Birth Mothering Shock & Processing

I have a new post up at BlogHer. Since I used up pretty much all my word power writing it, I'll just excerpt it here:
I don't write much about being a birth mother, as ceaseless hand-wringing over "does my birth son know he's adopted?" gets tedious if you're not actually inside my head. Also, my previous birth mother essay on BlogHer is, in hindsight, laced with bitterness and not entirely respectful to my birth son's adoptive family. So I've been in a holding pattern: maintaining my distance, monitoring my birth son's public information because what else have I got, and trying to wean myself from a lingering hope that, as he's now legally an adult, he might contact me.

Then I found an essay he wrote for his local newspaper in which he defended his (adoptive) cultural and racial identity, and which made me realize he likely was never told about being adopted. And that made me heartsick -- not only because of the likelihood that I may never exist for him, but because he's probably been raised in ignorance of his genetic background. And that is not fair to him.
The comments are informative, supportive, and mostly great. It's worth reading just for them.

The post also talks about running away a few months after his birth, to live in Ghana. Here's a photo from that time. You can't quite tell, but I am sporting an anemic set of dreads (I didn't realize that my hair is not at all thick until just a few years ago). My Ghanaian friends thought my piddly little dreads were hilarious -- the thought of anyone intentionally letting their hair get matted was not popular in a country where people take pride in being well-groomed.

Makola Market 1990


  1. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I'm an adoptive mother. After reading your piece, I'm not clear why it is "unethical" to contact your adult son. It sounds like you don't want to share your information unless you can control the outcome. There's no predicting how the information will be received, but if you need to share it for yourself, perhaps you should do so and leave the results to God.

  2. That's a rather uncharitable take from someone invoking religion. Ethical in this case means choosing the path of least harm, and putting his needs first -- the most important being the right to know his biological background differs from that of his family, whether he ever investigates that biology or not.

  3. Anonymous12:19 PM

    I don't mean to sound uncharitable. But if he is an adult, shouldn't he be the one to decide his needs? You are in possession of his genetic history. You have outlined in your blog post that you think that's important information. Many would agree. Once he has the information, he might agree too. Or not. To give him an emotional shock would rock his life. To withhold his medical history might hurt his future health decisions. One could make an ethics case for either side. I was just curious about your use of the term "unethical."

  4. Anonymous4:50 AM

    I'm an adoptee like your son and though I've absolutely loved your perspective, the one thing that I'm puzzled by is the ever present worry by birth parents to have "permission" to be heard. It's as if the moment that your son was transferred from your care to his adoptive parents is a flipped coin forever spinning in the air and never settling on heads or tails. Not wanting to introduce yourself to him because you're afraid your mere presence will hurt him is the exact scenario you found yourself in at his birth and you're still teetering on the decision whether to reach out to your child or not. Both you and your son sound like honorable people who go about their lives with the self-realization and communication skills to talk through whatever heartache that comes from a reunion. You have a blog through which you work out your inner thoughts, he has gone into a field where he felt his questions could be answered. It's obvious that your son is aware that he is somehow different from his adopted family and personally I can understand that. Adoption is a massive tangle of contradictions and confused emotion but in all my years in private conversations amongst other adoptees nearly every one describes the innate and fundamental awareness that their adopted parents are somehow of the "other." Culturally other, genetically other, other in so many ways. It's not often that anyone will admit this because it feels like a rejection of the adopted parents and that feels wrong because I love my parents and what makes them both so amazing is that they took a kid that was not theirs and changed thousands of diapers and drove me to piano lessons and spent countless dollars on feeding me and educating me which is a debt I can never repay. Bottom line, I personally long for the ability to simply sit in a room with someone I'm biologically related to. People who know what that feels like are so incredibly lucky and soooo take it for granted. If I found out that my birth mother was the same kind of geek like me and had spent years following me, reassuring herself but not reaching out to me for fear that I might not want her, that would hurt terribly. Adopted children deal with an ever present haze of rejection, of being an outsider, here's your chance to not reject him first because you're afraid of being rejected. You know he's your son and he should know it, too.

  5. Anonymous10:01 AM

    I am baffled why you seem to believe he does not know he is adopted. I am betting he does know but just does not want to pursue contacting his birth parents. Why would this be so unusual? His adoptive dad just may not think you would have been the best influence on him. Sad, but it may be the case.

  6. As she said in the blog she found an article where he defends his "(adoptive) cultural and racial identity... which made [her] realize that he likely was never told about being adopted." This makes sense. If he knew he was adopted he most likely would have mentioned it in the article and may not be quite so passionate about cultural/racial identity that was not his own.

  7. He might know, the general thought among the late-discovery adoptees and adoptive parents I've spoken to (who have read the article) is that he probably doesn't. But if he does know and isn't interested in contacting me, I'd understand.

    His adoptive cultural and racial identity is true ... on his birth father's side. Not on mine. So some of the Euro-centric things he wrote about rejecting are actually legitimate parts of his biological identity. And if he's rejecting them as affectations without knowing he has the right to *own* them if he chooses, then that's unfair.

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Respectful disagreement encouraged.