Monday, January 14, 2013

There Can Never Be Too Much Love

Today I welcome Susan Perry to Death by Great Wall. Susan is the first blogger in a series of Monday posts by adult adoptees that I'm calling On Being Adopted. I hope you'll read Susan's story. If it speaks to you, please share it on Facebook and Twitter. 

I was a 52-year-old adult at the time, but as an adoptee, my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding as I picked up the phone to return a call from the woman who had given birth to me. Several weeks before, I had sent her a compassionate and carefully-worded letter by certified mail, expressing my openness to exchanging information with her, and accompanied by a brief, easy-to-understand medical questionnaire that my daughter, a physician, had prepared.

My original mother had already returned the questionnaire along with a brief, rather terse note -- "Please do not try to contact me again. I've thought about you often and in my heart I love you, but I have no desire to meet." I already knew from my agency's "non-identifying" information that my original mother had another daughter -- five years old -- when I was relinquished. Her note to me also added, "My daughter does not know about you. Please don't cause problems."

So it came as a shock to me when I returned home from doing errands to hear her voice on the answering machine: "This is Mrs. xxxxx. Please call me back. I would really like to talk with you."

What did she want? Was she calling to yell at me for sending my letter and disturbing her peace? In many ways, as a product of the closed adoption system, I had been conditioned to accept that my own history was none of my business, and my agency had told me that my original mother was "an angry woman, tough to reach." Would she be willing to tell me more about my own beginnings? It didn't seem likely.

Before picking up the phone, I jotted down some questions, knowing that this might well be the only opportunity I would ever have to connect with her.

Our conversation was brief and tentative, but it lifted a great weight from my shoulders. Her tone was soft and conciliatory. We both agreed that "adoption is very hard." I assured her that my adoptive parents had been loving people who had provided me with a warm and stable home. She told me once again that "she loved me in her heart." But she had health problems, she said, and she didn't feel comfortable enough to meet, or to plan any further contact.

I was disappointed in one way, because I would have liked to have had the opportunity to get to know her better. Yet the conversation was so helpful and liberating for me, all the same. My original mother, the woman who nobody ever mentioned or talked about, was not a ghost -- she was real, a human being just trying to forge her way through life the best she can. She wasn't a monster; she wasn't a saint, just another human being on the journey of life. What in the world was the point in keeping her identity a secret from me for all these years? As a child, I was left to wonder whether there was something terribly wrong with her, or me, since no one ever mentioned her existence, much less her name.

As a young adult, I thought about her in more tangible terms, of course, especially when I had my own children. But I didn't feel comfortable enough in my own skin then to circumvent all the societal barriers and attempt contact. And I was so afraid of hurting the feelings of my now-deceased adoptive parents, whom I loved deeply. Sadly, I never did talk with them openly about how adoption has affected me, and yet in just about every other area, I shared a close and meaningful relationship with them.

I used to think that because I loved my parents so much, I had to love adoption too, or at least keep my conflicted feelings to myself. Now I can say confidently that an adoptee's feelings for her original family in no way diminish her love for her adoptive family.Too many adoptive parents, I feel, are still conditioned to believe that if they love the child enough, the identity of the original parents well never be relevant or important.

What I would like adoptive parents to know is that the adopted person has two families, recognized or not, and battles about which is more important are non-productive and can be corrosive to the adoptee's soul. As a grown adoptee, my message is simple: love is and should be expansive, and there can never be too much.

Susan Perry is a happily married mother of two and grandmother of six.  She is also an adult adoptee who is passionate about adoption reform. You can find her blogging at Family Ties.

Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Susan. As an adoptive mother to two beautiful girls, I whole heartedly agree with you that there is enough love for both sets of parents. Any parent of more than one child would think it ridiculous to say there wouldn't be enough love for more children as our hearts only grow with the more people we have to love. It is the same with adoptive and birth families. I feel so blessed that we can have an open adoption with both our girls mothers, and I have both of their original birth certificates. I hope that this generation of adopted children have a more positive experience when it comes to integrating both sets of families.

    1. Denise,
      I too am an adoptive mama to a beautiful daughter and share the same feelings as you. We are committed to an open adoption for all the reasons stated here. My daughter's first family is OUR family too. I honestly don't feel like I could truly love her without loving her birth family as well. I do have one regret though. While I do know her origins (names, addresses, medical history) I really wish I had known at the time to get her original birth certificate! It grieves me that I didn't. Is it ever too late to ask? Petition? How would I go about getting it? -Kim

    2. Denise & Kim - Nothing, NOTHING, warms this adoptee's heart more than adoptive moms who *get* it. Your girls are so, so lucky. It is wonderful that the facts of their adoptions are right out in the open, and can be talked about in your families. Having to keep all your conflicted feelings and thoughts about being adopted inside as a kid growing up - it's a very lonely way to live. I don't think I'll ever really get over the alienating experience completely.

  2. Great post. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I hope so too, Denise. What upsets me is that so many adoption agencies won't get off the fence and support adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. State bar associations fight actively against adoptee rights bills because too many attorneys want to assure prospective adoptive parents that the original families are irrelevant. Right to Life groups fight adult adoptee access because they mistakenly think adult adoptee access will lead to more abortions. The issue is so politicized by money and ideology -- it can be very discouraging. I am glad that you have your girls' original birth certificates. Best to you and your family, and whenever and wherever possible, I hope you will support the rights of adult adoptees!

  4. Susan, I think one of the things I love most about this post is how honoring you are of everyone involved. Your love for your parents is obvious. And my favorite part of the post is where you write about your original mother: "My original mother, the woman who nobody ever mentioned or talked about, was not a ghost -- she was real, a human being just trying to forge her way through life the best she can. She wasn't a monster; she wasn't a saint, just another human being on the journey of life."

  5. I find this very helpful, especially: "I used to think that because I loved my parents so much, I had to love adoption too, or at least keep my conflicted feelings to myself. Now I can say confidently that an adoptee's feelings for her original family in no way diminish her love for her adoptive family."

  6. As a first mother who continues to have a relationship of sorts with my daughter's adoptive parents (our daughter died in 2007), I too found that sentence (above) one that needs to be trumpeted from hill to vale: That the love and relationship an adoptee has with the parents who raised her does not change the need to know, and connect with, the original family. Adoptees have two families, and should have the inviolate right to know the original family. Sadly, I know young hip couples who cannot think that way; they see their daughter's professed disinterest as proof that they are good parents.

    As for adoption agencies supporting unsealing birth records--good luck!
    They see their job as finished when the adopting family walk out the door with the baby. The follow-up is just a headache for them. After all, they are in the business of facilitating adoptions, not counseling tearful birth mothers or adoptees in search years later.

    And state bar associations--don't get me started. On the issue of adoptee rights, they should have no standing but they do; their clients are adoptive parents who pay their bills. Lawyers' interests lie in arranging the transfer of a baby from a mother to another individual, and they want it to be like the transfer of property: over and done with once the contract is signed. Of course, because they are men, usually, and argumentative, they have the sense that their word should be law. The nastiest people on the subject of adoption reform are male lawyers who are also adoptive parents. Get them to talk about the subject when they have no clue that you are involved, and you hear them yammer about "contracts" and how much money they paid for their kids. They really do.

  7. Thanks for writing this story. I think we hear alot about the mothers who were unable to meet their children and little about the ones who welcome it. It is good to hear every different kind of situation as it is very individual. I am a "birth" mother who welcomes the meeting if it ever comes. My son is 35 years old and has not come forward to meet me yet. I cannot do anything but be on the provincial registry he was adopted in as it is a closed records province. I feel the same need to know he is real. It is hard to explain but I will be better off with a meeting or any contact at all than the way I feel now. I need to know too!

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. I think it is helpful to see in writing that adoptees can love all of their parents - and not love adoption.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this story! One of my most beloved family members was adopted, and I really appreciate this perspective.

    Thanks for linking up at The Tuesday Baby Link Up! We hope to see you back next week.

  10. I'm just stopping back to let you know that I'll be featuring this post as my featured post in tomorrow's Tuesday Baby Link Up. :-)


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