Triad Overlap

A woman who is both a birthmother and an adoptive mother has joined the birthparent support group I attend. I met her for the first time Thursday night, and her presence made me incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t think of adoptive parents as the enemy . . . but for whatever reason, having her there made it feel like less a safe space. It was very strange, and I feel a bit guilty. The only thing she actually did that I can point to as making me uncomfortable was correcting women when they were talking about their children. Like so:

Tara: When I was at my son’s wedding on Saturday—
Adoptive Mom: You mean your birthson.
Tara: . . . Yes. Anyway, at the wedding . . .

Chloe: I don’t speak to my daughter; she doesn’t want contact.
AM: Your birthdaughter.
Chloe: Yes—my only daughter.

Additionally cringe-y for me were moments when women said things about adoptive parents in general: Heck, Chloe said that she can’t get past thinking of them as people who take away people’s babies. Another woman talked about them as people who buy their babies. I don’t think that adoptive parents are baby-stealing bourgeois pigs anymore than I think birthmothers are alcoholic whores who want to steal the babies back, but I can see why it would be therapeutic to have a place where you can express these (extreme, unfair) positions to an audience who understands why you’d want to say these things. And I kept stealing glances at the adoptive mom, whose expression I saw as smug, and I felt this strong anxiety: the closest I can come to explaining what it felt like is a sort of “Mom! Dad! Don’t fight!” It felt like something bad was going to happen. I guess I’m glad that women still felt free to speak their minds . . . but I’m also, perhaps unfairly, hoping that the adoptive mom doesn’t come back.

There are three group members who are birthmothers and adoptees, and for whatever reason, that doesn’t bother me. One of them, Tara, is organizing a birthmother panel for Adoption Mosaic, and she wants me to be one of the speakers. I’m more than glad to do it—the whole thing has grown out of a showing that group held of the documentary Adopted. Adopted, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is about a woman who was adopted as an infant from Korea and about a couple who are adopting from China in the present day. The documentary is extremely critical of all four adoptive parents and the practice of international adoption, and I mostly agree with the point of view (but not entirely—my views on international adoption, however, are probably not useful or relevant). When Adoption Mosaic showed the film, the audience was about 125 people (they asked people to sign in and list their triad status): ten adoptees, eight birthmothers, and the rest either adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents. At some points during the movie, there were jeers and laughter that felt incredibly inappropriate to the members of our support group in attendance, and Tara spoke briefly to the crowd, explaining this fact. Some adoptive parents approached her after that, saying that they never hear from a birthparent perspective and would like to. Thus the panel. They haven’t nailed down an exact date yet, but I’m thinking about it already.

15 thoughts on “Triad Overlap

  1. That’s interesting to me that the new group member would align herself as an adoptive mother first. But I guess that makes sense because that’s the position that has power.

    I like to think that a lot of adoptive parents would come around to a different point of view if they had the opportunity so I think panels like yours are hugely important. You could hit Jenna up for info, too, about being on a panel because she’s done that a couple of times at least.

  2. I can certainly appreciate how AM’s presence in your support group was uncomfortable. It surprised me to hear that she was correcting members’ use of “son” or “daughter.” I have no problem with my son’s first mom calling him her son or of other people referring to his first mom as his “mom.” He is her son and she is his mom and, for goodness sakes, at a support group for birth moms I would think that everyone would understand that “son” could be used to refer to a birth son.

    And your description of jeers and laughter at the film viewing made me so sad. I have a really hard time relating to or understanding adoptive parents who haven’t taken any initiative at trying to understand a birthparent’s perspective. And as for mocking, I’m completely lost — I can only imagine that these are adoptive parents who feel like we’re all on a “side,” pitted against each other, and that’s so unfortunate. I hope that the panel is well attended — I think there are many, many adoptive parents who could learn a lot from you, Susie!

    • I did feel that the documentary was a bit unfair to the adoptive parents it covered–sure, they were screwing up in ways that seem obvious to me, but I don’t (for example) think that it’s necessarily fair to attribute all of the adult adoptees unhappinesses to adoption–and so I think the audience felt personally attacked. That said, I do think it might have been a more useful experience for them if they had been able to listen with a more open mind. Oh, well.

  3. My brother is also both a birth father and an adoptive father. I do believe that it gives those individuals a completely different perspective about the entire adoption process. When my husband and I first started to explore adoption we spent a lot of time talking to him because of this unique perspective. He said that becoming an adoptive parent made him think a lot more about himself as a birth father and that was painful for him. As a result he attended one birth parent support group, but never went back. He felt that the others in attendance were a little hostile to him both because he was an adoptive parent and because he was a man (he was the only man there). One woman commented that it couldn’t have possibly meant as much to him because men do not care about such things the way women do. He said that comment hurt him the most. He was at the hospital when his son was born and spent as much time with him as possible before the social worker took him. He thinks about his now 25 year old son daily, but knows that neither he nor his girlfriend would have been able to parent that young.

    I wish there were more opportunities for open dialogue between all Triad members, but feel it is such an emotional topic that everyone’s feelings stand in the way of a truly open discussion ever happening. Everyone is too busy defending their own experiences to really listen to what others are saying.

    To share my own background, I am an adoptive mother of two children who share the same birth mother (her preferred term). It is an open adoption and the children were both adopted as newborns 13 months apart (our son is 16 months and our daughter will be 3 months on Friday). We exchange telephone calls, e-mails and photos, but in person contact is limited because she lives in Kansas and we live in Switzerland.

    • This group is explicitly for birthmothers, and while my husband isn’t interested in attending, he would not be welcome. It doesn’t seem as though there is much support out there at all for birthfathers, which saddens me.

  4. I think one of the things that keeps triad members from having good dialogue, in addition to the defensiveness Gretchen points out, is that our experiences really are so variable, even among those in the same “triad” position.

    I was invited to participate in a support group for adoptive moms. Knowing that the other moms were agency newborn adopters, my feeling was that it wouldn’t be a good fit, because I (who adopted a special needs non-white, non-infant from foster care)wasn’t sure I’d have much common ground with them.

    I probably feel just as defensive about being regarded as either a ‘rescuer’ or as having bravely accepted ‘damaged goods’ as the agency adopters would feel about being viewed as “baby buyers”. So we would likely face that defensiveness situation, and I think the other areas where our experiences might overlap (interest in adoption reform, dealing with adoption non-savvy relatives/society, kids’ feelings about adoption, whatever) might be overshadowed by the fact that we see each other as coming from such different places even though we’re all in the adopters section of the triad.

  5. I think Mia’s probably right. Because my partner was adopted within her first family, there’s a big element to her story that’s very different from a lot of “standard” adoption narratives. Actually, I’ll say that I think the way adoption (infant adoption, especially) has been marketed to the culture at large really marginalizes people who don’t fit that story. It sounds like this new member of the group is trapped there now. She probably can get a lot out of your group in the long run, but I can absolutely see why it would be hard on you to have her there.

    • Mia and Thorn: That’s a far point. Even within our group, that woman who is both an adoptive mother and a birthmother adopted her daughter from India–she didn’t participate in “the other side” of the adoptions we went through. It might let me be more fair to her if I am able to bear that in mind.

      • I didn’t mean that I was on “her” side and trying to get you to change your mind about her! I just meant that it can be hard for people tho shake the brainwashing that The Grand Adoption Story gives them and it sounds like maybe she hasn’t yet done that. I’m completely making up a story about what she might be like, but it seems to me she could have a bunch of unresolved issues and yet it’s not your job to help her sort them out, especially not if it’s harder on you folks.

  6. Just echoing an earlier comment: as an adoptive mother I am learning a lot from you & so I feel confident that any panel (& heck, even that mother in the group) could learn a lot from you.

    In the group though that’s not your “job.”

  7. As a birth mom I hope she chooses not to return to the group. I have been corrected about the son – birth son terminology and I don’t like it not one bit. It infuriates me.

    As a social worker I want to challenge the adoptive mom/birth mom about why she feels the need to define the lives of others. I want her to continue in the group and for a respectful confrontation to occur so that she is made aware that she does not get to dictate the terminology others apply to their lives. I want to have other group members talk about how it felt to have their terminology “corrected”. And to address the change in dynamic (as group dynamics change with the addition of new members even if they don’t have dual triad positions) and ask her how she is effected by discussions that are less than positive about adoptive parents.

    Regardless of if she returns or not I hope you get your feeling of safety back in the group.

    • My therapist asked me (after this post went up) how I felt about having her there–she seems to know that it is uncomfortable for us, and I think she wants there to be more dialogue about that in the group. If she comes back, maybe that discussion will occur. And thank you. =)

  8. Okay, I hadn’t seen Adopted when you posted this, but I Netflixed it and now I have. I’m wondering what part got jeers and laughter… I found the whole thing really sad, and can’t imagine what parts were funny.

    I didn’t see the filmmakers as being critical of the adoptive parents. I felt like they were more critical of Jennifer, because she was made to look whiny and inappropriate and masochistic in dealing with issues that really are valid. I thought it was the documentary process itself (e.g. her parents not being comfortable with hashing out family emotions on camera, the crazy trip to the Sons of the Revolution, which reminded me of something the producers of Wife Swap would set up) that was behind her looking so bad.

    I thought the folks adopting from China were shown to be simplistic in their understanding of attachment and grief, but not ill-intentioned. Their Chinese-restaurant decor was a little laughable, so maybe that’s what did it?

    • I agree with you in your assessment of Jennifer, but I think ours is the minority view–that said, I would certainly have been hurt if my parents held a grudge for months after I took them to a Korean restaurant. The birthmothers and adoptees who told me about the movie saw all four adoptive parents as willfully ignorant, and their ignorance as self-interested. I’m not sure of where I stand on that.

      The laughter that the women who recommended the movie to me were the most angry about came when Jennifer’s adoptive mother said that she didn’t care what Jennifer’s birthmother had gone through–there was laughing and clapping, apparently.

  9. That is upsetting that that part got laughing and clapping. That moment in the film stood out to me as the adoptive mom’s worst moment, not being willing to even voice potential reasons for a Korean woman to have given up her child because of a lack of better choice–it had to be about the woman “not being cut out” to parent, whatever that means. Especially given the crazy and unhappy barriers facing “illegitimate” children in Korea at the time, her position seems so pointlessly narrow.

    While I could see a lot of the Feros’ lack of involvement with Jennifer’s issues as generational or cultural (my own parents, of that generation, would die before hashing out emotional issues on film or in a restaurant, though they’re pretty willing to do it at home over a beer)I just could not figure why Mrs. Fero couldn’t admit even to herself that Jennifer’s birth mom could have been without choices.

    The fact that the clappers and laughers were probably mostly prospective adoptive parents is really sucky and scary.

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