Giving Up the Fantasy Child

by Barbara
(Operation Identity Member)

     When a woman is pregnant, she imagines what this child will look like, what sex it will be, how the child will turn out, and so on. When the child is born, she gives up that fantasy child and begins to get to know the real child and to develop a relationship with that child. As the child grows up, the relationship gradually changes and she no longer thinks of her child as a baby, but accepts the individual.
     However, when a woman gives up a child at birth and does not have further contact, the fantasy child is all that she has. In some cases, she has a few days of contact to remember, in some cases not even that. Her memory of the child is necessarily frozen at that stage of the child’s life. She may attempt to shut those memories out (as she was told to do in the past), or she may hang on to them as her only connection with that person, and keep the fantasy child alive in her mind.
     Years later, when she or the child, now an adult, conducts a search, the risk is that the reality does not match the fantasy in one or more ways. The adult adoptee is not an infant, of course, and may not match the birth mother’s fantasies, either physically or in personality or life experiences. Even if he/she has turned out to be a fine human being, and there is a reunion which goes well, she has to give up the fantasy child. Even amid the happiness at being reunited at last, there is an element of grief for that fantasy child, apart from the grief of the lost years when she did not share the child’s life.
     In my case, the actual search, once initiated, was relatively brief. I had long wanted to find my first son, but had no wish to interfere in his life. I always hoped he was safe and happy, and somehow felt that he was. As time went on, and I moved back here, where he was born, the desire to find him became more intense. Some sudden loss of vision for me brought the thought, “What if I never see him?” A few months later, around the time of his 30th birthday, I discovered that a co-worker had a connection of sorts to this son’s biological father, and I decided the time had come to do the search. This same co-worker got me the information on the intermediary system and the Operation Identity support group. I started the search process and my husband and I started attending O.I. in the Spring of 1996. In early July, the intermediary called me to say that he had the file, and that he thought it would be a fairly easy search. Less than two weeks later, he called me at work, saying he had found him and talked to him by telephone, and that my son wanted to think it over first, and discuss it with his adoptive parents, as it was something of a shock to him, although he had always known he was adopted. I was a little taken aback by his reluctance, but could understand that I had had 30 years to prepare for this, and he had not. Even so, it was becoming more real. I was leaving town for a vacation and work conference that very day, and told the intermediary I would call him back upon my return. During that time, I visited several people who had known about this son. They were very supportive and interested.
     When I returned, the news was that my son wanted to correspond with me first before meeting in person, although he was right here in town. Eager as I was to see him, I knew I had to accept this on his terms and at his pace. A few weeks later, I received a lengthy letter and a picture of him. He looked a great deal like his father, and like my family, quite a bit like one of my other sons (a half-brother to him), as I had always expected. I wrote back and sent pictures of myself, my other children, my current husband, and my grandchild. He wrote back, with pictures of himself and his art work. I wrote back, and then did not hear from him for over two months. These letters were still going through the intermediary, as I had only the first name of my son. Finally, right after Christmas, I received a long letter, many pictures, including his adoptive parents, his fill! name and address, and he was ready to write directly. Since then we wrote back and forth every week, exchanging many pictures, revealing our ideas, interests, beliefs, and values. We were both amazed at the similarities between us and between him and two of my other sons. I began to realize that it would be tempting to just remain correspondents and keep that as a sort of fantasy relationship, but I also realized this had been a very healthy way for us to reveal ourselves to each other in a safe way, and that we were probably discussing things in more detail than we might in person. Parents and children who grow up together may never discuss some things in this way. I could see that our relationship would not be a parent-child relationship, but an adult relationship that our culture does not really have an accepted precedent for, up to now.
     I was becoming very eager to meet the real person, whatever risk that entailed. He wrote that he wanted to, but was anxious about what he would say or do. Then he wrote that he was certain it would happen before his 31st birthday, a few weeks hence. By this time, he had sent a few pictures of his adolescence, so I had more feelings to work through. Then he wrote that the next weekend would be a good time to meet, and that he would call. I was anxious all weekend, not wanting to miss the call. He called on a Sunday afternoon, and came over. My husband and I were as excited as if the President were dropping by! When he arrived, he brought with him a large photo album of childhood pictures. This was such a wonderful way to break the ice and give us all something to focus on and share. He reminded me less of his father in person than in his pictures, which helped me to see him as himself. Our visit was low-key, no tears or intense emotions, but completely enjoyable. In seeing the pictures, I shared just a bit of that infancy and childhood. He did, indeed, look so similar to my next-eldest son that it brought back my own memories, rather than making me sad about missing this son’s childhood. He also gave me a few early school pictures. One of them looked very much like me at the same age. There was a recognition of physical similarities, yet he suddenly became a three-dimensional individual to me, an adult in his own right.
     We plan to have more contact, to meet his parents and his half-brothers to meet him, as everyone becomes ready. It feels like a beginning rather than a completion of anything. I believe that, for us, the months of writing back and forth gave us a good foundation. I also believe, as I always have, that my decisions all those years ago were the best ones I could have made—to give him up, to do so through a direct adoption through the physician so that he went immediately to his adoptive family, and even to ask to see him before I left the hospital, which was not the usual policy at Tfiaftime. Over the years, I have told my story to close friends, and have been able to use this experience to help others since I have become a therapist. I had considered not searching, and waiting for him to find me, but that would have been difficult because of my name changes, and I finally decided life is too short and uncertain to wait forever. He says that he is glad I searched for him, even though he had never felt a real desire to search me out, not wanting to upset my life.
     Whatever closeness we develop will be based on our sharing now, not on a fulfilled fantasy for either of us. I gave up the fantasy child, but the real adult is a much greater joy in my life. It is as if that pregnancy lasted 31 years, 8-1/2 months!

Excerpted from the April 1997 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 1997 Operation Identity