A friend recently posted about some challenges with his reunion and his birth mother’s husband. As I read his post explaining the details of the issues between the two, it brought me back to my first reunion with my birth mother.
Although our reunion began in 1995, the feelings and memories of those days remain with me. I envisioned a “happy, joyous, emotional uplifting reunion” with my birth mother. Like the reunions I watched on talk shows as I grew up. Those hallmark inspiring moments reinforced, at least to me, that adoption reunions would be happy and ever lasting, similar to the fairy tales we grew up learning “and they lived happily ever after.”
What a bunch of BS those story endings are. relationships are complex, hard, joyous, invigorating etc. but there is one common thread. All relationships, to be meaningful and healthy, require work, dedication, commitment, trust, and a willingness to put up with the shortcomings of others.
Relationships are give and take. They may require letting go of our own expectations of other people. That doesn’t mean we can’t set and hold boundaries for ourselves and maintain a healthy point in the relationship. But it does mean that we can consciously choose to accept that we are not going to get all of our needs, desires, or wishes from others that we want.
This reality is, I believe, magnified in adoption reunions. Both adoptees and birth parents in closed adoptions enter the reunion with many years of fantasies of who the other person is. These unrealistic expectations, if not dealt with, can create HUGE letdown from the birth parent or adult adoptee.
Betty Jean Lifton wrote in her book “Journey of the Adopted Self” that meeting our birth mother will not heal us completely. I discovered this to be very true within my own reunion. I did get many of my questions answered from meeting my birth mother and I am very grateful for that. Sadly I’ve discovered that many adoptees do not get the answers they are seeking.
I think another aspect of the adoption reunions that needs acknowledgement is adoptees need to realize that their birth parent may come with a “package” in the form of a spouse and siblings, etc. No matter how good the feelings of the honeymoon stage of reunion may be initially, there will almost always be some resistance to the new “stranger” (the adult adoptee) in the family.
It only makes sense the attention the birth parent focuses on the adoptee will have a huge impact within the birth parent’s family. Everyone involved in reunions, the triad members (adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents) are affected by reunions in some way. Add to that all the significant others within the families, that will only add to the amount of people’s feelings that have to be taken into consideration.
I think trying to achieve a healthy balance is what to strive for. There is no way that someone’s feelings will not be affected at one time or another. Fear of rejection from the birth parent (known as “second rejection”) is present in varying degrees from the adoptee.
The birth parent is often feeling caught in the middle of this balancing act (assuming the birth parent is open to an ongoing reunion). There is a tug-of-war between wanting to please the adoptee and also maintain a happy equilibrium within the existing family. This is not an easy position to be caught in the crossfire between the spouse and the adoptee.
Add to this mix, grandparents, siblings, the couple’s children, cousins, etc. and the whole thing is overwhelming. It’s very easy to see why everyone can feel like they are “walking on eggshells” with each other.
I think it is healthy to give space for the birth parent and adoptee to get to know each other or have private time. I don’t think it is healthy to make everything exclusive of the birth parent’s spouse of family.
When my birth mother asked me if I wanted her husband to come with her on her first trip to see me, I replied “No.” I was feeling threatened by him at the time and I felt he would prevent me from having time with my birth mother. I was trying to be honest with her but she NEVER for got my reply and she would use it as ammunition against me for years to come.
In hindsight, my desire to not include him on her trip to Texas was selfish on my part. He was her support and he deserved to be included. I am glad he came with her on the trip as it gave he and I a chance to talk and work out our differences.
If your desire to have a long lasting reunion with your birth parent and family, look at it as a marathon and not a sprint. The fear of rejection will always be there and there are no guarantees the reunion may end.
If the relationship is important, then make a commitment to be a healthy and positive influence within your reunion. Yes there will be times when we feel uncomfortable or get triggered.
If the relationship becomes toxic between the adoptee and birth parent or other family members, then re-examine the situation. Are you getting more positive than negative experiences from the relationship? If not, then it may be a time to step back and let things settle down.
Daryn Watson, Adoptee
Last month a classmate I knew growing up in northern Alberta Canada was killed in a vehicle accident. He worked in the oil patch in Alberta, which is a vital industry for the economic health and prosperity in Alberta. I did not know my friend very well, but we did party a few times together in high school and we had several mutual friends and acquaintances.
Sadly this is the second classmate (that I am aware of) the class of ’88 has lost in a vehicle accident. My friend Jamie Packer tragically passed away in July of 2004. Jamie was a very funny and gregarious person who loved life. Although we lost touch after high school, I have very fond memories from our friendship.
A few months ago, a member of my birth family also passed away. I will not disclose the details out of respect for my birth family. Although I did not get to meet this particular family member, I did feel a sense of loss. I felt the loss that my other birth family members endured and I wished that I could have been there to support them.
When my Mom passed away in November 2012, I was in a state of shock and disbelief. There were many times my Mom would reflect back to me about decisions in my life. Her words were often, “Well Daryn, you have choices.” This response didn’t always give me the immediate clarity I was seeking, but it did remind me that there were other ways of looking situations that may not be such a struggle for me.
Since my Mom’s passing (she had cancer, I find myself much more sensitive to people with cancer or even knowing if someone is in the hospital, regardless of what is ailing them. For many years, I would be afraid of losing my family members or friends and hoping that they would all be around forever. I know this is not realistic, but my fear of abandonment and separation anxiety were present through most of my life.
It has only been in the last few years that I’ve allowed myself to see that I don’t have to be so scared of when someone I know and love transitions. These fears would prevent me from making career changes or even relationship changes in my life. I would doubt my abilities and my potential.
Recently, colleagues and friends have expressed an appreciation and trust in me that I greatly appreciated. Internally, I would doubt myself about what I have to offer this world to help others and grow.
Death can be very painful, especially the physical death of others. But death to our old ways and limiting beliefs are opportunities to grow, learn, flourish and share. Challenge yourselves to look at areas or ideas in your life that inspire you and find ways to manifest them into reality and not just stay stuck in dreams. You and those around you will benefit from your gifts.
Daryn Watson, Adoptee
October 9th was my 20-year anniversary since I first spoke to my birth mother by telephone. My search was short and quick (about two months) thanks to open adoption records in Alberta, Canada. Many emotions erupted from within me, like a dam bursting, the first time I heard my birth mother’s voice. That night has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
My reunion, as many adoptee reunions are, has been an emotional roller coaster. At times, I felt very connected to my birth mother, like two magnets drawn to each other. However, if one magnet is turned around, the magnets will be repelled from each other. Unfortunately, my adoption reunion has been like that. Feeling connected one moment and then something happens where the dynamics between my birth mother and I are such that we don’t have contact for weeks, months, or even years.
This dynamic has been my adoption reunion reality. I’ve spent about half of my reunion time in therapy, private counseling, and being involved with my local adoption support group “Adoption Knowledge Affiliates” or AKA for short. I went into therapy to find myself, to process emotions and feelings, and to learn to grow as a person. Much of my life I’ve spent living in fear of making decisions. Decisions about my career, who I was supposed to be according to what I thought I was expected to be.
My birth mother used to criticize me for her perceptions on my inabilities to be decisive. She would claim I couldn’t make a decision without getting my adoptive mother’s approval or consulting with her first. She would call me “needy” or call me a “liar” if I claim I could not remember a conversation that allegedly happened. I say allegedly because some things she spoke about did not happen.
I began to step back and look at the reality of my relationship with my birth mother. After taking off the rose colored glasses and my pointless efforts of trying to fix our relationship, I began to see what other people clearly saw. I read more on adoption for my own understanding of what may be going on between my birth mother and me.
My journey of growing and understanding our reunion has not been easy. In my fantasy world, I considered my birth mother to be loving and supportive (and at times she was and can be). The flip side to this side has not been easy to accept or deal with.
After reading about the current situation between Rosie O’Donnell and her adopted daughter Chelsea, I can sadly relate to the nasty texts and unloving messages Rosie has sent to Chelsea. And sadly, over the years, I have reacted in ways I am not proud of either.
Last month on our 20 year reunion anniversary, I sent my birth mother a message via Facebook to acknowledge our 20 year milestone. It was Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada that weekend and so I wished her a Happy Thanksgiving as well.
She replied later that evening but I knew from past experience that I should not read it until the morning. Just in case something triggering could be in her message.
Sure enough, my instincts were correct. She acknowledged our anniversary and the birth of my grandson in September. However, she did express that I should have considered “other people’s feelings” when I posted on MY Facebook wall this summer when I shared pictures of my reunion with my paternal birth family.
The last several years my birth mother has expressed that she was “so over adoption” and that she didn’t want to be identified as a birth mother anymore. I’m not sure what brought her to that place in her journey, but I thought I had respected her wishes. I did not post any pics of her or mention her in any Facebook posts while I reunited with my paternal family.
However, for whatever reason, she seemed to make MY reunion all about her and her feelings (again). Maybe she was upset I didn’t contact her while I was up there. My trip was primarily to spend time with my son, my grandmother and hopefully meet my paternal birth family. My trip was not about her, but about me finding my biological roots and meeting the other side of my family.
I could see her point of feeling I ignored her when I was up in Canada. However, she had wanted to ask me to remove the photos of my reunion with my paternal family because of how “other’s felt” or more likely, how “she” felt about those photos.
Again, I felt a deep sense of repression and invalidation of my feelings. Her message also said she was happy for me to be able to meet my paternal family. But it seems to me she wanted me to keep my reunion hush-hush behind closed doors. Sorry but that does not work for me. It does not work for the Millions of adoptees who have had to be good, compliant, and silenced for decades about speaking their truth or my truth. I came out from the fog of adoption several years ago and I will not go back.
To show signs of my growth in my adoption reunion journey, I took a few days to respond to my birth mother. Normally I would have likely flown off the handle and reacted to her in a rage of anger, wanting to defend myself. I still defended myself in my reply, but it was well thought out about what I wanted and more importantly, needed to take care of myself.
I don’t hate my birth mother. I have never blamed her for my issues regarding being adopted. I did tell her one time that I had challenges being adopted and I don’t think she wanted to hear that. I know I was spared from likely abuse on both sides of my family and for that I am truly grateful. However, I am not grateful for all the years of being a kept secret or not being able to grow up with my siblings, mainly my brothers, both maternal and paternal. Those years can never be reclaimed and I accept that is the starting point of my relationship with my biological families.
The thing people do not realize is that despite what was thought of as “best for adoptees” either newborns or those in foster care, we did not have a say in what we wanted or what was best for us. As adult adoptees, we do have a say in what we feel is best for us.
We have a right to our past. We have a right to speak our truth and share how we feel. We have the right to be open about our journey and not edit ourselves just to appease others anymore. Many of us grew up thinking we had to “earn our approval” with our adoptive families. Chasing that unobtainable goal or level of acceptance is a squirrel cage.
As in any relationship, if one person is not willing to listen or grow, then it can become toxic.It’s painful and so difficult to let go of a relationship that you want it to “work out.” But sometimes it’s too painful to stay.
Here is a phrase I use from some advice my old therapist used to tell me.
“The well is dry.
It is time to say goodbye.”
It’s been a very long time since I’ve written in my blog and much has happened. In April of 2012, my mother, Irene, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She met the challenge head on as she did with all the obstacles in her life. Unfortunately, on November 4th of 2012, she passed away. My world seemed shattered and I, along with my family, was stunned by her sudden absence.
I was in complete shock for the first few days and we were worried about my Dad, Robert. He and Irene were married for forty-five years and together for nearly fifty years in all. My wife and I stayed with my Dad for the first few days and with support of many friends and family, we pushed through as best we could.
Gratefully, my son Kyle and his parents and brother and sister were able to make it down for the memorial service. The service was beautiful and we were able to celebrate and remember Irene’s life for how many people she touched.
This Mother’s Day was difficult for me, being it was the first Mother’s Day without my Mom. I played tennis in the morning and quietly, I decided to honor her myself. She used to love going on picnics at Northwest Park in Austin, TX on Mother’s Day. I decided I would buy one rose in memory of her and place it in the pond at the park.
Luckily, I was able to find a bench right beside the pond, despite the multitude of people around me. I listened on my IPhone to “The Rose” by Bette Midler (one of her favorite songs and one that we played at her memorial service). After listening to the song three times, I kissed the rose and placed it inside the water and said a prayer. My whole body wanted to break down in tears but I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself. I quietly walked to my truck and drove away.
Mom’s birthdate is June 3rd and she would have been sixty-seven this year. That will be a challenging day but I will think of another way to remember and honor her. Thank you Mom for all your wisdom and support and love over the years. Some of the best wisdom you ever graced me with is “You have choices Daryn.”
We all have choices in all situations in our lives. She would tell me this when I struggled for clarity on situations, especially with my adoption reunion. I didn’t always make the right choice but I believe I stayed on the path of my adoption journey as best I could.
Daryn Watson, Adoptee.
Today marks the 16th Anniversary since I first met my birth mother in person. I was twenty-five at the time. I remember vividly flying into the airport in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Going through customs felt tedious and I could barely hold my anticipation of hugging her for the first time.
After clearing customs, I went through terminal doors to the main lobby. I saw her for the first time and made her pause so I could take a picture the moment before we embraced. We then hugged each other, and it felt unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life. The opportunity to hold and touch someone I was biologically related to for the first time is quite a phenomenonal feeling. And in most cases, only adoptees who have had a physical reunion with someone can really understand or relate to what I’m attempting to describe.
That night we talked, shared photos, stories, ate our first meal together (a Boston Royal pizza from Boston Pizza–my personal favorite). The night felt very fulfilling and we didn’t want it to end. We stayed in adjoining rooms at a hotel in Calgary. I wanted the chance to try to get to know her before I met the rest of her family.
I remember awaking in the night and going to her room as part of me felt the need for reassurance that she was still there. I felt scared and nervous inside but I also felt a sense of completeness that I had been missing for much of my life.
As I write this tonight, I feel sad, angry and somewhat bewildered. How did things turn so sour between us? Why do we not have contact anymore? And the most nagging question “Should I make contact with her tonight” (or is it even worth the risk)? My head says to hold off making contact because, intellectually, I know the potential pitfalls of what may happen if I call her.
Impulsively, a nagging feeling in me still wants contact but a price comes with it. That price is that the reality is, my “fantasy” version of my birth mother bears little resemblence of my “real” birth mother. I need to remember that in order to maintain my distance and some form of serenity between her and I.
I will thank her in my mind and my heart for the gift of life and for her agonizing choice and sacrifice to relinquish me. I know deep down in my soul that was the path that was meant for me to take. I don’t know what the future will hold between us, but that is something I cannot, and will not burden myself with. For today, I am okay and I will get through this.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday everybody. God Bless.
Getting Support for your Search
Support groups can be an invaluable tool for people in all walks of life. Sharing stories with others who are embarking on a similar path or those who are in need of someone’s helpful ear is a Godsend.
Last night, a local adoptee arranged a meeting for adoptees at a local pizza joint. Our small group of ten spent a couple hours together, breaking bread and sharing our experience, strength and hope. One attendee was a single father of four, two of whom were adopted. Two were significant others to two adoptees, and one was an adoptive mother of a young girl. Most of the group were members of Adoption Knowledge affiliates, or AKA. You can check out their website at http://www.adoptionknowledge.org.
One adoptee, a woman in her early forties, had recently met her birth mother. I could see the excitement on her face and the joy she had of meeting her birth mother for the first time. This is known as the honeymoon stage in adoption reunions. Sixteen years ago, I was experiencing a similar gamut of feelings such as joy, euphoria, grief, anger, depression. The emotional rollercoaster that can sideswipe adoptees and birth mothers can be formidable.
It is vital for adoptees not to travel this journey alone. One adoptee in our meeting searched for fifteen years before finding her birth mother. For about ten of those years, she almost became obsessed with her search, almost to the point of her search becoming unhealthy. Fortunately, her wisdom allowed her to take periodic time outs from her quest to find her biological roots. When it was the right time, she found her birth mother through a third party. Her reunion journey is now two years and counting and I could not be happier for her.
Another female adoptee who attended had identifying information on her birth family but was unable to initiate the next step in searching. I understand her fear of writing a letter or wanting to make a call, as I was afraid to do. Asking for a third party to initiate contact is a great idea because one never knows what response a birth parent or other birth family member will give. Do they want a relationship with the adoptee? Did the birth mother or father keep you a secret from the rest of her family? Do they even want to meet or have a relationship with you?
In my opinion, the third party should be someone who is not directly emotionally invested with the searcher. This way, if the birth relative does not want to have contact with the adoptee, the relay of the information will likely be less devastating. There are “Search Angels” out there who help adoptees and or birth relatives search for free. These people are blessings to those who have spent years searching for their biological roots. Their knowledge of searching is invaluable and they are not usually heavily emotionally invested.
In hindsight, my search and reunion went too quickly. I did have a third party contact my birth mother, and fortunately, she embraced our reunion. Our initial reunion was too long and it happened over Christmas and New Year. I stayed with them at their house (which I know now is not recommended). Given the chance to do the reunion over again, I would do things differently.
Despite the rift my birth mother and I have now, I do not regret searching for my birth family. I had my questions answered and found out many things (perhaps too many) I didn’t know about myself or where I came from. But at least now I do know the answers to my questions. And for that I feel more complete than not ever knowing.
For an update from my last blog, I have not had any contact with my birth mother. There is a small part of me that ponders, perhaps I could contact her. But when I remember the “big picture”, I know it is best not to make contact. Fantasy vs. Reality…Reality wins.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!