Sorry for the hiatus. It's been a difficult summer, and just when I thought things were getting better, my husband's mom died unexpectedly at the age of 77.
She was a hell of a woman. She was known for her fancy hats, her no-nonsense attitude, and her nonstop chatting in a Louisiana drawl. Picture a lady in a broad-brimmed hat, driving a hundred miles an hour down the highway in a gold Lexus with a pair of pet chickens in a cage on the seat next to her. Her local politicians quaked at her approach because if they were up to no good, she gave them no quarter. They'd try to shut her up, and she'd keep coming back. You just can't argue with a Southern lady in a hat, especially when she's right.
My mother-in-law was not adopted; she knew her heritage backwards and forwards. But she was a forthright champion of adoptee rights. She read my blog avidly and often called me or sent me an email to comment. She read the articles and links I sent, commiserated with me over my struggles to obtain my identity, and gave me advice on how to deal with politicians. Because she really, truly understood why we adoptees fight for our rights.
She told me of her experience with Hurricane Camille in 1969, a Category 5 storm that decimated the Louisiana coast. Her father perished in the storm, along with the relics of her past: not just the house where she grew up, not just the neighborhood, but the entire parish (county) and a great deal of the surrounding area. She struggled to regain that past, documenting her family tree and going to the older folks in her family to ask them to identify people in the few photos she was able to recover. But, as she explained to me, at least she still knew where she came from.
Adoptees, she said, never had the chance to know, and she found that the most devastating of all. She thought if more people understood that loss, if they didn't take their own heritage for granted, they would be more understanding of adoptees' plight. She also felt for mothers who were coerced by the adoption industry into surrendering their children, having gone through a divorce in the 1970s in a state so misogynistic that she had to fight the bank to put the mortgage in her name instead of her husband's.
I called my mother-in-law Mom, and that is not a title I give out lightly. Having had a rough relationship with my adoptive mother, and a rocky reunion with my first (birth) mother, she was the only mother I ever truly knew. She was the one who was there for me, who actually gave a damn if I was upset or having a hard time, who spoiled my kids rotten and taught me that you gotta stand on your own two feet and grab what you want out of life. At the end of her last visit, she gave me some money and told me to go get that DNA testing I'd been talking about, if it was going to help me find out even a little bit more about my origins.
This is a woman who had as much connection to adoption as your average person--namely, she knew some people who were adopted and that was about it. But, unlike most people, she took it upon herself to learn what adoption means to the people who have no choice but to live it, day in and day out. When I first met her, she made the same assumptions and believed the same stereotypes as everyone else. She had no idea that adoptees can't just go to the courthouse and get their information. She didn't realize that there is an original birth certificate and an amended birth certificate. She assumed that media coverage and Hollywood depictions of adoption were accurate. She didn't think about the fact that most public portrayal of adoption is solely from the viewpoints of adoptive parents and the people who make money facilitating adoptions. She was unaware (but, upon learning of it, not surprised) that infant adoption preys upon mothers without resources, and that legislators and their cronies have turned birth certificate access into political capital. The point is, she MADE THE EFFORT, and that is one reason I loved her.
From her legacy, take this: If you do not have direct experience with adoption, learn what it really means, both the good and the bad. If you are an adoptive parent or prospective adopter, talk to first (birth) mothers and adult adoptees before assuming that your viewpoint is the only one. If you're a journalist or novelist writing about adoption, make sure you know what the stereotypes are before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Question everything you think you know. Don't dismiss others' experiences just because they don't jibe with your assumptions, or because the speaker sounds "angry" or "ungrateful" or "anti-adoption."
Put yourself in their shoes.
Make the effort.