Fabrication, Fantasy, & History (Continued)

Currently, it seems a good idea to branch an aspect of the current ongoing discussion of adoptive origins to another (this) post, but it should distinctly continue to be cross-pollinated with this post and this post and their comments.

I’ve maintained:

agonizing as it may sometimes turn out to be, our opportunity as adoptees to recognize that “stories told to children” (whether adopted or not) needn’t be monolithic, single-voiced, much less “true,” gives us a major leg up on non-adopted children.

Once a child (non-adopted or not) receives a story of an origin, it becomes enforceable (by the family) and obligatory (within the family). The question has been asked further, what is the utility of such stories (particularly for adoptees) for society at large. This could be asked more generally: how do such fabrications (presented as histories), i.e., stories told to all children of origin, reproduce the status quo we would critique as adoptees. And, for this post in particular, in what way are generically non-adopted stories of origins distorted?

A most glaring initial difference is that we have two mothers (and/or two fathers). Non-adopted stories of origin do not. and it is telling, and probably no accidental, that no distinguishing term has ever been widely disseminated to distinguish between the woman out of whose womb we came (our mother and/or father) as distinct from the woman who was present (more or less) during our growing up and beyond (our mother and/or father). There is no noun for this; at most, there is an adjective, that makes a distinction between a biological mother (and/or father) and an adoptive mother, although frequently the adjective seems to drop off for the latter.

The word “biological” immediately becomes curious, since what it distinguishes should propose we have an “artificial mother” or a “mechanical mother” as well. Similarly, if the woman who was more or less present when we grew up and beyond is referred to as an ‘adoptive” (or “adopting”) mother, then again the parallel with what our other mother should be becomes strange. Logically, she should be the non-adoptive (or non-adopting) mother, which necessarily refers to everyone on the planet who might be a mother.

In typical human discourse, when there is an exchange one usually finds terms on both sides of the exchange (i.e., giver, taker). Here, there seems to be a curious disconnect. We could be unsentimental and simply resort to “donor mother” and “recipient mother,” though that probably puts too far out in the open that a financial transaction is occurring. It might be asserted or objected that it is precisely “biological” and “adoptive” that are the two sides of the adoption exchange, but if so, the above is not negated (for one) and second, it gets obvious that (in contrast with usual discourse like “give” and “take”) that something very contrived must be at work to make the terms “biological” and “adoptive” into such transactional opposites. “Donor” and “recipient” or “borrower” and “lender” or “perpetrator” and “victim” do not seem to conflate disparate logical categories in the same way that “biological” and “adoptive” do. That is, the “logical” antonym of a “borrower” is a lender; the logical antonym of the perpetrator is the victim. Even such more stretched relations as judge and criminal or teacher and student or parent and child more readily make sense than claiming the opposite of something “biological” is not something “artificial” or “mechanical” or “non-living” (inert matter).

What is particularly missing in this suspect label swapping from “biological” to “adoptive” mother is a term for the institution that intervenes between the two “mothers” (be that the adoption agency, the orphanage, the foster system, &c). Without going into this, It’s probably safe to say that it is this institution precisely that (disingenuously) swaps the (non-adjectivized) word “mother” from the “biological” to the “adoptive”.

Again, the point of all of this is to ask how the “genre” of non-adopted origin stories affect our adopted origin stories. This is me asking again, “What’s your adoption fantasy,” but this time more with an emphasis on what the “literary” resources are that one may draw upon to fabricate (in Mark’s sense) this story, either on our own or as we encounter it from (adopting) parents.

The capacity to have multiple mothers is an attribute of the adoptee. I claim four, for instance. What this points out (to me) is that I don’t accept the premise that I must have a “real” mother (because only “one mother” can be one’s real mother). Social retard that I am, this sense of social kinship has manifested in my life by a more generalized sense of affinity with the whole human race–by which I mean specifically “whoever is standing in front of me at any given time”. This doesn’t mean I like everyone; it means that I engage with them in a way that obviously gets tagged as “too familiar”. This is, of course, simply my experience, and it also arises out of a profound and total sense of alienation from human kind when I was younger, but perhaps it would be more helpful to think of this not as my inability to connect with people, but rather with the inability of everyone around me to connect with me in the intensity and immediacy that I was ready to bring to them. In any case, personal autobiography aside, I’m suggesting that the (false) story I was told,t hat I “have a mother” (singular) is a very distinctly inadequate (narrative/generic) imposition on the non-adoptee origin story. So that any yearning I would have to find MY mother (capitalist entitlement alert) is already a symptom of my own (false) acculturation to a set of (non-adopted) values that necessarily alienate me from my self.

But I’m suggesting also that non-adopted children (at the very least) might benefit from the notion of having multiple mothers. Like the notions of karma or reincarnation, it is not a question whether they are “true,” but rather what social work can they accomplish in the social world. Africa knows it takes a village; Hawaiian kinship terms make every adult female your mother, so other people around the world already know this. So the idea that we have only one mother has to be seen as symptomatic of middle-class property rights, capitalistic social control, &c.
The above only points to one instance of how the culturally available discourse of origin-stories for children (1) distorts the historical actualities of adopted children, and (2) participates in the reproduction of a status quo may find undesirable.

What, then, are other ways that our origin-stories were distorted by the available discourse. And how does our own commitment–not only to whatever origin-story we’ve attached to or had attached to us–cause needless grief in our life precisely because we’ve accepted those available generic terms? If I’m sad because I can’t find my “real” mother (or my “real” family), how did I ever come to believe that I (or anyone) has a “real” family in the first place at all? If that’s a social lie,w hat does that say about non-adopted children’s experiences vis-à-vis the people they grew up with. But more than this, what loyalties are being exacted upon them toward the end of reproducing a status quo that very few people find actually satisfying intraculturally, much less morally, ethically, and even economically sustainable interculturally around the world?

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3 thoughts on “Fabrication, Fantasy, & History (Continued)

  1. Nina Hagen’s song “The Return of the Mother” begins with someone who sounds Indian declaring, “We can worship the Divine as the Mother, because the Mother is closer than the Father”. It seems also, as far as online demographics go, that women comprise the bulk of population. In the few histories that I know of reunions, it was adopting mothers (not fathers) who were located. And in my own musings on origin fabrications, I more readily note that I have four mothers than spending any time speculating about the male component of my origins.

    Partly, this must be due to the far more granular and detailed experience I have of my adoptive father. I tend to forget that my mother was a step-daughter (according to the family story). I tend to credit that fact with the reason for my parents’ considered sensitivity to my (and my sister’s) adoption; that is, we knew early, were adopted early, and it was never made a big deal of (as I saw it). So I collected multiple mothers because my adoptive mother was so emotionally absent, and I first rejected all notion of a father, which eventually turned into atheism (as a rejection of THE father) because my adoptive father’s presence was too great. if I identified with my mother, it was partly out of admiration for her icy distance, partly also because she was the only alternative in the setting I found myself.

    So, it’s no wonder in my origin story that I tend to be rather blase toward the people who gave me up for adoption, even as I am intrigued by the notion of other potential siblings. This itself freed my imagination to be less constrained insofar as I could speculate about my origins–particularly in that I rejected the story told to my parents (or the story I was first told by my my father), which I’m not sure I ever believed, maybe less because I was a smartly skeptical boy and more because it just didn’t make any difference to me if it were true or not. I’m much more interested lately that the version my dad told me when I asked recently wasn’t materially the same as what I was told before.

    I like that I was enough not to deny the possibility of having multiple mothers. Had you pressed me in the past, I would surely have called my “biological” mother my “real” mother, but I see now that that is a distortion inherited from the genre of origin-story available to non-adopted children. Adopted children DO factually have at least two mothers, whether they are known or not, and neither one can be construed as factually more “real” than the other (court decisions notwithstanding). I say this particularly as a boy adopted when I was five days old, so the “realness” of my “biological” mother, i.e., the extent to which she had a majority task relative to the 18 years of my non-present “adoptive” mother, is minimized. I had to exist to be mothered by my adoptive mother, yes, but I also had to be mothered by my “adoptive” mother for the child my “biological” mother begot to get this far along as well. Both are necessary but not sufficient conditions.

    And all of this points to the somewhat unnerving or slightly creepy feeling I can get when I think of being carried around by several hands (when I was in my first days of life) by people who had no material interest in my well-being. Of course, I don’t know the history, but in those first five days, I was in a liminal world. I believe my adoptive parents were expecting me–but not so much that they didn’t go on a trip to Reno, Nevada mere days before I was born. But even if, right out of the womb, I was expected, it was still five days of being moved about and cared for by people who kept me alive only for the most abstract reasons–because they were nurses in the maternity ward, because they were agents of the adoption agency who took possession of me long enough to hand me off to my adoptive parents–or who had to escort my adoptive parents to where I was laying because they otherwise could not have found me. The degree of total dependency a body is in during those days is rather staggering and constitutes a circumstance probably none of us would ever be keen to find ourselves in again. Whatever my first experiences of being handled were, if they were caring, they were loveless; if there was love, it was to say goodbye. No wonder I put no faith in “love” and am suspicious about the motivations of “caring”. This sounds cynical, but it should be offset by my adoration for truth and my recognition of manifold forms of caring.

    Even in my adoption fantasies, no father figures in in a material way except as a sperm donor. I could easily get by on the notion tht mom went to a sperm bank then changed her mind. My experience of the excessive presence of my father has left me with no fondness (wishful thinking) of the type, “I wish I’d played catch with Dad” etc. aside from the most vivid memory of the night when my father induced me to hate him, my earliest memory is of being bundled up in a tiny Oregon State University letterman’s jacket and wrapped in an OSU scarf that practically covered my face, loading up in his 1966 Thunderbird and driving to the local high school to watch a football game. That’s the only memory of my father where I indubitably associate loving him with the memory; I have later ones (prior to age 7), but none so vivid. So every subsequent gesture of fatherly advice or any kind of interaction that might fall into the usual categories of fatherliness are either forgotten, negated, or unwanted. This is doubtless why I feel like I should call my father my father and not my adoptive father. I’d say I don’t have a biological father; and because I negated by “adoptive” father for so many years, what I’m left with now is a man I can all my father, but primarily because we’re more like good acquaintances. I feel no loss whatsoever for a “father I should have had” and my adamance extends tot he biblical deity, who could vanish from the face of the earth and it wouldn’t be too soon.

    So, if I look at the actual origin of my life as I describe it (that I have 4 mothers and 0 fathers) that is in marked distinction to any sort of fantasy about origins I might concoct where some woman (putatively my “real” mother) somehow more or less wound up pregnant by an unknown or known agent–whether she was a socialite, a queen, hooker, and he was a rogue, an errant prince, a rapist … whatever story I might tell myself about being high-born and (sadly) abandoned, or anything else, all of that presupposes the discourse that is available to non-adopted children: that there was one mother (who cheated or not) and one father (the one married to mom or not) in a context of (more or less whole, less or more disintegrated) family, that may or may not feature other (earlier or later) siblings, and a whole host of extended relatives. &c. Mark’s story shows just how widely the “truth” can range from an imaginable fantasy, and the tenuousness of how he came into the world (there were some close calls prior to birth) further underlines the tentativeness of our existence, the greater-than-average dependency upon circumstances not only to get us into the world but to ensure (in our earliest days) that we don’t just die.

    The distance between my actual origins (as I now describe them) and anything I might call a fantasy, or even a fabrication, underscores the non-obligatory nature of whatever origin-story we are told. Less because we can make up any story we want–because perhaps we can but not too persuasively–and more in the way that the assumptions of what constitutes an origin-story are already ill-suited for storying our origins.

  2. I’ve been reading Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare by Dorothy Roberts, and in this book she points out the “perfect story” of the married (forever) suburban-living white American couple as the standard against which Other families are judged, resulting in the breakdown and breaking up of many such families.

    This would seemingly point to a certain archetype from which we can derive the invalid permutations (that you have listed here). And this then gives us the not-useful guide to such stories, but only as long as we maintain a belief in this archetype.

    I’m likewise drawn to the writing of Zeina Zaatari, who has documented the women of Lebanon especially in the South of this country, who are given the least amount of agency in terms of this above archetypal viewpoint, but who in fact bypass this limitation in extraordinary ways. In this regard, it is perhaps in dropping the archetype of perfection that is beneficial, and not the notion of such narrative in and of itself.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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