throat constricts, my eyeballs will look up to the right, and I might even utter words like “uhhhhhhh” while the disc in my head spin in its drive and finds the proper term. I studied Spanish for eight years yet after that I did not use it regularly.  I know the words but it takes me some time, in my head, to say, translate what I would say to what a Spanish speaking person might say. Same thing, sort of.

As the years went by and I was exposed to this or that argument for or against using an adoptees original name, it became more natural for me to say [amended name].  For me, personally, the most compelling reason to absorb this is that this name is what my daughter identifies with.  To establish a relationship with her, I felt strongly, I needed to speak the language that is spoken in her adoption country – not mine.  Her language, to my knowledge, does not include the words Amber Lyn. Were I to utter those words to her, refer to her by that name in any way, I am confident she would have shut down immediately. So I adapted.

Others did not. My mother (as I have ranted about here) did not. Well, she may have, but only recently and I am not sure if that was a permanent change or a temporary slip.  My best friend, she does not acknowledge her as [amended name] either. Some of you dear blog readers and friends of mine?  You don’t either.

I realize this is because many of you don’t know her amended name. Some do. Most don’t.  Most of you refer to her as “daughter” or “my daughter”. A few, more so recently than ever before, say Amber.

I don’t like it. 

Relax. I aint hollerin’ atcha.  I am not upset.  I merely stating that I don’t like it for reasons I mention above. I fear it invalidates my daughters only known existence and if she were to read it here she would bristle. I don’t want her to bristle. I fear she bristles too much where I am concerned.

Beyond that, there is a deeper, more personal reason I don’t like it when others refer to her as Amber.

For me, personally, every time I hear someone refer to her by her birth name I feel it as an emotional slap in my purty lil face. It is a linguistic backhand of the lies I bought into, the fantasy I created contrasted against the reality of who and what I found in reunion. 

Adoption promised me an uber-perfect child would be found upon reunion and there was never any doubt in my mind that I would find her.  It was who and what I found that was the surprise. My adoption caseworker planted the seeds in this wilted garden of hope by telling me all about waivers of confidentiality and registries while simultaneously reinforcing the notion of this fabulous, much better off life she would have.   There is shadow stuff at work here in that the system set my daughter and I up as polar opposites and I bought into it.  I was dark and evil and nasty and festering and if she stayed with me she would be the new and not necessarily improved version of the horrible nastiness. She would inherit the added pus-filled benefit of being labeled a bastard.  If surrendered to adoption however, she would avoid that putrid nastiness (about now you should hear angels sing and see a bright light…you might even see unicorns and fairies).  I surrendered my daughter fully and utterly convinced that I was the scum of the earth and that closed stranger adoption would avoid such a future for my child. She deserved not only better than things. She deserved a better mother than the one someone elses god had granted her.

During the period she was lost to me (1986 – 2005) I found comfort in the beauty of this perfect, glowing, highly educated, utterly beautiful, super kind, peace loving Ghandi-esque child that adoption was nurturing in some far away fairy filled land. This fantasy child was named Amber Lyn. She was going to welcome me upon reunion, introduce me to her adoptive family, be happy to have brothers and more.  (Yes, I know my Kool-Aid is showing.) Adoption promised me this and I took the fantasy image and ran with it. I had to. What alternative did I have? What other information was provided to me via closed adoption to prove me wrong?

I did not find a perfect child (no such thing exists, IMO). I found my child, now an adult, as the closed stranger adoption had raised her. I am not suggesting she is flawed, or imperfect or unlovable or a disappointment to me. I am suggesting she is human and that my thinking was magical. The problem lay in my gullibility and my own thought processes and all the attributes I assigned to my ghost child named Amber Lyn. I crafted this person, this image, in response to my trauma. It was how I survived. I clung to this vision of her (and incidentally, clung to this version of myself as the horrible nasty). It was not until my pseudo-cyber reunion that I began to see the true light.  I saw her as she was (at least partially, since I was not permitted to be in her presence, and do not proclaim to know even the slightest bit of who she is in real life) and what adoption had actually provided. I also started to see myself not as the horrible nasty but as something other, something better.

I agree and understand that my daughter is named Amber and also named [amended name]. I also agree that my thinking was flawed and that I have had to adjust to that. I also agree that she MAY be some of the things I envisioned in my fantasy. She might not even object to some sort of use of her original name. Until I meet her, if I meet her, I don’t know for sure. I can only go on what I have…and I don’t have Amber.  I don’t know what I have but it is not the fantasy I called Amber.

I am not suggesting you cease referring to her as Amber.  I will grant you the same respect I do others. Speak your language and perhaps, someday in the future, we will understand each other. In the meantime, I keep on translating.

14 Thoughts.

  1. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. That being said, you’ve explained it brilliantly. I hope that people will respect your wishes.

  2. I get that people have preferences of what they prefer to be called. Naming comes up frequently, especially with adoption. If someone had referred to me as J before I was ready, before I decided what I wanted, I absolutely would have shut down. it’s about respecting the person on the receiving end rather than being selfish and just dong what you want.

    With that said, however, there is a degree of necessity to putting the two selves of the adoptee together. One must acknowledge one was a J before a K and then a K before she became J to be fully whole. In order for her, the adoptee, to be fully whole as a person she needs to acknowledge that for a few days, hours, she was Amber Lyn and that Amber Lyn was not just part of but fused to Suz, that she and you were one entity and that in loosing you she must have a degree of self loss. That is primal wound at it’s essence. The name just gives it a clear representation.

    I’m not saying all adoptees need to or should go back to their original names, but that they should do the work to acknowledge the mommy loss and the self loss that is inherent in infant adoption. For me grieving what I was giving up in relinquishing K as my identity and reforming to be J and just be me was that work. it let me take something back and gave me a choice about what I wanted, rather than what other people thought was best for me. It didn’t require a name change, that’s just what I chose.

    Hopefully one day she can understand the depths of primal wound and find that there can be peace, real peace and that if I am not afraid to examine that, there is nothing to fear.

    • Jean. As always love your thoughts and appreciate your sharing. I thought of you a lot during this post. Hugs.

  3. Thank You for recognizing that the lie didn’t stop when you signed on the dotted line. It continued on as a testament to the greatest mistake any of us ever made. I am betting there would be a lot of people disappointed in the reality of how their child was actually raised, far from the Unicorns and Fairies. I recently had a discussion with an adoptee who has told me she never felt connected. Truth: Adoptive parents are actually expecting a child that will integrate and be like them, but guess what? They are getting a child who was biologically meant to integrate with and be like us.

    (((Hugs))) You know that I wish the best for you.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. Somehow, I thought calling her Amber protected the anonymity I thought she wanted… As always your feelings are the most important to me. Will referring to her as, M, be ok? I’ll admit with 2 blogophobe moms, I often transfer their preferences to others. I am always open to doing it better to be a better friend. I admire your honesty & explanations. Love, Rebecca

    • Let me be clear – I dont request that those of you that know her amended name use it. I do appreciate your respecting that decision of hers. It is more about how using her real name effects me. My issues, my working through it all. I suspect some friends thought they were being proper and respectful to use her original name – without knowing how it makes me feel and the challenges I have it. I appreciate the consideration but wanted friends to know it is not always received as it is intended. Blargh. Rambing now 4 sure.

  5. Those same adoptive parents tell me I am disrespecting the “wonderful” people who raised my daughter. (How do I know they are wonderful?)

    This goes back to what I’ve blogged about before: Adoption is based on the premise that children who were given up “deserved” it, as most parents don’t give up children. It is seen as abnormal for a mother to give up a child when it is socially constructed that a mother “should” care about that child. Therefore, adoptive parents have stepped in to take up the task that a mother couldn’t be “bothered” to do, because again, most mothers are not “supposed” to give up a child.

    The adoptive parents were not obligated to give up a child. The mother was obligated to take care of her child, but she gives it up. The adoptive parents at this point are seen as doing something no one *expected* them to do – which by default, makes them “wonderful.”

    They are wonderful for taking in a child that “supposedly” was not wanted, resulting from the socially abnormal act of being given up by a mother.

    • Key words here are supposedly and socially abnormal. Agreed. Though its only abnormal to adoptive parents AFTER they have received their package, no? Grumble.

        • While the adoptive families are waiting to receive someone elses baby, they are all accepting of the idea of surrender and worship at the feet of expectant mothers, encourage her, tell her what a great thing it is, how unselfish it. It is only after they receive their package that her actions become abnormal and she is shunned and reviled by them.

  6. ****The adoptive parents were not obligated to give up a child

    That is supposed to say “the adoptive parents were not obligated to raise a child.” My finger must still be asleep.

  7. I didn’t think you were rambling. I feel a little ill after rereading my comment & “heard” the underlying desperation to please. Um, ew. I “blame” being adopted for such insecurities but might I have been this way anyway??? The whole “adoption” issue for me is such dangerous ground. I want to discuss it so I don’t have to stuff it, so I can be free to be me, but then I don’t because I find myself wanting to throttle someone/ the adoption establishment. Overall, I am so glad to have found you all those years ago. You keep it real. Love you for that.

  8. I’m so sorry you were made to feel so worthless. I always thought we should call people whatever it is that they prefer – maybe I ‘m being too simplistic. We changed our children”s last names when they were adopted and my daughter has said that she prefers her original last name. Sometimes I regret changing it.

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