I recently reviewed an excellent movie titled Mother & Child written and directed by Rogrigo Garcia which examined the wish for reunion which so often occurs in a mother and a child after a child is given up for adoption or is separated from a parent at an early age for other reasons. The story of this film centers on Karen played by Annette Bening who at the age of 14 gave up her newly born daughter for adoption. However, her phantasies about her daughter are never far from her mind. The daughter Elizabeth played by Naomi Watts is a successful high powered attorney, with troubled relationships with men, who is embittered by the fact that her own biological mother never tracked her down. The story unfolds from here giving wonderful insights into the characters and their their yearning for reunion.
This theme reminds me of many vignettes which I have known from my personal friends, family and from my practice. Each one could be movie in itself as they encompass deep human emotions and relationships with individual complicated stories. (Reality is always more interesting than fiction). The similarity in all of them is a powerful desire for a reunion with the person or persons from whom they were separated so many years previously. I will briefly review some of these true stories with some disguising of the details.
Identical Twins Separated At Age Five
A retired 70 year old year man had been separated from his identical twin at the age of five and brought the United States from Poland before World War II. He heard nothing about his brother or his family for fifty years. He met a distant cousin who had recently been corresponding with some of his relatives in Europe and he found that his brother was alive. He contacted him and made plans to visit. Unfortunately before his scheduled trip, he learned that his brother had died. He decided to visit his brother’s family and went ahead with the trip. When he got off the plane the young grandchildren ran up to him believing he was their grandfather. Both brothers had the same occupation, hair style and both of their children played classical piano.
A Documentary Film Brings Father and Son Together
A successful business man has never seen his father since his mother died at childbirth and his father gave him away to be raised by someone else. Although his father never tried to contact him, he knew his father had been a world famous athlete in another country. One day he went to see a documentary about this particular sport and his father was interviewed in the film. In the interview it came out that he had lived in the United States and in fact had a child which he has never seen since his wife died during the delivery. He further stated that he felt badly about giving away the son and wondered what happened to him. The son now in his 50s contacted the documentary filmmaker who arranged a reunion for the son and his family to meet his father and his large family. The reunion included many people who welcomed the son and his family. There also was a very warm, intense conversation between father and son
Daughter Tracks Down Mother and Establishes New Relationship
A woman in her late 40s had a very happy childhood with her adoptive parents and siblings. She is now married and shortly after the birth of her second child she decides that she was going to find her biological mother. It took a few years with the help of advertisements, the Internet and a private detective but she found her across the country. She immediately bonded with her mother who as young teenager gave her up for adoption and had remained single. The daughter introduced her to her husband and children and financially helped her out. They corresponded and had regular visits for several years until the mother died.
Unknown Son of Deceased Father Appears on the Scene
About twenty years after the death of a prominent attorney, a man in his 50s contacts the widow of the deceased lawyer and introduces himself as the son of her husband by a relationship previous to that of the widow. He has a very clear family resemblance and provided details indicated that his story was true. He expressed a desire to get to know his “other family’ and wanted his 28 year old son to also meet them. The widow is agreeable and the children show varying amount of interest in spending time with them. Eventually even those reluctant find him very personable and compatible actually sharing many interests with them. He goes on to have regular contact with his new family.
What Are the Underlying Determinants?
What is it that contributes to this powerful need to make contact and know your biological family even if they had nothing to do with your childhood or upbringing?
Is it simply the belief that they share some genetic connection and therefore this forges a primal attachment that may even be Darwinian? In other words families that had this need to connect to their biological family survived better in ancient times and therefore this need to find each other survived with these genes.
Perhaps we can find the answer in our psychoanalytic theories. No matter how good the mothering or parenting was by the adoptive parents (and in the cases above they all seemed to be quite good ) there may be a phantasy of an idealized mother ( or father ) with whom one has an unconscious need to connect. In other cases there may be an identification with the mother who cared enough about him or her to give the child to a better off family and the child now wants to repay that love. On the other hand there may be tremendous anger and the burning question of “ how could you do this to me?” or “why did you do it ?”
It is striking to me how the need for reunion in these examples involves other family members in addition to the parent-child dyad. Overtly some have said they want their children to know their family. Is this a rationalization ? Or is it some obligation that they feel they owe their children perhaps to make up for some deficiency they had in not knowing their own biological family.
Let us not forget the relationship with the adoptive parents. No matter how they handled the adoption, telling the child at whatever age or not, they must have strong feelings, perhaps of rejection, when they see their children seeking out their biological parents. Will the child be torn between knowing they are hurting their adoptive parent but yet needing to find their biological parents? Also what will the reactions of the other children of a parent who now seeks out the child she gave up before they were born?
Of course there can’t be any clear generalizations. Each situation will be different and founded upon the dynamics of their lives .
Still Another Twist
It was recently reported in Psychiatric News that during World War II when the Nazis invaded Poland many Jews gave their young children to non Jews to be raised by them . Most of the parents were killed in the Holocaust and many of the children were raised never knowing they were Jewish. Many others learned to keep that knowledge to themselves as they grew up not just during the war but afterward too because of of anti Semitism in Poland. Late in their lives many of these grown children are learning their actual origins and other are acknowledging to their families that they knew they were Jewish. Some psychiatrists are trying to study the impact of these Holocaust secrets.
There are many international adoptions occurring every day as children are brought to the United States from Eastern Europe, Asia, Haiti and many other places. Most of these are done with the best intentions from all sides but we don’t fully understand how these parents and children will feel in years to come. What kind of arrangements should be made for future reunions if the parties wish to have them in the future? What information should be provided to everyone involved about the disposition of the children?
Your Comments Welcome
Comments are welcome below on this blog whether you have opinions on the questions that have been raised or if you have some illustrative stories of real events.