By Casey Anderson
It was an ordinary day until 4:53 pm. Conference calls and meetings, homework assignments and mulling over dinner. I booted my computer to check for a confirmation email from Amazon. What I found stopped me cold. When my husband arrived home ninety minutes later his first words were, “who died?” All I could do was shake my head and tell him to get something for dinner; I couldn’t handle it. It was the first time I’d seen raw fear on his face.
It wasn’t a bad email. After waiting and wondering I’d concluded he wasn’t interested in me and though it hurt, God did it hurt, I was learning to accept it. Yet there it was, an email with his name on it. He said he thought he was my son, that he wanted to know me but if I didn’t want contact that was okay. He wrote a little about himself, his likes and hobbies, and asked me to at least reply so he knew whether he had the right person.
The five paragraph response took seven hours to compose. Of course I want contact, you have a brother and a sister, I work here doing this, and I’ve been married fourteen years to a wonderful man. I deleted three lines for every line sent.
He wanted email communication only at first, but within weeks we’d moved to phone calls. Four months later we travelled to a city in which we were both strangers for our first meeting. He said he didn’t want his adopted parents to know he’d contacted me and I was uneasy about that. Despite what they’d done to me, I’d clung to the notion that he’d had the childhood I was promised. I thought it was unfair to them to keep them in the dark.
It was four days of blissful anxiety capped with my entry into first mother hell. We’d both noticed and commented on how alike we are, not in looks but in personality. We even have the same nervous habits. There were some intense moments, there were some lighthearted moments, and on our last night together, we sat beneath a cloudy sky sipping drinks. It started with him asking me how I’d chosen Tom and Susan, if it had been like a game show. Puzzled, I responded no, not at all, and proceeded to tell him about the seven profiles and The Question. He laughed and said that they’d divorced before he went to kindergarten. I was stunned. I asked if they’d ever told him about me and he chuckled again. He was told he was adopted sometime during first grade, he said, but neither Tom nor Susan wanted it discussed again, and he knew better than to bring it up. He hadn’t even known my name. I asked about the letter. He said he found it while rummaging through his adopted father’s file cabinet for his vehicle title, taken it to have a copy made, and replaced the letter where he found it.
I struggled to piece the puzzle together while we chatted about safer, general topics. When conversation came to what he wanted to do with his life, I said it sounded like a great idea. I meant it of course, but I was still reeling from the earlier revelations and wasn’t giving the words my complete attention.
Until I realized he was crying, that is. Still stunned, now frightened, I asked him what was wrong. Had I said something that upset him?
“No,” he sniffed, “it’s just you’re the first person to say that.”
I was confused. “Say what?”
“That it’s a great idea. They wanted me to go straight to college for premed, but I don’t want to do premed.” Fresh tears fell. “It’s like I know you and it doesn’t make any sense but I knew you would think it’s okay.”
I moved to sit beside him and took his hand. “Of course it’s okay. Why would I think otherwise? It’s not like you want to sell crack on the corner.”
He laughed, a sour sound. “She’s never liked my ideas.” He shrugged, swallowed hard. “She never really liked me.”
Horrified, I couldn’t speak for a moment. “Why do you say that?”
He told me about his childhood, cursed scolding for drumming his fingers at the table and taking in every stray dog that wandered by. The disapproving lectures when he read all day or sucked air through his front teeth. Refusing to allow friends to even visit, much less have sleepovers. Forgetting his birthday, not just one year, but several years. Her habit of purchasing expensive items and going to the food bank three days later. Other cruelties, large and small, delicate confidences I dare not speak aloud, let alone share.
He sighed and wiped his face. “It wasn’t all bad, but with you it’s different. With you it’s like. . . . you just get me, and that’s never happened before.”
I asked where Tom had been all this time. Susan moved four hours away after they separated, making my son a one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-a-summer kid.
After we’d cried ourselves out, I lay in a strange bed glaring at a strange ceiling, fury and frustration and fear growing in my chest. Everything I’d said to comfort myself, everything they had promised—lies. All of it, lies. Summer camp? He was babysitting a younger adopted sibling at home all summer while she worked. The college fund? Nonexistent. Stability? He was a latchkey kid who knew the food bank schedule. I could’ve done better than that; I’d proven that I could. I WOULD have done better. I wanted to cross the hall to his room and beg his forgiveness, but I couldn’t drag myself out of the cocoon I’d woven to contain the violence of my emotions.
I heard the pain in his voice when he said,”she never really liked me.” I saw the anguish on his face. . . My God. I sobbed and screamed into a pillow well into dawn.
He’s twice spent a week in my home with the brother and sister he never knew. It’s easy, comfortable, and yet still not quite right. There is a lingering subtle tension I can’t pinpoint. Our intense conversations occur at night, just the two of us under the stars. He rarely speaks of his youth, insisting that’s the past and he’s looking forward to the future, but my instincts say there’s more. He continues to keep our relationship a secret. When asked why, he explains that his adopted mother will force him to choose between us. He doesn’t want to hurt her, but he won’t give up the family he’s found with me.
I am learning to live as a mother of three children, but mothering my first is so very different. When I’m alone, the anger and frustration and bitterness are behemoths and I’m trying to live with that as well. Yet how do I live with the knowledge that my blind, blithering foolishness led to my beloved babe’s alienation and unhappiness? How can I ever atone for throwing my firstborn into everything I loathed?
In the depths of my anger, I demand that everyone involved, from his adoptive parents to the agency to the doctor to the unknown people who held me prone as the mask was pressed over my screaming face, be called to account. Yes, I “chose” Tom and Susan; I “chose” to leave him; I “chose” to remain in that hospital bed as they wheeled my baby away, but they all know it was no choice. I hope it haunts them as I’ve been haunted, but the truth is they neither remember me nor care what they did to us.
I’m not interested in becoming a crusader. I want to love my children—ALL of my children—and find a semblance of peace in my life. I want to confront Tom and Susan once, speak my mind and hear their excuses, and then try to forget them. Yet everywhere I turn, I see and hear and read more about adoption, particularly illegal and unethical adoption.
I witnessed firsthand the most egregious, socially acceptable intrusion into a woman’s life imaginable at a local restaurant shortly after my son and I reunited. While trying to get the very pregnant waitress’s attention, I watched a couple walk up to her from another section of the restaurant. The woman pulled a business card from her pocket and handed it to the waitress. “If you don’t want the baby, we do,” the woman announced to the entire restaurant as her male companion’s head bobbed in enthusiastic agreement. I gaped in dumbfounded astonishment and they were gone before I could summon the words to humiliate them as thoroughly as they’d demeaned the waitress. When I talked to the waitress minutes later, tears shone in her eyes. We talked briefly about how rude and presumptuous the couple had been.
I was summoning the courage to warn the waitress of the landmines in her future should she relinquish her infant, but there was no need. She offered the business card to me as she said she’d never give up her daughter.
The card was printed on both sides, with the couple’s parenting curricula vitae and contact information in bright fuchsia text. Curious, I went online and discovered that “professionals” recommend that people wanting to adopt behave precisely as the couple in the restaurant. I burned the card in my patio fire pit that night.
I don’t know what I think will be accomplished by recounting my history. I once thought that if people knew what had happened to my son and me, if they knew that abuse, cruelty and dishonesty are perfectly legal in the context of obtaining infants for adoption, the listeners would demand changes. Yet not even the mental health industry acknowledges the pervasive, destructive aftermath of relinquishment on me and many other mothers. How can the general public, conditioned to give immediate and unquestioned ascent to professional pronouncements and bombarded with clichéd adoption storylines, be persuaded to look beyond the rhetoric to the very real impact of adoption on those of us left childless, bereft and broken?
Perhaps some frightened young woman in my old shoes will read this and spare herself and her child untold grief and pain. Perhaps some casual reader will consider the logical contradiction in how adoption is treated versus other losses.
Perhaps it won’t matter at all.
A special thank-you to Casey Anderson for bravely telling her story.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
Filed under: 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, adoption, adoption agency, adoption reunion registry, adoption support groups, birthmother grief, domestic adoption, honesty in adoption, raising an adopted child