Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Gathering of Ghosts

I read a great post on the 'My Birth Name Is Allison' blog, this morning, and it started a chain of thought in my mind about the haunting of the Natural Mother and the adopted person. Haunting sounds right because we are beleaguered by ghosts for our lifetime. The trauma of unnatural separation of mother and child is haunting, in and of itself.

You see, when a mother and her infant are separated in the almighty name of adoption, two people are lost forever...the person the child might have become had he/she been raised in the natural family and the person the mother might have been had she not lost that child. Those two people become nebulous and drift on the wind.

The NMom of the EMS, and afterwards for many, was left with the Grief Without a Grave. It was a tacit understanding that she could not openly grieve, and such grief is harder to reconcile since there was no death...the child she lost is alive, somewhere. The presence of that child, or in my case, children, hovers just out of reach of our sight and hearing but always THERE.

The loss of a child is so life altering that the person the mother might have become is lost, forever. I know that, rather than saving me and giving me a new shot at life, I struggled with trying to replace what I had lost, protect what I had from the nebulous "them" that might come and take my raised children and battle for my serenity and sanity. I also waged an all-out war for my respectability until I realized that I held it in my own grasp. The girl I was before and the woman I might have become were now members of that ghostly community.

The adopted person is also haunted and not just by the phantoms of the missing mother and other natural kin. They also lose the person they might have become had they grown up in their family of origin. They, too often, also lose themselves in order to fit the adopters' needs. Then, there is the haunting of the adoptee by the ghost children of the adopters...the natural children they might have had but couldn't. It's hard to live up to these ghosts and accept the realization that one is a second choice.

It is especially hard in the few instances where a child was adopted to replace a child who had died. It has and does happen. I know of one woman who was adopted to replace a little girl who died in infancy and she was even given the dead child's name. What a burden for a child to carry.

Natural Mothers suffering from secondary infertility, most often as a direct result of their initial loss, have a gaggle of "children that might have been" ghosts. Knowing a mother who had no other children because she felt that would have been a betrayal of the child she had taken for adoption is a vivid depiction of how lives are altered and dreams are murdered.

When we reunited, we also lose our fantasy children and mothers. I had set ideas of who my missing children had become based on the promises made to me of perfect lives for my children. What I found was nothing like what I had been promised. My children were damaged and in pain and that was nothing like my fantasy..nothing at all like the false assurances of the social workers. NMoms are often rejected or visited on the sly as Back Street Moms, not good enough to take their place in the lives of their own flesh and blood. When we find open hostility, it is a kick in the gut and another lost dream gone to Ghost Town.

And how many adopted people have fantasized about movie stars, rock icons and other prominent people as their mothers? How many have envisioned us as heartless, uncaring, careless tramps with no feelings for the child we lost? What they usually find is just us...everywoman. Human and still hurting, in most cases, from the loss we suffered all those years ago. Some find the fearful mother and a few find the mother who cannot allow the past back into her life. Add more fanciful constructs to the ghost community...reunion often tends to swell the ghost population rather than diminishing it.

Many popular ghost stories have to do with the avenging spirit. A person dies at the hands of another or commits suicide because someone has greatly disappointed him/her, and they haunt and terrify the offenders and all around them. These ghosts want justice.

Now, the real flesh and blood people want justice. We want it for the girls we were whose promise was often lost in grief. We want it for the identities stolen from our children. We want some form of this elusive justice for the mistreatment, the imposed fantasies, the human suffering, the unfair labeling and the fact that we and our children were subjects of a social experiment that evolved into an Industry with no conscience.

It has been said, here and by other mothers, that we may not see this justice in our lifetimes. But, should I die before it happens, I have every intention of doing my best to become an avenging spirit, haunting the agencies, the lobbyists, the government Industry apologists and the greedy customers of the Industry. I think I might make a very scary ghost.



Linda said...

Great post, Robin!

I have often talked about "ghosts" in adoption.

For me, I was adopted to quiet the ghosts of miscarriages past. It didn't work...not for my aps, and certainly not for me.

For my f Mother, I am still the "ghost" of the baby she couldn't keep- and of course, she lives with the ghost of the Mother she could have been before suffering the trauma of losing me.

I deal with my own ghosts- the ghost of the person I should have been, but was lost at birth.

I think our ghosts are more haunting than any horror flick...because they are real.

Eileen said...

"Knowing a mother who had no other children because she felt that would have been a betrayal of the child she had taken for adoption is a vivid depiction of how lives are altered and dreams are murdered."

Thanks, Robin, from a mother who had no other children for just this reason. The ghosts are there in all of the family photos that don't include my daughter or any other children.

And the ghosts are there when my daughter asks me what I would have named her, and says that she never fit in with her afamily and that she grew up in the wrong place. They are there when my daughter tells me about her abrother, the "miracle" baby conceived by the adopters just months after she was adopted by them. She had to grow up hearing tales of the amother's miraculous pregnancy all while never having heard a single thing about her own birth story. And after he was born, another ghost arrived. The ghost of who my daughter should have been, since the adopters now saw how their natural child behaved and my daughter became the outsider.

I agree with Linda. No horror movie can compete with this stuff.
If anyone can haunt the people responsible for this, it's you, Robin!

Assembling Self said...

You said it perfectly Robin...I wrote this over a decade ago and it still rings true.


Shadows from the past haunt me from night 'til break of day.
I light a candle in the dark in hopes they'll go away.
Their voices whisper softly begging me to set them free.
There are no faces to these ghosts that will not let me be.
I've tried to get away from them a thousand times before.
I close my eyes, cover my ears, I can not do much more.
The spirits from so long ago another space and time.
Bringing back those feelings that are never far from mind.
Urging me to realize no matter where you are.
The past is never distant, too remote, or even far.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.

As an NMother (firstmother, mother of adoption loss-whatever I feel like calling myself from day to day), I know those ghosts, too; I feel them surrounding me.

My parented daughter also has the ghost of being "the baby conceived as soon as humanly possible after her mother lost her firstborn to adoption" haunting her. How unfair for her.

When I wish that adoption had never happened to me and my son, I feel guilty because that would mean that my daughter (as she is today) wouldn't exist.

I still haven't figured out to to protect her from that ghost.

How kind of the agency to warn us that adoption would create ghosts for every single person related to us, whether involved in our children's adoption or not.

Blech. I hate these ghosts so much.


Susie said...

This is a great post Robin!

I often get a glimpse of the ghost of the person I would be today if adoption was not a part of me. She is a strong, self-confident ghost, who is not afraid to speak her truth. Reunion has helped me incorporate her a little bit into my life, but she will never again inhabit my body fully. The loss is too deep.

ms. marginalia said...

Fabulous post.

I often think about the ghosts in the room: the children my parents lost, my first parents and extended family, who I might have been.

In my first conversation with my first mom, I told her that she was always the ghost in the room, the one I wanted to be proud of me. I did everything for *her*, although I of course wanted my aparents' approval, as well.

Finding out my first mother's name, and visiting the graves of her father, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents left me even more haunted, because these were not nebulous ghosts, but real people I would never meet.

When I was born, my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were still alive. But I was erased, and I doubt they ever knew about me. Although it was a very small town and family, so probably they might have.

I agree with Linda that our ghosts are powerful because they aren't imagined.

I have been reading ghost stories on and off for about two years now (since my reunion), and probably not coincidentally, now I think about it.

Von said...

Another great and moving post Robin.
In my family when I'm hit by a memory or an adoption struggle I'm described as wearing my "haunted look" many ghosts.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Robin seems in adoption no one gets what they
want it such a fucked up mess. Those who need, those,
who have greed. then there are the mothers and the children the true losers.

Inhumanity to women and children. Cruelest of all.

Mei Ling said...

"They also lose the person they might have become had they grown up in their family of origin."

I wonder about that very frequently.

Robin said...

It's hard to hold back the tears. I wish I could have had my rightful name, in my rightful family, and lived in my rightful city where I should have grown up. I would have rather taken my chances in my own clan that with a substitute family.

Pollie said...

OK Robin,you've done gone and done it again! You are so talented and speak so eloquently for us. My daughter and I have discussed the ghosts of who we might have been. Her dad died 3 yrs ago,and I keep thinking "if I'd took him up on the offer to leave and go with him to "live on refried dreams" maybe I could be happier now. I am in a verbally/emotionally abusive relationship,but then I wouldn't have Christian and Miley. Ah Man....

Robin said...

((((Pollie)))) You deserve better.

mtsteed said...

On the topic of "ghosts" (and so true and perfect, Robin), here's a poem written by Gavi Person, one of Bastard Nation's Founding Foundlings, written in 1997 shortly before she died:

We are the ghosts of the children no more. We lay in the graveyard of the home for unwed mothers, next to the church with the beautiful rose window, underneath the disturbed soil of Ireland. Our mothers came here, sharing secrets, being quiet, toiling and attending Mass with each other, though they never shared their true names. There was a momentary sisterhood, it seemed, and we thought we might one day live here, and be happy.
We each knew our mothers very well, and some of them talked to us every day, in their little rooms, alone. Sometimes there was anger, sometimes crying, but we were always with them, and felt close. In our whispers to each other, underneath the grass, we've shared how each of our mothers grew austerely silent as the day of our birth approached.

Some of us withered from all the unhappiness, and left our mothers early, and here came to rest. Others traveled the birth canal, just like any of you living, but our mothers disappeared so suddenly, we died of fright.

But we don't speak to frighten you. We call to you because you are our brethren. In each other, we have found comfort, but our ears are keen in the silent air, and we know many more of us lay, all over the earth, forgotten.

We never lived to understand what was so important to your ways that made our growth, our awareness, so brief. And though we are now part of the trees, the light, and the air, our spirits stay sunken, unidentified.

We understand we are bastards, and we know there are the living among our kind. You are our brethren and you can hear us in the night when you think about your own mysteries, and wonder.

Every time you speak out for the bastards, you bless another one of us with a name, another with a face. Whenever you feel isolated, you can call to us and we will hear. Use your breath, your precious life, and change the world's ways for all of us. Know we were loved by at least one silent heart.

Be strong, and love each other, and the world will surely change.

Cathie Hanlon said...

This is a very good piece, not only of your writing, but your truth. You really saw something from a whole different perspective and there were so many feelings your wrote about that i was able to identify with.

Awesome work, I loved reading this a great deal. Now you have me thinking and for that I say Thanks. I sometimes get into a bottle and never see past what I've put in there, and there is so much more

Sara said...

Thank you so much for this. You've spoken so eloquently for so many of us who feel those ghosts around us, stirring and clanging around while we attempt to right ourselves from the dizziness of mixed loyalties, mixed identities, and missed opportunities.
I searched for and found my families of origin a little over two years ago. I learned that both families were populated with excellent "secret keepers." Everyone knew about me, but no one ever spoke of me except on my birthday, when my first mom would confide her deep sadness to her sister. She couldn't confide in her husband, because he didn't know I existed until I searched and found.
My uncle, my bio-mom's brother, was thrilled when I came back into the picture. When we first spoke, he told me that at last he could bring me up from the basement of his heart, where he'd tucked me away all those years ago.
This past summer I attended the wedding of my cousin, who I'd just met, and as I sat there and watched the family, MY family, I felt both like an imposter and also like a temperamental toddler. Part of me wanted to slip quietly away, and the other part of me wanted to stomp around and scream "It's not fair! It's not fair! This was the life I was supposed to have and didn't!" I did neither, just shed a few quiet tears as all of my cousins and uncles and aunts danced around joyously.
I will never know the person I might have become had I remained in the families from which I was born. And that is a sadness I doubt I'll ever resolve. Perhaps it is best that some injustices continue to nag at us. For it is those holes in our psyches that keep us ever vigilant and less tolerant to injustice around us.
All the best, and thank you again for this post.

Chris said...


Thank you so very, very much for sharing this poem with us written by Gavi Person. It truly touched my a mother who searched and found her own daughter..34 years later after surrender.
Such soulful sadness.