Adoption, Mid-life Crisis, Mothering

On Truth

One of the things I hope for at mid-life is to finally get over the issues I’ve been working through for, oh, 44 years now. What’s the truth of who I was born to be?

In Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott writes:

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We dont have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go into. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.”

I’ve spent my whole life looking for the mother I didn’t have. That didn’t change when I came to understand my mother better, or even when I met my birth mother. I still felt the lack of someone who would simply love me unconditionally, someone who would give me what I have given my children: a love that acknowledges our individual peculiarities and deficits and embraces them right along with the giftedness and wondrousness.

In this family, we’re pretty open about naming and embracing both ends of the spectrum. I don’t know how unusual that is. I just know that in my both my growing-up family and in my much more limited experience of my birth family, the accepted practice is to ignore or deny the characteristics we don’t like for as long as possible, and to jettison the person who is trouble when necessary.

I’m not a sandbag on the side of a hot-air balloon. A hot-air balloon is a pretty poor model for family living. It’s too fragile, too easily upset. A family needs a vehicle that is more grounded. A person needs a vehicle that is more earthed.

Being adopted, or more particularly my relationship with my birth mother, has been a touchy subject for some years now. At Christmas I decided to write her a letter; it had taken me a year to respond to her letter of the year before, a letter that came over two years after I wrote to tell her Pure Luck and I were getting married. As soon as I put it in the mail, I knew I had begun it the wrong way; trying to use humor in reference to myself and probably setting the wrong tone by seeming to criticize the time it took her to last respond.

I can’t seem to do it right. And seeing that about myself, I want to–

you guessed it, didn’t you?

Jettison the weight that is upsetting the emotional balance.

I was in Jungian Analysis for many years with a wonderful Italian woman. Whenever we got too close to the mother stuff, I would run away.

Yesterday in my mentoring group, the retired pastor who leads us spoke of those times when we feel we need our mothers, when we just want to be loved exactly as we are. Oh, God! That’s the last time I want my mother, either of them. The last time.


I remember in analysis how I had so many dreams about my inner masculine, so many romantic dreams. I remember being told that the important thing was to heal the inner breach, not to paste over it by attracting a real life man to fill the emptiness.

The truth is, I can’t go back and get a new mother. It’s a little late for that. I have to find that all-loving mother in myself, give that love to myself.

Why is that so hard? How do I let go of disappointment instead of ignoring, denying or jettisoning what is difficult?

On Sunday, during our time of Sharing Joys and Concerns, a church member asked us to pray for a co-worker who just adopted a baby. When we prayed, I did something I haven’t done before. It surprised me to hear the words coming out of my mouth. I prayed for the adoping mother and the new baby, and then I prayed for the mother who had surrendered her child.

I’m still grappling with this. Would it have been better, almost twenty years ago, not to contact my birth mother? After all, I started it. Would it have been better to confine her to the role I ascribed to the birth mother we prayed for on Sunday? That role is loving enough to give away what we cannot care for ourselves, or at least that’s how I named it.

But it seems like whichever mother had raised me, even if it had turned out differently, I would have had a mother who wanted me to conform to an image, a pattern, a form that had nothing to do with who I actually am.

I have been so in love with each of my children~their beauties, their oddities; I can’t help wishing someone had been as besotted with me.

26 thoughts on “On Truth”

  1. I contacted my birthmother for medical information 17 years ago when Litigator was diagnosed with a genetic disorder. I got a little (very little) medical information along with a message that she didn’t want any personal contact. I am still somewhat angry about that – what did she think I wanted from her at that stage of my life? at that moment, I just wanted to know if this was a mutation or something that had more family history behind it. I think now that I also wanted more of a sense of who I was, where I had come from. The adoption agency sent me some information about her, and about the situation she had found herself in (affair with a married boss). I understood her reluctance a bit better then, but not completely. Wasn’t she at least a little curious about me, or was my birth too painful a memory for her?
    When PH and I got married, I was unable to have more children. I suggested the option of adopting, since he had no children of his own. It was not something that he wanted to do; he was satisfied being the stepfather of my kids. I’m not sure he understands the gift that adoption is, but I think he understands better than I the complexity of relationships.
    It’s not easy to face the possibility that one’s birthmother might not love us as deeply as we feel we deserve, or that we might not deserve it, or that the way she expressed her love was possibly not the way we wanted.
    Adoption is a complicated thing. Love is a complicated thing. We’re all still trying to figure out how to do this without jettisoning the sandbag off the side of the hot-air balloon…

  2. Big hugs, Songbird. I was raised by my birth parents, and I love them dearly, but they have always made me feel that I don’t live up to their expectations. I think they passed on some of their own baggage from their childhoods. I’m more patient and understanding with them now that I have children of my own, but it’s still hard at times to let the criticism (implied or spoken) roll off my shoulders.
    I’m trying to do better with my children — just as you say, embracing everything about them, not trying to pretend that they are perfect or that they should be.
    You continue to amaze me with your self-awareness and understanding.

  3. “The truth is, I can’t go back and get a new mother. It’s a little late for that. I have to find that all-loving mother in myself, give that love to myself.”
    Word. There have been times when I ought to have had your statement copied out on the back of my hand in permanent ink.

  4. Songbird, as an adoptive mother I worry about how my children will feel about all of this as they get older. Adoption is such a complicated matter, not just legally but also emotionally. I wish I could spare them these emotions, these questions, the inevitable empty spot where their birthmom should be. I know I cannot. I just pray that I will be able to give them what I can and that whatever that is will be enough to help them come to terms with the loss of their birthmoms (and dads). And I pray for their birthmothers, for surely they have a hole just as large.

  5. Songbird, I’m not adopted, but I share a lot of your mother love angst. And it doesn’t necessarily get any easier as we get older, does it?

  6. I relate to your post on three levels: first, as an adoptive mom, second, as daughter with mother angst and thirdly, as a mother with a daughter with mother angst.
    Too complex for me to write about so I’m happy you began the conversation.
    I’m leaving one of these for you:(0)

  7. Thank you all for sharing your own tender feelings in return.
    I want you all to know that my younger brother’s experience of our mother was entirely different. He even thinks she enjoyed cooking!! He has never been interested in searching out his birth parents, even when his wife suggested they might want to seek some medical history. I say this not to minimize my own feelings, but to reassure you all that the mother angst isn’t necessarily the adoption angst. I’m beginning to see that what I had to work through in this life was going to be the same either way. I had to learn that *my* oddities are okay, that I’m worthy to be loved just as I am (without one plea, and so forth).
    And I’ll try to resist the urge to start quoting either Marianne Williamson or Stuart Smalley. 😉

  8. Blessings rain down upon you.
    My mother’s gift was unconditional acceptance no matter what and it is the most precious gift of my life (well, okay, maybe that SALVATION thing…)
    And I am striving in turn to give that gift to my stepson, especially in the face of his mother (who gave up on him when he was 8) and his dad (who wants to give up on him now that he is 16).
    Your post has helped me to clarify some issues and recognize the wounds that my DH and his ex carry from their own mothers. I had not considered it that way before. I am in this child’s life for a reason.
    May you, and we, truly be the wonderful loving mother you need for yourself at this time.
    Hugs upon hugs.

  9. Somgbird, you have my sympathies. I am not adopted, so I can only imagine the hurt and longing that goes with the knowledge that someone gave you up. You can’t view it that way. You have to look on it as your birth mother wanting to give you every advantage, and maybe giving you up for adoption was the only way she could ensure that you would have a better life than the one she could provide for you.
    You are a wonderful and caring, considerate parent and pastor. Knowing that you were able to pray for both the newly adoptive parent and the parent who made the difficult choice to give up her child means that your birth mother did the right thing. You are right to be besotted with your own children. And, you don’t need the love of your birth mother — you have your family; both your adoptive family, and the ones you made on your own. And, you have have us. We adore you. And with good reason.

  10. I can’t help but wonder if “unconditional acceptance no matter what” is the exception or the rule for mothers, birth or adoptive. I know that my mother was not a purveyor of unconditional acceptance of anyone, including her children. Whether that was a result of her own childhood experiences or her strict Catholic upbringing or the mental illness with which she was subsequently diagnosed, I can’t say. But it amazes me to see my sister’s relationships with her children, in many ways the antithesis of what she experienced growing up. Sounds like your relationships with your children are the same way, Songbird. And that is truly a gift.

  11. A hug and a stone from me, somewhat belatedly.
    I am not adopted (although I really, really wished for many years that could explain my parents–unfortunately, looking in the mirror cut short that fantasy), but sometimes I feel like the alien that got beamed in. I’m still learning to parent myself, and to get that other mothering from others, and (the part I’m still working on) to hang in there and be mothered in my mom’s (ahem) quirky ways.
    Thanks for sharing this. Blessings to you.

  12. Can’t find the lyrics to point you to them, but I think you’d like Tom Paxton’s song “Mother”. It speaks to thy condition.


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