by: Alana Hart
For the first time in my life, I have the opportunity to have both my first and adoptive mothers around my table for Thanksgiving. “Great!” you are probably thinking to yourself. What an opportunity to unite and feel thankful!
However, as an adoptee nothing is straight forward or easy. Instead, the guilt slowly slinks in like a menacing fog of trauma. Who will this offend more? Do I ask them if this is okay? Do I make this an open invitation? If I don’t ask, am I being intrusive? What if First-Mom doesn’t want to come over and I’m assuming? All of the doubts rush in for an adoptee the minute they are made to choose. Which mom is the right mom? Who has the seat at the table? Who am I loyal to? Who will I choose?
“Are you sure this is what this is? Maybe this isn’t about adoption. Maybe this isn’t happening and you’re looking for a problem where there isn’t one. Maybe this is of your own creation.” And if you look to adoptive parents for support, you will likely be told exactly this. This is the depth of the gas lighting that fans the flames of adoptee self-doubt that goes into what it is to be an adult adoptee. It is the blatant inability to trust your own response to things that you are living. It is the place where you question the essence of your own lived experience and your own reality which you find yourself fully immersed in. This is where you’re not even sure if you can trust all of your senses to tell you or guide you in a safe way. But…while you’re thinking through all of these things and feeling all of these things, YOU NEED TO REMAIN GRATEFUL.
And the response I knew would come, came. I picked up the phone and I called my adoptive mother. I wanted to let her know that my first-mom would be coming to town. The pregnant pause seemed to last for an hour as I turned my car onto the highway. I braced myself for the inescapable impact. The waves of disappointment, guilt, and shame that were sure to come crashing when she was able to find her voice and response:
“Well…who says I’m coming…” she replied back to me.
My heart sank. I knew this was what I was to expect. A lifetime of having to choose a side had prepared me for everything in this moment. My stomach began to knot, and I was disappointed in a way that only other adoptees can understand.
It was the not belonging, the which side do I fall on, who do I hurt, is anyone worried about how this is hurting me?! And then being tasked with determining what line in the sand needed to be drawn, and where I would fall.
In my desperation to have her understand my perspective of this experience I asked her, “Why are you doing this to me? How is this fair? How can you make me choose?” And her response, as it has always been, was about her; her comfort, her family, her experience, her holiday.
And in that moment my body trembled with the fight I have been waging inside of myself for the last three decades, “I have been uncomfortable for the last 32 years!” But I knew that this stance would get me no further in the conversation, I knew this would not draw her in to comfort or capitulate; the more I dug in the more separated from either mother I would become. So I threw my hands up. I became the complicit, compliant, and complacent adoptee that has always gotten me further in life and I said, “let me get more information,” knowing that this would stave off the conversation and delay the inevitable.
I am living in a forced position to CHOOSE who and how I would spend my holiday. In light of these new developments: which mom would it be?
At the end of the day, adoptees know that there is no “right mom” to choose. Often, neither mom is the mother that you need, or the mom that you want, or the mom that was “meant to be with you.” And this is the painful part of the adoption experience: the duality between the need to know who you are and being okay with where you are.
Adoption is never easy, its never clear cut, but what it is consistently is painful. No child should be forced into a position to choose which part of their experience is more valuable or necessary. No mother should expect a child to make a proverbial Sophie’s Choice of allegiance and assign a value to a person. The novelty of a family dinner is something so benign and seemingly innocuous, but when you grow up experiencing holidays as a singular entity amongst a united force, it serves as an annual reminder of the disconnection created by forced separation. Even when you have the ability to fuse these two worlds, and these two identities together, the rupture is so apparent because intrinsically and viscerally you understand, these two things were never meant to be, and that they can never coincide. They are oil and water. This is the tug of war of motherhood, of a first mother’s existence tugging on the arm of a child while the tugging of the adoptive mother’s identity pulls back from the other side, tearing the adoptee down the middle at the seams. And as all the stuffing of lived experiences, trauma, and emotions come pouring out, neither is able to sew you up.