My own childhood trauma taught me that keeping my child safe from toxic adults is even more important than her connection to her biological mom.

By Marie Daniels*
July 24, 2019
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

I grew up with parents who tried their best but lived in constant fear of being alone. My childhood (and beyond) was plagued by memories of being put in precarious situations while my parents fought to preserve toxic relationships.

They loved me. I know that. But they didn't love me enough to keep me safe; to give me stability; and not enough to cut off the people who had harmed me over and over again.

Or maybe it was that they never really loved themselves enough. Maybe walking away from "love," even if it was a toxic love, wasn't something they were truly capable of—because neither one of them actually believed they deserved better.

Whatever the case was, I entered adulthood with my own set of issues. I spent many, many years doing the work to heal from those issues. I wouldn't necessarily say I'm where I want to be today, but I'm certainly in a healthier place than I ever was before. And I try to apply the lessons I've learned to my own parenting situation on the daily—as the mother of a daughter I adopted from birth.

If I do nothing else as a mom, I will always ensure my daughter knows her worth and feels safe, protected, and wanted. That could be why I can't help but take it personally when her birth mom struggles to do the same.

My decision for an open adoption

I've always kept our door wide open, allowing my daughter's birth family to enter our lives as frequently as they choose. In the beginning, that was a lot. We had regular visits with her birth mom, especially, and I was on the phone with her or sending her emails several times a week.

Over time, that faded. Not by my choosing, but by hers. She needed to create some distance so that she could move on, which I understood. But it was hard. I wanted to somehow ease her pain in a life where she seemed to experience so much of it. This was the woman who had given me the greatest gift of my life, and I wanted more than anything to return the favor by making her life easier.

Unfortunately, life is always more complicated than that.

My daughter's birth mother struggles with addiction, and she has a history of finding herself in abusive relationships. A few years ago, she lost custody of her other children, both because she drove in a car with them while intoxicated, and because she wasn't willing to leave her relationship with a man who had been jailed for beating her in front of them.

Since then, we haven't really heard much from her. I think in many ways her kids had been the anchor keeping her from going over the edge. Once they were no longer in her care, she had nothing holding her down.

It's been difficult, because as my daughter has grown older, her desire to know her birth family has increased. I try to give her as much access to them as I can, and we are thankful for the aunties who work to remain in her life. But she really wants to know her birth mother. And that, unfortunately, is not something I can make happen for her.

Protecting my daughter from a toxic situation

A few weeks ago, my daughter's birth mom reached out. For the first time in nearly three years, she wanted to see us. I was so excited for my little girl that I couldn't even keep it a secret. I told her right away that a visit would be happening that weekend.

And then, her birth mother failed to even call.

It was my fault. I never should have gotten my daughter's hopes up. But there had never been a point in the past where her birth mother had requested a visit and failed to follow through. I hadn't even considered that possibility now. I was kicking myself as my daughter dealt with the disappointment of the visit that never came.

A week later, her birth mom called again. She had excuses and explanations, and she said that she wanted to try once more. This time, I didn't say anything to my daughter.

The day before our visit, her birth mom dropped the bomb: She wanted her boyfriend, the same one who had been beating her for years and was not legally allowed around her other children, to come along.

This is not a man who has any genetic connection to my daughter. He is an addict himself, with current open felony charges against him. I knew I could not have him around my little girl.

Still I worried. How could I approach my concerns without alienating her birth mother? I reached out and tried to explain how much our girl had been missing her. "She could really use some one-on-one time," I said. "Could we maybe do something just the three of us?

But she wouldn't hear of it. "I'm going to marry him," she told me. "I want her to know him. I was hoping we could take her to spend time with his family as well."

When I finally admitted I wasn't comfortable with that and asked again for her to please give us just a few hours alone, she called the visit off. "I'm sorry you feel that way," she said. "But if he can't come, I don't want to see you either."

My heart was broken—for my daughter, for her birth mother, and for this situation I couldn't see how to make better.

But it also made me unreasonably angry. She hadn't seen our little girl in three years. Why couldn't she spare just a few hours without this man? Why couldn't she do that for the daughter she claimed to love? Didn't she know how special this little girl was?

It brought up a lot of old pain for me, even as I tried to remember this may not have been something she really had a choice in. Abusers don't usually like to give their victims much space, after all.

I've done everything in my power to maintain an open adoption for my little girl. But what I never could have prepared myself for was the tightrope walk of trying to maintain those connections, while also trying to protect her. I never imagined how complicated it could be.

We haven't heard from her birth mom since. That part breaks my heart the most, and also leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

I hope and pray that someday she'll come around, that we'll hear from her again, see her once more. But if we don't, I hope my daughter will always feel my love. I hope she'll know that no matter what, she will always come first with me.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the contributor.

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