Friday, August 13, 2010

Reunion and Expectations

I watched as an old friend and her surrendered daughter took their seats on the reunion roller coaster this past weekend. They are already learning why it is called the roller coaster. It is a combination of exhilaration, fear, mild to moderate nausea and many ups and downs.

I call what happens first after the initial pink cloud, "hitting the wall." That's when the realities start to sink in. For the mother, it is knowing that the relationship is never going to be 100% mother and adult child because the adult child has a history with other people she considers her parents.

The mother has to deal with decades of suppressed grief. We were denied the opportunity to mourn our children when we lost them. When all that grief bubbles to the surface, it can take us down like a blow to the gut. Finding peace and acceptance of what is and what was while building a new relationship with the adult child of our body is a difficult task. The fact that we also have tried to make lives for ourselves and often have other loved ones who need our attention can further add to the emotional weight.

For the adult child, there is the realization that there is no "closure" or resolutions of emotional problems with reunion. We can't fix each other. It causes a severe case of anti-climactic shock for many. Add that to the problems of loyalty and sense of obligation they can feel for their adopters and you can easily see why the adoptee is torn, confused and looking for something more. My friend's daughter is in the stage where she wants to be with her mother all the time. She wants to make up for lost time and that is something none of us can do.

That time that is missing is gone forever. The young woman who gave birth to the adult child is no longer young, is often plagued with the various annoying medical problems of the middle-aged and aging and has a journey of her own to take. We get shocked back to that young woman who was so abandoned and desperate and sad beyond belief. That's quite a trip to take when you are getting up in years.

The adoptee has to deal with the reality vs. the feelings. Even though they know, with their adult minds, that most were neither unloved nor abandoned, there is still a small child inside wondering why mommy didn't want them. If they were told lies during their years growing up, it is hard to decide who to blame or if anyone is to blame. They also have to deal with, in some instances, hostile and insecure adopters whose love might, unfortunately, carry conditions.

Often, the adult adoptee finds it easier to deal with found siblings than with the mother who has such a bigger-than-life presence in their psyche. They have their fantasies about the mothers just as we have ours about our children. On both ends, we usually find normal, fallible people with all the baggage of life. Each of us, mother and adult child, have a power to hurt the other without even meaning to do so. Many of us are guilty of trying to read things into what the other says without accepting that they might just simply mean what they are saying. We're as tender as new growth in the Spring. Hyper-sensitivity can become an issue.

The stories of their conceptions and births can often also cause an adoptee extra angst. That especially goes for those whose mothers were raped or were the victims of incest. Knowing that their fathers deserted their mothers in their time of need and that their grandparents were not receptive to keeping them in the family can hurt. Again, this is something they can understand intellectually, but is a hard emotional blow.

Even if the mother welcomes the adult child with open arms and heart, there might be others, usually the father and some extended family, who are uncomfortable with reunion and don't care to participate. That can cause heartache for both mother and adult child. People are still awfully funny about adoption mythology.

Then we get back to the adopters. They can deep-six a reunion faster than anything going. The insecurities, the fact that they could not give the gift of life to the adoptee, the fears that the adoptee will like the natural mom more than them can, many times, make them behave in a hostile, demanding way. I remember my daughter's adopter saying "Thank you for S***. Now this reunion nonsense will cease!" I quietly told her that I was going to leave that up to my daughter. She managed, for a while, to really mess with our reunion. Like it or not, the adopters are all the adoptee knew and they fear losing the only anchor in life they ever felt they had.

We never know what we will find at the end of a search. For some, on both ends, it can be rejection. For some, it is a grave and that is very hard to take. For many mothers, we have found damaged adults who were either physically or emotionally abused or were in a very dysfunctional situation. We were promised two full-time "parents" for our babies and we learn, years later, that there was divorce, infidelity, alcoholism, financial problems, distant, cold other words, the exact opposite of everything we were promised by the ones who did the emotional coercing. We often also find that there was no truth to the blithely told tale of adopters waiting at the agency to immediately take our children. Most, if not all, were in foster care for months before they were placed in adoptive homes.

The biggest injustice the mother or the adult adoptee can do themselves is to look to the other to fix or resolve their issues. That resolution comes from looking within and taking time to work through things. A little honest but respectful communication helps. Even our raised children learn that there comes a time when they have to find their own answers.

We can give each other information and reassurance. We can give each other unconditional love. What we can't do is fix each other. Reunion is valuable but it isn't the answer. It isn't the end of the road but the beginning of a new one.

If I were to give any advice it would be to not take yourself too seriously while on this reunion journey. It's dramatic enough without adding to it.


ElaineP said...

Very well said. Thank You :)

Anonymous said...

Great post Robin. Unfortunately most of us learn about these in and outs of reuniting with our adult children by going through the process ourselves, by living through the pain. My son found me out of the blue, I had no way to prepare for what was to come next, and no way to see that freight train barreling down on all of us. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. Sure wish I could go back to September 8, 2006, the day my son found me, with the knowledge I have now, and the wisdom I found in this post. Oh well, it is too late for me,but I hope others in reunion will benefit from your experience recaptured here in this post. May I link to this?

Anonymous said...

Robin, May I repost some of this peice on my blog?

Sandy Young said...

Ah, Robin! Your post took me back to the beginning of reunion, 20 years ago. My only fear at that time was that he might be angry, but since he was promised a perfect life, he would not stay angry and my explanation would be enough to "fix" that for him. Boy, was I wrong!

I remember the pain,the angst, the worry, the fear, the feeling that he was consuming me with his need.

My own intense pain came much later, when I began to realize the lies, the distortions, the coercion that cost me my much-wante son in the first place.

I am glad that your friend and her daughter are reunited. If someone were to ask me if reunion is worth it, I would tell them Yes. With all the pain, all the anguish, all the soul-searching, it is worth it to me and to my son as well. Now we both KNOW. No more speculation, no dreaming of fantasy. The good, bad and ugly truth is what we deal with now, and that is a far healthier place from which to operate.

Just Me said...

Thank you, Robin... thank you.

Linda said...

Yes, yes, and yes.

Reunions are constantly evolving, too. Discovering the lies of our adoption adds to the confusion and pain.

I was so very young when I found my Mother. There was no internet, not many books, and very few support groups.

I think I expected to be healed. I think my Mother expected the fairy tale adoptee that the agency & society had promised her. My adoption did not give me a better life.

Honestly, sometimes I feel guilty encouraging people to search....I do not know if they can handle a lifetime of lies crashing down upon their heads, not to mention the reactions of their adoptive parents, which can derail both the adoptees reunion, and their relationship with their adoptive parents.

But- I do continue to encourage people to search. Maybe when enough of us do and tell our stories, this shit will end. Yeah right. ;)

My Mother still refers to me as "the baby behind the glass window". I totally get that. I guess for her, it is easier than realizing I am a scarred adult.

Love you, Robin.

ps- I hate adoption.

Robin said...

@ Liz...cerainly link to it. I hope it can help someone.

Robin said...

@ Linda...I hate adoption, too.

Anonymous said...

Oy Robin. I wish I had read this 21 years ago. It's all so succint and obvious in your post. It's been vivid and messy in my experience. But reading it stated all together here gives a sense of peace. I guess just knowing you understand and can state it so clearly feels like taking a load off my shoulders.

The last line reminded me of a recent discussion about the value of sincerity but not so much seriousness. Nice work!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Robin. I wish I'd been more prepared before my reunion 14 years ago. Ah, the fix everything mentality... I was stuck in that mode for way too long. It seemed right then, but not feels naive, besides which it didn't work. We are worse off than ever.