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.

Best Interests of Child: Race, Religion and Rescue

Psychobabbler reminded me and a few other friends on Facebook that this is an even year and as such there is an adoption conference at St. Johns.  I spoke at this conference a few years ago.   The session was surprisingly well attended and the entire conference was a positive experience for me (minus this odd lady who made some offensive comments about my daughter).

The conference site is up but there is not much information (yet). I would expect a call for papers, speakers, etc. soon.  The conference description is Best Interests of the Child?” Race, Religion, and Rescue in Adoption. I am debating if I have anything worthwhile to contribute as a presenter but am fairly certain I will attend as a participant.

Below is the link to the conference site.  I recommend you bookmark it. If you are a mother, father or family of origin that lost a child to adoption, I encourage you to consider submitting a paper/presentation once the call is out. To make progress, the world needs to hear ALL sides of this adoption equation, not just that of adoptive parents.  Adult adoptees and all natural parents are needed.

Adoption Initiative – St. Johns University

Picking Battles

A few weeks back my husband and I had dinner with a couple that we are somewhat friendly with. I say somewhat because I would not consider them really close friends but rather friends we socialize with a few times a year. We have been to their home for holiday parties, they have been to our parties, and we have had dinners together. I am fonder of the wife than I am the husband. The reasons for that will become clear. 

This particular dinner was held at our home on our lovely new paver patio. They arrived around dinner time. I prepared some appetizers; we shared two bottles of wine, ate food from the grill and later enjoyed a fabulous dessert. The entire event lasted about four hours.

At one point in the evening, my husband left with friend’s wife to go make coffee or prepare something in the kitchen. I am outside with the husband and we are having conversations ranging from politics to social mores to religion.  I should note this gentleman is very religious and I am not. He is also very conservative and I am not. He is also approximately 20 years older than me.  I share all that for context.

Some part of the religious conversation turned him towards “gays, fags and homosexuals”.  I am physically startled at his crass words. I gulp but let him rant on.  He is a passionate guy, opinionated, strong willed, fixed in his conservative, white male, religious beliefs.

As he continues to go on about the fags of the world, he hones in on lesbians.

“Can you tell me why those dykes use strap ons? If you have no interest in the male form, why do you purchase and use products that are clearly derived from the male? I don’t get it. They are all a disgrace. A sin against the Lord.  Freaks and faggots” he says VERY loud.

I squirm a bit.  Okay, I squirm A LOT. This man is everything I am not. His beliefs are at total odds with who I am and how I live my life. Having had many challenging conversations with this man in the past, not being much of a fan of him, I ponder if I really want to get into this conversation with him. I evaluate how much this conversation really means to me, how much this relationship means to me and how often I see this gent.  Most importantly, I wonder how he will respond if I let him know that I have a “gay” “fag” “dyke” daughter (she prefers queer femme but I assume I would have to speak his language to make an impact). I consider commenting sarcastically that I don’t know if she uses strap on sex toys but if she ever talks to me again I might consider asking her. I then realize that would lead to a discussion of why she doesn’t talk to me, her adopted status and likely his approval of her being given to strangers when I was young and unwed.  I have an entire conversation and debate with him in my head. I decide I am not going to comment, not going to engage him.

This may be shocking to some people. For me, it amounts to evaluating the investment I have in the relationship and where I want it to go in the future.

I have zero investment in this guy.  It is his wife I like. We see them a few times a year.  He is not someone I would ever be close with, would ever want to see on a regular basis. His opinions, his views are not mine and never will be. I am also quite confident that mine will never be his. 

I could consider telling him he is offensive. I could get agitated. I could stomp off. I could throw things. I could engage in a lengthy discussion to try to convince him, show him, how he is wrong and ignorant and more.

I don’t bother. I don’t believe it will benefit me in any way and frankly, I don’t care.  His views are a reflection of him and not of me. 

This is tangentially related to my approach with my mother when she is offensive. I don’t believe I can change her views (meaning get her to understand how her words effect me) so why should I bother? I have no skin in the game at present. Sure, we can cite that my relationship with her is limited in its depth but if I am okay with that, why bother continually telling her how she is offensive? What would that accomplish besides causing constant friction between us?  I wince from her comments and ignorance (regardless of how it came about) consider the source and move on.

The husbands’ behavior – and my mothers – may be inexcusable as PB suggests. I suppose I am just dealing with it and accepting it as it is, not trying to excuse it.

I move on and fight bigger battles.