Thursday, July 22, 2010

Are You My Mother?

By Fran Cronin for Adopt-a-tude

The recent death of open-adoption maverick Annette Baran has jostled me out of my maternal complacency.

Having adopted my son in Russia, I thought I had dodged open adoption blowback: no birth mother back-story, no holiday cards, no photo exchanges or well-intended visits. In other words, there was no ambiguity or messy relational complications. I was sure my son felt snug and secure in the embrace of my unwavering devotion and love. Wasn’t that enough?

But in reading the obits of the formidable and prescient Baran, the firm ballast of my assumptions have begun to wobble.

From the late 1950s to 1974, during a time of closed adoptions—anonymity and sealed records—Baran placed more than 1,000 babies while director of adoptions for Vista Del Mar Child-Care Service in West Los Angeles.

As the placements mounted she wondered why the details were kept concealed when it was obvious that both adopting parents and birth mothers wanted to know more. Each craved the missing installment of their separate but enjoined stories.

The curtain was finally pulled back in 1978, when she and some colleagues published their research findings in the watershed The Adoption Triangle: The Effects of Sealed Records on Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents. Since then, varying levels of open-adoption practices have become the norm.

Almost single-handedly, and with the strength of her own experience, Baran popularized the argument that an adoptee’s knowledge of their birth parents is crucial to identity formation. She advocated that knowledge filled the empty hollows for all parties in an adoption relationship.

So why have I thought that my complicit ignorance in my son’s birth history has been a good thing? What have I been afraid of?

Perhaps I fear losing a part of my son if we go down the path of “are you my mother?” The broad-shouldered mantle of Mom is not one I have been willing to share. As a single parent, I have fiercely protected and honed my role in solo parenting.

Adopted at five months and now a pubescent 12-year-old, my son has yet to challenge my monolithic claim on motherhood or queried as to whom might be at the other end of his genetic line. But that question does pop into my head. What is his genetic history and what might be his biological destiny?

But even if I knew the DNA of my son’s genetic make-up, I could not stem the inevitable march of his biological destiny. Having survived cancer three times, I know much about my own DNA, but that has not enabled me to redirect my genetic heritage.

While there is no right or wrong answer to the open-versus-closed adoption argument, I feel the choice to unearth the past is my son’s, not mine. Perhaps finding his birth mother would reassure her that the child she bore is thriving and well loved.

Whatever my son’s past might have been, his future is firmly with me, his sister, and the family unit we have lovingly knit into being.

Click here to read more about the life of Annette Baran.

To listen to an interview with Annette Baran go to YouTube.

Fran Cronin is the blog manager for Adopt-a-tude.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, you can't have PEKSKY BIRTHMOTHER around, to wonder how HER child is doing. You selfish adopters and your self entitlement make me SICK.

Mei Ling said...

"Perhaps finding his birth mother would reassure her that the child she bore is thriving and well loved."

It probably would.

On the other hand, that likely wouldn't decrease the pain of knowing he is being raised by someone else - even if it was, and in all probability IS, a rightful and necessary adoption.

Adoption is still painful, no matter how necessary it is.

Martha Nichols said...

Yes, I agree. Knowledge doesn't necessarily ease the pain--and it's important to acknowledge the pain of adoption for all parties. In Fran's case, I think she's brave to ask these questions. She poses a real conundrum about how her son will process this or decide to proceed when he's an adult.

fran cronin said...

probably the most difficult facet of adoption is having a child you love and knowing your child is yours because someone relinquished that right. in that fact iies my personal truth: i don't think i could give up a baby i bore yet i also know my life would not be complete without my son. indeed a painful but love infused truth.

Ken H. said...

What a brave and honest post Fran, thanks for writing it. I've been meditating on these same questions lately as my son starts asking more about his origins. I sometimes wonder about his birthmother and how she is faring in what must be a difficult life, while the lives of my son and daughter are filled with love and abundance. I wonder how he will feel as he learns and asks more questions about his birthparents. I know that I love my son with every fibre of my being (as I do my biological daughter), but you are right that this miracle has only been possible through the painful choice of another. These things may never be able to be fully resolved, which may be as it should be. Life is full of mysteries. Some, like adoption, are truly profound.

Kelly said...

Every year around this time I often find myself wondering about my daughter's birth mother. She came home to us a little over 3 years ago. We adopted through foster care, and she came home 2 days after the TPR hearing.

Our daughter never lived with her birth mother, she was removed at birth. I never met her, or spoke with her, but I still wonder about her, and I still hope that she is doing well.

I have thought of trying to contact her, but I just can't think that it's the right thing to do. So we will wait, and I will wonder, and hope that I am doing the right thing.

As a mom, it's the only thing I can do.

Anonymous said...

We just returned from visiting our daughter's birth mother in another country. She's adopted internationally; we did a search when she was 4 years old. Yes, of course, seeing her daughter let her know "that the child she bore is thriving and well loved." How could it not?? And after reading the heart-breaking stories of internationally adopted adults who feel cut off from their origins, how could we not do our best to connect her to her first mother?

I know that people say, "It's my child's decision" but by waiting until he or she is an adult, you are probably making a choice FOR him or her. Any information you have to trace your child's birth mother will, by then, be 18-20 years out of date. I know in many cases, such as adoptions from China, finding birth families is incredibly difficult, but that is not necessarily the case for other sending countries or domestic adoption situations.

There are a number of us who have taken the leap into international open adoptions. I hope you join us.


Martha Nichols said...

Marie -- You make a very good point about not waiting; it's a challenge to all of us. I'd love to hear more about your story, and I wonder if you'd consider writing about it for Adopt-a-tude. Feel free to email us (our contact information is on the site). All the best.

Third Mom said...

This is an honest post that strikes a chord with me. My experience has been similar.

The first commenter speaks to the entitlement felt by adoptive parents; it's a common theme and I believe a fair one. But I see it a little differently than the commenter does. I don't believe adoptive parents start adoptions with maliciously entitled attitudes, a la "I want a baby so I'm going to take YOURS." I think many of come to adoption, at least when and how my husband and I did, with the belief that by the time we adopted that our children's mothers in particular had made a sad but unpressured decision to surrender their child.

Now I know better. This makes no difference to my kids or their families, though; they will live with the fallout forever. Knowing that should motivate all adoptive parents to speak out as you do in the post, and to work to correct what we now know is a terribly flawed practice.

Glad I found your blog.

facronin said...

Third Mom, we too are so very glad you found us. Your comments are a critical part of our common dialogue.

Continuing the thread: I think the vulnerabilities that accompany adoption are multi-layered and very difficult to unpack. Three lives compete for solace, love, and confidence in the rightness of the decisions made. There is the birth mother herself and whose story we may never be truly know. There are the expectations of the adopting parent(s) and the adopted child. When each adoption is unique unto itself, who can judge what is right, wrong, or best? Certainly love and honesty are central to the equation as well as not fearing fall-out. No matter how a family is formed, its trajectory is not one that can be predicted.

If you'd like to write more, please let me know.

facronin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Third Mom said...

That commitment to honesty is crucial. I wish it was shared by every organization and everyone involved in adoption, but sadly I think honesty is in short supply in the adoption world.

Also - my story is here:

facronin said...

Third Mom: i too think honestly is a crucial component to successful adoption, especially between the placement agency and the adopting parent(s).

would love to hear more about how this resonates with you. would you like to share one of your blog posts or write a piece to be posted on our blog?

facronin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.