Where Babies Come From

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously
My own.
Never forget
For a single minute:
You didn’t grow under my heart
But in it.
–Fleur Conkling Heyliger


Why does the spiky urchin headcarpet?

(Don’t worry, I’ve prepared a longer answer than the obvious “Because she loves that damn’ gif!”)

The “born in my heart” metaphor/poem has always bothered me. It denies the existence of the first mother. And, like so much of the stuff adopted children are expected to believe and take comfort in, it’s doublespeak: it denies adoption happens in the name of celebrating it. It shuts down conversation about adoption while pretending to explain it.

And it bothers me because for crying out loud, how is an adoptee supposed to forget for a minute that s/he’s adopted? What happens if s/he forgets? And what’s so miraculous about it from the adoptee point of view? And why, why, WHY is it called “The Answer”? It answers nothing. To test this theory, I thought back to my own childhood. Here are some of the questions I asked, paired with The Answer:

Why are my eyes hazel? –In my heart.
Why did she give me away? –In my heart.
Do I have any brothers or sisters? –In my heart.
Who was my mother? Who was my father? –In my heart.
Why do the other kids make fun of me for being adopted? –In my heart.

And little adoptees already get extra-confused about reproduction. I thought infertility meant my a’rents must not have sex, and my a’bro thought being adopted meant he couldn’t father his own kids and would have to adopt in turn. So I can imagine a youngun hearing this poem and imagining something like this:

There’s a plush chestburster out now. I want one, and I want one of those awful I Was Born In Mommy’s Heart creepers for it so I can dress up as an a’mom next Halloween.



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25 responses to “Where Babies Come From

  1. Snark of the Covenant

    You’re Mommy’s little heartworm, you are! Who’s a little heartworm? You, you, you!

  2. I LOL’d so hard I’m wiping away tears. Guess Mommy forgot to take her Filaribits!

  3. ElaineP

    LOL — thank you for the laugh, I needed it 🙂 I, too, have hated that poem but now I know why!!

  4. You could also hate it for its lack of literary merit. I know I do.

  5. Patty

    I must be a weird adoptee because I always loved it…

  6. And that’s cool too! Thanks for reading and commenting, Patty.

    Seriously. (Because I suspect it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between serious and not-serious on this blog.)

  7. I’m an a-mom. I think what you say here is totally valid. I didn’t realize all of this when we adopted our kids, but now they are 11 and about to turn 14, and I recognize the truth in what you write. I recognize that “celebrating” adoption day can’t just be the happy thing we made it when they were little. We read a lot of adoption literature and we attended seminars before we adopted, we tried to learn all we could But now I read many adoptee blogs, and I know much more than I knew in the beginning. The fact is: the creation of our family is profoundly happy for me and for their dad (the truth is, it’s the happiest thing that ever happened to us.) But at the same time I realize now: it is NOT the same for my kids, and we have no right to foist how we feel about it on them. I hope they know we love them eternally, and I hope they feel secure in that knowledge. Yet I also know: they have a right to feel sadness, grief, confusion, anger…they have a right to feel their own feelings and pain about the loss of their birth families and birthcountry. And though I don’t know for a fact how my kids’ birthmothers feel, I fear that for both of them it is the opposite of what it has been for me: I imagine that they feel enduring loss and pain, and my heart aches for them both. I am sorry for their tremendous loss and I am sorry for all that my kids have lost, and I know that my kids and their birthmothers may never be able to fully come to terms with all this. Still, I would be lying if I said I’m not glad that my kids are my kids…I would be lying if I denied that it’s the best thing that ever happened to their dad and me. This is complicated, and messy, and I know that now. Because I now know more than I did, we support family preservation efforts and birthmothers’ rights in our kids’ birth country. Just wanted to let you know, not all a-parents don’t hear you…some of us do. Don’t know what else to say except I know that what you say is valid.

  8. “”I thought infertility meant my a’rents must not have sex, and my a’bro thought being adopted meant he couldn’t father his own kids and would have to adopt in turn.“”

    ‘S not just the little ‘uns that have trouble with this – this is part of the reasoning behind why, when I found out I was pregnant at 17, I decided to carry to term, because up until that point I’d had this … not quite fear, since I wasn’t really all that into having kids, but something very akin to fear emotionally that I can’t find an accurate name for … that I wouldn’t be able to have any kids because my a’rents (or at least one of them) were infertile.

    ‘S amazin’ just how much being adopted fucks you up, and even now – at almost 40 – I still find myself surprised sometimes at some of my fucks ups that’re *still* falling out the woodwork even now.

  9. Yep it goes on and on, the fallout, the fuckups and the febrile rubbish we get to read.I hate that ‘poem’, it’s vile.

  10. the a’mom here again… I see my previous comment is still awaiting moderation, and realize this may not be the place for me to post. I wrote my comment immediately after reading your blog, but now I’ve read more (you’re a great writer, by the way) and I realize this may not be the place for a non-adoptee to post. If that’s the case, sorry about that, just go ahead and delete. I’m glad I found your work today and look forward to reading more.

  11. jmrose, sorry about the delay. You’re welcome to comment.

    I thought I had approved the (first) comment several hours ago, but I think I must have just read it.

  12. jmrose, thanks for the input. It’s encouraging to hear to hear from some a-parents that have a firm grasp on the issue surrounding loss in adoption. Hopefully through your understanding, your children will have an easier time putting a name to what they are feeling, as opposed to living a lifetime wondering what the f**k is wrong with them. (I would encourage you to allow them to read The Primal Wound, by Nancy Verrier. You too, for that matter.)

    • I truly appreciate your comments. My hope is that by keying in to what adult adoptees have to say–by listening to the experts, those who have actually lived the adoptee experience–we a’parents can figure out how not to make the mistakes that have been so damaging to so many. We won’t always like what we hear, in fact sometimes it’s really hard to hear, but the only choice is to face the truth, and try to learn how to do things better. I haven’t yet read The Primal Wound, but I did read Betty Jean Lifton’s Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. I understand that there’s no way to undo the original injury–the primal wound–I know we can’t ever undo it, or fix it. But I also believe that by educating ourselves we can figure out how to deal with all the pain and complexity of adoption in a smarter, more honest, more sensitive and truthful way. Because there are people like you who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas and deepest feelings, my kids may have it a little better. I am grateful to those of you who tell it like it is. The idea that you walked around thinking that something was wrong with YOU, rather than knowing that something was very wrong with what HAPPENED to you, I find heartbreaking, and infuriating. Anyway, again–very grateful you are sharing what you know. On behalf of my kids, thank you.

  13. jmrose, I appreciate your attitude very much. Although I’m happy to have you reading it, my blog is not necessarily the place to get educated, as I’m all about the snark. If you’d like suggestions for other blogs to read, please let me (and my awesome commentors!) know. There’s a lot of great stuff on the internet that generally falls on deaf ears.

    • I am very happy to hear from you, T. Laurel Sulfate, Snarkurchin! And I would love recommendations for additional blogs to read. I find myself browsing around, searching, but sometimes I don’t land on anything particularly helpful or useful. But then I end up looking around some more…

      I think my attitude until very recently was, Yes sure, I know what my kids have lost is hard, BUT “since we love them so much!” and, BUT “since we embrace their birthculture as a family,” and BUT, “since we talk openly about searching and reuniting with their birthfamilies if and when they choose to”…I thought that by doing all these things, we could ensure that ultimately our kids would be okay. It’s this desperate parental desire to believe that if we just try hard enough, we have the power to make everything okay for them. And now I’m beginning to realize…we really don’t have that power. My kids were adopted. Like all adoptees, they have been dealt a tough hand. Relinquished and then adopted — whatever the details and circumstances — this is my kids’ starting point, and it’s not an easy or happy one. As much as I wish I could, there’s no way to change that, or to erase the pain and the loss they suffered, right from the start.

      So lately I realize: I better listen up, I better really try to understand what has been so hurtful and maddening to so many adoptees, what has exacerbated their pain rather than helped to ease it. If we understand what’s been done badly, maybe we can figure out how to do things a little better. At least we have to try — it’s the only way I can think of to try to do right by my kids.

      I feel lucky and happy that I found your blog (I enjoy your snarkiness) and I am happy to converse with Bastardinky, too. I would LOVE recommendations from both of you, and any other awesome commentors, of what else to read. I am all ears! In advance, many thanks.

  14. I think it’s pretty gutsy of you to say all this. Have you spoken with other a’parents in such terms? How do they react? I’ve found it can be very hard to get past that defensive stance of “My child will be different because,” Do people react differently to hearing this from another a’parent rather than an adult adoptee? (I know parents want to spare their children pain, but it hurts more to not get the painful truth. It really does–I swear.)

    For adoptee news, The Daily Bastardette is wonderful. The author has other blogs, too.

    I like Once Was Von, and not just because it’s the only blog I’ve been officially told I can link to. 😉 I like The Adopted Ones. Since you mentioned other cultures–if you adopted transracially, John Raible is the best source of information in that area I know of. For international stuff, there’s Harlow’s Monkey. The author isn’t posting anymore, but has left the archive in place.

    Geez, there are tons of other good ones, but I don’t keep enough bookmarks. Other suggestions, commentors?

  15. I almost feel a kind of relief in coming to this realization…if that makes any sense. I can’t think of what to compare it to…but let’s say there’s a hard reality about someone you love — some challenge you suspect/fear they’re going to have to face, and because you love them the first thing you do is deny it. When you realize it’s not reasonable to completely deny it, you go one step further and say, okay maybe it’s true, BUT: I know I can fix this! and you immediately try to problem-solve, you think, all I need to do is come up with a way to fix this! If I’m loving enough, supportive enough, if I can just do all the right things… But then you start researching, and you start hearing from other people who have the same difficulty or challenge, and you realize that the fact is: this situation is hard. It’s a problem. It’s painful. And there really is no way to fix it. This is the reality for the person you love, this is their starting point, and step one really must be to accept and acknowledge it. I mean what you say here could not be clearer: “it hurts more not to get the painful truth. It really does–I swear.” Are you saying that the pain of having your true feelings denied and/or dismissed is worse than the pain itself? Because if so, that’s something I can do something about. It’s actually empowering to know that.

    I have to cut this short, we are seeing a play tonight! but wanted to thank you for getting back to me…I truly appreciate it. And I will comment on your blog recommendations tomorrow…some I’m familiar with, some not yet, but look forward to checking them out. (Also will respond re: how other AP’s have been reacting to these ideas…) In the meantime, thanks very much, and I hope you have a great evening.

  16. YW!

    “Are you saying that the pain of having your true feelings denied and/or dismissed is worse than the pain itself?”

    Worse? I’m not sure. It all feels like part of the same hurt for me. But I might go for “as bad as” or thereabout.

    “And there really is no way to fix it. This is the reality for the person you love, this is their starting point, and step one really must be to accept and acknowledge it.”

    Exactly, exactly, exactly. And yes, it makes sense that facing it would be a relief. Facing it is better.

    • The blogs you recommend are very helpful. I especially like The Adopted Ones, Daily Bastardette, and Once Was Von, and I am familiar with John Raible — I really appreciate his perspective and wisdom.

      A problem — I feel like I haven’t concealed my identity well enough here, and I don’t want to expose anything personal about my kids. I should have thought of that sooner, I know. Not quite sure what to do about that…Disappear and come back under an alias, perhaps? 🙂

      Still, what I have already learned from our conversations is significant. I feel more at ease, and grounded, and back on balance. It is a relief to stop saying No! No! No! It can’t be that bad, I can fix it, they must be talking about other people! It’s a relief to just admit: this story is hard, it’s painful, and it’s the true starting point. Let’s face it and accept it, and move forward from here.

      My kids sometimes run for cover… “oh Mom not that SERIOUS face! Please, don’t start–” and then I say cheerfully, “No, nothing serious, I’ve just been reading something interesting, this blogger makes the point that…” and I elaborate, and then say, “This is how this adoptee feels. Maybe a lot of adoptees have feelings like this. I can see what she means, I mean it kind of makes sense…” Sometimes my kids listen, sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, though, I can tell they heard me — what I said may actually interest them, or strike a chord, but then they quickly shut it/me down, and go back to the computer screen, or their book, or to playing with the cat. But I do get the sense that they heard me.

      Sometimes they’ll engage and talk briefly, and they might say, “But I don’t feel that way! Our family does this, and this, and this…so I’m okay! And I’m glad I have you and Dad…” I’ve been saying, “We KNOW you love us! No question about that, and no question how much we love you! This doesn’t have to do with us, or how you feel about us, or how we feel about you. This has to do with your birthmother, and the sad and unfair situation she faced…” and then more along those lines. Or I might say, “This may not be how you feel today, but on a different day, you might think about it and feel differently, you might feel confused, or angry, or sad, and that would be understandable…” Like I say, I get shut down pretty quickly, but I rush to toss out a few ideas before the volume on the Ipod gets turned up.

      I know someone (some ap’s, even) could say, Hey, why are you planting these ideas? If the kid says she’s happy, she’s happy. Why INTRODUCE troubling ideas?

      Would your response be… The ap is not introducing anything. Of course the kids have had these feelings and ideas… this is the reality they are living. And by talking about it openly, and validating it, this lets the kids put a name to the feelings. Would that be how you see this?

      I wonder if we just keep pushing the doors open — if we have unlocked, wide open doors throughout the family “house,” will my kids feel able to let their ideas and feelings fly around freely, even the really hard and painful ones, whenever they arise? If we’re already familiar with them, if we can name them, and identify them as true and valid, will that help them hurt less? That’s what I’m hoping.

      (Every idea I write, I cringe a little: was that stupid, insensitive, presumptuous, clueless? Am I still stubbornly trying to “fix” things that can’t be fixed?) But if so, I trust you to tell me.

      Anyway, that’s where I’m at. I’m very appreciative of your honesty, wisdom, and frankness. (And snarkiness!) I can’t really agree with your statement that this might not be the place to get educated. I feel like you’ve taught me a lot already, and look forward to hearing more from you. Thank you once again, T. Laurel Sulfate, Snarkurchin!

  17. I forgot to mention — my friend (an ap and a shrink) wrote an interesting piece recently, it’s at http://www.whatashrinkthinks.com.
    Have a good evening!

  18. I like that piece. I like the paragraph of questions a lot. And I like the title. The more people read this blog, the more nervous I get about being Taken Seriously as I’m not any kind of authority at all.

    I do agree you’re not introducing anything. I feel that kids need to know there is “room” somewhere to talk about adoption (I did!). I do think the adoptive parents need to be the ones to bring it up at least some of the time (I wish mine had done so more). And I think a’parents need to let adoptees know it’s OK to have feelings about adoption that might, even if only to a kid, seem like “disloyalty” to the a’parents (I struggled with that). I guess kids from other countries/races don’t have to deal with adoption being quite such a secret because they can’t “pass,” but they have plenty of baggage I didn’t and don’t.

    Another good source on transracial/national adoption is the Resist Racism blog.

    If you’d like to post under a different name, feel free. I haven’t needed a comments policy yet. WP will make me approve your first comment or two as New Name personally; after that it should work just as before.

    I think kids hear what parents say whether you can tell they do or not. Maybe they’re processing, Maybe they don’t find it useful yet, but will later. Ya never know.

  19. Hi – I’ve noticed some click-throughs coming from this blog – I think the post folks are looking for is this one:

    Happy to have found you! look forward to following!

  20. That’s the one. (-:

    Thanks for reading!

  21. Billyandme

    JMROSE, I think maybe it’s the age your kids are at. I know I couldn’t stand to talk about feelings at that age or really get into serious discussion with my mom or other adults.

    • Thanks, Billyandme, I suspect that you’re right. I think my kids, especially my 14-year old, feel like much of what I do right now is excruciatingly embarrassing…the way I answer the phone, drive, sip coffee (and forget about what I wear…that can’t even be discussed!) So my strategy is to just let them know that if they want to talk about anything, we’ll be delighted…but not to try to force the issue. Just to let them know that anything can be brought up any time, if that makes sense…I appreciate your feedback!

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