Ramifications of Adoption Relinquishment on Parented Children
I was thinking about this the other day while chatting with an adoptee on Facebook one night. Since I am handing out Kudos for inspiration, Kristina, this one’s for you.
From that conversation, and then from a conversation I had with Miss Scarlett on the 7:30 ride to school this morning, there was another excellent Facebook conversation having to do with these issues of how the previous or subsequent child/ren can feel about the adoption of their relinquished children sibling and adoption in general. Again, this is an area that I know almost NO mothers considering relinquishment were counseled on as a risk, or even a possibility to think about. So I think it’s a good topic to explore and I would LOVE to have other siblings add their views and feelings. I am just observing that part and there is quite a difference.
When I relinquished Max, it was suppose to be something that affected ME. The pain and loss was to be mine to bear as Max would be “better off”, his father unaware, my brother and extended family equally as clueless and my mother, well she didn’t matter.. at least I was not give pause to consider how nay one else felt. Like so many things in adoption, the professionals were wrong. Like we say, the “gift of adoption” just keep on giving and giving.. the pain has a huge ripple effect that touches every aspect of a woman’s lives including ALL our children.
The Affect of Relinquishment on Mothering
I have been hearing these conversations for over a decade. So many moms who have relinquished speak of an intense hyper vigilance for the children they did parent. “Clingy”, “over-protective” and “over achieving super mommy” are just some of the terms repeated in this regard. There are reports of a great anxiety from conception on through the hospital birth to doctor visits to school interaction; the fear that moms will be deemed, once again, unworthy of parenting and the child will be taken away. I know moms who never could deal with being separated form the parented child to the point that certain “normal’ kid activities like having a baby sitter and sleep-overs became forbidden.
I have written before how I think I went in the opposite direction. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not, but how could I freak out that my kids were at Grandma’s or whatever if I was Ok with sending my newborn to people I have never met? Sometimes I worry that the dis-attachment has gone farther than that. I know the kids prefer to ask me if they can go to a friend’s house because I’m always like “Sure, go have fun! See ya later.” Sometimes I have to remind myself to be a bit more concerned and to make sure they know I actually DO worry.
Now I am conscious of that fact, but what about the moms that aren’t? My kids know the deal, what I do and why. Even this week, they know that I’m on tear patrol, we communicate, no secrets here now; but what if they didn’t know at all?
The Cost of Secrets and Lies on Children
I am friends IRL with a kept sibling and without putting words in her mouth she has told me how she knew something was “wrong” with her mother who had the secret relinquished child, but never knew what or why. Kids pick up these things and worse, they internalize it, and often think they are the cause. Just like so many adoptees who were never told they were adopted and later went “Ohhhh.. that explains it”; I can see kept kids also knowing something is off, not feeling able to ask mom why she is sad. It’s only later on, if they are “lucky” do they find out the cause for their mother’s own behavior.
While relinquishment grief might be easily confused as depression or anxiety in a mother, how sad is it that the kept children also lose a mother that they deserved. They have lost the mother that might have been should the relinquishment never happened. I can see it being like raised with a ghost of the lost sibling.. always present, but never fully realized, nothing that can be pinned down. A half mother, a shadow of herself constantly denying so many aspects of her reality. She is not fully present as she lost part of herself in the past.
While it broke MY heart to hear Garin, around the age of four, say he “wished he had an older brother”, I know he did not, could not, understand some of my own behaviors such as forcing him to be Where the Wild Things Are “Max” for Halloween. And when I told him, at age 13, about the existence of his real flesh and blood brother, his first words where “Why didn’t you tell me” and he was upset that others knew and he did not. This is a betrayal to a child. Is it forgivable?
Other Loses to the Kept Sibling
Of course, the obvious loss is the normal sibling to sibling relationship. Shared memories, wrestling matches, bickering, family vacation car rides from hell; all gone and never to be recaptured again.
I see my two oldest boys, barely three years apart in age, with a love for playing music, a natural talent and so alike in more than just their shared bone structure and wonder what might have been had they been raised together. I know there would have been many bands and fights over practice space, but what could have been gained with a partner in musical crime? We’ll never know.
When we visited Max last in Boston, I could see how strongly Tristan took to his oldest brother. Tristan is the only blue eyed child and all the rest of us have brown eyes, but in Max, he can see his own face looking back at him, blue eyes and all. A few months ago the kids and I were bopping around New Paltz and in one of the shops, Tristan found a hat that was pretty much identical to the one Max had in Boston. I wasn’t going to buy it for him, but then he said the magic words “It’s like the one that Max has” and I bought the hat. Was it worn for school pictures this year and on all special occasions? Yup. Tristan needs Max for his own healthy genetic mirroring. Adoption took that away from the child that should never have been affected.
Fitting Your Adoption Story into their Adoption Reality
Scarlett was not yet five and Tristan just three when I told them about their oldest relinquished brother. She “got it” and asked questions, he did not, at least on the surface, for a few more years. I was very worried about telling them the truth, age appropriate but true, and not some happy adoption story since it wasn’t a good thing to have lost their brother. While I think it was a good thing and handle correctly, some aspects are unavoidable. There were conversations after about “being given away” which is a normal fear after finding out that your MOTHER GAVE AWAY YOUR SIBLING. You know, if she got rid of one, are you safe? What if Mom gets sick, or Dad loses his job; can I be placed for adoption? I can guess that even older parented children who see the new baby relinquished can wonder as well. Maybe they have their own way of processing that mentally and understand cognitively based on their age, but then they also have their own grief to deal with as well. I know one of the worst things I have felt as a mother is that I let down, disappointed or hurt my children even unintentionally, so how does seeing your child mourn a lost sibling feel?
Scarlett has always been super accepting of the reality, or maybe the most UNaccepting as she brings it up the most and actual attempts to engage Max the most, and that has lead to some interesting situations. She announced at her fifth birthday party to all her princess guests that she had another brother placed for adoption. She tells her school mates and teachers as well. She understands all too well the political issues surrounding women’s rights. She joined me at the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in Chicago this past year. And she speaks of reality, her reality, and adoption truths even when it means, like our conversation this AM, telling her friends about the other side of adoption when they tell her that ” they want to adopt when they get older”. As thrilled as I am that she has such and understanding and as proud as I am for her fighting to make her own changes, how I wish that she did not have this loss to deal with.
Max called me back last night after I had texted him for his birthday and the kids were super crazy excited to talk to him. Like insane off the wall excited. And my heart broke just a little when she asked Max, yet again, if he could come to Thanksgiving next week and the answer was no. While I have never spent a holiday with my child, how do we prepare for the look on our children’s faces knowing they will probably never see all their siblings sitting around the holiday table? How I worry what they feel when a 40 minute phone call is the best thing ever? How can we expect them to accept that reality that another family has dibs on their brothers holiday time? Especially when they , rightfully and normally, want more?
I guess I don’t, but I hate that my “choice” has done this to them all. I hate what adoption has done to my family. Tell me again, loving choice for who? I see my children yearning for something that can never be replaced and it breaks my heart, yet it has to break.. for it I ask them to stop for my heart’s sake, then we are back to secrets and far from the truth.
The truth is adoption relinquishment hurts us all..over and over and over again.