The Bandaged Place


4362503381_139e7da5b5_oDon’t turn away, keep your eye on the bandaged place.
That’s where the light enters you.
— Rumi

Earlier this week, Rebecca Hawkes wrote a piece Free-Falling Into the Baby Rage Zone: Another Adoptee Epiphany for The Lost Daughters about what it is like for her, years into her reunion with her first mother. She writes,

“I understand that my parents were tricked into believing that they had no right to behave as parents. But for me, today, the emphasis is on “they” rather than on “tricked.” They allowed this to happen. Whatever degree of power they had or didn’t have, they still had more agency than I did. I was a baby–their baby, their child–and they allowed me to slip away.

I am angry because they didn’t fight for me. I am angry that they didn’t rise up and rage against the system that was tearing us apart. I’m angry that they didn’t realize what was truly being lost until it was too late. I am angry that they allowed themselves to be tricked into believing it would all be okay. Because it wasn’t and it never will be. Not entirely.

If I am the child, I am the child who was lost.
If they are the parents, they are the parents who failed me.”

Oh, how the truth is a difficult thing to hear sometimes.

After wiping away the ugly Oprah-style tears and catching my breath in between the sobs – sobs that originated deep in root of my abdomen and contracted my ribs and left me gasping for breath – I wrote this to my own mother.

…I understand [the baby-rage], I truly do. I would feel the same if you had abandoned me at a day old (or 9-months). …what I did was a terrible thing, a thing against all nature and natural inclinations.

What kind of woman walks away from her 9-month old daughter, leaving her with strangers? Why didn’t I fight for her? Why didn’t I rise up and rage against the system that tore us apart? Why didn’t I realize what was being lost until it was too late? Why did I allow myself to be tricked into believing it would all be okay…because it wasn’t and it never will be? Most of the other mothers in my situation would have NEVER in their lifetimes or a thousand lifetimes over done what I did. They would have died fighting against it. But not me – I believe the carefully scripted coercive tactics put forth by the adoption industry. I bought into the notion she deserved “more,” not realizing I was all she needed.

If I am her parent, then I am the parent who failed her.

M.

Rebecca’s honestly and truth about this facet of her adoption touched a raw place in my soul. It brought back into my immediate awareness that it doesn’t matter how many times I say, “If I had only had all the facts,” If I had only had the truth,” “If I had only known…” the truth remains I still did what I did.

I signed the termination of parental rights papers.

That is my signature on them.  The truth remains my choice may have hurt my daughter – it severed her from her Samoan roots and from a spiritual and intellectual heritage that is rightfully hers.

Acknowledging my part in all of this…this is my bandaged place, a raw and pulsating mess of hurt that sometimes seems as fresh as the day it happened.

I spent a lot of years turning away from this bandaged place. It’s what my culture told me I should do because after all, adoption is “all about love” and my daughter “deserved more” than me, so I should be grateful for this wound.  But I tend not to look away from it these days, as hard as it is, which is why I reached out to my mom.

Dear Melynda,

I know I don’t have a right to walk in anyone’s moccasins, even my own daughter, but that does not mean that from a perspective 25 years further down the road of life, I can sit by and not defend my 18 year old, your 18 year old and this woman’s first mom (probably a teen herself) for not having the kind of personal combination of humility and chutzpa that it takes almost everyone at least into their 40s to develop.  You’re so right.  Hardly any woman in her 40s would do the ignorant, stumbling, bumbling things she did in her teens or even 20s or (for some of us late bloomers) even 30s.

Somewhere there has to be a sliding scale between personal responsibility for choices and social conditioning–especially when that conditioning has been trauma bonded into a child’s soul.  At 18 years old we are all children.  We’ve got plenty of raging hormones, but we have virtually no raging self-worth.  We are sitting ducks to be “tricked.”  Come on, what does it mean to be “tricked” anyway?  That’s the whole meaning of the word “tricked.”  It means to be taken advantage of.  It means to be taken for a ride or for a fall.  It means to be set up, ripped off.  It means not to be told the whole truth and thus manipulated by a half-truth (a euphemism for a lie.  A lie by any other name is still a lie.)

Just some preliminary thoughts poured out.  Please hear my finally maturing acceptance of mortality as being, truly, “but a small moment.” …. I guess its a good introduction to that final acceptance that invites us to experience even death with Thoreau’s deathbed answer to whether he had made his peace with God:  “I was not aware we had ever quarreled.”

It doesn’t do a lot of good to quarrel with God or with the natural course of human development (from young and confused and near-sighted to old and a bit less confused and not quite so short-sighted.)

I once heard someone wise say we have only two things to do in this life:  repent and forgive.   I think it may be even a more mysterious degree of wisdom to realize we only have one thing to do in this life,  because to repent is also to forgive . . . to forgive life, to forgive Life/God, and to forgive ourselves for starting out dumber than we end up.  Which we can only do in direct proportion to how thoroughly we can let go of bitterness….

Upon reading this, Papa-Phil wants me to add that its impossible for someone in 2013 to judge someone’s choices made decades ago in such a different cultural context.  Just a man-logic comment.  Well intended.  With compassion and love from both of us.

Your own Mom and Pops.

My mom does that a lot for me, helps me see how this bandaged place is a place where forgiveness, light, and love can enter my life, too. Forgiving myself and making peace with God (because unlike Thoreau, we have quarreled) doesn’t change what I did, but it does help me hold my own ignorant, stumbling, bumbling 20-year old self with a heart of compassion instead of condemnation.

With well intended compassion and love – for all those who teach me to keep my eye on the bandaged place –

M.

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23 thoughts on “The Bandaged Place

  1. So Melynda, please take this question in the spirit it is asked -Your own mother was older and had more experience, did she fight to help your 18year old self keep a child you didn’t want to give up? This may be too personal to answer and if so take it as rhetorical.<3 as always …..

    • Von, you aren’t the first to ask this question and while it is personal, I will answer it because I know the spirit in which you ask it.

      At the time of my pregnancy, Ms. Feverfew’s birth, and eventual adoption, my own mother was dealing with the implosion of her nuclear family and her 23-year marriage. She was a newly divorced mother of 12 children – two married sons, one dead daughter, myself, and eight others still at home under the age of 18. On top of that, she was still struggling to break free from the iron grip of the patriarchy and the rampant misogyny that had shaped her life.

      Just a few years before, my oldest sister had died in a horrible car accident (closed casket funeral because her body was so badly mangled). The day after she died my mother collected some of my sister’s things from her apartment. In her journals my mother discovered my natural father had been abusing her; this led her to questioning the rest of the girls. The older ones all had some tidbit to share but nothing actionable, but we were still deeply under my natural father’s spell and terrified if we did speak up, he would “destroy” our mother as he had always promised he would if we disclosed the truth. To my mother’s ever lasting credit, she believed us, not his lies, and divorced him. (Eventually, more of the abuse details came out and my natural father went to prison about four years later).

      Looking back on this, I am in awe at the moral courage and fortitude it took for her to do so. She had only one year of college and eight children under the age of 18 living at home with her at the time. I wonder if I would have done the same….

      So that is the situation my daughter was born into. My mother was struggling to keep her eight children still at home afloat, to protect them from my natural father, and to find a way to provide for them, too. To both of us (my mother and myself), the world felt like a sinking ship and the life raft tossed out by the LDS culture had room only for one; that life raft came in the form of relinquishing my daughter for adoption. It was presented as such an elegant, simple solution – the “loving option.” The rest of us might be going down with the Titanic, but at least Ms. Feverfew would make it out alive.

      My mother and I were both sold a bill of goods by the adoption industry and the LDS culture – my daughter would be better off, we would be better off, it was all about love, if we loved her enough we would let her go, that by letting her go we were “saving” her, that adoption would mean she would grow up and not fall prey to the evils of being raised by a single mother – you know the rhetoric, I don’t need to rehash it here. She *never* forced my hand or lectured me about the “beauty” of adoption, or gave me an ultimatum. I knew she was survival mode herself, trying to rebuild a life from the ashes of the promises of my natural father and the stale bread crumbs tossed her way by the LDS culture there in north Orem, UT in the early 1990’s. I didn’t talk to her much at all about the adoption. It was a hard time for all of us and none of us knew if we would survive those years.

      I have nothing but compassion for my mother, both the overwhelmed 44-year old grandmother of one and the much wiser 65-year old grandmother of 40+. I have nothing but gratitude for her fierceness with the truth and whatever faults she may have had 21 years ago, she has certainly made restitution as she could and sought forgiveness when needed.

      • Thank you Melynda for doing what you didn’t have to do in explaining the circumstances, I truly appreciate knowing this and understanding better. Compassion comes in many forms and is sometimes almost a hard a choice to make as the others that present themselves during extreme times. I hope that no-one has ever had the temerity to judge any of you in doing what you had to do to survive and to do the best you could with this set of circumstances.<3

  2. Thank you for sharing this. So many big emotions on both sides of things! I like what Carlynne Hershberger said to me recently: “We’re all in this adoption mess together.” So true!

    As I’ve shared on facebook (you may or may not have seen), I’ve come to refer to that piece as my “temper tantrum of a post” because I just had to let it out after so many years of not allowing myself to even go there at all. Since doing so my inner child has been sleeping quite peacefully & I’ve experienced a deep calm and a renewed sense of compassion for those teen parents of mine.

  3. Dear Melynda,
    I love you and your mother. You are both very strong women who have influenced my life in many positive ways.

    Rebecca’s post was difficult for me to read also. My initial thought was how could she (my lost daughter) possibly be angry at me? I did what I was led to believe was best for her at my own expense. I have suffered alone for nearly two decades with the grief and pain only increasing as time passes, but… as I sat with my feelings I came to acknowledge that she has a right to her anger as I do to mine. I am the mother who failed her.

  4. What a beautiful post. I came to it through Rebecca Hawkes blog. I have recently been reunited with the son I gave up 41 years ago. This has brought to the surface emotions long buried. Thanks for putting words to so many things I have been thinking.

  5. “I am the mother who failed her.”

    In the end, many of you werre failed by those who had neither yours or your child’s best interests at heart.

    I forgive my mother even though I’ll never meet her (she died quite young). One thing that did help was when I was talking to some of her workmates from the early 70s. A couple of them both got pregnant out of wedlock at different times – in both cases, their parents were willing to help them but because of it being a fairly small regional area, they both went and stayed in mother’s homes, where the majority of women relinquished their children. I did explain how sometimes adoptees can feel abandoned (which isn’t the same as saying they feel they were abandoned) and one of them tore strips of me and told me that based on what she’d seen in the home, it wasn’t like that at all. At the time, when I got off the phone, I felt a bit irritated with her for not trying to understand, however, I realised after talking to other people from that time that it was often a case of “There for the Grace of God go I”. In fact, the few times I did see judgment, there was a different type of judgment from older women to younger women. Younger women tended to say “how could she give up her child”, older women growing up before the 70s tend to think “How could she get herself into a position where she had to give up her child” – the older women tended to think of adoption as almost an inevitability.

    I can see that attitude even in an emails from my bmother’s host family, (the people she stayed with during her pregnancy – she looked after their youngest child) – an excerpt:
    “Although it was sad, X knew it was considered the best thing to do for you and accepted that was the case.”.

    There is another bit that I don’t want to share on a public blog but the host mother (via her son) more or less says what a great caregiver my nmother was and then lists all these lovely qualities about her and then talks about her knowing that adoption was the best she could do for my future. Though the emails were very touching one way (because it was nice to hear nice things about her), I did end up thinking why, despite the fact that she was apparently a wonderful caregiver and had such nice qualities, adoption was the “the very best she could do for her baby’s future”. I think it made me realise that my nmother’s most important quality in the eyes of everyone was her unmarried status – her intrinsic qualities seemed to be irrelevant.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes feel angry with her about certain things because sometimes one can’t help it. One moment was when my amum was telling me about visiting the foster parents and how the fparents kept telling everyone something about my head at birth that apparently turned some other aparents off and I did get angry at my nmum because I thought that there was the possibility that I could have ended up in a children’s home and thought “how could you adopt out your child not knowing where it could end up”? At the same time, I don’t know the full story, so I can’t judge too much.

    • “I think it made me realise that my nmother’s most important quality in the eyes of everyone was her unmarried status – her intrinsic qualities seemed to be irrelevant. “

      This is my story, too. Everyone who knew me at the time and knew me as a mother would agree I was an exceptional parent to my daughter for the nine months I had her with me. It was my unmarried status that was the problem, not my lack of parenting skill or ability to care for my daughter.

  6. One thing I do keep hearing from AP bloggers is that they often will say “so it is the relinquishment that causes the pain, the act of adoption itself is not at fault. Adoption is a wonderful thing for children who need it”

    However, I do think the construct of the modern form of adoption with its “replacement” attitude is a rather dangerous thing – not just because of the losing identity thing. I think the architects of modern adoption tried so hard to make sure adoptiton would work, they made sure that we would “bond by default” – by society constantly sending the message that “APs stepped up to the plate when our BPs didn’t”, of course *we* are going to feel more indebted to the ones that *wanted* us. In real life, if we had a friend who had gone through a break-up, who then ended up with a new boyfriend and proclaimed to love him because “at least he wanted me”, we would understand that she had issues with her previous boyfriend. In the case of adoptees who say “Well at least my APs wanted me”, people just smile beatifically and say “Isn’t it wonderful, that child has bonded totally with their parents”.

    • I do think the construct of the modern form of adoption with its “replacement” attitude is a rather dangerous thing

      Dangerous indeed. This “magical” thinking is what led me to the conclusion I was replaceable to my daughter. It flies in the face of what we know of neonatal development, but somehow those truths are suspended in the trance of adoption.

      • That dangerous thinking, double thinking has been very troublesome for adoptees. All the evidence of development and attachment in relation to our mothers somehow doesn’t apply to us, when it does to other babies? No mother is replaceable, ever, it’s a relief we all know that now.

      • It was learning about attachment and infant development that finally awoke me from the awful trance of adoption. To think I ever considered myself replaceable when all of creation, down to my DNA, tells me I am not….

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