A 1966 Era “In Family ” Adoptee Looks Back on Childhood and Reunion and Says…

in family adoption 1966 adoptee

Kimberly is an adoptee who sent this over to me via email as a guest post. While of course, I love a happily ever after adoption reunion story, the truth is that not all adoption reunions do turn out that way. So I think it is vitally important that the less than rosy stories get told too.
Sometimes in post reunion contact, setting up our own personal boundaries are necessary and only we can determine what is healthy for us.
I think how Kimberly has approached this is very healthy and the way she has approached this; seeing that SHE has the ability to both mother herself and see the positive traits needed in herself might be helpful to others in similar circumstances.

IF I KNEW THEN…

By  Kimberly Fleming

I am an adoptee given up by my birth mother in 1966.  I was adopted within the family, so grew up with my biological grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins around me.  As pretty much all adoptees, I wanted and needed to know why.  I needed answers, understanding and acceptance.

When Your “Aunt” is Really Your Birthmother

in family adoption 1966 adopteeI was raised being told that my mother was my “Aunt Annie”.  I always admired “Aunt Annie”…. she was my favorite.  Although I was not being told the truth about who my parents were, I never had a doubt, not even for a moment that my adoptive parents were not my real parents.  I just never really suspected “Aunt Annie”.  Of course, considering my love and admiration for her, the idea would have been a dream come true.  Then the day came when that dream came true.  I found out the truth at 16.  Which was no surprise; the only surprise was that “Aunt Annie” was my birth mother.  At first, I thought it was a joke someone was playing on me.  This was my dream come true!

An Early ‘”Open Adoption” Kind of

During my childhood, Aunt Annie never made herself a part of my life.  Even though she had full access (something many birth mothers would chew their own arm off to have had) anytime she wanted and there was no shortage of opportunities.  This always confused me.  My adoptive parents (aunt and uncle, whom I called mom and dad) were terribly insecure and once the secret was out that I knew “Aunt Annie” was no aunt to me at all, my adoptive parents became extremely controlling about my access to and communication with my birth mother.

Barriers in Communication Between Adoptees and Their Birth Mothers

Once I became an adult, the door was open – wide open.  There were no barriers, except the barriers that had always existed with “Aunt” Annie.

My communication with her became routine:  once, every three years or so, she would call up, drunk, seeking “forgiveness” promise to “never lose touch again…” then she’d disappear.  (I have never had accurate contact details for her as she would move often and not provide a forwarding address or telephone number).  This has been going on for more than 30 years now.  Well, until I got tired of it.

I was pretty much done with her back in ’92, but I continued to take her phone calls, listen to her slurred speech, get off the phone and just forget about her… until another roughly three years would go by.

Over the course of the years, I have managed to learn some things about her – both accidental and intentional.  And boy, if I knew then what I know now!

Adoptee Fantasies vs Adoptee Reality

The more I learn about her, the more horrified (and mystified) I become.  I used to dream of the day when she would come and rescue me, whisk me away to some fabulous city to her fabulous, exciting life and we’d live happily ever after.  These were my fantasies.  Sadly, that’s exactly what they were.

She has never been a real part of my life.  She hasn’t even tried.  All she’s ever done is use me to assuage herself of the guilt that was eating her alive then she’d be gone – abandoning me all over again.  I tried to give her a chance.  I even agreed to a meeting with a therapist so that “both sides could be heard” (her words).  She spent the entire time talking to the therapist, as if I wasn’t there.  The therapist kept directing her to say these things to me directly, as I was in the room, after all.  When I spoke of my pain, disappointment and confusion, she’d just stare blankly at the wall, almost as if she were in a trance.  No a single explanation, not a single ‘I’m sorry’, not a single tear shed for my pain, only her own and not a single question about my life.  I was done.

When An Adoptee Closes the Door and Why

I made it clear to her what I needed, I wrote her a nice, long letter being very clear on what my needs were and then I waited.  Once again, she pulled her disappearing act and this time, so did I.  I moved after that ill-fated meeting and have never made contact or offered a forwarding address or telephone number.  I never will.

If I could have a conversation with my younger self, that vulnerable, sweet, trusting, open and loving little girl, I would tell her “let her go… she’s not your real mommy.  You have me and I will always be here for you, no matter what.”  I would offer that precious little child all the love she needed to feel whole and let her know that she doesn’t need that lady; that she is loved and whole without her.  I would tell her that someday she would understand why it had to be so and I would tell her to never, ever waste her time trying to have a relationship with that woman.

Adoption Reunion is Only the Beginning

When I hear of these stories of reunion – the “Burger King Baby” and all those stories about mothers and children finding each other, I am never as wide-eyed and moved about the story as others seem to be.

To me, that’s not the end of the story, but the beginning.  We never get the news flash or headline reading “10 Years Later, what happened between Burger King Baby and her mother after the reunion.”  Though I’m dying to!  How is it for the child after the reunion?  After all the questions have been answered?  How is it for the birth mother when she learned her child was treated like an outcast, or abused?  Are there personality clashes, cultural clashes?  Religious beliefs or barriers created by the child being raised in a totally different environment from how the mother perhaps would have raised the child?  Does it make a long term relationship more challenging?   I agonize over these things because I want to know – am I the only one?  Are there others out there, like me who so longed to “know” only to find out and then think “… uuuggghhh…” or “yikes!” or “Can I get a do over?!”

What my fantasies were about the kind of woman my real mother was and who she actually is are simply worlds apart.  What I have learned is that all of the things I projected on to her about the person I thought, hoped and needed her to be, are actually true of myself.  I so needed my birth mother to be this strong, courageous, intelligent, ambitious, woman who wanted to know, do and be everything.  She is none of those things.  But I am.

The truth is that I am all I have ever needed.  I am whole without her.  It’s sad, because that little girl still inside me really wanted to share those wonderful things with her.  Here’s what else I’ve learned – I can share these gifts of life with my own daughter.

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10 Comments on "A 1966 Era “In Family ” Adoptee Looks Back on Childhood and Reunion and Says…"

  1. I learned 15 years or so after my son’s birth that my mother had asked the nun in charge at the maternity home about the possibility of adopting him and raising him as her own. The nun said; ” be prepared to say good-bye to your daughter, because it is not possible to live with the lie directly in front of her every day, and she’ll have no choice but to pull away.” I always felt that would have been true and cannot imagine how I could have endured it. I wish your mother could have found a way to be less absorbed with her pain and ha the capacity to be aware of yours. As another mom, who turned to substances to lessen the pain, it is unfortunately quite common to become self absorbed in one’s addiction. I send hugs to that little girl inside and stand in awe of the strong woman you’ve become.

  2. After all the traffic on this subject, I feel I must make at least one thing clear: my mother and I never lived in the same city. Shortly after I was born, she left. First living in LA, then crisscrossing the country for years until she finally relocated to Europe where she resides to this day. The full access that my mother had was the family connection, where there was a network of information on my current status and whereabouts. She was given space and time as no one was bombarding her with phone calls, letters or pictures. In fact, there is only one occasion I recall when she got a picture. My mother was free to visit when it suited her, which she did. And when she was not in a position to pay for an airline ticket but desperately wanted to “come home”, her brothers and sisters banded together and paid her airfare and ALWAYS gave her a place to stay. It was always her call, to be as she wished.

    I also recognize that I could not stand by and watch my child call someone else “mom”. Not only could I not do it, I would not do it. Period. But that’s me. I spent years doing the research and reading the books, articles and birth mother stories. One of my favorites in Nancy Verrier’s “Primal Wound” which considers the perspective of the entire triad – from mother to child and adoptive parents. Then, there’s The Birth Mother Research Project (http://www.birthmothers.info/kelly/results.html), which documents the very real traumas experienced by women who relinquish their babies: PTSD, depression, traumatic stress, avoidance, etc. I have even shared this with my mother in the hopes of offering her some relief and awareness that she is not alone. I wished to awaken in her some self-awareness and hoped she might finally be motivated to get help for herself. These efforts have ALWAYS been one sided. It has NEVER been reciprocated. Not on any level, not ever.

    I also hoped for my mother that rather than burry her sadness and grief, that she give them the space to be alive in her so that she can heal and go on to have a healthier, more productive life. It would have been enough for me, for example, if she were to simply say “I’m really in pain right now and I’m finding contact with you to be too difficult. I am really needing some space and time to deal with my overwhelming feelings. I hope you can understand.”

    Saying these words, holding her pain, being able to be present with me in mine is simply our humanity. All I’m saying is “be human with me.” Just as others acknowledge that they cannot live a lie and claim to be whom they are not to their child, I cannot live a lie either. I cannot continue to be in a place where I pretend my mother’s behavior is acceptable to me. I cannot live the lie that my needs for openness, honesty and sharing don’t matter; that my needs for continuity, clarity and mutual understanding are less important than any of her needs, whatever they might be.

    Empathy, compassion, understanding? Been there. Done that. But holding on to the lie that “it’s okay” for the sake of showing “empathy” serves no one.

    • Vicki Stuart | June 15, 2015 at 4:28 am |

      There is no way you can heal from losing a child. This is the ugly truth of adoption – that adoptive families are created on the devastation of the original family, that lives are devastated.

      My question for you: have you “been human with her” –
      ask yourself what you think of her. Do you see her as a valuable and normal human being? Or someone who has been too badly damaged…. remember the line of the song “is my heart too broken”. That’s what adoption does to mothers.

      The problem is the adoptee finds her or is found, and they want her to be grateful – to whom?

      The only ones who should be truly grateful in adoption are the adoptive parents. What really gets me is the adoptive parents got the chance to raise the adoptee and the adoptee is often very understanding if the adoptive parents get upset, why then can’t you be understanding if the woman who gave birth to you gets upset.

      Why doesn’t she share her pain, well that’s because so many adoptees go “wow, this is too much trouble, I thought she’d be out thanking the A Parents, keeping them on the pedestal they think they deserve”. Isn’t that what you’re doing, deciding this is all too much trouble.

      • Vicki,

        I am so disappointed, so exhausted, so very tired of getting messages only from birthmothers. When I saw your message, all I could do was just give out an exhausted sigh and wonder when will I be seen, heard and accepted for MY precious experience?

        I wrote and shared my story because I was really interested in connecting with other adoptees. My question was not rhetoric. I really mean it. Am I the only one? Am I the only one who’s connect with their birthmother only to find a complete, total train wreck, nightmare experience?

        Don’t you find it interesting that you read this story and instead of seeing a completely helpless baby, unable to even hold its own head up, loosing its mother and its entire world being thrown into a mire of confusion; it’s interesting that instead of seeing an incredibly confused child, lost in world that doesn’t make sense – seeking, longing for understanding, a loving connection and the kind of warmth that can only be provided by the missing arms of its mother. Instead of seeing that story, what you see is someone who doesn’t seem to “get it”. What you seem to see is someone who just hasn’t tried hard enough… someone who expects a “grateful”, gracious waif to float in as if from a cloud of a heavenly experience. Don’t you find that interesting?

        I’m wondering if you actually read my story – the whole thing. I’m wondering if you remember this part:
        “I spent years doing the research and reading the books, articles and birth mother stories. One of my favorites in Nancy Verrier’s “Primal Wound” which considers the perspective of the entire triad – from mother to child and adoptive parents. Then, there’s The Birth Mother Research Project (http://www.birthmothers.info/kelly/results.html), which documents the very real traumas experienced by women who relinquish their babies: PTSD, depression, traumatic stress, avoidance, etc. I have even shared this with my mother in the hopes of offering her some relief and awareness that she is not alone. I wished to awaken in her some self-awareness and hoped she might finally be motivated to get help for herself. These efforts have ALWAYS been one sided. It has NEVER been reciprocated. Not on any level, not ever.”

        When you mention that birthmothers are expected to be ‘grateful’, are you referring to your own experience? Is that what happened to you? Are you wanting some understanding for how angry you really are? Were you wishing you had had enough support to be able to raise your child yourself, instead of being forced because of circumstance to do what you found “devastating”?

        I would encourage you to read Claudia’s response to Jan Stewart above. I especially would like to point out her words: “I personally find that the way this adoptee did try for a very long time, but finally gave up is MUCH healthier than the adoptee who spends their life [sic] constantly wishing their parent to be something that they are not capable of being. I see acceptance for the damage done, but with an act of self preservation. Again, the adoptee CANNOT be held to blame here.”

        I wish you all the best.

  3. Joyce Luna | May 24, 2015 at 12:42 pm |

    I enjoy reading about these adoptions. Realizing that really they are each one different, and have different emotions and needs.
    My friend was adopted and there is resentment on her adopted moms side and also, her side. Feel sorry for them both. They are grown and do not seem to be able to get it like a biological family………..because they are not.
    I do feel sorry for them both and hope they can get it together before the biological and/or adopted family passes on.

    • Joyce, Thank you for your input. I am, however, confused. Why do you feel sorry for these people? What is it that you feel sorry for? I’m not sure what you mean by “they do not seem to be able to get it…” Get what? I’m just lost when I read you commend and wonder if you could elaborate.

  4. Cindy Aulabaugh | May 27, 2015 at 1:49 am |

    My heart is breaking for the agony your mother has lived in, and tried to drown with alcohol.
    What her leaving and moving so far away tells me is she loved and wanted you more than life itself…. and family prevented her. This to me is one of the most destructive forms of adoption (for a mother). It almost happened to me in that some aunt and uncle family members were wanting to take my baby. Of course having family members that want a baby (but can’t have their own)aligns perfectly with other family members wanting the mother and child in their current ”state” to ”disappear”. God they do not know what they do when they expect such things from a mother and I feel that the younger she is the more damage it causes.

    If they knew and understood what this does to a ‘child’, a young girl, a woman, a mother (and she is a mother for life no matter her age!).. sigh, such things would never, ever be done. A mother forced to ‘live’ the most unnatural lie there is while she is trying to hold her shattered heart and blown apart mind together.

    If you have children or plan to, imagine for a moment or two, or a day… having to pretend and lie, to your heart most of all, but to everyone ALL the time, from your child’s birth, while someone else.. (who says they do, and are -supposed to- LOVE you) ones who were possibly instrumental in a forced/left you NO alternative adoption -your own family members- raise your child from birth.. but you are *not* allowed to be * your * son * or * daughters *mother.. no matter how much you want to be. The way your parents reacted when they found out You knew who your mother was…. speaks volumes (to me) in that she had no choice.. and wasn’t ever supposed to be allowed a ‘choice’ or truth.

    It’s hard to ‘go there and imagine’ because it is soooo damn unnatural and sooo very damaging that I think the mind prevents it for self-preservation.

    These, of course, are my opinions. I feel very strongly about this though.
    I’m not asking you to put yourself in an unhealthy situation.. I am asking, please give your (young girl- because I suspect that is where she ”broke”) mother, some .. or a lot of slack. If even only in your own heart and mind for now, if you cannot bring yourself to do it in real life.

    • Cynthia, I appreciate the contribution of your story and your input. I can see that you still have a lot of pain about you situation and it seems you are touched by my story because it reminds you so much of your own. I can appreciate your deep felt sympathies for my birth mother and the desire that I “give her a lot of slack”. Because of the deep pain and sometimes deeply unresolved grief, people have a tendency to project on to my story. I ask that you please recognize that my story is not yours.

      No one prevented my mother from keeping me. Her family did not block, deny, discourage, impede or bar her from me or from keeping me in any way. My birth mother decided before I was born to give me up for adoption. Her family stepped in and said “Why give this child to strangers, when there is room enough amongst us? We prefer that this child remain in the family – for both her sake and yours.” My birth mother agreed. The aunt and uncle who took me already had two children of their own. This was not an “I can’t have one, so I’ll take hers” story. What I understand, and what I wish others to understand is that my aunts and uncles were doing the best they could with the tools they had at the time. They did everything they knew how to help both my birth mother and me. Ultimately, they were acting with a bias toward MY best interest. I, for one, am truly glad they did.

      But, for the sake or argument, let’s just say you’re right. Let’s just say that my birth mother wanted to keep me and was hoodwinked by her own family, she suffered greatly and drowned herself in tequila. How does one explain her absence from my life – my ADULT life? Who is responsible for that? And that is precisely where my problem with her lay. She is not 18 anymore. I am not an infant. Therapy has been around since the early 20th Century and AA started some 40 years after that. As ignorant as the world was about the effects on birth mothers after surrendering a child in the 1960’s, the self help movement of the 1980’s spawned a MASSIVE movement aimed at confronting early traumas, healing unresolved grief and sadness and becoming whole. My mother often states how “they didn’t have this way back when…” Well, they have it now. In fact they’ve had it now for nearly 40 years and it only continues to improve. She has had every day of her life since (at least) the 1980’s to deal with her pain and loss. For several decades, she has chosen not to.

      I’m glad that you can recognize and don’t want me to be in an unhealthy situation. What I have is a profound need for is personal responsibility on my mother’s part. What I have a deep longing for is my story to be respected for what it is, rather than what someone else projections on to it out of their unresolved grief and pain. As long as my mother sees herself a victim; as long as she’s talking about what tools weren’t available ‘way back when’; as long as she refuses to take responsibility for herself, to take each moment for what it is and live right now – a relationship with her is simply not possible.

  5. need a review Claudia | May 29, 2015 at 3:12 am |

    Kimberly they did block her from you. By not allowing her to -be your mother-. .. and…. you said, “My adoptive parents (aunt and uncle whom I call mom and dad) were terribly insecure and once the secret was out that I knew “Aunt Annie” was no aunt to me at all, my adoptive parents became extremely controlling about my access to and communication with my birth mother.” Who do you think they controlled about access and communication PRIOR to your finding out? Did that just -suddenly- become an issue? I doubt it. It sounds like, as long as your mother ”kept her mouth shut and never told you she was your mother, then, she could have a few crumbs or stay in the family. There is much more going on than what you have been told or seen. Why do you think they became ”extremely controlling”? I’m certain that you are not the only one they ”controlled”. When your ‘shared’ family ALL becomes open and honest I fully believe your mother will begin healing. ..and be able to. It’s much like the instance of incest where NO ONE believes the words of a child …even into adulthood. It makes the person that suffered that horrendous abuse absolutely mind-numbingly distressed and greatly hinders healing. Truth open many doors to healing. Your family is a better place to start than your mother.

    You say you have done a lot of reading. Really? If you had truly done that you would know the amount of good, proper and healing counseling available and given to mothers is very sorely lacking, very hard to find. and. like I said, the healing only truly and fully begins with honesty.. by all involved. Your mother can be fully honest with herself.. but if others are still perpetuating lies and deceit or ”stories” that DO NOT JIBE with her truth, and they ”control” the main story telling or they are believed exclusively, then that forces her to continue living lies and she cannot heal in that place. Does that make sense? Don’t take my word for it. Ask a therapist or two or three and see what they say. Mothers are put in a hard hellish place and often kept there through life by the keepers of the information/hiders of the truth. Look at closed adoption records…. there is much more truth to the fact that many do not want -their- responsibility revealed. and I don’t mean mothers. You say, “Aunt Annie” never made herself a part of your life”. No kidding. She was not nor is she now, your “aunt”. She ”had full access to you and many opportunities” ..no. She did not have ”full access” to you. She had to live a lie. An awful, soul devastating lie. She could not ”be” your mother. She had to be your “aunt”. Why?

    You saw a therapist together, according to your mother, “so that both sides could be heard”. What was her side Kimberly? From that wording, it sounds as if her ”side” was different than your ‘side’ or your ‘view’.

    Honestly Kimberly I believe your mother will be able to do and be more of what you are looking for when the rest of your shared family is open and honest about EVERYTHING. Why was it such a desperately needed thing to keep you in the dark on who your mother truly was? Do you have an answer for that?

    It is not your or any adoptees ‘responsibility’ to heal their mother. Your mother cannot be in a ”unhealthy situation” either. How about looking at ”personally responsibility” on -everyone’s- part. Mother’s are truly well and tired of taking all the ”responsibility”, for everyone, all the time. We are human too. Yes, we have our part of the responsibility pie to eat. We are not going to keep having the whole damn thing shoved down our throats. Maybe some of this can give you a wee bit of an answer why she is “absent from your adult life”.

    I used the ‘anonymous’ so that Claudia could review what I have written so that if this is absolutely freaking wrong and out of line she can refuse to post it. (Thank you Claudia for reviewing this and yeah or naying.) Which I hope she will if it sounds as if I’m attacking or being cruel or if I’m just plain out wrong or wrong headed. I can use all the help I can get. Maybe if there is something useful said in this but the rest is not helpful, then she can pass the useful part along.
    With hope we can all heal from this ‘mess’ called adoption.
    Cindy Aulabaugh

  6. Thank you again, Cynthia for your input. I can see that you are really hurting about so much. It seems you are so longing for openness and honesty and really wanting people to know the truth. I can see that you are in pain. I can see that you are suffering. It seems you really want to be heard about the truth of your situation; the truth of your pain, what you suffered and how you were expected to be. I’m guessing you felt unseen and unheard for so long and it seems the world still just doesn’t get how much you are suffering at the soul level.

    I am so deeply confused by what you are saying. None of it makes any sense to me at all. I’m sorry, but you just do not know enough about my situation to make some of the claims that you are making. I know you want to help. I’m guessing you want to shed some light on what my birth mother might have been experiencing – and perhaps still is.

    I really wish you could get it that there are no secrets here about this situation. Not any more. Not since I have been an adult. I have had many conversations (as an adult) with my birth mother about this, about her, about her family. About how they treated her, what was expected of her and I saw for myself how she responded. I have also interviewed family members closest to the situation. I am so wishing and longing for respect for my story. Respect for who I am, what I have lived and trust for the fact that I actually know what I’m talking about. Just as you are wanting respect for what you have been through, so am I. I also want to be respected for what my experience is. I also want to be seen for my pain and heard for my needs of openness and honest – from my birth mother.

    I am really struggling to understand what you are talking about. When you write: “Why was it such a desperately needed thing to keep you in the dark on who your mother truly was? Do you have an answer for that?” Yes, actually, I do. Not only do I have an answer, I have the understanding. Right now, I’m wishing I could look into your eyes, see into your soul for the pain that you are in and hold you.

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