October 17, 2012

The Goodbye Baby

As an adoptive parent, I recognize that no two adoption stories are the same.  Even siblings adopted by the same families will internalize their lives differently.  No two birthmothers will feel the same, just as no two adoptive mothers will feel or experience the journey in the same way.  There's no hard and fast formula for how adopted children will feel.  However, as a mama to an adopted son, I love reading perspectives from adult adoptees- both the good stories and the hard stories.  I think there is something awesome that happens when we listen to other's stories so that we can come to a place where we all do the best we can for our children. 

Elaine Pinkerton (who wrote the book The Goodbye Baby: A Diary About Adoption) is guest posting today about how she felt as an adopted child growing up in a home where adoption was never discussed.  I think that the lessons that she shares are so valuable and so today, I'm giving her my platform to share her story in the hopes that we can all learn something.  Make sure that you read to the end- she shares her top ten things she wants every adoptive parent to know.

From Elaine:

I am an adult adoptee who took many years to overcome the wounds of adoption. Through re-reading the diaries that I kept from 1950-1990, I was able to find healing. There was the “myth” I’d invented about myself and there were the facts; the truth was somewhere in between.

 Harvesting my journals resulted in The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, and it also inspired me to recommend a list of ten things I would suggest to every adoptive parent. 


            Sixty years ago, toward the end of WWII, a five-year-old girl was left on the doorstep of strangers. Her mother left her there because she couldn’t feed or house her child, and also, suspected the girl, because she wasn’t a good enough daughter. Miraculously, the strangers turned out to be wonderful new parents. They’d been looking for a little girl just like her. Along with her birth brother, nearly two years old and part of the deal, the girl went from rags to riches. Though the term meant nothing at the time, she had been “adopted.”

            A happy ending? Well, it seemed so until the girl went to school. Immediately she noticed that the other children all had their original parents. She pretended that her mother was her “real” mother and tried desperately to be good enough. Her greatest fear was that she might be returned to the foster homes she’d endured when her original mother couldn’t keep her.

            Outwardly, life was so much better now that she should have been rejoicing. Her new parents did not really want to talk about why they adopted her. She was afraid to ask when her real mother would be coming back to get her. Possibly she would never come back, and it would be because she wasn’t a good enough daughter.  The little girl grew up carrying that shameful secret in her heart.

            On her tenth birthday, the little girl received a diary. It had a lock and key and lines for writing anything she wanted. By now it seemed to the girl that the kind, nurturing parents were new “real parents.” Never mind that she had many questions about life with her birth mother. If that mother gave her away, there must have been a reason. Deep down, no matter what the new parents told her, she believed it was all her fault. She was somehow inferior, not smart or pretty enough, just not OK. Since she couldn’t speak about the shameful secret, she took to expressing these thoughts in her diary.

            With the little blank book, she didn’t have to pretend to be someone she wasn’t. The diary was her best friend, her confidant, a place she could store her feelings. It was so very helpful—Always there, always ready to listen—never judging or disapproving -- A place where she was always welcome. So comforting were the diaries that when the girl became a teenager, and later a wife and mother, a grandmother, and then a widow, she continued filling up book after book. At some point in the distant future, she knew she would burn the diaries, toss them into the ocean or maybe bury them in an arroyo. 

            But wait! The diaries might contain something valuable—a certain confession, insight, lament or situation. Gathered into a book, selected excerpts could provide a guidebook for others who’d been adopted. Now a senior citizen, the girl resolved to harvest her journals, to transcribe passages that cried out to her. All of the mistakes, the bad decisions, the obsessions, the wrong thinking would be put on the table and examined.

           Just as she resolved that her personal history was worth writing, she was blindsided. The deaths of her biological father, her adoptive parents, and then her husband pushed aside the diary project. It was almost too much to bear, and for several years she lived inside her grief.

            Only one journey would lead the girl to a healing. She had to go back and actually READ the diaries.  As the girl scoured the past, an amazing thing happened. She came to realize that there was nothing insurmountable about her personal drama. It was all part of being human. At last she could forgive herself and even begin to get over “growing up adopted.” She could quit acting out a role and start really living her life.


Fact: My original mother and father, married during the chaos of WWII,  were not “parent material.”

Fact: I was adopted after the war by parents who gave me a wonderful life.

Fact: I was afraid to ask about my original parents, thinking I might be “sent back.”

Fact:  After losing my birthfather, my adoptive parents, and my husband, I felt newly abandoned and wondered how I could keep on living.

Fact: I found a way to finally get over my self, a version of Elaine that kept me locked into old patterns. To my amazement, I became the heroine of my own life.

Ten things every adoptive parent should know

  1. LOVE is always the answer.
  2. REPLY to even the most difficult questions.
  3. LAUGH with your child.
  4. KEEP your expectations high but never make your child feel “not good enough.”
  5. AVOID comparisons with other children who were NOT adopted.
  6. TELL your little one, if he or she asks, why he was adopted.
  7. Even if the birthparents were not good people, BE HONEST. You might say, “they weren’t good parent material” or they “lacked the skills” to raise a child or "they just weren't ready"
  8. SHARE your hobbies and passions.
  9. READ to your child every day.
  10. ENCOURAGE your child to express him/herself in art, writing, music or dance. 
Elain Pinkerton



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