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.
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.