Saturday, August 14, 2010

Living On The Bottom Rung

For those of you not familiar with Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel "The Handmaid's Tale," it's about an America in the not-too-distant future where conservative Christians have taken over the government and restructured the society into a highly stratified, totalitarian theocracy. The handmaid is a fertile woman assigned to a house of one of the leaders of this society in order to produce a child for that household. Along with an intolerant society, infertility is rampant and these women, rather than being treasured, are used as breeding stock for the elite. Each handmaid is not allowed her own name but is given the name of the man who heads the household to which she is assigned.

The heroine of the book is Offred (Of Fred) and she is required to submit to sexual intercourse on a regular basis while being held in the lap of the Commander's (Fred's) wife. In the story, Offred is offered an opportunity to have a "better life" by becoming the pampered, secret plaything of the Commander. It's an interesting story and resolves itself in a very different way. I won't be a spoiler for those who haven't read it. It's worth reading, but is very difficult for mothers of adoption loss to read through without feeling a certain amount of discomfort.

I have had a really good look at where the feelings of the natural mother are on the scale of importance according to...well, just about everybody but us, but especially our children. First come the adopters. They are at the top of the ladder. Down below are the adoptee, just below the adoptee are any siblings they might have discovered and, at the bottom stands the mother, lucky if she has made the first rung. As I mentioned on my FB page, I am getting tired of standing at the bottom of the ladder looking up a stranger's skirt.

We seem to be required, by our adult children, to respect the feelings of the adopters, even when those adopters are no longer among the living, but be damned if we should expect that same respect for ourselves. Who decided on this hierarchy? Who decided that we were mere brood stock afterthoughts and the adopters were to be revered? Who said that we should even care and who the HELL said we should accept disrespect from the adopters and our children and never say anything about it?

Try turning the tables. What if, once the natural mom appeared back in the adoptees' lives, the feelings of that adoptee and their adopter became immediately secondary to hers? What if they were expected to be told what they could and could not do in connection with the adoptee/mother relationship. Suppose THEY were told to butt out and leave our children alone?  And try imagining the adoptee showing total disregard for their adopter's feelings and constantly defending the nmom? Imaginge being told to call the adopter by their first name and treat that adopter as a "friendly acquaintance." It wouldn't feel too good, would it?

But with most reunions, that is the routine to which we are expected to submit. Who made these rules? And why should we follow them? The entire construct of adoption is built on a legalized lie. The methods used to take our babies from us were criminal, cruel and extremely disrespectful. After talking to many of my sister nmoms, I have discovered that we have fought like tigers, over the years, to regain the sense of self-worth that was methodically take from us along with our children. And these same sister moms and I will be DAMNED if we will ever let it be taken again. We are not the handmaids to the more worthy. We are not the fallen and redeemed nor or we non-mothers with no feelings to be respected.

When you look at it, the idea that we owe our adult children anything is ridiculous. I don't see our raised children acting like we owe them anything and we never lost our parental rights and responsibilities to them. Since, legally, we are nothing to the adult adoptee, why should be be constrained to do anything for them? We do what we do out of caring and decency...not because we are compelled to by any sort of sense of obligation, legal or (questionably) moral. Who decided on what is moral here, anyway?

I say it is only morally and ethically right that the natural mother be treated with kindness and respect. It is my considered and educated opinion that we have earned the right to that respect. We can remember being banished, abandoned, scorned and betrayed by all around us and we can remember it with acute clarity. It was the stuff of nightmares. That nightmare reached its climax with the taking of our infants. Then, without us knowing it, it continued for years behind our backs with lies, stereotypes and more lies. Yes, there are a few really nasty moms who reject the adult adoptee, but they are not US. I did not abandon YOU. YOU are not my main concern. The child I gave birth to and was coerced into surrendering is my main concern.

I love my children...all of them, whether I raised them or not. My heart is the heart of the mother and it can be broken just as easily as any other person's heart. The only difference between me and the others is that I am expected to have my heart broken and accept it as my due. What is decent, fair, equitable or respectful about that? I am sick of the erroneous accusation that we CHOSE to give birth (most didn't have a way to avoid that without putting our lives in the hands of a back alley butcher) and that we CHOSE to "sign those papers." When that is your only option, that is not a choice, it is survival. All we could do is hope and pray that the honey-tongued social worker was telling us the truth about the kind of life our child would have. And I damn well refuse to accept any guilt for loving someone and expressing that love and I sure don't apologise for being raped.

I also strongly object to the arrogance of pro-adoption entities such as the NCFA and the EBDI presuming to speak for us. They are playing a dangerous game when they try to hide behind our skirts and turn adoptees against us. We are becoming more vocal and more people are listening. We've had all we can take of this kind of bait and switch PR.

Oh, we will support the right of the adopted person to their original birth certificate, but we also will demand the same for us. Yeah, we'll be there for the marches, but we will be there as exiled mothers seeking justice.

And we expect to be respected as human beings and mothers. If we aren't respected, we don't go. We're climbing that ladder and we are not going to stay on the bottom rung any more.


Lori said...

Robin, yes, I have seen the movie actually and yes, it was pretty strange. Sadly - too many don't get it. I think that we often forget the other meaning of the words.

Sandy Young said...

I read the book, and it still gives me the heebie jeebies when I hear about the more worthy adopters, and all the things they can give a child. I see the red gowns, and know the feeling offred felt, because WE WERE HANDMAIDS!

You are correct about the self-esteem. When you are deemed unworthy to do something as basic as RAISE THE INFANT YOU GAVE BIRTH TO, under threats and promises the implications of which you are fully aware, it tends to erode your confidence. Putting it back is a day by day thing.

Chris said...

I was the one that searched and found..I did apologize and apologize, I validated and listened to the anger..many, many times. I initially accepted disrespect, verbal abuse and ungodly accusations at the midnite hour. I tip-toed thru the tulips, I walked on egg shells, I accepted being given the once over and viewed upon much like a caged animal in the zoo by the aparents and extended afamily, I was tested, re-tested and tested some more...and you know what it got me...f**k hole!! 11 years later I am still treated like yesterday's garbage, somebody's leftovers of the day, I still get rudely and disrespectfully spoken to and treated...something I would not even accept from the adult children I raised or any other person on this earth. Sooo I have determined I am worth a whole lot more to me...maybe not to my firstborn...but surely to my own self. I am not going to commit myself to whatever days I have left to lay on my frontside, arms out-stretched and invite anyone to flay me some more..for acts that my own flesh and blood deems that I must be punished for, over and over again. NOPE! ain't gonna do it no more! I am tired, I am sick and tired of it all. I am not a martyr and have no desire to nail myself to a cross and openly invite myself to be crucified. If what I have tried to atone for over these last 11 years, is not enough, then nothing ever will be enough. My life was turned upside down last year, suddenly and without warning when my husband of 43 years..died. I know now, without a shred of doubt, not a one of us has a crystal ball. We can be here today and gone tomorrow. My adult child can walk beside me or not, that is her choice as an adult. I have choices today an adult, and I plan to make the best choices I can for myself, as she will have to do for herself as well. Afterall, in the late hours of the night, in the darkness...all I have is me, myself and I. And I think it's about high time, I start caring and respecting my own self. I am not a Hand-Maid for anyone these days...and my mommy days were over a long time ago. It is not my job to re-parent middle aged people whether surrendered or raised. Simply, I do not possess infinite amounts of emotional energy to expend anymore. I tried, that's all I know.
I am speaking specifically to myself and my reunion with a daughter that will soon be 46 years old. Time is on her side..for me I have more time behind me, then in front of me...and that is my reality.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Though young single women who bear children do not wear a uniform, and the world is not organized as it is in The Handmaid's Tale, many of the attitudes of the book are part of the culture today: if you are young and poor, or without vast resources, and carry the child to term, you are encouraged to give up the baby to a couple (gay or straight) who have greater resources to care for your child. If you really loved your would let him/her have that pony--which you can not afford to give your child. In some ways, I do not think our culture if far from the one Margaret Atwood created.