Saturday, October 09, 2010

What Am I?

I can say who I am, and in a vague sense who I was born, but my interactions with my first family have left me asking, "What am I?" My aparents did not raise me to treat people as less than human, or as something disposable. I have done things in my life that I'm not proud of, and I've treated people in ways that I wish I hadn't. I have been selfish and rude. I own that. And yet I have never, to my knowledge, treated anyone as an object, an annoyance, an old shoe.

Through all my searching, I hadn't had any direct contact with C until last November. One Saturday evening I arrived home from a relaxing dinner out with my family and went to the mailbox to collect the post. On the top of the stack was a letter, with no return address and the postmark of Memphis. I knew it was from C. I began to tremble. It didn't seem a good thing that the envelope was thin, and when I opened the letter and saw the size of her script, I knew the message was not going to be pleasant.

She wrote:

Nov. 18, 2009

[No salutation]

I am telling you for the last time. I DO Not Want Any Communication Nor do I Want You Contacting my family.

When I left the hospital 40 years ago, I left you and what happened behind. My life has continued very well and happy. There is nothing to gain. I did what I thought was right.

Accept what you cannot change.


[All emphasis and capitalization hers.]

I was struck immediately by the lack of salutation, by the erratic capitalization, and her assertion that I was a personal belonging left behind and no longer wanted, missed, or thought of. How presumptuous of me to think that my own MOTHER would care a fig about how I was doing.

I was stunned. I knew this had to do with her own steel-clad coping mechanisms, which were in direct conflict with mine. It felt enormously, wearingly sad and dark. I was inhuman to her. How could a person treat another person with so much contempt and disrespect? Oh yeah, humans aren't very nice a lot of the time, but still.

The letter arrived shortly after she realized that I was going to visit A, last fall. She was attempting to guilt me into backing off and going back into the closet with whatever other skeletons she has. Needless to say, it didn't work.

A knew, and there was no stuffing the truth down again.

My husband and friends advised me to take the letter with me when I went to visit A, for full disclosure. I showed it to him, and he confirmed it was her handwriting and that it sounded like her.

When I visited T in April, she brought up the letter again and said that when C sent it to me, she was also sending lengthy epistles to A, day after day, begging for his forgiveness and compassion. A was angry that she had lied to him, and she was a busy supplicant, all the while bashing me on the head with venom and guilt. Hypocrisy. Lies. Secrets. They do so much damage, and I seem to come up the loser in all scenarios involving A and C.

I understand that my birth was not a good time for C. I understand that she has her own trauma related to what happened so long ago. I understand that none of this is easy, for her or for any first mother. I respect that she has no desire to know me. And yet it hurts, excruciatingly so, to be a chapter in a book so readily torn out and burned, a narrative denied. To count for nothing. To be a nonentity. To have C insert herself between A and me and destroy that, as well.

I still have the letter. I will always keep it. It's the only thing I've ever touched that she wrote for ME. Sad, isn't it, keeping a poison-pen letter for sentimental reasons?


Unknown said...

You are a wonderful, beautiful creation of God's own design. You are not an accident. You are not an afterthought. You are not a mistake. You cannot determine your self-worth by how someone else treats you, no matter how hard they try to dehumanize you. In God's eyes you are priceless.

The way C is treating you is unfair. It's wrong. But don't let that get to you. I know that sounds preachy coming from an outside who is not in your shoes. But, seriously, C sounds like an extremely controlling woman. If she affects your estimation of your own self-worth, she is successfully controlling you as well. Don't let her.

Say a prayer for her. She sounds like an extremely fearful and miserable person. She could use some prayers to help her break through the concrete walls she has so painstakingly built up around herself.

The ending to this story has yet to be written...

Jenn Siva said...

I am so glad you have started blogging this. I am learning so much about a good friend. So much you didnt share with me because you felt I wouldnt understand, felt I couldnt know how to validate. It is so eye opening and wonderful to get to know this side of you.

Susie said...

I am SO sorry that you have been treated like this. As a first mom, I cannot even begin to imagine treating my child like this, to not desire to know your child, to have no questions that need answered, nor desire to answer my child's questions.

I'm at a loss for words, other than to again say I am so sorry.

First Mom hugs,

ms. marginalia said...

Thank you for your support and expressions of caring. I know on a rational level it isn't about me, but it still hurts. I never imagined that my fmom would be so cold and damaged. It's so much unlike how I function, and it seemed it was not how my brother functioned, either. At one point he told me I should be glad not to have been raised in that family, which hurt, but I can see how it makes sense from where he stands.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Oh, I am so very sorry. Some women have locked themselves up so tightly that they can not undo their hearts. But you are taking the right road. You have a right to your own life.

take care of yourself...she is the loser, not you. Yet I know those words do not push back the hurt and rejection from her.

lorraine from

First Mother Forum

Valency said...

Once again, stunned and wordless...

Like Lorraine said, she is the loser, not you.

(((Hugs))) -


Julia said...

I know this is not the appropriate place for this comment, but I didn't know how to reach you. I just checked back into the conversation at OSoloMama and am really disheartened and angered by how the exchange between you and her ended.(Or, I guess I should say, how OSM ended it)

I'm figuring out how to respond. In the meantime, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. It sucks. Your questions all made sense to me, and I think they deserved answers.

Unknown said...

That is kind of you Julia, (this is Joy, not Kara) I appreciate your support. I honestly think that the dismissiveness by most of them was not malicious but just a testament to the lack of awareness of what the mother/child bond is. I do think there are a few malicious characters over there, but that is another story.

I thought it was important to bring up because if your foundation about attachment is so skewed how can anything following on that trajectory be honest/helpful/authentic. It is not just a simple matter of exchanging an (in)competent caregiver for hopefully a competent one. There is more to it than that. Otherwise why aren't adoptees talking about finding their foster parents?

While I am sure their are cases of this, it by and large is a search for mother, even if it is couched in "medical history". It makes me think of that scene in "Off And Running" that so many adoptees had issue with. The adoptee in this case, Avery, is becoming continually alienated from her adoptive parents. They are flummoxed, "She is behaving like she has been through a trauma, but she hasn't" One of the seemingly caring adoptive moms asserts. Clearly believing as Jean Mercer does that before 6 months, anything goes.

It was also disheartening to be dismissed with "you just think your personal experience trumps all" which is a fairly passive aggressive way to suggest we are so naive and narcissistic as to not be able to form conclusions on a much broader basis.

Yes, my personal experience is very important to me, but just because I am an adoptee, I am one of the many-- My story is relevant to the broader story of adoption.

The irony was even more insulting in light of the fact that the person who asserted this was basing it solely on personal opinion.

It is not a neutral opinion, families like Avery's will really suffer from attachment "experts" denying what is in fact lost and the abiding nature of the loss. It is too vital and primary to let slide.

The idea that I am supposed to be thrilled on the basis that someone doesn't believe in mashing children with blankets, well that seems like a pretty low expectation to me.

ms. marginalia said...

Julia, I am really thankful for your insights and support. I spent much of Wednesday night talking to Joy on the phone and trying to figure out how I could have been dismissed so rudely when all I was trying to do was keep dialogue open and explain why this was important to me.

It was striking that after all the "there is scientific evidence that says you're wrong," there was no such evidence supplied. No facts, no data. It is thus opinion vs. opinion. It remains unproven, to be sure, but then why not keep an open mind? And then to have an admission after the fact that there *is* no significant research--and no apology to me?

I have a background in academia and evaluate theories and assertions by what lies behind them. I know that the PW is anecdotal; I never said any different. I was simply saying that in the absence of a clear consensus, there is value in considering many different viewpoints. But no.

I also very much concur with what you said about power imbalances. Infants are voiceless, and I was one of those infants. To have the infant dismissed, along with me, was very triggering. The "adults" in the situation (APs, fparents, mental health professionals) tend to have a lot more credibility than adoptees--even though I am very much an adult at 41 years of age. The dynamic is terribly inflexible. It's remarkably sad.

I really didn't intend to be hostile, and anyone who knows me well can attest that would be one of the last words used to describe me, but somehow I think my message was perceived as knee-jerk and radical and transgressive, rather than simply critical.

I have been singing your praises to my family and friends since your kind post. I find it really hard to stick up for myself, and even after all that happened, I was blaming myself for somehow being rude and out of line. That I imagined a slight where there was wrong. They assured me that it was okay to feel hurt by being called "amusing." Again, my experience living adopted has led me to doubt myself to the core, even in silly online arguments!

For all that you gave me, I offer you a huge cyberhug and hope that we can talk more. I am sure that I have a lot to learn from you.


Julia said...

I also thought that it made a good deal of sense to focus on the first six weeks, because you would think that everything else that follows would be influenced by that period.

And, I haven't seen "off and running," but I think I understand your point about trauma. Trauma is by its nature a subjective experience. I heard someone say once "the worst thing that ever happened to you is the worst thing that every happened to you"--there's no real comparing across people/experiences/etc. I'm with you--if someone is acting as if they've been traumatized, they probably have been traumatized.

Finally, I agree that no one was attempting to be malicious, but I was disappointed all the same by what I saw as a failure to simply acknowledge they might not have all the answers AND a failure to understand the power they hold as APs in a conversation like this.(In the interests of full disclosure, I am an AP, and do not by any means think that I don't mess up. Cause I have and I do, although I don't always know when.) It especially irks me when I think that it would take so little from the APs to constructively address.

And it ends with adult adoptees (mostly) and APs (mostly) in separate camps, which is exactly the opposite of how I would like it to end.

(sorry for such a long reply...)

Julia said...

Thanks for the cyberhug. I offer you one in return.

For the record, everything you heard as hurtful, I also heard as hurtful. And I didn't think you were being hostile at all. But this is how the crazymaking "angry adoptee" thing works, I guess, right? Someone holds a belief that you will be hostile because you are an adoptee, your behavior is then read as hostile even though it isn't, and you are then dismissed as hostile (and then, I imagine, have the "wtf just happened reaction: I don't think I'm hostile, but maybe I was hostile, but I don't think I'm hostile, etc.) I thought you spoke up for yourself in a healthy way, but people couldn't hear it like that.

Back to the power thing for a minute. I guess what I was also trying to say is that often such conversations have--I don't know what else to call them--meta-conversations going on beneath the surface. The one that I saw going on in that conversation was something like "is adoptees' experience valued?" "do adoptees get to be heard?" "are APs and experts willing to share the power here with adoptees?". I think those meta-conversations are important and necessary, perhaps more important than whatever conversation is going on "substantively." I think it's easy for APs to see these meta-conversations as off-topic and distracting, which might be part of what happened. But I also sensed that some APs didn't feel that they should have to answer these questions, because they think of themselves as thoughtful, open-minded APs (and, in many ways, perhaps they are...) Personally, I think that whoever traditionally has the power has to always be willing to go the extra mile to demonstrate good faith, trustworthiness, willingness to listen, willingness to hear criticism, etc. when in conversation with the party that has traditionally held less power. We don't lose our power just because we become (somewhat) "enlightened" but we may be able to find ways to give some of it away.

Sorry for the rant/disquisition. I'm done now. :)

And I am always happy to talk. You have my email address. Please feel free to use it if you wish.

Unknown said...

I know Julia you are so right. I am still left with the questions, what makes someone an adoption expert?

I read some of Dr. Mercer's other work and it seemed to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, gems like, "Not all children like sitting on Santa's lap" I am sorry, but I knew that as a druggie teenager, I mean srsly?

Not that aiming toward the very dim lessens your responsibility, it actually increases it. It was shocking to me as well that Dr. Mercer making the abusrd claim that Kara and I believe our personal experience trumps all and was at odds with "scientific evidence" then it was revealed that scientific evidence was non-existent wasn't deeply embarrassed. She should have been.

It is awful to diminish and dismiss and be an obstacle to people getting help that they need on the basis of conjecture, speculation, and opinion.

That is how some people roll though. I think they should start a lively debate on exactly when human infants become actually human. Clearly not at birth, at birth they are some sort of soulless toy. Exactly when, do some infants become human sooner than others? There may be no hard science on this but you know I bet it has a direct correlation to comforting APs. Dr. Mercer may have a strong if unstudied opinion on it. I am sure I will learn a lot.

Except f*ck if I am ever exposing myself to that again!