An issue that some adoptees face, especially those in a closed adoption, is abandonment. We were, quite literally, given up. In itself, there is no judgment in that. Birth mothers undeniably want the promise of a better life for their child than the one they believe they can provide. But regardless of her intention, the net effect is that she is giving (or gifting) the rearing of her child to another. On the other side of the equation, the child may eventually feel abandoned. I didn’t even know I felt abandoned until I was in my twenties. And, I may have never felt that way about my adoption, if I wasn’t struggling so much in my relationship with my mother.
At and after the death of my brother, my mother stopped mothering me. I was eleven years old. Because we never spoke of my brother or the accident that took his life and nearly took mine, I was left to grieve, heal, and process what had happened all on my own. Think about that. I was merely a child myself, yet I was forced to contend with the reality of my brother’s death, literally right next to me, my own serious injuries, my grief stricken mother, the fact that, in an instant, I went from middle child to oldest child, and worst of all, because my mother (and my father and family for that matter) never attended to my emotional well being, I was allowed to conjure whatever I could to explain why my mother stopped mothering me and as an adopted eleven year old child I believed that she wished that I had died instead. I continued to believe that until I was well into my twenties (and to some degree still believe it). With the help of therapy I came to understand that she didn’t wish me dead but that given her closeness to my brother, his dying and her mental & emotional limitations fractured my already fragile relationship to and with her. To sum it up (and to thereby sum up my entire relationship with her), it would have probably been easier on her.
My mother deciding to stop mothering me when I was so young and no one else in the family intervening on my behalf, set in motion a chain reaction of me having to grow up very fast without any of the tools that having years to grow up would have provided. Because my parents continued to provide financially for me, I was made to believe that that was enough. I took it to mean that they loved me because they provided for me. Recently, during an episode of Gene Simmons Family Jewels (betcha didn’t see that coming? Me, about to have a revelation through watching that drivel) Gene asks his kids (in their early 20s) if he was a good father. And, his daughter quite astutely says that she thought he was a good provider, but not a good father. And that neatly and immediately summed up my life growing up with my parents: they were providers. They provided food, shelter, and education. And I mean PERIOD.
It has taken me decades to realize that when my mother stopped mothering me, I was abandoned for the second time. The very woman that my birth mother entrusted my care to abandoned me. Only this time, my mother didn’t entrust my care to someone else. She literally deserted me while still claiming to the world that she was my mother.
All of this is coming to the fore as other members of my family have finally come to understand about my mother what I have been subjected to for decades. Things are coming to the eventual head that all closely guarded and therefore corrosive secrets come to. The stress of processing and coming to terms with this in the shadow of those who have always put the responsibility for repairing my relationship with my mother on me, has eaten me from the inside out. From my appendicitis at 13 to my gall bladder disease and removal in my twenties, to my hyper-now-hypo thyroid condition to my shingles, it is has all been caused by the burden I’ve internalized being raised in a closed, disconnected, facade maintaining, unattuned, emotionally unavailable family. It would not surprise me to find out that my infertility was caused, in part, by decades of stress.
Yet, I am still standing. And, as things come to a head and the crazy swirls around me, I wonder how that is possible. I credit the many friends in my chosen family who mentored me and ushered me through the toughest years.
I can tell the toll that waiting for the other shoe to drop has taken, though, because I went to breakfast with some mom friends this morning and I was in tears by the time I sat down. Just being in the company of compassionate friends, even though they didn’t know what has been mounting, allowed me to break down and it did wonders just to be out and about and enveloped by people who care.
To be continued…
“You can’t put abandonment and alienation under arrest.”
~Carrie P. Meek