A Complicated Relationship with Love

“No one has a more complicated relationship with love than a child who was adopted.” from an article in Psychology Today titled The Complicated Calibration of Love by Carrie Goldman. Children are the only ones who simultaneously crave, reject, embrace, need, challenge, inhale, absorb, return, share, fight, accept, and question your love on a daily basis.

How does the world convince an adoptee they are loved and valued ? The same world that thrust a great injustice upon this child by separating them from their first mother and possibly siblings, the world that passed them along to a doting foster mom to whom they became attached and then separated them again, the world that dropped this child into the outstretched, naïve, and eager arms of adoptive parents, their greatest joy intricately tied to the child’s greatest sadness, the world that views this child’s story as a happily-ever-after and now expects them to be grateful, happy, well adjusted, and perfect at all times—how does such a child learn to trust the love of that world?

Carrie notes – To match the giving of love with the exact need of any recipient is a moving calibration. There is no reliable unit of measurement for something so imprecise as human affection. We try. We offer up our love in words and actions, hoping to meet the ever-changing needs of our lovers, our children, our friends, and our families – every relationship that matters takes some work.

When one person in the relationship inhales the sour breath of the beast that is insecurity, a beast whose presence twists the very air between two humans and makes greater the flaws that beckoned it in the door. Insecurity, also known as fear, feeds on the dark and scary parts of the mind, growing in strength and power as it distorts what is real and what is imagined.

Sometimes insecurity grows too large until there is almost no space left for the relationship. But the antidote to such despair is hope, and hope, fortunately, needs less fuel to stay alive. These dynamics occur in any relationship, and the intensity can be magnified by a thousand when one of the partners is an adoptee.

The choice to be an adoptive parent is built on mountains of hope, oceans of hope, forests filled with the hope that a thousand seeds planted might one day yield a mighty tree. What combination of internal resilience, good parenting, genetics, access to birth history, love, acceptance of grief, and endless empathy is needed to raise an adoptee to wholeness ?

An adoptee did not choose to be adopted at a very young age; it was foisted upon them and packaged as “you’re so lucky” by the world. An adoptive parent must allow and validate all the feelings and viewpoints, even the ones that don’t fit the happily-ever-after narrative. 

An adoptee is unlucky. They are not growing up with their first family. If biological children for their adoptive parents are also in the picture, they cannot help but wonder if the adoptive parents love their biological children more. Many adoptees worry they will never be good enough. Most adoptee do battle with legitimate fears of abandonment in every relationship they enter into throughout life. Often an adoptee rages against the unfairness of being adopted and basically hates being adopted.

~ Carrie Goldman writes a parenting blog called Portrait of an Adoption.

Adoptee Jodie Sweetin

I will admit that I didn’t know who this woman was nor did I ever watch Full House. That said, today I learned that she was adopted and has now spoken out about her adoptive family. I read that Full House portrayed the perfect life, the perfect kids, as well as the most perfect parents one could hope for. Jodie Sweetin played the adorably sarcastic Stephanie Tanner on the much-beloved family sitcom. She also starred in some Hallmark movies. Years later, after Jodie was all grown up, she reprised her role on the Netflix revival series Fuller House.

At the time of Jodie’s birth, both of her biological parents were incarcerated. Her original mother was a struggling addict. Her father was killed in a prison riot before Jodie ever had the chance to meet him. Recently, she made an appearance on Olivia Jade’s ‘Conversations’ podcast and opened up a lot about her life. “My dad, Sam, my adopted dad, his ex-wife who he had three adult kids with when they adopted me, she was my biological father’s aunt,” Jodie explained.

Janice was his second wife and they were hoping to start a family but were having troubles with conception. Because of her original parents’ circumstances, Jodie was in dire need of a family and Sam and Janice wanted a child of their own and so, fates aligned and roughly one year later, the adoption was finalized.

The adoption began fostering feelings of hurt and rejection. In her younger years, she used to think “‘Oh, something was wrong with me.’ There’s this point in your life where you finally kind of realize what happened,” Sweetin said. “That it no longer becomes something about you, that it’s like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t wanted.’ ”

Intrafamily adoptions are incredibly common and even preferred. An intrafamily adoption is a specific type of adoption that allows a family member to adopt a child. This is a streamlined kind of adoption. “People don’t really talk about it, because I think there’s this weird sense of shame, if there’s an interfamily adoption,” Jodie said.

Having resolved some of her emotions around adoption, currently Sweetin says, “They actually made the healthiest decision for me by allowing me to be adopted by another family that could provide better.”

An Adoptee’s First Biological Child

I have read about this from the point of view of several different adoptees in the past. I have wondered what my own adoptee mom (or even my adoptee dad) felt as they created a biological, genetically related family of their own. They are both deceased, so I can no longer ask questions like that of them.

Today, I read – I’m curious about adoptees first experience being pregnant. Thought I was infertile all these years and I’m finally pregnant. I thought I would be flooded with more happy emotions. I often feel paralyzed and scared shitless. I’ve done the leg work to not put my trauma on a child, plenty of therapy when I was younger and actively trying to start a family. Not using a child to fill my holes as my adoptive mother did. Now I just feel disgusted and worried sometimes, feels somehow adoption related. My first parents non stop on my mind lately too. Any first child experiences good or bad would be very helpful! Thank you! She later added – I am very worried about not looking at my first mom the same. We aren’t the closest but our relationship is what I need it to be, I’m nervous I’m going to resent her after going through this; even though I know she didn’t want me. It’s almost like I’ve been in this weird limbo of not fitting in to either family and the thought of starting my own makes me want to run for the hills.

I am in reunion and have a good relationship with my First Mom but never cared much about my biological dad’s side, until I was pregnant and really until I had my son. It does make me sad that my son won’t know his aunts and cousins on that side but I haven’t had the bandwidth to try to make contact yet. Dealing with my maternal side has been enough drama and stress for one lifetime.

These feelings are totally normal, even for those without trauma. There are layers for many who feel this way, but even those I know who had ‘normal’ childhoods often feel this way too. You’ll also feel like failure frequently, out of your depths, like a bad mom, etc. those are all normal too. I have layers to mine due to trauma, so as time and healing have allowed, I have worked though different layers as they’ve come up (and up again and again). It was VERY important to me to avoid adding birth trauma, so I found a midwife and worked hard at allowing the natural biology and oxytocin stuff, breast fed etc. those all help with attachment and bonding (which I still greatly struggled with due to a severe attachment trauma).

I have 4 currently, and recently had a still birth, so I am now dealing with new levels of trauma added to those previous layers. Dealing with secondary infertility and a loss after 4 healthy pregnancies really rocked my internal dialogue (since fear of losing them through accidents/etc, just general anxiety like falling down stairs while pregnant (which I didn’t) etc). My mom hit a brick house (blogger’s note – I do not know if this is literal or figurative) while pregnant with me, so I’m sure there’s a layer there too.

I don’t know if my trauma has made it better or worse to be honest…the death of my son broke cracks into the structure that trauma built to protect myself from bonding and attachment. Though feeling (some) grief, I’m having glimmers of hope and joy, which is really mind fu**** me to be honest but I’m trying to roll with it. I deal with it small bits, here and there, denial in a box is its default space but when it does come out, I try not to stuff it automatically back in there. I try to give it space and observe it and know it won’t kill me, even if it feels like it will or should or could…sorry if I’m not making sense.

Give yourself space to feel the things you do and do not judge yourself harshly. Know you are not alone, the feelings WILL pass (even if it takes time, for me – it has been on and off for almost a decade) and no one is a better mom to your baby than YOU.

I experienced something similar with my pregnancies. I think fear is very common in any pregnancy, everything’s so new and life-changing. I think it’s an especially complex time for adoptees and a resurgence of feelings is common. Talking about how I felt helped me. I hope you know we’re with you and cheering you on.

I was fine while pregnant and when giving birth but got horrific PPD/PPA (Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety) despite being surrounded by love and support. I think giving birth brought up a lot of unresolved feelings and trauma and contributed to my PPD. I got through it with therapy and medication. It didn’t last forever thankfully and I had a lot of support.

I experienced PPD and difficulty bonding with 2 of my 6 babies. With the other 4, I felt that immediate attachment when I saw them. It took a few months with those 2, for me to feel like they were truly mine and that I was a good enough mother for them. In the long run, there has been no difference in the level of attachment or love I feel for them. (I’ve been parenting for 17 years.) Becoming pregnant with my firstborn was what awakened me from the “I should just be grateful” fog. I honestly believed I had no trauma from being separated from my mother, up until then. When I became flooded with instinctual feelings for my baby, I wondered if my original mother ever felt those things for me.

Not every mother gets that first glimpse of their child and immediately feels attached and wildly in love. It’s *not at all* uncommon for it to take time to build that attachment and have trouble bonding with your child at first. Then of course there are things like PPD and PPA that make bonding harder. But none of these things make a person a bad mother. Often people with a history of trauma – *especially* if that trauma has to do with abandonment or attachment issues – will have trouble bonding with their child. And it’s completely normal.

I wonder about this with my own mom, some of the things I have learned recently related to her second (actually third, because she had a miscarriage first) pregnancy as well as how I describe my own parents as being weirdly detached. Good parents but that cut thread of connection to their original families, I believe, had an impact on their perspectives related to parenting. They were good parents, not at all abusive, but quick to want us to be independent of them.

Another adoptee writes – I felt awful, disgusted, fearful when I was pregnant. I was terrified I would project what happened with my birth and adopted parents on my little girl. She’s 8 now and I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I make mistakes with her but I am quick to apologize and let her know when I am wrong. I explain that I shouldn’t have projected my negative emotions on her. I also let her know it’s okay to not be okay. I had severe PPD and for a couple days when she was a couple weeks old when I wanted nothing to do with her. I told my ex husband mom that I needed her to take her for a day or so because i didn’t know what to do. Luckily that passed very quickly. I love my daughter more than anything in this world and would give my last breath to her. Also if you do have awful feelings, talk to your doctor. Medication did wonders for me with my depression. It honestly helped so much.

There’s a couple layers going on. I also got pregnant after miscarriage and sort of infertility. I don’t think I really processed or felt safe in my first successful pregnancy until after 30+ weeks. When I held my son, it was really the first time I saw and loved someone I was biologically related to. It was powerful, odd, terrifying. So many different emotions. I didn’t think as much about my first mother’s pregnancy with me. But we were in reunion and in a tough place then, so it was complicated. Give yourself time, space, gentleness. Pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, even without added layers to it. And those added layers aren’t easy. 

And then there was this very different but honest perspective – I considered adoption, but I was stealthed/forced and thus very scared to have a baby so young even while married. I remember ridding that idea before the half mark because I felt him kick. And then at birth my very first thought looking at him was I could never give him up. Even totally unprepared I couldn’t have done it. I was actually really ashamed of that and told no one how I thinking or feeling, because I had solely considered my bio strong for doing so (drug addiction) and here I was poor and sick and barely legal to drink while a college student in a shit marriage… and I could Not fathom even leaving his side. I love him but sometimes I still don’t know if that was correct because he’s suffered a lot… my son was deeply abused by my now ex-husband and I have a lot of trauma from it I’m still working through… my own biological parent, I don’t think could have given me half the life I got from adoption, and even though my adoptive parents were super abusive. There’s so many mixed feelings and traumatic thoughts and memories that get brought up when an adoptee is pregnant. I hope you at least know all of your feelings and fears and joys are all valid all at once.

This perspective from another adoptee was interesting to read because I do know my mom saw a psychiatrist at one time but I don’t know her reasons for it – “It’s hard, I feel like I focused too much on doing the ‘right things’ and not traumatizing my kids, which often made me a hands off parent. I had to get my butt in therapy and put in the work to be a better me. Now I’m not a hands off parent and learned boundary setting with my kids.” I do know that I was surprised at the degree that my two sisters were dependent on our parents at the time of their deaths at 78 and 80. Maybe my mom overcame some of what I experienced in the decades before that.

Definitely worried I was going to fuck my kid up like I was fucked up. To the point of almost terminating. My second pregnancy was a lot smoother but I still experienced horrendous PPA with both. I had happy moments and sad moments in pregnancy. Despite my PPA though, I was lucky enough to avoid PPD and feel a determination I have never felt before in life when they placed my son on my chest. I looked at him every damn day and promised I would give him a better life. My husband and I weren’t in the best position at all. In poverty, high crime area, barely surviving. But I promised my kiddo I would get him out of there every single day. My husband is aged out former foster care youth, so he was just as determined as well. 3.5 years and another (planned this time) pregnancy and we made it. Our kids will never have to experience a life even close to what we lived. Having kids made me afraid and feel powerless and worry I was gonna be a horrible mom, but more than anything it made me, and my husband, WAY better people and helped us get out of the cycles so that we were not perpetuating them.

Pregnancy and childbirth weren’t really issues for me. My biggest issue is just feeling completely clueless and like I’m doing everything wrong. I was raised by my adoptive dad from age 8 onward, and don’t really remember much from being younger, so I feel like I have no experiences good or bad to reference. Like the concept of a mother is totally foreign to me, so I’m flying blind and making it up as I go.

What helped me the first time around was preparing to be surprised. Knowing that this baby, although my flesh and blood, would be their own little person. Their own soul. I was there to love and nurture whoever they were. And I really was continuously surprised, usually in a pleasant way. I never went for schedules and “Child must be doing X by a certain age” BS. Instead my kids developed as naturally as possible. All of this was in defiance of my “normal” adopted upbringing. What was crazy was that my eldest looked nothing like me or my husband. Thank God I had already reunited with my birth mom, so I could show people that’s who my daughter looked like, because otherwise it would have been hard to explain.

I had bad Postpartum anxiety. To be fair my Mother in law did NOT help. I was afraid someone would steal my babies and I wouldn’t get them back. She would literally snatch them and walk away so we ended up having a long break from her and eventually things worked out once she calmed down enough to understand me and that my husband wasn’t going to side with her. But with all my babies I couldn’t be away from them. I had hard time taking showers and no one could hold them expect for my husband if I didn’t have eyes on them. If I had them with me, I was fine. It was bad with #1, better with #2, #3 was a whole other mine field because that one was a girl. I kept fearing I’d wake up and want to walk away. My husband was a major support. Only my 5th wasn’t as bad, but my husband had paternity leave and was home with me the first 4 weeks. I know it wasn’t rational. But I’d have panic attacks that they were gone. I do not have an anxiety or panic disorder. I’m usually extremely even keel. It caught me majorly off guard. Parenting wasn’t and isn’t an issue though. Gentle and communitive parenting came very naturally to me.

I had good support and my first pregnancy was wanted and planned. I do know that once my baby was born, I saw my biological mom and adoptive mother through a different lens. I did start feeling really sad about my adoption for the first time. I started think how I didn’t bond with my adoptive mother until I was after a year old. How that is not normal. I made me feel a new kind of pain. Sometimes this sounds silly but I feel like I love my kids more than non-adoptees because of my experience. I felt like I didn’t really understand my biological mother at all, even though she was very young mother. I started to excuse her uncomfortable behavior because I don’t feel like anyone is ok after something so traumatic. I didn’t feel resentful, just sadness. Pain. Loss. I don’t understand how some people don’t want their babies but it’s not always for me to understand that either. When she says “I love you” it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like “how?”. Lots of feelings.

Reunion Questions

If at 17 years old, adopted from foster care with no contact with your birth mother your entire life but now with an opportunity to ask some questions . . .

What would you as this adoptee ask your birth parents ? If you have been through such a reunion, what were the questions that you thought, in hindsight, weren’t helpful to potentially building a relationship ?

Some responses –

Ask for the family medical history. This one is one of the more important ones. This is what drove my mom to try and find her original mother and/or obtain her adoption file.

Ask how many biological siblings you have. This one lets you know if you are the only child of your birth parents or did they go on to have other children, maybe through a remarriage to someone who was not your original father as well.

Ask for the reason they chose whatever decisions they had in their power to make that led to you ending up in foster care. This one could be a tricky one, it may lead to defensiveness or in the best possible situation, at least regret, and even better, ultimately to a radical change in lifestyle.

If they relinquished for adoption, did they decide to do that early on at the beginning of the pregnancy or at the last moment just before birth or just after ? In both of the cases of my adoptee parents relinquishments, it appears that their original mothers actually tried very hard to keep their first born child, and in the case of my mom, the only child born to her mother.

Ask who your biological father was. Does she know how to contact him ?

On a sweeter, more intimate note (I know this was the kind of information I yearned for related to my mom’s mother that finally at the end of most of my discovery journey, I finally received from my mom’s cousins, the daughter’s of her youngest uncle, who were about my age) – ask her what her favorite foods are, what is her favorite color. Ask about her childhood memories and ask her to tell you something about her extended family members.

One says – “I really wanted to look at my birthmother, hear her voice, and look at her handwriting. Basically I wanted to see if I could find that mirror of who I am.” This is the personal connection many adoptees crave. I do believe my mom yearned for these kinds of experiences. I now have the adoption file that was denied her and one of the treasures are two examples of her personal writing, a post card and a brief letter (though I also have her signature on the surrender papers).

Another interesting perspective that I saw even with my mom who wanted something, though my dad claimed not to want it at all – it is a strange juncture for any adoptee to arrive at, when been raised by people with whom the adoptee has not genetic or biological connection but who were the actual parents and sibling’s in the childhood family –

I told them that I was not ready for a full relationship with them. I wanted them to know I was alive and wanted them to know I had an amazing childhood. My mom told me that as a mother, she would want to know that everything turned out okay for her child. In one case, the biological father started calling the adoptee, “daughter.” He was buying her things and saying “I Love You.” This made her feel very uncomfortable and so, she asked that he not do those things anymore. For this adoptee, she was not his daughter. Happily, he accepted her boundaries. She shares the rest of the story going forward – they are now Facebook friends. Today he is a little more involved in my her daily life. We talk by phone from time to time. She admits that she still does not have the feelings towards him that a raised biological child would (though some of my friends do not have good relationships in adulthood with their genetic, biological family today).

And sadly, this is always a possibility – “I’ve reached out to my birth mom and have been shut out – no answers to my questions. No desire for a relationship.” Yet, there is something you can do in this situation to bring you closure and comfort. Write a letter. Tell her everything you want her to know about you, your childhood, who you are now as a person. In this way, you end feeling you said everything you needed to say.

Adoptee Birthdays

How one adoptee has described her feelings about these.

I do not celebrate my birthday.

So for every one of my friends I said no thank you, blew off, or straight up just ignored when they asked to take me for a drink on my birthday, sorry.

For everyone that I didn’t text back, no hard feelings.

I do appreciate you being happy that I’m around, and staying around for another year. It was nice to hear from you. Even if I didn’t answer you.

Birthdays are hard on us adopted kids/orphans/foster kids. Adoption is the only type of loss where the victim is expected to feel happy, grateful and indebted to someone about it. To be thankful for it. For adoptees our birthday is a day that we were separated from our entire biological family. It’s the anniversary of an abandonment. It’s the marker of the altering of our birth certificate and totally erasure of all of our family medical history.

It’s not great. Especially for those of us adopted through the INCREDIBLY UNETHICAL private infant adoption industry in the United States.

Many private infant adoptees who are my generation and the one below me are the age where we are coming out of the “adoptee fog” and realizing that the pretty stories and ideas we have been sold our whole lives about adoption are not true. I guess we knew it the whole time, but it’s very hard to pinpoint those feelings, and we are REALLY afraid to express them. Because many of us (myself included) have had really great adoptive families.

I love my family. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t lose my family.

It’s hard for us to express our real feelings about our own stories, and continually be met with opinions how wholly beautiful adoption is, how they just know that our lives would have been hard and terrible if we stayed with our birth families, ignoring and denying the trauma and loss associated with our birth stories and telling us that we should be so thankful.

Because if adoption is always so beautiful…

Why do people lie about it and hide it?

Why doesn’t everyone just give up a baby to a queer couple, or an infertile couple?

Why are records kept from the very people they pertain to?

Why do white babies cost more than black babies?

Why don’t you want to talk about this side of it?

I know that some of the things we feel, and some of the truths about private infant adoption is hard for people to hear. But if you/they actually cared about kids…. Then they’d want to hear it… and fix it.

I am not anti adoption. There will always be truly necessary adoption. But what adoption has become in this country, a multibillion dollar business, needs to be fixed. We can’t continue to treat these kids like a commodity, doing things like trying to re-home them on Facebook like a puppy you can’t potty train. What would happen if you tried to do that with a biological child? Would it be the same? Does it ever happen? These children should have rights. I turned 36 on Friday and I don’t have access to my own birth certificate. The government has it. But I can’t get it. Doesn’t that seem weird? Or wrong?

There’s a reason you can hear your mother’s voice and heartbeat when she is pregnant with you. It’s so when you’re born, you know who mom is. So when you hear it for 9 months and then never hear it again….It hurts your heart and it changes your brain. No matter how good the rest of your life turns out to be. And it can make your birthday a hard day.

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

It Is True

So an older adoptee wrote this – I can personally attest that “coming out of the fog” is a true concept. (In fact, as the child of two adoptees, I can now admit I was in the fog too !!)

The thing is, as an adoptee, you really don’t know what you’re missing compared to people who have not experienced the kind of life-threatening trauma that being adopted is. Though not all adoptees have similar reactions to life’s rejections and notice that feeling of something that is not there, that something “missing,” whether acknowledged or not, is real.

Many adoptees have attachment issues. Some are not able to form an attachment with the adoptive parents or may attach (cling to) too much and are not able to let go of the caregiver when it is appropriate to do so.

When an adult adoptee experiences the breaking up from a romantic relationship, if they are someone who has difficulty letting go, the situation can be devastating. It may take the person a very long time – if ever – to recover.

These experiences have the ability to take an adoptee right back emotionally to the first time they were deserted, abandoned in their perception, by the original mother and this event happened to them before they even had the words to describe what they were feeling. So, even later in life, within the context of adult relationships, these situations can leave the adoptee feeling that same kind of unexpressed feeling. The pain is often excruciating.

Whereas an adoptee’s close friend experiences the breaking up of a romantic relationship, it may be that only a month or so later, that friend is out dating again. It is relatively easy for them to move on with their life. Yet, if this happens to an adoptee, they are often stuck and don’t really understand why they cannot let go.

This rejection/abandonment wound may account for the higher incidence of suicides that happen among adoptees as young adults and even more mature adults. This is certainly common for those who were infant adoptions. Even for adoptees who were adopted at an older age, though they have a similar experience of separation and abandonment/rejection trauma, at least they have some language with which to express their feelings and a therapist may be able to help them more easily express and understand their feelings.

True, actually “coming out of the fog” (the belief that adoption is unicorns and rainbows, flowers and sunshine) may or may not ever happen for any single adoptee. It takes a lot of work and understanding for the adoptee to realize they have these feelings and the process of getting to that point can be so painful, the adoptee may become paralyzed and not able to move further forward, at some point in that process.

And here is a note from the adoptee who started these thoughts that are my blog today – If you are an adoptive parent, no matter how you try, you can not normalize the experience of having been separated from the person’s original mother for them.

The Stories We Tell

I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.

My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).

My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.

Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.

My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.

This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).

Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More

Both of my parents were Great Depression babies – born 1935 and 1937. For that fact alone, it isn’t a wonder they both ended up adopted, though the reasons are much more complicated than that. But certainly, financial hardship in the lives of my two original grandmothers is the key factor.

So this is on my mind this morning after watching Angela’s Ashes on dvd last night and being reminded of the song – Hard Times Don’t Come Around No More written by Stephen Foster and published in 1854. Some of the lyrics – While we all sup sorrow with the poor, Many a days you have lingered around my cabin door, There are frail forms fainting at the door, Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say, There’s a pale weeping maiden who toils her life away, With a worn heart whose better days are o’er: Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day, Oh! Hard times come again no more.

So what was it like in the 1930s ?, was a question on my mind this morning. The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in modern history at the time it occurred. It profoundly affected the daily life of American families in ways large and small. The bleakest point was about 1933 or 34.

The life of a child in the 1930s was very different than a child’s life today. With the Great Depression, children and their families were greatly impacted—millions lived in poverty and had very little to eat, let alone money to spare for entertainment. Times were tough everywhere, and an additional mouth to feed was a burden. Certainly, I believe that both of my grandmothers encountered this mind set when they were seeking aid with their newborn babies.

Food was scarce for a lot of families and many children suffered from malnutrition. As we were watching children die in Angela’s Ashes my husband said, it is the lack of nutrition that makes it impossible for them to fight off diseases.

My maternal grandmother’s childhood family did live on a farm that was not ravaged by the Dust Bowl being west of Memphis in the rural countryside. They probably did grow a variety of crops and raised small amounts of livestock to survive. During the Depression, casseroles and meals like creamed chipped beef on toast, chili, macaroni and cheese, and creamed chicken on biscuits were popular. Jello was actually considered a cheap protein source (had to believe it would be viewed as that – one serving only has 1.6 grams of protein and the equivalent of 4-1/2 tsp of sugar !!) But Jello still found its way into many cookbooks during the Depression. Potlucks were often organized by churches to share food and provide a cheap form of social entertainment. The board games Scrabble and Monopoly were introduced during the 1930s. Both of which my own family has played recently.

Economic struggle caused mothers to leave the home for work and children to leave school for work as a breakdown in child labor law enforcement occurred. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC to help support her family. A quarter of the US workforce was unemployed. Those that were lucky enough to have steady employment often saw their wages cut or their hours reduced to part-time. With record unemployment, children competed for jobs with their elders to help contribute to their family’s income, often forgoing further schooling. Many children were technically self-employed, collecting junk to sell or doing odd jobs for neighbors.

The stress of financial strain took a psychological toll—especially on men who were suddenly unable to provide for their families. The national suicide rate rose to an all-time high in 1933. Marriages became strained, though many couples could not afford to separate. Some men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration: This was sometimes called a “poor man’s divorce.” So, was this what my paternal grandfather chose when faced with yet another child on the way ? Is this why he failed to show up for my grandmother and mom when they returned to Memphis after her birth in Virginia (where she was sent away to avoid embarrassment for her father, even though she really was a married woman).

Disadvantaged families couldn’t afford much for their children, so most of their clothes were cast offs and children often went barefoot. Most middle-income boys wore t-shirts with overalls and girls wore blouses and plain dresses. Both would have one pair of shoes and an outfit for special occasions. The Depression-era motto was: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” I definitely saw these effects in the lives of my in-laws (both born in 1921) and on my dad’s adoptive parents.