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.”

Infertility and Narcissism

So many times, I have read adoptees speaking of their adoptive mothers as narcissists. It seems that Infertile women have a higher rate of narcissism. Many of these women become adoptive mothers. The findings of a research study (Psychological profile of women with infertility: A comparative study) revealed that infertile women group differed from fertile women group with respect to narcissism, dimensions of attachment style and uses of defense mechanism. The primary infertile group also showed marked difference from the secondary infertile group with respect to those variables.

Though I did love my adoptive maternal grandmother, I am forced to realize that she likely was a narcissist. I had to look up the definition. “Personality qualities include thinking very highly of oneself, needing admiration, believing others are inferior, and lacking empathy for others.” My mom struggled with her, never felt she quite measured up. My adoptive maternal grandmother was a phenomenal person and well regarded in her own circles but I do believe she damaged my mom’s own self-esteem.

Some of the comments I read in a group that seeks the ethical reform of adoption included these –

I am unsure if the narcissism pre-exists and adoption amplifies it, or if adoption creates narcissism. I think you would have to be a narcissist to think you are superior to an actual mother and have the right to take her baby, keep her baby, and deny / control her contact. Along with belittling her and gaslighting the mother and her child. To invade a mother’s pregnancy and birth, smear their infertility over her and her baby, and exploit her – that takes a particular cruelty and ruthlessness. While dressing it up as being ‘noble’ or ‘kind’ to the rest of the world. Glad this is being looked at. There’s plenty of infertile women who don’t adopt out of empathy for the mother. They accept their childlessness.

My observation too, narcissism in so many adoptive mothers with weak, ill equip adoptive fathers trailing behind them, trying to pick up the broken pieces but failing miserably. It’s a terrifying thought – children being adopted into these unstable and often unsafe environments

Mothers who had narcissist as parents are a target group for adoption predation. The roles that narcissists put their children into, now that they are mothers, allows them to be exploited by adoption counsellors in order to procure babies for their clientele, the prospective adoptive parents. These mothers are far easier to manipulate and their trauma is exploited, which often hasn’t been addressed or dealt with previously. Like all that is bad in adoption practice, it exploits the trauma and uses it as emotional impetus for an outcome against the mother and against her keeping her baby, along with the impossibly brief time frames allowed for her to make a decision. The ultimate goal – relinquishment.

Being Infertile While Black

I actually learned about the book in my image while reading another woman’s story of the disappointments and heartbreak of going through failure after failure after failure in assisted reproduction cycles. The essay’s author mentions Emily Bernard’s book Black is the Body, in which she describes her own reproductive struggles, and how she felt like a failure for not being able to conceive. No matter how much she tried, she could not conceive (she ended up adopting). And though my blog today is not about that book, so often, one thing leads to another and there I find adoption. Infertility is a common thread that very often leads to adoption. In my all things adoption group they often counsel women to confront their grief related to infertility before adopting. An adopted child will never be the child you could not conceive naturally and not coming to grips with that will bring a problematic relationship with your adopted child who regardless may never feel like they were good enough to meet your expectations even if you did not go through infertility first.

You can read Edna Bonhomme‘s entire essay in The Guardian about her experience of infertility in search of Black Motherhood. “For women from Black, working-class families like mine, to have children – countering the forces that tried to destroy us – can be a powerful political act.” That perspective really made sense to me but was one I would have never considered, if I had not read Edna’s essay. I will share some other excerpts I jotted down.

“Infertility damages mental health in many ways, and the clinical depression and anxiety disorders that occur after failed IVF attempts can have long term negative consequences. Some people offered unwanted counsel: ‘Why don’t you adopt?’ I had to accept that some people will never get pregnant, no matter how hard they try. (As a writer) It is more challenging to tell a story about fertility treatment that ends in childlessness.”

“One friend and confidante, who struggled for nearly 10 years to conceive, told me how she had been ready to adopt right before she became pregnant. I have to rationalize that my body, like all bodies, is complex, and there is no simple answer for why I cannot get pregnant. In the closing lines of a story such as this, one might assume the denouement brings a child: it doesn’t. Unfortunately, it ends here.”

I had expected this essay to end in an adoption but another thing I often read in my all things adoption group is not everyone has to have children. It would appear that is where Edna ended up – in an acceptance of nature as it is for her Black body.

Feeling Broken

An adoptee writes – Do any other adoptees struggle with feeling like they will never fully fit in anywhere – not at work, not with a friend group, etc? I even feel like an outsider in many adoptee support groups being a “transracial” adoptee – being black and adopted into a white family seems to be outside of the norm even for adoptee. I’m wondering if I will ever find a group where I really feel “included.” a lot of this comes down to race, at least for me. Being raised in a white suburban family I struggle to fit in with other black people, and obviously I will never fully fit in with non black people. My mom was especially “racially abusive”. Culturally black things, like how to care for my natural hair texture, were never taught to me. I’m 28 years old and still learning how to care for and style my own hair, it’s depressing especially because I can’t really relate to other black women because of this lack in how I was raised.

She finds lots of support from other adoptees who feel that too, even without the racial complications, and many who have the same racial complications show up too.

Yep. Always felt this way! I didn’t find out my full adoption story until a few weeks ago. It all makes sense now. You know how when friends are walking in a group, there’s always that one person that awkwardly lags behind, while the group makes no effort to make room for them? That’s me.

I certainly have no true understanding of being a trans-racial adoptee but simply as an adoptee, I sooo related to your feelings of not fitting in anywhere. It was and still is huge with my brother (he too was adopted and we are like oil and water), with my cousins and friends etc. Actually everyone. The difference is I am a white adoptee, adopted by white parents and probably much older than you. I will be 70 in May. All my life, in all situations, I have and still do to a point feel this way. So I can only imagine how much more challenging it is for you. I am so sorry you feel like I do. Stinks that is for sure.

Hi, I am also a trans-racial adoptee too. Definitely have felt not Asian enough and not American enough plenty of times. I’m currently at an age where idgaf as much as I used to. It also helps to be living in an area where there were more people from the Korean Asian Diaspora around who are also navigating life not ever feeling like they fit in.

Take a look at Hannah Jackson Matthews. She is an adult Black trans-racial adoptee. Hannah Matthews is a writer and educator, who employs her personal experiences and formal education to make the journeys of fellow trans-racial adoptees to self-acceptance and identity reclamation less isolating and injurious. There appear to be plenty of other Black trans-racial adoptees following her social media.

Also suggested is a Facebook group – Transracial Adoption – Community of Learning and Support. Though a word of warning from someone else – “I feel like that group has the most disrespectful and toxic adoptive parents that I have ever witnessed in a mixed group.” There are other groups with “Only” in their name that seem better. Two examples – Support Group For Transracial Adoptees Only OR Transracial Adoptees: POC transracial adoptees.

Trans-racial adoptee, too. I spend a lot of time in the ambiguous in-between, too. Some days it bothers me, other days not as much, but it’s ever present. The only place I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged is in the family I’ve created myself. Big TRA-y hug to you.

I’m not a TRA, so I definitely won’t speak on that as it’s not my lane. But the rest of it? 100% I’ve always had trouble feeling like I fit in. I try too hard, and I feel like I’m constantly being judged.

Yes, I have my entire life, including with my families – all of them. I’m sorry you have been invalidated as a TRA – you guys definitely get an extra helping of crap to deal with that I (infant domestic) do not.

I’m an adoptee, I am white adopted into a white family, but they always made me feel less than. I know that’s different than what you’ve experienced, but if you ever need to talk or vent, I will listen and empathize. I’m so very sorry you feel like an outsider.

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about feeling like I never fit in and how lonely it is. I always assumed it was from being bullied in Middle and High School.

Yep. The way I relate to people is broken and I try every time to fix it but I am just broken.

Yes I always feel this way. I’ve tried to go to therapy for it but it’s just permanent.

Yes! I was a transracial adoption, so I grew up in an all white community, schools, family etc. I’m of a lighter skin tone and I get colorism comments from my black community about how I can pass, etc and that really hurts to hear when your entire life even though your race and culture were erased from you. I didn’t fit in with the white kids growing up due to the fact I was black, adopted, not Mormon, and having parents who smoked. Even though I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood, I had a mother who lived to punish me by buying her clothes at the mall and mine at Kmart. We moved when I was 17 to a more diversified community. I still didn’t fit in. I struggled so hard being around black people because I wasn’t raised around them. I fit in with what now feels like other “outcasted races” Native Americans and Hispanics. And also because of my complexion, I’m now often confused for Hispanic and when I say I don’t speak Spanish when spoken to in Spanish, I feel as though they think I’m “too good for my race.”

I’ve never been in the popular group at schools, even growing up in the same neighborhood as most of the popular kids, and I’ve never been way popular at jobs either. Went to a multi-cultural church for 6 years, was in charge of helping plan and execute Vacation Bible School and I was only seen as “Becky with the good hair” that can bake and craft. Always being told to be grateful and how blessed you are, yet I think how ?

Who did this arrangement bless ? My adoptive mom got her “heart’s desire” by getting her “peanut butter skinned brown baby girl.” #becauseadoption

Being Understood

When faced with complex feelings related to complicated situations, people with no experience with that reality will try to throw in a feel good positive but that does not indicate that they really understood how this experience has affected you.

A woman in my all things adoption group received this response from a friend and she acknowledges – My friend means well but they really don’t grasp how adoption IS trauma. This is my main support person. The only person who is there when no one else is and to have such a huge disconnect cuts deep. They are very accepting that everything is just the way it is and not allowing trauma to define your life. Which at times is super helpful – yet right now I’m hurting and on this subject it doesn’t actually work.

She goes on to explain – Saying that it “Wasn’t that bad” or complimenting me by saying “as amazing as you are” does not help. Was adoption not that bad because it shaped me into who I am ? Or is it that who I am is that resilient that I make being adopted seem like adoption isn’t that bad ? See I can’t have one thing without the other. I’m not allowed my identity without adoption being brought into it. I can’t be truly separated from my trauma, so that it wouldn’t define my life, which in turn makes me feel like a living breathing trauma in a skin suit. I’m like 2 people in one body that feels one story 2 different ways.

A birth mother can struggle in similar ways. One said – I am not an adoptee, but a birth mother and I relate so much to this situation. My dad and I are very close and any time I try to talk to him about my feelings regarding my birth daughter, he says things like “it could be so much worse than it is”. It would be so nice to have friends that genuinely understood.

One of my own reasons for writing this blog every day and sharing a diversity of situations and experiences is so that people without any adoption or foster care in their personal experience might understand these situations better and find a greater degree of empathy for an adoptee or birth mother, than these people usually encounter in their own everyday life.

The Future Of Adoption Reform

Informed by an article at Lavender Luz

Imagine a glorious time in the future when all adoptees can get their original birth certificates and all open adoption arrangements are codified with a contract and truly open. I certainly could go further but the realist that I am will stick with these two that would be an improvement. Won’t it be great to be finished with the hard work of adoption reform?

While changes in adoption laws and policy are necessary, these alone will not make Adoption World all better. If laws were the endpoints, then the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments would have resulted in immediate equality for formerly enslaved and free African Americans. But they didn’t. Now, even 150 years later, our society struggles with these same issues.

Reforming policy and law is one necessary step, but it’s not the last step. Not until ideas of respect, empathy, and inherent value of others also take root in people’s hearts can true and enduring change happen. There are things that we do because an external force (rule or law) makes us do it, but the other comes from values we carry within our self. It’s good to have good laws; but it’s even better when those laws are followed naturally, because they’re viewed as the right thing to do anyway.

With the desired reforms in adoption, we don’t just want to see compelled behavioral change (because I have to), we want the spirit of the changes (because it’s in line with who I want to be). In reforming adoption, how can we help people move from “because it’s a requirement” to “because it’s the right thing to do?” Some of what I do is write this blog to advocate for a reformed perspective on adoption and foster care as well as some tangential issues.

To put this in adoption terms, even though adoptive parents and birth parents may have a Post-Adoption Contact Agreement, that doesn’t always mean the agreement comes from the heart. The law says one thing, but the vibe among those in the adoption constellation may say something else. The adopted child will likely sense such a disconnect when contact is made from obligation rather than a desire for connection.

Even if the law says that an adoptee can get his original birth certificate, IF the vibe he senses from his adoptive family isn’t an open one, he may actually feel as though he’s not free to get his document. He intuits the mixed message from his adoptive parents: Yes you can, but no you may not.

I have often read about adoptees who wait until the death of their adoptive parents to begin searching for their original parents? My adoptee mom waited until the early 1990s, only to learn that her original mother was dead and believed that since her original father was so much older, he had most likely died as well (and he had died, 30 years earlier). Even if the adoptee had been legally free to start looking, they never really felt free to do so. A law opening up an adoptee’s original birth certificate would be ineffective for the adoptee, until and unless their adoptive parents have given off the vibe that frees the adoptee to access it (or if that is in the adoptive parents’ possession, actually handed it over to them on request).

Ideas start big at the macro level, but implementation needs to reach all the way to the micro level, to the minds and hearts of individuals. Fortunately, much is already being done in Adoption World to bring about such changes. It is my hope that my small effort here is some part of that change.

When Adoptions Fail

Joyce Maynard with the two Ethiopian daughters,
ages 6 and 11, she adopted in 2010. 

Famous moms like Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Charlize Theron make adoption look easy. In as many as a quarter of adoptions of teens, and a significant number of younger child adoptions, the parents ultimately decide they don’t want to keep the child. But what happens, and who’s to blame, when an adoption doesn’t work?

Writer Joyce Maynard revealed on her blog that that she’d given up her two daughters, adopted from Ethiopia in 2010 at the ages of 6 and 11, because she was “not able to give them what they needed.”

Other cases have been more outrageous, like the Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old adopted son on a plane bound for Russia in 2010 when things went south. Recently she was ordered by a judge to pay $150,000 in child support.

In the adoption world, failed adoptions are called “disruptions.” But while a disruption may seem stone-hearted from the outside, these final anguished acts are complex, soul-crushing for all concerned and perhaps more common than you’d think.

On her blog, Maynard wrote that giving up her two adoptive daughters was “the hardest thing I ever lived through” but goes on to say it was absolutely the right decision for her – and the children. Yes, she has been severely judged by some people. She says, however, that “I have also received well over a hundred letters of a very different sort from other adoptive parents – those who have disrupted and those who did not, but struggle greatly. The main thing those letters tell me is that many, many adoptive parents (and children) struggle in ways we seldom hear about.”

Statistics on disruption vary. A 2010 study of US adoptions found that between 6 percent and 11 percent of all adoptions are disrupted before they are finalized. For children older than 3, disruption rates range between 10 percent to 16 percent; for teens, it may be as high as 24 percent, or one in four adoptions. Adoptions can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to become final – and that window is when most disruptions occur, experts say. While some families do choose to end an adoption after that, those cases are rarer (ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent, according to the study).

Disruption rarely occurs with infants. It occurs more often (anywhere from 5% to 20%) with the older children. That is because the complexities of parenting a child who already has life experiences and certain behaviors is more complicated. When a child is rejected and traumatized early in their development, it changes the way they function and respond to people. Older children – especially ones who have been neglected, rejected and abused will often distance themselves from other people and develop a hard-shell.

According to the study, the older the child is at the time of adoption, the more likely the adoption will fail. Children with special needs also face greater risk of disruption, particularly those who demonstrate emotional difficulties and sexual acting out. Certain types of parents are more likely to end up giving up adopted children. These include younger adoptive parents, inexperienced parents, and parents who both work outside the home. Wealthier parents and more educated mothers are also more likely to disrupt an adoption. There is less tolerance, if someone’s more educated or they make more money,

What happens when a parent decides to give up an adopted child?

If a child has been adopted legally, then it’s like giving up a birth child. The parents who adopted the child have to find a home for the child or some other resources. That could be the adoption agency or the state (who would most likely put the child in foster care). If the parents decide to end the process before the child has been legally adopted, the child would then likely go into foster care. International adoptions follow the same rules, except the adoption agency usually notifies the country that the adoption has failed, however, returning the child to their country of origin is never an option.

If an adoption fails before the parents become the formal, legal parents of the child, the courts usually aren’t involved. If the adoption has been finalized, however, then the parents must go to court. A dissolution – sometimes referred to as an annulment – takes place after a child is formally adopted by a set of parents. The law treats these situations very seriously. States vary on their handling of these situations. Generally speaking, a parent will petition the court where they adopted the child asking to un-adopt them.

Disruption is never easy for the child. It takes an extreme toll and can cause lifelong issues of distrust, depression, anxiety, extreme control issues and very rigid behavior. They don’t trust anyone; they have very low self-esteem. They’ll push away teachers and friends and potential parents and if you put them in another placement and they have to reattach again and then if they lose that placement, with each disruption gets tougher and tougher.

If you are a hopeful adoptive parent – be careful what you wish for. Some adoptive parents believe are will be able to help a child and sometimes, to some adoptive parents, this means changing the child. They believe that if they just love the child enough . . . Truth is, it takes so much more than love. It may be harder to handle than you ever thought possible in your fantasy dreams.

Inspired and borrowed from Today’s – It Takes More Than Love.

It’s About Being Divided In Two

Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969
by Dame Barbara Hepworth

At the bottom of this blog, I’ll link the Adoption & Addiction, Remembered Not Recalled video by Paul Sunderland but first, for those who don’t want to watch for almost an hour, I share a few snippets.

The issue of adoption is all about divided attention, it’s all about 2 sets of families. It’s all about the conflicting feelings of wanting to belong, yet fearing belonging. (As the child of two adoptees, I’m certain this has filtered down into my own soul. I have never felt that I added up to be as much as the golden people I surround myself with – whether in social online networking communities or in my writer’s guild up in St Louis – those are just two examples but it probably goes back into my childhood as well.)

Adoption is a pretty weird word because it’s about the only condition that doesn’t really describe what has happened. Talking about adoption is a denial of relinquishment. The relinquishment wounds can be seen as a developmental post-traumatic stress disorder.

The word adoption is a cover-up. When we think about the adoption triangle, we think about the 3 parties in adoption. The adopted child, there are the birth or natural parents and there is the adoptive parent(s). Sunderland’s focus in his lecture is mostly about the adopted child. And as the title of his lecture suggests, his lecture is also about the apparent addition of addiction to that adopted child.

(And I do believe it is in struggling with an abandonment that one is lead into addiction. As an aside, we watched the 2008 Will Smith movie Hancock last night. He is an alcoholic and it seems to me that his alcoholism is due to similar issues of not knowing who one is at the core and feeling abandoned but not knowing by who.)

Back to the Sunderland lecture, he says that when he encounters birth parents in a treatment setting they usually say, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.”

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment. And that leads to a question, Why is that ?

He has met quite a few adoptive parents, particularly as cross-cultural adoptions have been so popular. It is clear that many are feeling like, this is just not what we signed up to do.

Sunderland’s perspective is that there are NO adoptions without trauma. What he is talking about in his lecture is an enormous grief. A baby who has been waiting 9 months to meet somebody that they are not going to meet. It is about a mother who cannot live with having her child because society has told her that she cannot do it. Relinquishment goes against her biology.

And very often, the adoptive parents come into adoption carrying their own enormous grief due to having been unable to have a child of their own, naturally. One of the problems that Sunderland has with the word adoption is that it covers up the adoptive parents own grief.

So often, an adoptee will be told that they were chosen but the reality is that child has entered into a family that does not genetically fit them and given an impossible job description. They are forced to be someone that they can never actually be to fix the wound that the adoptive parents have. Infertility is an enormous disappointment for a couple and adoption tries to cover that up.

For an adoptee, the issue of abandonment is life threatening. There is nothing worse than to be separated from the one person (your mother) who you needed most at the beginning of your life. This is preverbal – it can’t be recalled – however, it IS remembered.

The word adoption tries to suggest that it is going to be a happily ever after situation. The human brain begins working before it is entirely built and experience is what programs the brain. If the beginning is a trauma and separation, then this is the experience that is wiring the neurons in the brain of the infant. For an adoptee there is a constant desire to attach accompanied by the conflicting sense that it isn’t safe to do so. There is no pre-trauma personality in an adoptee because there is no normal to compare this experience to as there would be for other traumatic events (war, car accidents, etc).

Being born prematurely and placed into an incubator is another kind of relinquishment when the infant leaves that containing environment. If a child is placed into foster care, that is also a relinquishment. Each change of foster family is yet another in a series of relinquishments. And second chance adoptions, where an adopted child is given back, is another relinquishment. In some cross-cultural adoptive situations, the child is born into such poverty, they are separated from the mother into an orphanage.

The bonding of an infant with their human mother actually begins 2 months before birth, while in utero, as proven by multiple experiments. Adoptees will often share that they have heard stories that they cried and cried. And I think of the mention of that in my mom’s adoption file via a letter from her adoptive mother to the Tennessee Children’s Home about the train trip upsetting my mom but that the doctor had her settled down now (and I always think – they drugged her, though it is not said directly). And I can understand now that my mom was relinquished twice because her mother took her to Porter Leath Orphanage in desperation for TEMPORARY care while she tried to get on her feet because her lawfully married husband had abandoned her and did not respond to a letter that the Juvenile Court in Memphis had written to him about his obligations.

Sunderland speaks about the stability of a child being dependent on a mother being able to know herself (which certainly was a black hole, actually for both of my parents, that I had until I was well over 60 years old and began to discover my own adoptee parents origin stories). People who are adopted and end up in treatment, often present themselves as fairly well put together.

Sunderland speaks of “love addiction” as needing to have the positive regard of a significant other. Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed. The hormonal aspects of having been relinquished are similar to living one’s life on red alert. In an adoption, there is a slow loss of self. A belief that they cannot be them self and get along with the people with whom they have been placed. The hormonal aspects affect sleep and stomach issues (and certainly my mom had her share of gastrointestinal issues throughout her entire life). Real difficulties managing moods (I think of my dad’s underlying seething anger that occasionally popped out).

If you think about serotonin, it is a soothing hormone. Addiction is usually an effort to self soothe. Eating sugar is one such effort to self soothe. Both of my parents were seriously diabetic and myself to some extent (though I am trying to manage my own sugar issues without ending up on insulin). Serotonin also manages shame and let’s you know you are okay but if your levels are low, the answer is “I’m not okay.”

Some people are not given up at birth and that was certainly true with both of my parents who spent 6-8 months with their original mothers before being adopted. People who diet and then give up on themselves, often multiple times. The chemicals in the brains of adoptees who have early psychological wounds are very different from other people without this personal background.

Adoptees have a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, always expecting the worst. The original wound of being separated from their mother was a life-threatening one. Shame is an unacknowledged aspect that is the understanding that I am not good enough, the bad baby (I’m unworthy, unlovable, there is something flawed in me) because if I was given up by my mother, I don’t have value. People pleasing arises from this feeling. How do I need to be to be accepted ?

Being extremely self-reliant (if you want something done, do it yourself) is also an outcome. It is interesting to note that both of my parents’ mothers had early abandonment or separation wounds from their own mothers caused by the deaths of their mothers. My dad’s mother had the worst one as her mother died when she was only 3 mos old. When she discovered that she was pregnant by a married man that she was not married to, she simply handled it herself and he never knew. With my mom’s mother, she was in her pre-teens and had to become “mom” to her 4 siblings.

Shame and anxiety are at the root of all addictions. There is an attempt to manage anxiety by managing the externals out there. Addictions are attempts to put anxieties elsewhere and explain the inexplicable. And there is the belief that somehow it is your own fault. Up until about the age of 10, infants and children believe that everything that happens to them, happened because of them.

In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as how secure you were with your early attachments. Roots, the secure base. Without these, one is less resilient. Adaption is a better word for what is done, not adoption. Adoptees end up with two minds. Real difficulties making decisions. The limbic system – fight, flight or freeze – is what kicks in with the catastrophic thinking. It is the part of the brain that developed before the frontal cortex. If you have an attachment wound, you never learned how to become a separate person. Any successful relationship exists in separateness, not in trying to adapt yourself to be accepted by that other person. The erotic exists in the space between the two. The real challenge for an adopted person is to actually BE their own self.

Fostering Babies Is Difficult

One of the hardest things to do was to let them go home to their natural parents but that’s what we as foster parents have signed up for. It’s what foster families are suppose to do. But the urge to parent and fall in love with babies is a strong one, even if you didn’t birth them.

A foster parent writes – Today’s the day I realized I can’t do this. Most of the 20+ foster kids we have had were teens who stayed with us until they decided otherwise. This is the first time we have fostered babies and today I realized this will be the placement that breaks me.

I went to the hospital and picked the twins up 2 weeks after they were born, my home was their first home. They have had 3 visitations from their biological parents, who are trying to get them back. I have had them for 4 months now and my family is the family they know.

Today the twins had a doctor’s appointment and their biological parents showed up. No one knew they were coming, so it was just me with the parents and the babies. During the appointment the babies cried and reached for me but the biological parent wasn’t having it and would try to soothe them. It was like watching a stranger try to comfort my own child.

Today, I wanted nothing more than to hold these babies and tell them it would all be ok and today I was told I couldn’t. Today was the day it really set it that they won’t stay with me. Today’s the day my heart shattered. Today is the day that being a foster parent sucks.

First things first. This foster parent was immediately given a reality check.

What got to me was her saying “they were reaching for me!” Babies don’t reach at 16 weeks…my daughter can barely control her arm movements yet. It’s so delusional!!

My daughter is 6 months and I didn’t even catch that but yes! She didn’t start reaching for her dad and I until this month.

I was thinking that too! That’s so little to be reaching!

Babies at 16 weeks know who mom is instinctively and recognize caregivers but they don’t even show a preference.

The only one who was ‘reaching’ was the delusional foster parent.

And well . . . I’m sure it must have been a painful experience for their birth mother too. Let’s hope that whatever agency is handling the return of the twins to their parents will help you and the parents to work out a transitioning period during which they can come back to feeling “at home” with their parents again. It takes lots of generosity of spirit by all the adults concerned, but it is possible–and possible to do well, for the twins’ benefit. (Said from experience.)

Our infant fosterlove was crying and crying in her mom’s arms at a social services meeting. So instead of just letting the baby scream I asked the mom if I could help. I showed her how her daughter liked being held like a football and bounced. Then I handed the baby back and had her comfort her. I reminded her that she will figure that all out once she goes home. She thanked me and it led to us having a good relationship while her daughter was with us. We had her until she was 14 months.