Elaine Pinkerton was adopted when she was five years old. She had spent a few years with her mother and then a bit of time with relatives before becoming wards of the state and then eventually adopted. Adoption let her be a “real daughter” again instead of a burden, and was a great relief and freedom from bad situations, but it brought with it some problems too. She felt compelled to keep her adoption a secret. She felt compelled to be the perfect daughter, worthy of being kept. In the intro she writes:
Whenever I think I have finally been healed from the wounds of adoption, life serves up a reminder that I am not. It is the opposite of ‘looking through rose-colored glasses.’ When one looks through the glasses of being adopted, everday events are reminders of loss, betrayal or abandonment. Through reading all my dairies, I became very aware of the unremitted prevelance of “adoption bruises.”
From the outside, reading through the diaries that make up the bulk, I can’t always tell which are those adoption bruises she speaks of. Insecurity, self-abasement, and a lack of healthy relationships are all obviously there. Are those from adoption? Perhaps.
My internal theatre had played the same drama for years. The characters would change, but the plot was always the same. It started with the mother who gave me away, and the story unfolded like this: If I were a burden and not good eough to keep, I would never be worthy of having anyone in my life. Ever. This led to self-doubt and repression. If, on the other hand, I was good enough, then the boss, parent or partner who rejected me was despicable. This, of course, led to anger. The anger and the depression, I believed, were unavoidable and justified.
Yet I think the basic dilemna of rejection she describes is true for others, adopted or not. We are all rejected at times, in certain ways and we all have the choice of self-doubt and repression or anger. We can blame ourselves or others. It is an aspect of a reoccuring dilemna I wrote about earlier: how do we react when things are wrong? Does adoption make this worse? Quite likely, since the rejection is from the people one expects to care the most.
I wonder whether adoptions are easier now because parents are freer to tell their children the stories of how they came to be adopted. Children might meet their biological parents while still living with their adoptive parnets. They might be told comforting stories about how they weren’t rejected they were placed for adoption because their parents loved them so much they wanted them to have someone better take care of them. Do those stories really comfort children? Will hearing that the parent didn’t have a steady job, or couldn’t afford them, or wanted education, or wanted them to have a two parent family, really provide the comfort? Then there’s all those situations where a birthfather is fighting to be able to raise his child, and I can’t help thinking, what adoption story are the adoptive parents gong to tell that child? (Check out the story of Baby Jack on his biological family’s blog, or my post about Veronica Rose.)
Back to the book The Goodbye Baby. Neither the diary entries nor the introduction and conclusion seem hostile to me. They speak of pain but not anger. She does not blame or rail against either her biological or adoptive parents. She could have but she doesn’t. She seems to try to understand their points of view, their reasonings, with only occasional hints of bitterness. In talking about her mother’s decision to abandon them to go back to university, she writes:
No doubt she thought she was doing a smart thing, getting an education so that she could provide for her family. On the other hand, why didn’t she notice that the caretakers she had either persuaded or hired were substandard? When I try to remember what the foster homes were like, I can hardly breathe.
As I read and reread that paragraph I think, does the hurt come from the substandard care? Would it have been easier if her biological mother had hand-picked the family she thought best suited, and Elaine had gone directly there? Are children being spared that frusturation these days when their mothers “make an adoption plan”? Or is the hurt still there, that the parent would see something, anything, as more important?
She says she’s tamed her inner monsters. She says healing came with “adopting herself” and realizing that she can write her own future. She writes about the sympathy she has for her past self, as captured in the diaries. She doesn’t claim to have made the right decisions in her life but that she recognizes she’s survived and “there’s still time to finally get it right.”
I think it makes sense that healing would come through forgiving and accepting mistakes, given the dilemna pointed out above of blaming oneself or others for rejection. There’s no need to be angry, there’s no need to be perfect. It is okay to have made mistakes. It is okay for others to make mistakes, so it probably means its less important to figure out whether her parents were justified in the decisions that led to her being abandoned.
The book is primarily diary entries starting in 1956. Individually many of them are mundane. Like individual dots in an impressionist painting they have to be placed together to give off an impression of what life was like. School, family, dating all feature prominantly in the early entries. I’m reminded of the movie Grease, also set in the 50s.. In 1958 she had to commute to school in Waynesboro because her local public highschool had been closed down as part of the attempt to avoid desegregation. (You can read about it here – in Elaine’s diaries the events played only a minor role introducing her to youth from the next town over.)
Sept. 10 – Well, chalk up another one for me. Talked to Lowell again at lunch. What I’d like to do is have a party for the Waynesboro kids (the couples I know) and invite Lowell for me. Sneaky, isn’t it?
Sept. 30 – This integration buisness is really a crisis. I think people should calm down and let us all go to school together. Why not?
There are also mentions of various space missions. Teenage drinking increases as the entries go on and the strain between her and her adoptive parents starts to show up more. Normal teenage rebellion or something more, I wonder? Then marriage and then motherhood take their place within the diary. One entry on motherhood sticks out as very familar to me:
February 5 – Exhuasted! Nick’s cold worse. He nursed every two or three hours, was in our bed all night. Jack said, “my life has been shattered.” (So has mine.)
A lifetime is recorded in short notes. Will Facebook status updates or twitter posts be able to tell such tales of young growing up nowadays? Elaine’s diary entries where written for herself and reveal the insecurities and questions she had about life. It is about a life lived from inside not about the publical portrayal of the life.