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Reunion Tools

October 3, 2011

In the play “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, the main character, Tom, is haunted by the ghost of his father, who left the family years earlier. Tom wants to follow his father’s footsteps and leave the tiny apartment he shares with his younger sister Laura and their overbearing mother, Amanda.
Tom medicates himself by escaping to watch the movies as often as he can. It helps him numb the angst he feels inside. He tries to help his painfully shy sister, Laura, by inviting his friend, Jim, over for dinner. Laura had a crush on Jim during high school. After dinner, Laura and Jim sit alone in the parlor, talking. Jim eventually kisses Laura, but he quickly recoils and then admits to Laura he is already engaged.
Upon hearing the news of Jim’s fiancé, Amanda accuses Tom of playing a cruel joke on them by not revealing Jim’s engagement. Tom was totally unaware of Jim’s situation but Amanda would not believe him. They have an argument and Tom leaves.
The final scene begins with Tom saying “I didn’t go to the moon. I went much further. For time is the longest distance between two places…”
This scene really spoke to me the first time I read it in high school and again while I attended a drama class in college. Tom felt torn between him feeling obligated to care for his fragile sister, Laura, while also wanting to explore the world to find himself. By leaving, he would also free himself from his overbearing mother.
As adoptees, those of us who search feel conflicted also. Many times we want to search for our biological families and ancestry, but we are afraid of how our adoptive parents and family may feel about searching. The fear can paralyze many adoptees to choose not to search so we don’t “rock the boat.”
The old method of “closed adoptions” where birth records were sealed, ensuring there would be no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family believed this was the best for all parties. The child was placed with a “loving, caring” family and the birthmother could go on with her life, being told she would forget about her relinquished child.
They did not forget, however. Most birthmothers were young and forced into a situation that they had no choice but to give up their child. Society looked down upon young, unwed mothers with no means of supporting a child, let alone themselves. They were almost always shunned by their families. They were sent away in secret to have their baby to homes for unwed mothers. They were not allowed to talk about the baby they gave up. Keeping the family image intact was more important than the actual welfare of the unwed mother.
The adopted child was, it was believed, would grow up in a loving, caring home and be taken care of materialistically and loved by their adopted parents and adopted family members. This “solution” to a difficult situation was flawed, however. The breaking of the physical bond between an infant and the biological mother is profoundly painful, to both the birthmother and the infant.
In my case, my birthmother was only 16 years of age when I was born. She had been determined to keep me, but circumstances were not in her favor. In her 7th month of pregnancy, her father found out by accident she was pregnant (he worked away from home). Her father was not a very good person (I was told) and raising a baby in that environment would have been difficult at best. Her doctor convinced her to give up her baby for adoption. The thought of this devastated her, but she knew it was the best decision for her unborn child.
The thought of giving up a child to “total strangers” is a tough concept to grasp, from today’s standards. Most parents are very meticulous about the babysitter they choose to watch their kid(s) for a few short hours, let alone giving up their own child to an unknown couple for life! People nowadays seem to have more control over who they re-home their pet to than who a birthmother would give up their child to decades ago.
When thinking of searching, I think it is very important for the searcher, adoptees or birth parents, to educate themselves as much as they can. Research information on adoption searches and reunions. Read books such as “Adoption Reunions” by Michelle McColm or “Journey of the Adopted Self” by Betty Jean Lifton. There are a plethora of books available today written by others who have been down the path of adoption reunions.
I also agree it is very important to find a strong support system of others who have been through adoption reunions. Each reunion is unique because each circumstance and family dynamics of the adoptee’s family and birth families are different.
On my first reunion, I was nearly two-thousand miles away from home, meeting and trying to integrate into an unfamiliar family for the first time. I even stayed in their home, which in hindsight, is not recommended. Luckily our family had friends who lived in the same community as my birthmother and her family. I was able to stay at our friend’s house a couple of nights to recharge and decompress from the intense emotions surrounding everyone.
While staying with my birthmother’s family, I would retreat to the bedroom where I slept, giving myself a chance to journal, meditate or call a friend for support. These moments of solitude helped me tremendously to process and detach from the emotional rollercoaster.
That is not to say that I did things perfectly or that there weren’t challenges during the reunion, as there were for everyone involved, but giving myself space helped me to center myself as best I could.
Emotions can flood everyone involved in adoption reunions. If we can learn tools and gain support from others around us, then we can learn cope much better with trying to integrate our “new” family into our lives.
Learn to set and maintain boundaries that you are comfortable with. You are not responsible for the reactions of others around you. You are only responsible for yourself. Be respectful of others but also maintain what values are true to you. There is almost always a collective compromise or middle ground between two parties. It may be sticky trying to find that middle ground but if it can be reached, you are set.


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One Comment
  1. Nyla permalink

    You give good advice and bring up some important points. Reunions are definitely not “cut and dry”. Thanks for this comprehensive post.

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