Dear Ms. Feverfew –
I had to take a few days off from writing…I needed a break from all of this adoption stuff.
I needed some time to regroup, rethink, and recenter. There is a recent post over at First Mother Forum that really causes some serious introspection about what our future relationship might be like. The title of the post is “Why Don’t I like My Birth Mother” and it describes the “dance” that natural mothers and adoptees sometimes go through during the years after being reunited.
Reading what the author said stung. Reading the comments left by mothers and adoptees stung. Is this what my our future holds? And if so, how am I ever going to navigate through it?
I guess what I found so startling is that in many ways, I could have written the post but titled it, “Why Don’t I Like My Birth Mother?” You see, I have acted those same ways towards my own mother many times over the years.
I mean, I love the woman now – don’t get me wrong. She is a completely different person than she was during the 17/18 years that she raised me. I can recognize and appreciate the woman who is my mother today is not the same woman who gave birth to me 37 years ago, if that makes any sense.
We have a peace treaty of sorts in place now.
But…but our family history looms in the background, a constant scythe ready to cut through any happiness we might be able to broker. Even all these years later (and countless therapy sessions) the abuse at the hands of my biological father – physical, emotional, sexual – still affects my relationship with my mother in profound ways.
I fear her abandoning me again. Of turning her back on me while the wolves devour my soul. Of leaving me to my own defenses to make my way through a dark and threatening childhood. And sometimes that fear makes me angry. Spiteful. Mean. Petty.
I know that fear is irrational. It is unfounded in our current reality and relationship. But it is still there. Each time I decide to interact with her, I have to sum up the courage to lay those fears at the foot of the cross and to walk a new path with her in faith.
It has been a long journey for me to even reach this point. Zero hour came for me during therapy one time about nine years ago when I was kvetching about (what appeared to me) my mother’s reckless abandonment of me, about her failure to protect me from my biological father, about her part in the abuse heaped on me throughout my childhood.
My very wise and loving therapist said to me, “M., but your mother has apologized to you, hasn’t she? Repeatedly if I remember…”
This was met by several minutes of stony silence on my part, my heart and face set like flint.
Very gently, but very firmly he said to me, “At what point M., do you become the adult and take responsibility for your reaction to your mother’s parenting choices? You can continue down this path or…”
He paused here as he handed me the box of Kleenex as tears started streaming down my cheeks.
“…or you can chose compassion for yourself. For your mother. You can chose to forgive her. She is genuinely sorry for what happened and for not protecting you. At this point, it is what it is – what happened then cannot be undone. But it can be over come – it is your choice. She has done what she can to make amends. Now it is your turn.”
I wish I could say I was immediately enlightened at that moment, that transcendent clarity filled my mind and compassionate forgiveness for my mother’s stupid choice to stay with my biological father for 23 years filled my soul. But it didn’t. It took time. It took a lot of time. But it was at that moment I began to see my mother through new eyes and I began to understand my responsibility in mending the brokenness between my mother and myself.
She was doing the best that she thought she could at the time with the limited skill set and knowledge that she had. Had she known differently, she would have acted differently. As a mother myself – and not just your mother, but the mother of two sons and a soon-to-be-born daughter – I can see that now.
So, I guess I am trying to say that I understand both sides of the equation – I can feel compassion for the adoptee who feels the need to lash out at his or her natural mother because of the cavernous feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Been there, done that, have the T-shirt, unfortunately. But on the other hand, I can also feel compassion for mothers (my mother and myself included) who truly believed they were doing the best thing they could do for their child but it turned out to be the worst choice instead.
It is a strange feeling – this looking backward and forward at the same time. I marvel at the daily measure of grace I am given to walk in peace with my own mother. I hope that eventually you and I can come to that same place of grace in our own relationship. Just remind me when things get hard between us that it took me a good 32 years to finally reach that point with my own mother.
Much love and belief in the marvelous creation you are –