Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Popping Juliette’s Bubble

Adoption played a starring role in my life the whole time I lived in the NYC area. It seems, in retrospect, that I’d meet someone new, and within a few minutes they’d know about my son. So it makes sense that I told one of the temps working with me in the admin department of the Lehman Brothers Investment Banking division. Her name was Juliette and she was, at the time, making a film about witches. Like many temps, she was a working actor/producer who needed a day job to pay the bills.

If you could picture a woman who’d make a documentary about Wiccans, you might imagine a goth chick. Juliette was most definitely a goth gal. She wore only black, had long straight hair worn loose down her back, and seemed paler than the average woman. We got to talking about my son’s adoption, and Juliette mentioned that she, too, was adopted. The first thing I (still) wonder, on meeting an adopted person, is whether they’ve had a reunion with their birthfamily. As I’ve matured, I’ve become better at discerning the appropriate time to ask that question – sometimes it’s never appropriate. When I met Juliette, I believe I pretty much blurted it out immediately.

And, not surprisingly, I think I put her on the spot. “Um, well, I’ve never really searched for my birthmother,” she explained. She went on to describe an adoptive mom who was the epitome of June Cleaver and told me she’d never felt quite at home in her family.

“You know,” I blathered on, “chances are that you’re a lot like your birthmom. She’s probably arty and interesting and liberal. You might look like her too!”

Juliette’s face fell. She enjoyed being a misfit in her family, in terms of foiling her adoptive mom’s preference for pearls and dinner parties and Good Housekeeping décor. She had chosen to rewrite history in her head, and had more or less convinced herself that she’d descended, fully formed, into this family. And all of the things that made her different – and in her mind, special – were uniquely hers. Although she was 35 years old, it had never occurred to her that she had progenitors and, due to simple biology, was likely somewhat similar to them. Rather than comforting her, the thought that she might be similar to her birthmother seemed to horrify her.

As a new birthmother, I was shocked by her reaction to the idea.

I hated to think that my son might, out of hand, reject me as his birthmother. This was a lot less likely to happen, however, simply due to the timeline. Juliette arrived in her family back in the days of fully closed adoptions, when birth and adoptive families traveled distinct paths which the agencies took great care to ensure never, ever crossed. With our adoption beginning as semi-open, Kathy, Bruce, Tony (to the degree he was involved), and I were much further down the road toward extensive knowledge about each other – which means the mystery never really existed for our son. He knew who his birthparents were, where we were raised, the kinds and levels of education we’d achieved, what our parents had done for work, our religious beliefs, our health histories, and pretty much anything else he or his parents thought to ask – then and since.

Juliette had none of that. Everything was unknown, so instead of assuming she was like anyone else, she preferred to imagine that she had been a blank slate, and that she, personally, had chosen every trait that made her unique. Again, biology tells us otherwise. The nature/nurture debates still rage on, but the fact is that our physical traits, at the very least, are passed down. And likely personality traits, as well as social preferences and much more.

I lost touch with Juliette not long after she stopped temping with us. I did see and recognize her on the news in the days following 9/11, among the ash-covered faces running for their lives in the rubble of the Twin Towers. And I peeked at her Facebook page before writing this post. She’s still involved in acting, but in an entirely other milieu than filmmaking. According to an article in EOS magazine, the witch documentary did get made, though I could find no reference to it on IMDB. The article mentions Juliette’s teenage escape from conservative Orange County, Calif., but it says nothing further about her upbringing. I can’t help but wonder if she ever looked up her birthmom – or if her birthmom might have searched for her and been thrilled to discover what a wildly creative and successful woman her daughter has become.

Adoption is weird – there’s no right or wrong in terms of how the relationships ultimately turn out. We all just do the best we can. I never meant to burst Juliette’s bubble about her imagined story of origin. But at least a tiny part of me would be gratified to know that I planted the idea of a search that might not have taken hold otherwise.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Adopted Kids Long to Know Where They Came From

Adopted Kids Long to Know Where They Came From

Back in college, long before I got pregnant and placed my son for adoption, I met a couple through the St. Thomas More Newman Center (the Catholic church on the University of Arizona campus). They’d had a child who passed away in infancy, and I recall them referring to him as their little angel who was looking out for them. I remember thinking that was weird, but touching.

At the time I met them, they had recently adopted a little boy at the age of about 2. He was darling – the mom not so much. Remember, this was back years before I became a birthmother myself. And yet I froze upon hearing this mother say that she and her husband were praying (literally praying to God) that their son would have no memory at all of his first family, his birthfamily. Now, I don’t know the rest of their story. It’s entirely possible that they had adopted through the foster system and this little boy had come from a troubled home. Perhaps he’d even experienced abuse. But just the thought that his new parents should hope to make of him a blank slate with no recollection of – or ties to – his birthfamily was appalling to me. He had a first family. He had a mother who’d carried him and given birth to him. He had a place of origin that was different from his adoptive parents. Wishing that were not the case would never make it so.

As I’ve mentioned, I worked very hard to find the best parents for my son – but I am nevertheless grateful for their openness and transparency with him about the adoption. They never shied away from the topic, and Kathy always encouraged Eric to express his feelings, ask as many questions as he had, and even put him back in touch with their social worker when, as a teen, he seemed to be struggling. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents are not so willing to be that vulnerable, preferring instead to try to pretend the adoption away.

I have posted previously about talking to adoptive and prospective adoptive parents on this very topic:

One thing I was able to do when I would speak to groups of prospective parents was cut through the bullshit. I remember explaining, on more than one occasion, what seemed so obvious to me, but always startled the hell out of these would-be parents: “This baby is never going to be your biological child. He or she will bear no blood relationship to you. He or she was conceived and carried by another couple – and they will always have a tie to your child that you don’t. That doesn’t make you bad or deformed as a parent – it just means that your relationship to your kid is different. And the sooner you come to terms with that – the sooner you stop resenting the birthparents for doing something you couldn’t – the better off everyone will be.”

I recently came across this post, written by an adult adoptee, that contains a list of 10 things adoptees want you to know. Guess what they want people to understand:

  • They want to know where they came from.
  • They want their adoptive parents to be their advocates.
  • They want their parents’ help to make sense of their stories.
  • Their desire to search for their birthparents is important to their identity – it’s not a rejection of the adoptive parents.
  • Even those in open adoptions struggle with feelings of self-worth, shame, control, and identity – particularly when their adoptive families (and pretty much everyone else they know) are so hesitant to talk about the adoption. Talk about the elephant in the room.

What was not on that list was a desire to sweep the adoption under the rug, or the desire to forget their first families and erase all recollection – or knowledge – about their places and people of origin.

I realize that as a birthmother, my perspective is quite different than that of most adoptive parents. If one were so inclined, the two roles could even be seen as adversarial. And although the birthparent chooses not to parent – one could view it as a rejection – the adopted person and the birthparent actually have more in common, in terms of emotions and the aftermath of the adoption, than you might think. Particularly in instances where secrecy/lack of transparency is [still] a factor in the adoption.

As with everything, I think that each adoption is different because the people involved in each adoption are different. However, there are emotional norms and psycho-sociological trends. That data is still coming in, but I’m pretty sure that almost anyone with any stake in adoption would agree that openness is a much better approach to this very peculiar institution.

Like many of the people I met earlier in my life, I have no idea what became of that couple or their child. Nevertheless, I hope for all of them that they came to terms with the way their family was made – and that their child was eventually allowed to be his own person, even if that meant searching for, finding, and meeting the people who gave him life and also made his adoptive parents so uncomfortable.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.