I’m All In.


Dear Ms. Feverfew –

I just posted this over on Facebook in response to the comments some of my LDS friends have left on my posting about the open letter to potential adoptive parents. It marks the first time I have publicly come out of the closet in such an overt manner. It is the first time I have ever told my LDS friends at large what adoption has done to me and my family.  I don’t know what will come of it but I do know it is going to make the ward Christmas party tomorrow night very interesting.

Much love,

M.

You know the hymn that says, “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see”? Well, that’s me. I have a universe of sorrow I have kept hidden from the vast majority of my church friends because I have feared the exact reaction that has just occurred.

Look, I am just going to lay it all out on the line.

I am a mother who lost her oldest daughter to adoption.  After parenting her for nearly nine months, I was finally worn down by the dominant cultural rhetoric in the LDS church that told me I was being “selfish” by parenting her and that “good mothers” make “adoption plans” and “place” their children for adoption.  My bishop at the time also told me the only way I could take the sacrament again was to “prove” my repentance by relinquishing my daughter – the daughter I had nursed and loved and mothered all those months. He believed that adoption was a redemptive act on my part and would not let me partake in that sacred ordinance until I gave her away.

I now know how wrong he was in his treatment of me and my daughter.  I now know that I was forgiven of my sins INDEPENDENT of relinquishing her for adoption.  I now know the Atonement didn’t stop short of my front door simply because I was a single mother. I now know that I was relying on the arm of the flesh instead of my own personal revelation when I made the decision to relinquish my daughter. I know these things now, but I didn’t know it then.  I trusted him. He was my bishop. As a woman who loved God and wanted to please Him, what else should I have done?

However, I didn’t know the potential affect adoption can have on my daughter even if she grew up in a fabulous, amazing, incredible adoptive family. It still hurts. And it can hurt badly. If I had known the truth about the toll adoption could extract from some people, I would have never made the decision I made. My daughter would have remained with her people, the people that GOD sent her to. But I wasn’t told the WHOLE truth because NO ONE was willing to tell me the whole truth about adoption, about disenfranchised grief and the continual marginalization of “ birth” mothers and adoptees alike, about the primal wound and the adopted psyche, about sealed birth records and falsified birth certificates, about what the loss of my daughter’s Polynesian heritage would mean to her and her Samoan grandmother and aunties.

Consequently, my daughter paid the ultimate price for my mistake. And yes – it WAS a mistake for me to relinquish her for adoption. God and angels did NOT rejoice that day – I believe they wept for two of His precious children, needlessly separated by cultural practices.  The ONLY “crime” I had committed was being single. That’s it. I wasn’t abusive, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I was actually in school and had a job, much like many other LDS mothers that were my age. I went to church every Sunday. I did my visiting teaching. I held Family Home Evening with her. But none of that mattered. My single-ness was enough to bring down the wrath of my culture upon me and my daughter.

Yes, she was adopted by a good family and has had a good life for all intents and purposes, but God sent her to me. He trusted ME to be her mother. *I* am the one who didn’t trust God enough, I am the one who trusted in the arm of the flesh instead of trusting God’s grace and mercy for me.  In the end, I have to live every day with the fact that I chose my bishop’s approval and the LDS culture over my own daughter. This shame and sorrow is something I will carry with me until I die, perhaps longer. I have to live with the attitudes of well meaning people who believe that adoption is a “miracle and blessing” to my family and me into the eternities.  I have to live with people telling me that angels rejoiced when I lost my daughter and that the destruction of her first family is something to be celebrated.

However, nineteen years in to the eternal sentence of being a “birth” mother, I have yet to see one single moment when adoption has been a miracle or a blessing to my family or me. I challenge ANY of you who think it is to look into Luke’s eyes and tell him that NOT knowing his sister is a blessing to him, to tell him that angels rejoiced when he lost his sister. I challenge them to look into Matthew’s eyes and tell him his life has been blessed by adoption, a social practice that has rendered his older sister a complete stranger to him. I challenge them to convince him what a “miracle” it is that his sister wouldn’t recognize him from Adam if they were to ever meet. I challenge any of them to take my sweet Penelope into their arms and tell her that her life is blessed because her mother gave her only sister away to strangers.  There are no more chances for me—I can’t have any more children. She will never have a sister because of what I did—what adoption did—to our family. Remind me again—how is this a blessing and a miracle?

I challenge them to look in to the eyes of my husband—a man who would have adopted my daughter as his own, a man who stands witness to nearly two decades of the marginalization and poor treatment of his wife by members of the LDS church, who has held me for countless hours as I have wept for what adoption has done to all of my children, who has cried with me—I challenge them to tell him that adoption has blessed me and will continue to bless me into the eternities. I challenge them to tell any one of my sisters, who lost their oldest niece and long for her nearly as much as I, that adoption is a blessing. I challenge them to look into my mother’s eyes, the woman who sat next to me as I labored my daughter into this world, who held my hand and was the first to hold my daughter after she was born– I challenge them to tell my mother that angels rejoiced over her losing her first granddaughter.

How is that God’s plan?  Does the God of your Universe and His angels look at the sorrow stitched into my family’s hearts, woven into our very existence and rejoice over it? If so, then I want no part of your God. The God I believe in is full of mercy and grace. He is full of long-suffering and love unfeigned. He believes it is wrong to pluck the fatherless from the breast of their mother and he believes that TRUE religion is to care for the fatherless in their need. The apostles of my God quote prophets when they say, “You devoted sisters who are single parents for whatever reason, our hearts reach out to you with appreciation. Prophets have made it clear ‘that many hands stand ready to help you. The Lord is not unmindful of you. Neither is His Church.’ (Quinten L. Cook, “LDS Women are Incredible, Ensign, May 2011; Gordon B. Hinckley, “Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1996).”  It shouldn’t have mattered why I was single. Me and my daughter were just as deserving of the love and compassion of the church community as any other mother and daughter.

My heart was shattered into a million tiny shards the day I finally caved in and “placed” my daughter with her adoptive family. I became a dead woman walking from that moment on. It has only been through extensive counseling and the unending love and patience of my husband that I have been able to carry on in any semblance of normalcy. Most of you would agree I have done a damn fine job of acting “as if” I was just fine. But the drive to excel at everything I do is firmly rooted in the reality that the LDS culture convinced me I was not good enough and would never be enough.  I struggle each and every day with my self worth and my belief that I am worthy and capable as a mother because I allowed myself to believe I was such a horrible mother that my daughter deserved to be raised by other people.  I struggle each and every day to believe I am worthy and capable of parenting the three children I have with me because honestly, I am the same mother to them as I was to my daughter and if I wasn’t good enough for her, then why am I good enough for them? My faith in God and in the Atonement have been shaken to their very core by the wreckage adoption has left behind in my life, in my parented children’s lives, and in my relationships with my sisters and mother.

In my life, adoption was a permanent solution to very temporary problems. It has not turned out to the great panacea that I was promised it would be. It has not been a win-win-win. I did not “move on,” I did not “forget.” I had other children but they will never, in all of the eternities, replace the one I lost to adoption. I know that sometimes, in the case of abuse, neglect, or drug use, adoption is a necessary thing. I accept that fact. But none of those were present in my life 19 ½ years ago and have never been in the intervening years.  Adoption was an unneeded and unnecessary social practice that I allowed to enter in to my family system. It has robbed my parented children of their sister and it has robbed my daughter of her true heritage.

In the past five or so years, I have had the distinct “pleasure” of discovering that adoption may not have been all it is cracked up to be for my daughter either.  I started reading accounts of adopted women and books written by and for the adopted person—not by and for adoptive parents, not by and for first families, but by and for adopted people. I discovered that regardless of my intentions or purest motivations, I inflicted a wound on my daughter which my culture tells her (a) to be grateful for and (b) doesn’t exist in the first place.  And this is even in the *best* of circumstances—the ideal outcome. I have come to witness firsthand how those who have the MOST to teach us about what it feels like to be adopted are the ones who are told to shut up and move the back of the bus, over and over and over and over again. I have witnessed first hand the rampant discrimination against adoptees, the ONLY class of U.S. citizens who are denied access to the full and factual accounting of their birth simply because the ADULTS in their life made choices that preclude them from having that access, even if they are now 65 years old themselves.

I have stood mutely by until now.  But I can’t any more.  My intent of sharing that link to the letter written by an adoptee was simply to give them voice, to allow the ONLY ONE in the adoption transaction that had NO CHOICE in the matter the ability to speak to us about adoption, to teach us what it means to be adopted from her perspective.

I know I am going to lose friends over this post, but it is what it is. I am tired of hiding this hurt, of pretending that I am OK with a culture that rejoices over the destruction of families under the guise of the “miracle and blessing” of adoption. And yes, my daughter and me were a family.  A family that the Lord was mindful of regardless of the reason I was single, a family that church members should have stood by with hands “ready to help.”

Instead, my culture used my cellular deep maternal instinct to protect my daughter from harm as a battering ram to convince me that I was not good enough to raise my daughter and that she deserved “more.”  My love for her was used as a tool to pry her from my arms.  The idea that my culture—that sisters in the gospel—rejoice and celebrate this loss? Well…it sent me to bed weeping afresh last night and kept me up into the small hours of the morning. It follows me around the house this morning, no longer the little dog yapping at my heels that it usually is, but a full-grown wolf, ravenous and dangerous, shadowing me as I move through the necessary daily routines of motherhood.

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20 thoughts on “I’m All In.

  1. Melynda –

    So powerful – I am sure you will give many in your life something to think about and hopefully you will find some support from people you would never expect….Hugs to you – I appreciate your courage in challenging the status quo!

    Sara

    • Thank you, Sara. I don’t know that it is courage more than sheer exhaustion from trying to maintain a culturally appropriate attitude around others who don’t know my heart. I can’t do it any more.

  2. Melynda, my heart is reaching out in loving kindness to you. What a powerful and honest expression of experience. I’m sure some will find your experience challenging. But for others, you will be a beacon of truth. You deserve to be “all in” when it comes to your own life. If only my own mother could do the same. Thank you for sharing your words. As an adoptee, I am encouraged and inspired by the strength of your conviction.

    • You know, I sat there this morning wondering if I could actually post that over on FB, knowing that my daughter might read it if she is stalking my FB page. I wondered how many people I would offend, how many friends I would lose over being so honest about what happened to us. I wondered about what the reaction of my church leaders will be when they read it.

      And then the thought went through my mind, “What have you got to lose by coming clean to everyone on FB, Melynda?” The honest answer: Nothing. I have already lost my daughter. There is no greater loss that I can imagine as a mother. The worst has already happened.

      So I posted it, come what may because you are so right – I deserve to be “all in” when it comes to my own life.

    • I love you too, Linda. If we ever meet, I promise you there will be lots of crying because I feel like I owe you so much. Your powerful voice is one of the first that validated what my heart had been telling me for so long, that all is not as it seems in adoption. Thank you for this. A million times over, thank you.

    • Julie – I read this blog post yesterday over at “What a Shrink Thinks” yesterday and it made me think of you. (http://whatashrinkthinks.com/2011/12/04/this-is-not-an-adoption-blog-and-i-am-not-an-adoption-specialist/) I am so grateful there are *some* in the helping professions that “get it,” that understand adoption is messy and difficult and hard for adoptees and first families. In the comments section, the blog author says this,

      “But I think that the lack of adoption training, and the lack of adoptee/first family voices in those trainings – in graduate and post-graduate programs, leave many non-adopted therapists operating on the accepted “common knowledge”/dominant narrative about adoption- which also carries many dangers and biases…I would like to see adult adoptees and first family mental health educators and advocates be represented at every adoption conference or professional training that gives a podium to adoptive parents & non-adopted adoption worker’s/therapist’s perspectives.”

      Powerful stuff there from a practitioner.

      • So glad to read something positive from a practitioner for once! Thanks for sharing. Did anyone respond to your post? Fingers crossed that you opened some eyes.

  3. Melynda – I read on facebook what you wrote this morning. It was awe inspiring. After reading it I thought it would have made a great blog post (obviously you thought so too). If we as mothers and adoptees do not come out with OUR truth who will? If we do not speak up and tell others what we have suffered who will? Iadoptee wrote an amazing post that should be shared with all. Both of you have a gift for words. Not all of us write as eloquently as the both of you but all of our words still need to be spoken and written. Our words need to be spoken to express our love for ourselves and our lost families to adoption. Talking about our loss is about love…love for ourselves, for our children, and for the next woman in the same situation we found ourselves in 20 years ago. Thank you for voicing your loss. I am so glad I found you.

  4. Wow, what a powerful post. I’m so impressed that you had the courage to speak your truth in an arena that has proven in the past, to be unsupportive to you. I hope that you will be surprised by the person (or persons) whose support you will gain from this. The people who turn their backs to you because your truth makes them uncomfortable are not the people who are healthy to have in your life. It will be that one or two people who will embrace you regardless of their opinion about your truth that will be long term friends. I have faith that you will find that person from this. If not, you have stated your truth (and the truth of many in this community) eloquently and respectfully. That is something to hold your head high about.

    Please know how much support and respect you have in this community.

  5. “I wondered how many people I would offend, how many friends I would lose over being so honest about what happened to us.”

    Any “friends” you lose by being honest were never your friends to begin with.

  6. Melynda ~ you wrote some pretty powerful words there! I hope that you are surprised and find some support where you don’t expect to. As someone else said, if you do lose some friends over this, they weren’t true friends to start with ~ BUT, I know how hurtful that will be regardless…

    As frightening as it was for me to begin living an authentic life that included my firstborn son lost to adoption, it was just as freeing! I no longer worry who does or doesn’t already know, I’m no longer keeping my entire motherhood secret. It was very true for me, I hope it is for you also ~ The Truth Shall Set You Free!

  7. Hugs to you…I know that could not have been easy to click submit on that post. I remember when I posted about my son for the first time on my blog and how I was worried about what others would think. You have such an eloquent way of saying things though, I just want to copy and paste what you write and say “ditto.” Thank you for sharing and thank you for being you!

  8. I know it’s been said a bunch in the comments already, but you are awesome for doing this. Live honestly, and you honestly live. Bravo to you!

  9. I love you. I am so proud to call you my friend. You are honest and humble and willing to put yourself out there for your daughter. You are willing to own what hurts and fight for your daughter and want to change things. You stand up for what is right, even when it is excruciatingly difficult. You don’t sugarcoat anything. All that is important is your love for your daughter. I have only the utmost respect for you. My heart aches for everything the two of you lost. I am sorry that the church hierarchy asked you to make a sacrifice that never should have been made when everything was going well for you two. It was wrong to tear the two of you apart. (((M))) I will stand by your side anytime. Whenever I want to run and hide, I think of your courage.

  10. Thank you for telling the truth.

    I am very sorry that you and your daughter were separated. The loss of a mother or child is staggering and impossible ignore. May she come back into your life.

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