Mi Madre y Padre

"We attach our feelings to the moment when we were hurt, endowing it with immortality. And we let it assault us every time it comes to mind. It travels with us, sleeps with us, hovers over us while we make love, and broods over us while we die. Our hate does not even have the decency to die when those we hate die–for it is a parasite sucking OUR blood, not theirs. There is only one remedy for it. [forgiveness] – Lewis B. Smedes – Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve

The Q & A portion of our presentation had begun and a cute young female in the front row raised her hand.  I had been watching her as I spoke. She seemed to shirk in pain at certain parts of my story. She also looked rather academic and I suspected she might be a social worker. It did not surprise me that she would raise her hand.

"Yes?" I said as I pointed to her indicating she had the floor.

"I am curious, what is your relationship like with your parents now? Maybe its too personal but I am curious after all you have been through, considering their role in it all, how are your relations?" she inquired.

"Excellent question" I responded.

I thought for a moment. I felt the need to be respectful to my parents while at the same time being true to myself and my very painful experience.

What is my relationship with my parents, I thought to myself. Considering their role in the loss of my child, their first born grandchild, to strangers?

Well, its fine. I guess. I thought.

I answered the young woman by telling her that my parents had both separately apologized to me years after I lost my daughter. I explained that I understand my parents are victims of their own generational teachings. IN my parents world, that of conservative Irish/Catholic, hard working middle class types, unwed pregnancy did not happen – nor did abortion – nor did welfare. Adoption was the only option to them. In my parents world where such indiscretions brought fire and brimstone, adoption was the way. In my parents world, shame and guilt reigned supreme. In my parents world you kept family secrets a secret. In my mothers world, with her odd relationship with her family, you had to pretend you were something that you were not.  In my parents church, God was a punishing God. You sinned and you had to be punished.  My pregnancy required more than a few Hail Marys' and an Apostles Creed at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral.

My parents did to me what they were taught to do.

Who should I blame? Them? My ancestors? Father O'IrishGuy from St. Theresa's church in Brooklyn? Maybe the teachers at Erasmus Hall High school? Perhaps I should hog tie that bunch of old ladies at the White Eagles Club at St. Michaels?

My parents are not evil, they are not criminals, they did not mean to hurt me or my child. Again, they did to me what they were taught to do — what a baby broker encouraged them to do. More importantly, my parents drank years of adoption koolaid. Not a single person told them, in advance, that adoption was going to permanently damage me, their daughter. NO one told them I would suffer from PTSD, require years of therapy, medication at times, to survive the loss of my child.  Not a single person, not the agency, not the caseworker, told my parents what adoption does to children and what it might do to their first born grandchild. No one talked of primal wound, adoptees over represented in prisons and psychiatric institutions. 

They did not know.

As such, I find I cannot hold them responsible for things they did not know.

My relationship with them? 

It is fine. I guess.

It is what it is. My mother is my mother and my father is my father.  They are FAR from perfect.

As am I.


5 Thoughts.

  1. Your post made me wonder how much from our parent’s past effected what happened to their children and grandchildren.
    As a good Irish girl, my mother came from the same strict Catholic upbringing and so she faced a lot of what you did with your parents when she became pregnant with me back in 1970 (I was the Senior Prom gift that kept on giving.) She teetered on that edge of being another girl sent away and it was only, sadly, my father (Italian and also brought up in the strict Catholic belief)actually admitting he was the father and marrying my mother that saved me from being lost in the world of adoption myself.
    But the thing is, as you talk about how your parents backgrounds came into play, my mom’s own background played into my loss of my oldest son. Because she wasn’t given a choice. Because she had pressure on her, was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for life because of the terrible sin I was, when I ended up pregnant at sixteen she went the other direction, believing by saying NOTHING to me she was saving me from feeling pressured into the same situation she faced. For the first and only time in my life she backed away, believing the pressure came from the parents and nowhere else.
    It’s like a disgusting cycle that runs through the whole “evilness” placed on those with unplanned pregnancies. A cycle that can last through generations, with different effects to start with but still the same results in the end.

  2. This is a wonderful post and so apropos at this time of the year. I think I will share with my son. I too was raised Catholic but back in the day, 1967, it didn’t matter your religion you just went away.
    My 82 year old mother sloughs off my son’s adoption as “that is what was done.” No further thought process needed. I think that says it all.
    Was I excommunicated and don’t know it? (You see how up I am on things!)

  3. Me too: “fine, I guess.” Neither of my parents apologized. It was my idea to forgive them, understand why they did what they did, and come to peace with their role in my son’s adoption. (They were modern enough that they would have sent me overseas for an abortion, but I was almost four months along when I told them.) Forgiving them, along with myself, was a crucial part of my healing. Without it, I’d be as stuck as my son is.

  4. I have to say that (as an adoptive parent) no one ever told me anything about what adoption really meant either, yet people always blame me for not knowing.
    I was told that adoption was “ok” that these mothers “wanted” adoption for their child, that time would pass and they would be “fine” that we all would be fine.
    Time and experience (mine and that of my children) have taught me otherwise.

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