Are All Adoptive Mothers Threatened By Their Child's Search For, Or Reunion With, The Birth Mother/Family?
To Support Or Not Support One's Son Or Daughter's Wish To Search - That, As They Say, Is The Question
Note: This Hub was written in response to a HubPages question about whether adoptive mothers would support their child in his/her efforts to search for his/her birth-mother/birth-family. My short response to that is that I would (and did even though to do this day I don't know if my son's reunion resulted from his indicating any wish to search to someone other than me, because he certainly didn't indicate any wish to search to me, personally). The thoughts/points below discuss some of the related issues.
The original question asked adoptive mothers/parents whether they would support their child if s/he wanted to search for his/birth-mother (perhaps birth-father and/or family as well).
My personal reply to that is, "Yes, but only under certain circumstances AND only if I believed my child was mature enough to deal with who/what s/he might discover."
While all adopted children, adoptive parents, birth parents (or birth stories) are different; and while I recognize that there may times when an adopted son or daughter may benefit from "searching-and-finding"; it is now understood that young people (adopted or not) can take until early- to mid-twenties before their brain reaches full maturity. While whatever "finishing touches" may gradually be taking place between, say, the age of 18 and 23 or 25 may vary from individual to individual; I can't help but believe that if a child knows absolutely nothing about his/her birth-mother the time to find out something, or more, is only when that child is old enough that any number of things associated with either not being old enough to at least assume that his/her brain had the time to reach whatever maturity it was likely to before introducing "complicating factors".
Of course, in the time in which we live (and have lived over the few decades perhaps); young people in their teens (adopted or not) often face "complicating factors" of one sort or another (sometimes more than one). I don't think it has necessarily helped that also over the last few decades we have seen such an increased in the various opinions about/approaches to the matter of adoption, itself.
While I'm certainly not in favor of the old attitudes about adoption that meant that adopted children/adults were left without information to which they really did have (or should have) had a right; I believe the proverbial pendulum has not only swung too far in the other direction, but in a lot of ways swung erratically and wildly in so many directions that it has (at least in some cases) done nothing but cause more problems for adopted people, birth parents, and adoptive parents alike.
At least in the case of adoptions where the (adoptive) mother/child bond was formed when the child was young enough (in infancy and/or the earlier toddler months, perhaps), the real question of whether to "support or not support" is either about whether the mother is worried about how a search/reunion may negatively impact her child OR, in some cases, how or whether it may affect her relationship with her child.
I can only address this subject as a mother of one child who was adopted from infancy, as well as two other children to whom I gave birth, myself. With regard to adoptions of children past the "mother/child bonding stage" that takes place in the first several months of a child's life. So, while what's here is presented only from my own, one, experience as an adoptive mother; and while it focuses primarily on the kind of bond that takes place in infancy and/or the earliest of the toddler years; I tend to suspect that even in adoption-relationships in which the type of bond that exists may not be exactly the same as that exact type that happens between infants and mothers and continues to grow throughout childhood and beyond (if all goes well, that is), some of the points raised below will be shared by any good, loving, adoptive, mother/parent whose primary concern is the well-being of her child.
Supporting or not-supporting a child's learning about and/or meeting the birth-mother (and/or birth parents/family) can potentially be about one of two things: Fear that the child's emotional/mental well-being may suffer and/or (potentially) the adoptive mother's/parents' concern that their own relationship with their child may suffer.
Sorting Out Perceived, Potential, Threats To The Mother/Child Relationship
Concern About Threats To The Mother/Child Relationship Is Not Always Limited To Adopted Children, Teens, or Young Adults
Since any mother or father of a teen (or even younger child) (adopted or not) generally discovers that once a child gets a little more "out in the world" and/or even once someone other than parent, himself, has the opportunity to have more influence over how well (or how accurately) a child understands even the best and most loving of parent; it becomes clear that adoption is hardly the only "outside-world" (or even "outside-the-relationship") threat to the relationship between a mother/father and the child.
More On Those Potential Threats To The Relationship Between The Adoptive Mother (Or Parent) And Her Child, But That May Not Be Related To Adoption At All
Keep in mind that some of what seems like a threat to a relationship between mother and child (or father and child) is often just the healthy "branching out into the world" that children go through as they build outside relationships/experiences. Some are more concerning to parents than others, in which case parents need to figure out what to do and/or how to ride out some things. Potentially far more destructive to a relationship between mother and child (or father and child) may be in the instance of one parent's telling a child inaccurate information about the other parent, other outside adults presuming to know the child, or more about what's right for the child, than the mother (or father) actually and objectively does (and therefore contributes to weakening the child's faith in the parent with whom he is solidly bonded) or, of course, friends (and sometimes friends' parents) who support the child in behavior/beliefs that aren't healthy for him, just when he is hoping to back-up his beliefs that his own parent/parents are "old fashioned" or otherwise "clueless" with regard to what "everybody else" or "all the other kids" are doing
In other words, what most parents of teens eventually learn (some teens and/or parents more than other teens and/or parents, some situations more than other situations) is that they can't always be worried about potential and/or perceived threats to their relationship with their child; and all they can sometimes do is their best, as they count on that powerful and solid bond that they know they've always had with their child to see them through whatever unnerving, even frightening, times or threats may come along.
Emotionally "grown-up" and secure parents (adoptive or not) know that neither they nor their child can afford to let a parent's insecurities or "issues" (other than concern for that child's well-being) be that parent's guide - plain and simple).
So having addressed the matter of potential/perceived threats to any mother/child relationship; and having been a mother who not only understood my child, our relationship, and any other complicating factors that existed in our own lives/situation better than anyone else in this world understood any of those things (and what solid, good, loving, mother doesn't when it comes down to it?), I've presented below, and from my own perspective, the whole picture of whatever concerns, perceived threats, or other worries I had as the time came for my own son to meet, and learn about, his birth-mother and family.
Not All Adoptive Mothers Are At All Threatened By Their Child's Search And/or Reunion
My eldest son came into my life thirty-seven years ago, and he happens to have been adopted from infancy but not birth. In the thirty-plus years since I first became a mother I've so often heard people express concerns about, and even seem very certain about, adoptive mothers' feeling "threatened" or "insecure" about any eventual search and/or reunion between the child and his birth-mother/birth-family.
Obviously, I can't speak for all adoptive mothers in the world any more than I can speak for mothers in the world in general. Everyone is different. Every adoption is different. Every situation is different. Every mother is different. I do know that I'm certainly not alone in my sense of sureness about my relationship with my eldest son; and, I can tell you that of all the worries or concerns or uncertainties or issues I've ever dealt with as a mother, there has never been a time when I've felt insecure and/or threatened (in terms of my relationship with my son) by my son's meeting his birth-mother and birth-family.
Some Context/Perspective With Regard To My Own Experiences With Maternal Bonding
In order to put some context/perspective to any of the thoughts about to be expressed here; it may be worth noting that this particular adoption had nothing to do with anyone having any fertility problems. Somewhat oddly, I suppose, when my son was a preschooler I had a miscarriage after twenty weeks of pregnancy. My eldest son was just five years old when his little brother was born at thirty-four weeks (a healthy preemie, although one requiring some extra time and care in the hospital). When my eldest son was eight, and my youngest son was three, my daughter was born at a nice, "considered-full-term", thirty-seven weeks.
One reason I mention my younger children is to point out that I have a frame-of-reference when it comes to how it feels to be a mother to more than one child to whom I gave birth, myself.
Misguided Beliefs/Assumptions About Mothers In General, But Also Adoptive Mothers In Particular
Of course, in all the years since I've been a mother (and particularly, perhaps, even more so since I've been the mother of children who are grown up), I've heard and read so many things that so many people think about mothers that are either out-and-out wrong, or else that certainly don't apply to all mothers.
So, whether it's an issue related to mothers in general or one related only to adoptive mothers, so much of what people seem to assume, or else believe is true of all mothers/adoptive mothers, is really just not true in all (maybe even most) cases.
Where, then, does all this bad information come from? Sometimes it comes from people who, themselves, don't have the healthiest of relationships (either with their own children or parents, adoptive or otherwise) and who therefore assume things are the same with all, or at least most, others in the same situation. Sometimes ideas or concerns may come from children (grown or otherwise) who don't yet have children of their own; or in the case of adoption, may never have an adopted child of their own - or at least not one adopted from infancy). Ideas about what mothers think, or how they "probably feel" often come from either men (who will never be mothers, needless to say) or else even from women who are mothers but who don't yet have children old enough to know, for themselves, how the bond between mothers and children grows over the years.
Then too, sadly enough, there are some children who come into their adoptive family with some condition (emotional and/or physical) that may pose enough challenges to the bonding process or to the mother/child relationship in some other way. When this is the case the mother may not have the opportunity to know how it feels to bond with, and love, a child adopted from infancy.
Also, sadly, adoptive mothers are the same as all mothers, in that some mothers are more comfortable with, and natural at, bonding with and raising a secure and happy child. To further complicate this particular aspect of things, sometimes the most loving and/or capable mother in the world can be made to feel insecure about what she shares with her adopted child by people, and a world, that so often still thinks there has to be "something less" about what is shared by mothers and their adopted child/children. This isn't, by any means, all adoptive mothers. Many are every bit as secure and sure as I have always been. The reason some may not be quite as sure, even though they feel secure and sure, may be that they don't have a relationship with birth children to compare to their relationship with their adopted child/children.
Something else that can happen, too, is that children may have one issue or another (especially in their teen years), and it can seem/be natural for adoptive mothers to wonder if the fact of adoption is at the root of one problem or "issue" or another. It may or may not be, but a good part of the time some problems/issues are the very same kind that, for example, a whole lot of teens may have or go through.
Finally, there are even times when people who are considered (and in fact, sometimes are) "experts" on matters of adoption either have misguided beliefs about how to help a child feel secure about being adopted, or at least beliefs that aren't always helpful in all situations.
My Son's Reunion With The Birth-Mother and Birth-Family
My son had not shown any interest in searching. In fact, it was when he was twenty-one that a "go-between" agency, acting for the birth mother, contacted him. He said he had no interest in responding to the letter. While I certainly have reason to think he was being honest when he'd said he had no interest, I could not be completely certain, either, that he wasn't worried about how I'd feel, or about making me worry. It’s very common for adopted individuals (at least those adopted from infancy) to be concerned about how a search and/or reunion may affect the only parents they have ever known.
In any case, when my son indicated that he had no interest in responding to the letter he received I said something like, "Maybe you could just let her know you're OK." He agreed.
There was never a time that I was ever insecure about any possible reunion. I was secure in my relationship with him (maybe because it was the same as my relationship with my two younger children).
My Concerns/Worries With Regard To A Possible Reunion (Basically, I Was Worried About My Son and Only My Son - Never Myself At All)
Because of a number of realities in his, or the birth family's, story I was concerned that "a can of worms" opened when he wasn't ready to a) deal with, and/or b) not somehow be "rocked to core" or otherwise "thrown off"; my only concerns were ever that he be emotionally mature enough, and out of his teens long enough, to not be at a higher risk of being "thrown off" (or even pressured by the go-between people to meet the birth mother - and that, according to my son, is what happened. (Whether my son was actually “pushed” by the social worker or not is something I don’t know. There’s a chance she didn’t intend to push, but he may have felt as if he was being pushed. There’s also the chance that he wasn’t pushed at all but felt more comfortable presenting things that way in order not to worry me, or otherwise make me feel threatened.)
When one is mature and secure as a mother, while certainly no one ever wants complications or other things that may challenge her child's well-being; when it comes down to it, one is simply prepared to deal with what comes if that's part of her child's life. Personally, I certainly preferred not to have something happen that would undo all that I'd done with regard to my son's sense of security and or well-being; but his birth-story was his, and it was never my wish to see him denied it. It was a hell of a lot easier that my other two children didn't have a "Birth Story" (and one that was awfully complicated and hard to explain), but this one child had those first few months that I hadn't been able to share; and when I signed on to be his mother I didn't sign on with the idea of being wanting to hide from the realities of his earliest months or with the idea of eliminating challenges by denying their existence.
Was I scared for him? You bet I was, and I had plenty of reasons to be (but won't share any of that here). But, while I would have preferred he'd had another few years before filling in any of the "blanks" of his earliest months; I wouldn't have wanted him to spend his life with some "information void" that was never closed and/or filled in.
Birth Stories/Birth-Mother Stories Always Have Sadness and Sometimes Tragedy To Them
The fact is, even under the best of birth-story/adoption circumstances, birth stories and/or any birth-mother/birth-family stories that include a child’s being placed for adoption have sad, sometimes tragic, and generally complicated factors that amount to birth stories/birth-family stories always having some degree of sadness involved.
Presenting Birth Facts/Information Can Be More Complicated For Some Mothers Than For Others
Knowing (or figuring out, thinking out) how and when, exactly, to present some facts of a child’s birth-mother/birth-family story most often falls to the child’s mother (adoptive mother). For the most part, I’ve never thought of, or referred to myself, as my son’s “adoptive mother” with the exception of those times when I’m discussing adoption; because, while there are realities to any adoption situation I’ve never felt at all like a different kind of mother to my eldest son than I’ve ever been to his younger siblings.
In our case, the one difference between my eldest son and his siblings was that there WAS a "birth story" (etc.). So, being a grown-up, I just always took for granted that a meeting (or a search or whatever) would most likely happen, and even be important for one reason or another. In our case, there wasn't just the birth-story/birth-family story. It was a complicated story; and one which, on the one hand, I had to somewhat share with him to some extent (because of a medical history and other factors); while on the other hand, either could not be shared because he was too young to understand it, or else because I simply didn't know all the facts). Another factor was that my son would eventually have siblings who did not have "a birth story" - or at least not one that involved anyone other than me.
Finding the way to always present what facts at what time, while also putting some things in one kind of perspective or another (often depending on my son's age and/or even the ages of his siblings) required an almost ever-growing or non-stop "re-thinking" and adjusting. At the same time, however, it had also required having a solid and flexible "framework of truth/facts" upon which to build, or from which to essentially "operate".
In General, But Particularly In Some Situations, I Don't Believe That Twenty-One Years Old Is Always Mature Enough For Some Types Of Reunions
In retrospect I can see that I was right that even though the twenty-first birthday is what "sets off" that kind of contact with this go-between agency; my son was not quite mature enough to deal with the "can of worms" (and whatever else went with it). Two or three more years might have made a huge difference. As it was, he was essentially knocked for a loop and thrown off in a number of ways for quite some time (at least in some ways, and by “quite some time” I mean years, not weeks).
Having said all that, my reply to the question about whether I supported/would support my child's search and/or reunion is "yes" - even if I adopted another baby tomorrow I'd always support the search. On the other hand, if I could be certain that a child truly, truly, had no interest in searching then I'd respect that unless/until s/he change his mind about interest (which sometimes can happen as the individual matures and/or otherwise becomes more ready and develops interest (or at least a wish/need to know more).
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"Genes Don't Stop At Birth"
Below are just some cute videos that show animals who have adopted other animals, regardless of species.
Adoption Happens Among Animals Too
Long before there was YouTube, on which any number of videos that show animals of one species adopting babies of another species can be found, most of (or at least those of us old enough to remember pre-Internet days) us probably ran into the occasional story on television news that featured "adoption" between animals of different species. Or, another less interesting version of "animal adoption" was occasional a grown animal of one species "adopting" the babies of the same species.
Those videos (like the one here) are cute reminders that adoption can be as natural as giving birth (maybe it's not as common as delivering one's own children, but it's not rare either).
Our Adoption Story
The circumstances for my choice to adopt were, to me, pretty obvious and pretty obviously about the baby's need for a mother - not my need for a baby. This was a baby who, in the first few months of his life, had a medical condition that resulted in his being hospitalized. After being hospitalized this little infant spent thirty days in a "thirty-day" foster home. Although the medical condition he had was one that could have left him with one or another "issue" there were no signs that it had, but he was too young to know for sure. Only time would tell.
In any case, this nice little baby found his way into our family, originally only because he needed a home that would be a little more permanent than a thirty-day foster home. In such situations people are generally warned not to get attached to the child. It can certainly be difficult for anyone with a normal, well developed, maternal instinct not to get attached; but then again if a child's stay in brief enough the attachment only goes for far. So many people who have found themselves in this kind of situation will tell you that in order to truly nurture a child who most needed the best nurturing there is a certain amount of "getting attached" that will, but also kind of has to, happen. So often people will get attached but will also be prepared to go through the sense of loss that inevitably happens when a child is moved.
In my son's situation it wasn't until he was close to a year old that there was talk of his being freed for adoption. At that point, the situation had gone beyond "brief" and into "long enough that everyone in the family and extended family loved him". Moreover, he was a happy and secure baby who was clearly every bit as attached to everyone in "his" family as any baby that age is. So, as we got the word that he would be placed for adoption we all realized this was going to be one tough situation for all of us, including the baby. It was how things were done, though. He wasn't the only baby of his age who would ever be moved. I decided to wait until I heard what was to happen next, at least for a little while. The next thing that happened was a conversation that may have been aimed at reassuring all of us who were sobered by this turn of events, but it was that we were told we didn't really have to worry about it right now because it would take at least a couple of years before he would be moved.
So, here was this child who was every bit as loved and attached in our family, and who would be moved some time when he was two or three years old (because of complications, court procedures, etc.). It was only once that someone working on his case said this kind of thing to me, but there was some remark about how this is why people are told not to get attached. Well, first, too late. Also, however, once that time-frame had been raised I really wasn't thinking about me or anyone else other than this innocent little "around-one" baby who would continue to feel like every other child in his own family - but then be moved at two, or maybe later. Another possibility might have been that he would be moved at around one-year-old (I don't know how real a possibility that was for him, but I heard it somewhere), be separated from the loving family he had, and then start again in a new family (which may/may not ultimately become permanent).
Basically, the question was whether he'd have any attachment/bonding interrupted/broken once or twice; and whether that would happen at a year or so (maybe a little older) or more like two years old or older.
So, here was I. I was single and working, not at a "big, prestigious" job, but at a good job with further possibilities in a number of ways. Besides work, I had other things in life beyond "the usual" socializing. I wasn't married but was in a long-term relationship, and having a family was in the future anyway. So, single or married, I could provide this child not just with a loving home but a nice lifestyle. As it happened, I'd had a lot of experience with babies and young children. I loved them and was very skilled when it came to caring for them. I had loved this particular baby since he was a young infant; so yes, being separated from him would have been really awful for me and everyone else in what was now his family. So, I want to make it clear that "what I had to offer him" wasn't the only issue (and I didn't "make some big sacrifice" in order to do what was right for this baby).
I was young (25) and healthy, could offer this little boy (as far as I knew) at least a sibling or two (and that would only be after he'd been an "only child" for at least, most likely, three years (probably more), which meant he could have my undivided attention for at least that long (at least with regard to any siblings) and which meant that there would be no more breaks in any attachments that may have/may not have been formed for him before he came into my life.
While far more is now understood about things like brain connections, the development of the stress-response system, and other factors that can be positively or negatively affected in the earliest months of life; I knew even then that this one little guy had gotten off to a rocky start in any number of ways, even if one of those ways was along the lines of being in the hospital for "how-ever" long, no matter how much attention/nurturing he did or didn't get while he was there.
So, I decided to ask if there was any way I would be considered as a candidate to adopt him. It was the seventies, so single adoptions of healthy infants weren't particularly common. But, I thought that (at least maybe) with what I had to offer this little guy, and with the fact that he was already attached to me and everyone else in the family, it was worth a try.
Of course, I knew I had to "overcome" the long lists of couples who were waiting to adopt a healthy infant (and a healthy child two or under would be considered (essentially) a "healthy infant"). Another issue was that there was no reason to believe I couldn't have children myself.
There was something else that I couldn't get out of my mind, though. That was that I remembered, at least to some extent, being two years old (probably closer to three, I'm guessing); and I certainly remembered quite well being three years old. Imagining how I would have felt if I'd been permanently separated from the only family I knew (particularly, of course, my mother and father) was, perhaps, the thing that made me realize I had damned well better figure out how to convince the people I needed to convince that I wasn't just as good as, almost as good as, or better in some ways as/not in other ways as those couples on waiting lists; but that I was so "good" for this child that I could overcome any disadvantages/flaws on "my side" to the point where they either didn't matter at all, or else didn't matter anywhere nearly as much as all the "positives" I had to offer.
Ironically, one thing that could have been considered "negative" on my side of things was that I could have children myself; while, at the same time, the fact that I was there out of an existing love and bond, and absolutely without infertility being a part of the picture for me was also (at least to someone who saw it this way) something I had on my side.
There is one screening visit that I think of whenever I'm recalling the long, complicated, process of the adoption. It was one sunny afternoon when a social worker came to visit. It was one of the first visits, and she asked me why I wanted to adopt. My immediate reply to that question was that I wanted to try to make sure this child had a good childhood; and then I kind of sensed myself shifting from a "nervous-candidate-for-adoption-mode" into more of a "applying-for-the-most-important-job-of-my-life" mode; and I confidently and surely said that I thought I was the only one who could do as good a job of "making sure he's OK". Somewhere along the way, but later, some social worker told me that had been a good answer. When all was said and done, it was, to me, the one and only answer - and no reply (not mine, not anyone else's) could ever have been the same kind of "true" that this one was.
So, as I ask myself if any trauma that had occurred in my life four or five years before the time I first asked about adopting my son, and then throughout the time it took to get to finalization; it's absolutely clear to me that it had nothing to do with anything. First, both traumas were "old" enough to not be a factor in this particular situation. Second, they just weren't part of the rest of the picture, which was, of course, the picture of one child's mental, emotional and physical well-being from the present into his future (to whatever extent I had any control over, impact on, that).
As I think about all this, I realize that when one is trying to adopt a child to whom she is already attached (as opposed to wanting to adopt a child one hasn't even met yet), there are layers and layers of elements of thinking out so many possible issues, not only related to the adoption process itself; but related to day-to-day life, thinking long-term about any number of possibilities, and also thinking about how to present things (minor, major or otherwise) to the child (if not at the any given present time, but at some future time). One is going through the process, the worries, the thinking, the figuring out, and the fears essentially with the child - and yet without the child's having a clue about all of it.
So, in our case, the long process of adoption was also a growth process in the relationship itself - but with elements directly and/or indirectly related to the adoption and all possible outcomes of the process. Not to be overlooked, however, is the fact that while everything was going on, and with all my own fears about any number of things; there was also all the joys of living that come with sharing life with a happy, beautiful, sweet, little guy who is pretty much nothing but a joy and a lot of fun.
Although my son had been with us before finalization, he was three-and-a-half when the whole thing was finally over, and there were no more worries that something could go wrong for one reason or another. While he'd never seen the cloud that had loomed over us for most of his life, we were free to live the same way other mothers/parents live with their child - no cloud that, on the one hand, never mattered at all; while, on the other hand, loomed ominous and heavy whether or not it mattered, and regardless of which ways it did matter.
The thing is, though, that under that cloud; and regardless of whether my son ever saw it or knew it was there; there was a solid and permanent foundation to our relationship being built. And, there was a substance to that relationship that some parents don't ever even build with children who are biological.
So, when the time eventually came that my son would meet the birth-mother/birth-family... Yes, I had worries about him, how it would affect him, etc. etc. But, as far as my feeling the least bit threatened for myself, as his mother; or with regard to the relationship between my son and me went, the one thing I wasn't the least bit worried about was that our relationship would be threatened as a result of the reunion.
That's not saying there weren't problems that arose from it. It's not saying, for that matter, that all was "gum drops and daisies" in those years when my son was a teen, and one thing or another made life a lot more complicated (not because he was adopted, but just because he was a teen) than it had been when he was four or five (or even eight). (So It's just saying that I was secure enough in our relationship that if anything were to damage it it would not be the birth-family.