April 01, 2009

One-Sided Secrets

Both of my children have been and are, in different ways and to varying degrees, secrets. Not in our world, where their presence has been felt in every corner of our lives. But in the worlds of their birth families, where there is a patchwork pattern of those who know and those who don't, those who acknowledge and those who won't. Some because of deliberate efforts to hide it from them, others simply because they came along after the adoptions and haven't been told yet.

I don't begrudge the patchwork holes or the choices that created them. I have no idea what it's like to be in that position, having a family member who was placed or facing condemnation for being a first parent. And when I try to imagine, it can seem overwhelming. So, no, this is not about judgment. It's about my struggle to understand how to mesh the secrets in other people's lives with the openness in ours.

When we started on our way to becoming adoptive parents, we heard one thing over and over from seemingly every expert and social worker: secrecy is bad. Openness--not just contact but an embrace of adoption as a normal part of family life--was set out as the antidote to the lies and forced divisions of recent generations. Adoptees never told they were adopted, women hidden in maternity homes and told to forget, first families and adoptive families kept apart for no real reason. The secrets that kept old stigmas so persistently attached to being adopted; for if there is nothing bad or shameful about adoption, why keep it so hush hush? We were told we had a responsibility to show our children we rejected those ideas by the way we talked about adoption and integrated their birth families into our lives, by not hiding adoption away. We weren't told what to do when we weren't the ones keeping the secrets.

I asked an agency worker about it once during our counseling, what to do with the uneasiness I felt over secrets which were out of my control. I can't remember now if we were discussing a hypothetical or real situation. "We encourage birth parents away from secrecy when it's not a question of safety or legality, just like we do with adoptive parents," she said to me. "But ultimately it's their decision and their timing. And they will have to explain their choices to their children one day."

It's a comforting thought in the abstract, that it's not our responsibility to explain other people's decisions. But it's of little use when you're the one with a child on your lap asking why they've never met a certain birth family member or why we can't visit someone where they live. We may not have to explain, but we do have to answer. How do you tell them their existence has been deliberately hidden from some people without making them feel that it is somehow their fault?

Nor has it been of much comfort in recent weeks, after someone in one of our children's first families decided to finally share the truth. Sadly, it was shared in an effort to wound another--which it did. And the resulting whirlwind has nothing to do with us and yet everything to do with us. Because here in our home sits the child who was discovered and lost in a single moment. And the anger is directed our way.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Our oldest son's b-mom kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone in her family. She told her mom at 7 1/2 months, her mom found us. Now that we have met everyone in her family post birth (she told everyone gradually within 2 months after placement) it has been hard to see the reactions of grief and anger then acceptance, then being embraced by all but 1 or 2. She still sticks to the story that no one knew in order to protect her mom from the ex-in laws. Posting anonymous for that reason...

Lavonne said...

mmm...that is a conundrum that I hadn't thought of before. Thanks for posting about this and wishing you well as you figure out this part of the journey.

mama2roo said...

so many reasons people feel the need to hold onto secrets, and I understand that. What I don't understand is using those secrets, these children, as a weapon. All the more reason for the truth to be known, so that it can't be weilded against anyone...because really your kids are right in the middle of that storm and it is so not fair to them. HUGS

cindy psbm said...

I feel the need to not tell some people because of the backlash of hurtful comments made by people I trusted with the truth.
I want to be able to anyone I know about my son, but I just can't do that knowing that people still have hurtful things to say to me when I do.
The ideas of closed adoption are still in the minds of many people not remotely connected to adoption.
They have no reason to know any different.
In some ways I feel like I am protecting my son from these harsh opinions. I don't understand how it will affect my son to know that I feel so afraid to tell people about him. I hope that he will understand that it is not about him but *for* him.
Sometimes I think of my son as my precious secret, something I don't want to be gossiped about or common knowledge, hes too special for that.
Hey, I rarly tell people even about my nieces and nephew either.
They just don't *need* to know.
It sounds like you have a harder time. Most of my family knows and accepts the truth of my decision, some may never know because I don't think they can 'handle' the truth if that makes sense.
Sorry I when on so long.
Being a first mom is hard and I am glad you understand that.

Rachel said...

I just wanted to leave a comment about this situation even though I don't know what to say. I just hope that the kid can be insulated from the hurt as much as possible because that's the most important thing

Kathy's Korner said...

I sit on both sides of the adoption fence. And I'm going to use commonly used terms for the sake of ease as this is suppose to be a comment, not a blog post. I am an amom and a very close family member is a bmom. The child placed is 15 now. The bmom has children she is raising, the oldest being 12. I have asked her for YEARS to tell the children she is raising.

Just recently she had a reunion and FINALLY did. Her 12 year old was upset. Very. Her 5 year old. Not at all. Telling is key! It just really is!! The younger the better, so it just can be treated as fact, not as some big secret held from them. Secrets just hurt, and indicate something negative generally.

The other part was how upset/hurt the 15 year olds amom was that her daughter had been kept secret. Its hard to think your precious child is someone "secret" Something hidden, something that can't be talked about.

I hope that some day I get to meet this amom and share some understanding if nothing else.

So, IMO, TELL...tell tell tell!

pottergrrl said...

This really crystallizes a piece of our experience. To the best of our knowledge, Izzy's birthfather has told no one in his world about her. That reality was a significant and difficult part of the genesis of her adoption. It has been very hurtful to her birthmother. His refusal to acknowledge Izzy's existence in his life hurts her because of Izzy, but also because of its erasure of her and their relationship.

I do not operate well with secrecy. That is a part of what gets in my way when I think about how to build a bridge to Iz's bf. She is the sun to us. How do you deny the sun? And, what will it be for her paternal birth grandparents when they find out about her?

I imagine something like that occurred with your child's first family. I wish you strength in what must be a painful and difficult time.

luna said...

oh heather, that has to be so hard. you've written so beautifully about the secrecy issue here. I hope you have a chance to come to a peaceful resolution and openness in time.

thanks for this post.

Rebeccah said...

Ouch, I hate to hear that your family is going through this. I fully expect that we will have similar issues once Squeaker is old enough to ask questions, as his entire existence has been kept a secret, as far as we know. If we hadn't been so excited about the beauty of an ideal open adoption, anticipating the difficulty of secrecy might not be so hard ...

KLTTX said...

As far as I know, our birthmom has not told anyone in her family about the baby. I am sad for her because I know it has been really hard on her and I know that she could use the support. She is alone in this country and really has no one to be there for her. She has also chosen to have a closed adoption. I really hope and pray that she has received the help she needs to process her decision and what she has been through(either from her family or otherwise). I don't know how any of this will affect our son as he ages, but I hope that we are able to deal with any issues that arise in his future with honesty and compassion.

cynthia said...

Secrecy is hard. I wish I had an answer to your very practical questions about how do you parent in the midst of it, but I don't... Let me know when you figure it out, okay?

Somewhat Ordinary said...

Came here from LFCA/Kirtsy. I come from different area of the secrecy conundrum - I'm the parent of a child conceived through donor sperm. Our plan had been to be open from the get-go, but as the pregnancy progressed he decided he didn't feel comfortable with being open. It was Keeping that as a secret was not something I ever wanted to do. Many arguments ensued! Now, my son is a year and he has gotten more comfortable with his role as father and has started to tell family. Secrets cause too much pain and I don't think in this day and age they will always remain secrets.

Lori said...

When malice is the intent, whether it's truth released or secrets kept, pain is the result. It's hard to say which is better but I know your little one will weather any storm with so many around who love them. Hugs to you and your family in this tough time.

pottergrrl said...

Good for you, Somewhat Ordinary. I feel like there is a whole new realm of openness work to be done on the sperm and egg donor side. It's helpful that you started with a known donor.

rredhead said...

*Everyone* knows that S had Jack. Seriously. Even the janitor at the hotel where her mom lives. :0)

OTOH, his biological father told no one. The story is long and not one I share. It bothers me from a practical perspective - I cannot contact this man and ask for his health history. I really feel it's important to have this information. But any contact on our part is completely unwelcome. He has at least one other child who has no clue that she has a half-brother. I have to admit, that Jack doesn't know about that half-sister either, because I just can't explain it.

He does know about S's other children and talks about them occasionally. He wants them to come to our house and play with his toys. :0)

Parenthood For Me said...

I have not thought about this before. That must be very difficult on you. I am sure you will find the best way to handle this b/c you love your children very much.

Dawn Davenport said...

From all my experience talking with first parents and adoptive parents it is usually so much better to tell, but not always. And only those living with the knowledge are really in the position to know when it is and when it isn't. Ihope by the time your children are old enough to figure things out, that the "secret" will be no longer. For now, they are protected by you, and that is something to be eternally grateful for.

I'm a first time reader and I love your blog and writing style!

Lisa said...

I feel your pain, Heather. I was recently told that one of our daughter's birthfamily members did not want to visit with her because she was "not [his] niece." I can appreciate the feelings behind this, but it hurt to know that there was someone out there who did not want to "claim" our beautiful, perfect, wonderful daughter.

Secrets are the same thing. You understand, but you also think, “who would want to keep this incredible child a secret?!” I hope all our kids will understand that the secrets and distancing are what other people feel they need to do, and aren’t caused by them.

April Greer said...

What interesting insight by all parties! I am a 2nd mom and while we took the advice to introduce the fact that our boys are adopted right away...the details are ugly and can't really be exposed at this early age. I do not believe in open adoption when the circumstances are so strange. I have no desire to interact with the birth family in any way. However I'm very careful because I know someday I will have to "happily" address my kids desire for knowing them and/or the full disclosure of circumstances. Please let it be when they are much older!! God help us.

Jill said...

Wow, Great post...I am visiting today.
With our kiddos we just TRY to let them know that their first families struggle with the truth and we will do our best to respect their decisions even if we don't agree with them.

Jamie said...

This post just makes me sad....I feel for you so much and I'm so sorry that the hurt/anger is being directed your way. We, as people who just want a way to build our families usually because we are unable to conceive ourselves, sure do have a lot of fingers pointed at us from time to time.
There is a situation within our family that I'm not sure how I will deal with at a certain point either. I have the strong need to be honest (and I will), but I'm being asked to keep secrets. I can't do that ~ so, I guess at that point the drama will really begin. It's just so upsetting that secrets have to be made ~ especially when they revolve around such a delicate situation such as adoption.
I hope that a resolution to this situation you are is found soon ~ and in peace. I'll be thinking of you.

Spring said...

Oh Heather...so sorry to hear about this. Sometimes I romanticize the connection with first families. I have said that there is nothing I'd like more than to be able to have connection with Desta's family (impossible because she has no living relatives). It's all so tricky, isn't it? A child gained and lost in an instant. Ouch. And suddenly, your lovely little family is adrift in a sea of anger and spite. May the seas calm. May you all have peace.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...