Facing Pride of Abandonment

Despite the number of times she said it, I do not think she was “proud” she gave away her child. At least I do not think she was proud in the literal sense of the word. Merriam Webster gives a simple definition of proud:

“very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to, etc.”

Could she actually be very happy and pleased she gave her child away to strangers? I suppose anything is possible and it is not for me to challenge someone else’s truth but I spoke to her in depth following a session and my suspicion is that she is struggling and has been trying to make sense of what happened to her and her child. She wants to be okay with her decision and who she has become as a result of it. Proud she overcame some challenges? Proud she made something of her life after surrendering her daughter? That seems more appropriate.

Also important to note that she recommended a birth mother workbook that was published by a well known Mormon/LDS birth mother that regularly promotes mothers abandoning their child to adoption. This was very telling. In that author’s world view adoption is a wonderful thing. The Church of Latter Day Saints says so, right? Quite possible the proud mother was also Mormon. The intoxicating power of the LDS kool-aid cannot be understated.

Never Proud
I was never proud or happy or at peace with giving my daughter away. I was rather miserable from day four of her birth (with day three being the last day I saw her). I have spent 30 years trying to make sense of it. I have blogged, talked, read, cried and more for many years. Through those years I have encountered many people who objected to my particular approach to my very personal experience. My mother tries to explain it away, suggest it is a good thing. Friends will say I did the best I could given the support I had. Still others will focus on the wonderful gift I gave to an infertile couple. Each one of these encounters results in one thing – invalidation. Intentional or not, when others try to wish away, fix, enhance or pretty up my experience you are telling me my feelings are wrong. Read Just Sit There for more on that.

I clearly disagreed with this proud mother but I tried hard to meet her where she was at. There may be very good reasons for why she is there. I did not like where she was but it is her story. She might change her mind. She might need help in the future. She might hit that wall many of us have hit and suddenly not be so proud of her actions. Should that day come, I hope she is surrounded by individuals who can just be with her. Should the day never arrive, I hope she finds a child that is as happy about being separated from her as she is from him or her. Reunions work well when both mother and child share the same world view, no?

Deactivating Dysfunction

Many years ago, I was on the board of a fairly well known 501(c)(3) organization focused on educating the public on the realities of life as a first mother. My position involved assisting with member communications and website management. Our efforts, however noble they may have been, were continually dampened by personality conflicts.  This strong personality bucked heads with that strong personality. Meanwhile, not so strong personalities retreated to the corner and watched.  Tempers flared, feelings were hurt, and very little work was done.

Around the same time, a well known adoption activist outside our organization was publicly threatening to shoot one of the board members for disagreeing with said activist.  Out in adoption land two separate adoptee organizations were struggling with their own infighting.

Eventually, I resigned from the first mother organization.  While I fully supported their mission and wanted to help, I found them too focused on one upping and sandbagging each other.  I have that sort of drama in my own family. No need to volunteer for it.  After resigning and while pondering the various personalities, I realized that what each person wanted, no, demanded was to be seen and heard.  Every member was talented, educated, and committed yet we could not get out of our own way enough to do any real work. We lacked emotional intelligence.  Our overwhelming need, no surprise considering we had each been disposed of by our families in one way or another, was to be loved and cared for.

I reflected on this experience when Joyce made her ending comments to her keynote. In her case she was referring to the AAC Board. Admittedly, I do not know the details of what is going on with the AAC. I am merely a member who has heard bit of gossip or been invited to view scandalous and inappropriate (to me) Facebook pages.  I am in no position to comment or judge their drama but I do believe I am in a position to ask what can we do about it? This was the question I brought to Joyce following her keynote. Given her work with adoption traumatized individuals as well as her clinical experience and education, what would she recommend?  How can we solve this for AAC and other adoption reform organizations? I am generally more interested in solutions than I am in assigning blame or pointing fingers.

Joyce suggested (and I agree) that nearly every single person working in adoption reform comes to it from a place of pain, loss, and trauma.  This trauma gets in the way.  Okay.  What can we do?

Joyce had no clear advice. I questioned how organizations like Donaldson are able to perform. Are they not also populated with adoption impacted individuals?  Joyce noted Donaldson is staffed with paid professionals. They have a very different operating model for their organization versus a volunteer staffed organization.  Point taken.  Does a formal position and associated compensation make a person behave professionally?  I am going to guess the answer is “no”. Joyce and I were interrupted by a session starting and as a result we did not finish our conversation.  Others at the conference suggested that this is a phase AAC is going through and they have been there before and recovered from it.  They will again. I suppose that is reassuring but I still ask the bigger question.

Can we solve this for AAC as well as other organizations? If we do not, can we truly make progress if we are constantly bogged down by our shared trauma? It feels like two steps forward and three steps back every time an adoption reform organization attempts to make change.


AAC 2016 Prelim Thoughts

12376622_1681086562143092_8236663069099891707_nArrived home from American Adoption Congress late yesterday. Left Denver hotel at 3:00 am local time (yawn) and arrived in CT at 4:00 PM. Long day of travel but it gave me a good amount of time to ponder the conference and my various take aways. I am going to write about each of these this week. Below is a high level list outlining just a few of them.

The AAC “Drama”
Joyce Maguire Pavao ended her keynote on Wednesday with references to the infighting that is happening now within the ranks of the American Adoption Congress. I admit I cringed when she did. It felt like opening a can of worms and I questioned if the timing was correct. I later spoke to Joyce about this. She had stated that all of us in adoption come from a place of pain and trauma (true) and that impacts our ability to volunteer with organizations such as AAC. I agree and have said same myself years ago when Origins USA went through similar challenges. More about this conversation with Joyce in the days to come.

On Being Loud and Proud
There was a first mom in attendance that was heard repeatedly stating how “proud” she was of her decision to give her child to adoption. Many of us in the sessions with her cringed deeply every time she said this. We could not relate. Moreover, we found ourselves wondering how her child (she is not in reunion and is in a closed adoption) might feel to know their mother is so “proud” she gave them away. This person generated lots of discussion and debate amongst other attendees. I have never, not for one day, been proud that I abandoned my child to strangers.

Mitigating and Managing Collateral Damage
The session I faciliated along with my friends, Kathy, Susie and Rich was well attended. Based on feedback after the session I am under the impression it was well received. This pleases me. If only 1 of the 30 or so people in attendance think differently, we have accomplished our goal. The first mother voice was present and heard. That, in a sea of adoptee or adoptive parent focused sessions, was my ultimate objective. Let us not forget before an adopted child is stripped of their family and their OBC, a mother is stripped of a piece of her soul. Do better by expectant mothers and you do better for the children they give birth to.

Support Groups
I attended first mom support group meetings two days in a row. I strangely enjoyed them. I say strangely as historically I despises such things. Sitting in a room with others like me, listening to people cry about their experience, has never been helpful to me. Rather, it depressed me. I have this problem with empathy and I take on others pain. It overwhelms me. As such, I tended to avoid them. This week, I did not feel overwhelmed yet I did feel empathetic and wanted to hug a few moms in the room. I took this fact as a sign of growth on my part, that I have learned how to set some boundaries and not take on the pain of others while still remaining present with them. I was reminded of a phrase from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem The Invitation:

“I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.”

More to come here.

Post Trauma Growth
I spoke briefly with Amanda and Kat during a hospitality session. I mentioned to them a fact I have shared on my blog many times. That is, my ovewhelming desire to make myself better, smarter, prettier, more successful, more educated. I am never “good enough”. It is as if there is a wind up toy inside me that will not stop moving forward. I find this tiring and want to stop but do not know how. For years, I have suspected this was rooted in a desire to make myself presentable to my daughter should she ever want to meet me. I need to be “meetable”. I need to prove that I made something good out of our separation. It has been 30 years of this nonsense. It has been 10 years since I found her and she told me to go away and never contact her again. My daughter may never want to meet me. When will I get off this sick ride? Amanda said something to me that threw me back a bit. I am paraphrasing but essentially she said “If you do not accept yourself, why should your daughter?”. Ooph. Point taken.

I discussed this same topic in my session the following day. Kat spoke up and shared the concept of post traumatic growth with me. I found myself intrigued. Clearly I have some reading to do.

On the flight home my husband stated that I was good enough, more than good enough. While I appreciated his sentiment, that is not really the point. To be told you are good enough is not the same as believing you are.