"Don't you ever mention that bitch/slut in my house again!"
"If she gave a damn about you, she wouldn't have signed those papers. She only cared about herself. She didn't want the responsibility and work of being a mother."
"Don't get any ideas about looking for her; she probably doesn't want to be found, and if you did find her you'd probably be disappointed anyway. She could be a crack addict for all you know."
Do these seem excessively harsh? Exaggerated? Perhaps it even seems impossible to imagine an adopted parent saying such things to an adopted child.
Full disclosure: the quotations above are invented. I made them up. But they are composites, based on actual stories I have heard from other adoptees about how the original mother was spoken of in the adoptive home.
I've been thinking lately about the role of the adoptive parent in helping the young adoptee shape his or her adoption narrative. Early on in the adoptee's life, I do consider this to be an important part of the adoptive parent's task -- one of the many things that differentiates the parenting of adopted children from the parenting of biological offspring. Early on, the adoptive parent is faced with the potentially taunting task of helping the child make sense of how he or she came to be in a non-genetic family.
This can be handled well, or horribly, as in the examples above.
|Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
My own adoptive parents succeeded in guiding my early adoption narrative as well as they could, with the limited amount of information available to them. The primary responsibility of doing so fell to my mother, and though she created a narrative in which there was never any question of my original parents' love for me, she was careful not to link that love to relinquishment. In her telling, they placed me for adoption in spite of loving me. She explained it as a matter of extenuating circumstances. They were young; they lacked means. And she confessed her own limitations, admitting that the closed adoption system had given her small information to work with in helping me to create a pre-adoptive history.
I appreciate that she never used words with the intention of stimulating resentment or dislike of the original family, and I would say that any parent who does so has failed their child and has failed in an important aspect of adoptive parenting.
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Eventually my understanding of my life and adoption came to include awareness of the broader cultural forces that were at work. I learned about the baby scoop era, and the history of adoption as we know it -- a history that includes some unsavory moments and characters, such as the notorious "baby thief" Georgia Tann.
In the end it is the adult me who grapples with the task of understanding the thing that happened to me infanthood and how it has played out throughout my life. I was never, to borrow a word from George W. Bush, the "decider," but I am the interpreter. I am the meaning maker of my life.
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