Reunion Realities

CB note: The Mothers Project is about mothers who were not allowed to keep their babies and hope to see them again. Recently, I have had many discussions with adopted adults and with mothers who have had difficult reunions and some who have not continued to keep in contact. I have been visiting more with other adoptees, online. Mostly they are much younger than me, with different stories to tell, but we all share some adoptee angst of one sort or another. So, I thought I’d write a little about reunion.

People like me, who lived before television (!), can barely wrap our palm around a mouse let alone imagine the immediacy of email and chat and the hundreds of other nifty inventions that permeate the world of communication today. So, the fact that many adopted adults and their first mothers are finding each other and emailing like crazy .... well, that is just amaz ing.

It is wonderful, a blessing, a profound gift from the universe ... to have access to information that allows the secrecy of the past to dissolve in an instant. And, all that immediate intimacy ... like a rocket .... is incredibly scary, fraught with unrealistic expectations and bound to crash and burn if not dealt with, if not recognized as a possibility ... no matter how deliriously, deliciously, happy both are ... at first.

I think reunion is absolutely necessary and owed to both the adoptee and the mother, no matter the problems that seem to accompany so many of them. I just think we all need to deal with the realities, prepare for them, so we don’t crash and burn.

Now, none of this was even on the radar until the internet made reunion so possible, so soon, so here-and-now. But, as thousands of people are searching and finding each other every year, we must offer a plan of action, a guidebook of sorts. I’m sure others have written such books ... and I’m sure they are very good, but I’m not sure the people who are finding their mothers/children are reading them BEFOFRE they actually start searching, finding, emailing, calling, etc.

So, here are just a few tips from an old adoptee. I found my mother in 1976, but I didn’t meet her until many years later, two months before she died. I wish I knew then what I know now ...:)

Reunion Advice from an Old Adoptee

©2008 Celeste Billhartz

1. Mutually agree to approach all of this communication as “pen pals” who are strangers to each other ... not as “mother and child” who have always been and always will be. At least, start that way ...:)

2. Respect boundaries and relationships. Expect that while you once were inseparable, you now are strangers, each having been immersed in, perhaps, different cultures, languages, religions, behaviors, politics. Again, this is always easier if you begin as pen pals, who accord each other a lot of wiggle room for all the above. Right? Don’t you always stand back a bit with a new friend, give him/her a lot of leeway so you can discover the things you have in common, the special things that will help grow your friendship? Same thing.

3. Adoptee, you may be 34 and this may be your first mother, but, in matters of adoption/forced surrender/coercion ... she is back there, at age 16, vulnerable as hell and scared to death. Be patient, be compassionate, be gracious and tolerant.

4. Mother, you may be 50 and this may be your first-born child, now all grown up and possibly a parent or a PhD ... but in matters of adoption/having been "given" away/expected to be gr ateful ... he or she is about 7 years old and scared shitless that you will "abandon" him/her, again.

5. Not all mothers and adoptees fit that scenario. Some mothers are as self-centered at 50 as they were at 20. Some adoptees have so many screws loose that won’t ever be tightened, no matter how much love they get. Take time to know each other. Trust your instincts. Be cautious, be careful. Have an exit strategy. Don’t be mean about it. Compassion is necessary when you must pull back. There’s a reason your child or mother has problems. Be firm and be kind. This ps. from an adoptee: Remember too, that the bizarre feelings and actions are a result of adoption itself, and the laws, myths and secrecy that it created. Mothers, fathers, their daughters and sons have been through many years of separation sanctioned by the government. It takes time, patience and understanding when faced with situations that seem "out of the norm" - this is what adoption and separation did to all of us. There are layers up layers of unresovled grief, pain and anger that are not understood in the mainstream helping profession.

6. Some reunions don’t get past the first email or the first phone call. Some adoptees and mothers see, right away, that they have very little in common, aside from the hard facts of conception, and decide to pull back gradually or quickly. That’s just the truth, for them. Hopefully, they handle it with grace and bravery and, if safety is not a factor, will have a willingness to keep in touch. This ps. from a mom: I wonder if even those who don't want a friendship could be urged to at least send a birthday card and mother's day card every year? I think that even if reunions don't work out and either pulls away permanently they could at least have contact once or twice a year (just so each side knows the other cares enough to at least do that much. So we know the other is alive)? It seems that suggesting that isn't too much to ask, is it? They don't have to respect or do it but suggesting it would be so appreciated by many moms and adoptees, I think.

7. Let’s say your reunion is more successful, starting off. You like each other. You can tell, from pictures and voice and quirks, that you do share a heritage, ways of thinking, commonalities. GO SLOWLY!
Be honest, be funny, be all the things you are, but don’t jump from cozy to canoodle!! I mean that ... so many people describe the feelings like .... falling in love, having a crush, etc. That’s understandable. Just don’t jump so deeply into each other’s life that you abandon other people, other relationships. Believe me, others notice and if they are pushed aside, they will bring down the hammer. Be aware. If either of you is going overboard, the other should gently slow things down ... not shut off the feelings, but slow down the train. And, do so with gentleness. There is no need to cut off all contact. Be sensible. Keep this relationship in balance with the rest of your life. Balance. That will save you a ton of argument and bad feelings and jealousy. Let’s face it. People expect two single people to be gaa gaa over each other and to focus on each other to the near exclusion of everyone else. They might shake their heads and roll their eyes, but th ey accept it. They are much less tolerant of a mother and adoptee having such an obviously powerful relationship and showing such preference and exclusivity ... especially when there are marriages and children and jealous other relatives and friends involved. It happens, more than you think. Their disapproval and rudeness can be devastating. Be prepared.

8. Get a backbone. I have urged that to adoptees who are so terrified of confronting their adoptive mothers’ insecurities, they stop having a relationship with their natural mothers and original families. Now I say it to mothers who are terrified of the backlash from their mates, partners, mothers, children, siblings and friends. Get a backbone! This relationship is off-limits to them. So long as you are fulfilling your duties and responsibilities as a mother, wife and other primary partner, you do not have to account to anyone for your enthusiasm about this relationship with your son or daughter. Now, that said, you do have to be sensible and reasonable with your time and duties. Just be gracious in telling others that you are happy and hope they are happy for you and your son/daughter. Then change the subject and re-examine if you are being reasonable with your time and energy. Make any changes that will ease the jealousy. If you are being as cooperative as possible, let it go, don’t beat yourself up over it and don’t allow them to hammer you.

9. Listen, listen, listen. Each of you has a story to tell. Most likely very few friends or family have truly listened to the truth about the coercion and surrender, and about the less than perfect life of an adoptee. Listening requires you to sit quietly and stop the chatter in your mind, the tendency to interrupt, etc. Just .... listen. Listening without interruption opens the path to honesty .... the truth as lived by each of you. Her truth in her time, your truth in your time. Each of you has this blessing of reunion to allow you to share your truth with the other. It won’t always be pretty, but it is the truth. You must speak it with a soft voice and you must hear it with a soft ear and an open mind. Just hear the other. Don’t judge, don’t challenge, don’t do anything but listen. What a gift of love.

10. We teach people how to treat us. My heart goes out to mothers and adoptees who are coping with terrible behavior from the other, and from jealous families, etc. Don’t stand for it! Reunion is difficult even when both parties are kind and patient. It is horrendous when either is mean-spirited or allows others to dictate the progress of the reunion. Do not allow anyone to shame you or to create difficulties for you. Only you can stop the abuse. Do not allow it, not for a minute. Be polite and firm. Trust your instincts. Limit your engagement with people who consistently hurt you. When someone is out of line, gather your courage and leave, if necessary. Your submission gives permission. Never permit people to mistreat you.

11. Whatever happened to civility? In reunion, the ups and downs can be stressful. Even the best moments can be charged with triggering words, etc. Just step back from those events. Take a time out. Say so. Grant the time out when one is requested. Be very patient and understanding with each other. Always be willi ng to keep in touch, to be in contact when things settle down. Promise to come back, another day. Be nice, be civil. Apologize, forgive.

12. Trust in the truth. Each of you has the truth from your experiences. Share that with each other, listen, listen, listen. Life is short. This may be a wonderful relationship. Or it may be difficult, but whatever it is ... accept it, as it is. Be honest and be kind. When rough patches interfere with your safe journey, slow down, watch and listen with extra care, and have compassion.

I have one regret for the one time I saw my mother. I never touched her. Now she is gone. Please, be better at this than I knew how to be.

Blessings to you, both.