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.

Thank You..Birthmother…Woman

Thank you “birth mother”…”woman”…


What not to say to me. I sincerely pray that my daughter never thanks me. I have talked about this before but have to mention again, that for me, being thanked by an adoptive parent or my surrendered child is tremendously offensive. Not meaning to pick apart Kristen’s gratitude just noting that it triggered me and my feelings on all this adoption thankfulness not to mention the dehumanizing of surrendering mothers.

Thankfully, (ha!) to date, my daughter has never ventured near those appreciative waters. For that I am thankful. She has also not called me a birth mother…woman. I am Suz to her. I find that more appealing than birth mother/woman as Kristen alludes to in the video below.


The Illegitimate Word

The AP Stylebook issued an update yesterday. I subscribe to their online edition and refer to it frequently for professional writing assignments (unlike this blog which follows no established style book and is often just a random stream of badly formed words coming from my brain).

I was struck by one of the updates. Here it is for your reference:

Do not refer to the child of unmarried parents as illegitimate. If it is pertinent to the story, at all, use an expression such as whose mother was not married, whose parents were not married or was born to an unmarried teenager.”

Thoughts? Do we like this new language or not?

I appreciate the suggestion “if it is pertinent, at all” but still struggle with the possible need to call out the marital status of a parent or the fact that the parent is a teenager. Wondering when that information would be pertinent?