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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.
Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.
You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.
There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.
Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.
If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.
So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.
4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”
One adoptee describes their own experience this way –
“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”
Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.
Another adoptee notes –
“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”
It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.
If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.
This not the first time it has come up. I am doing my best to recognize changing norms and find a good level of acceptance within my self. For one thing, among those changing norms is a recognition of the trauma that every adoptee experiences. Another is same sex couples and the frequent desire of these couples to go beyond marriage to parenting. There I do struggle with having grown up with a certain kind of mindset that believes optimal for children growing up is having both a male and female role model. I am also realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. We have several single mothers in my mom’s group. Some chose to enter into pregnancy without a male partner and some became widows after their children were born. In both cases the children do seem to be thriving and I am a witness to that fact.
Today the question was asked in my all things adoption group – What are your thoughts about the Buttigieg’s impending adoption? I didn’t know about it until I saw that. So I went looking and see that this male same sex couple is at least enlightened enough to have been seeking “a baby who had been abandoned or surrendered at short notice”. Yet, we are talking about an infant it would appear. I once had a discussion with a friend who was good friends with a male same sex couple who was raising a little girl who they had via a surrogate. I expressed my reservations about that situation honestly. I have less concern about a female same sex couple where one contributes the egg and the other carries the pregnancy. There is still the issue of the child being donor conceived and how some sperm donors have fathered a multitude of genetically related children.
I am glad my boys have their father as a male role model. I am glad they have me as a female role model. There are a lot of gender issues in our modern society. There is toxic male culture but my boys are home schooled so they aren’t exposed to very much of that in their daily life. It’s enough that they have witnessed me have to push back on some of that at home. Thankfully, my husband is for the most part respectful, appreciative and considerate of me. With over 30 years of marriage completed, there are bound to be moments that aren’t sterling.
In these days of gender equality, marriage equality and equal employment opportunities, it might seem odd to even contemplate discussing the topic of a male parent versus a female parent. Undoubtedly many well-adjusted children are raised in single gender families making the equality of parenting question seem out-dated and narrow-minded. I do understand this.
However, there are a number of ‘experts’ who agree that the influence of both a female and a male are vital for proper child development. This diversity give the child a broader, richer experience of interactions. I found an article that shares the perspectives of Dr Kyle Pruett of Yale Medical School who notes that females and males parent very differently.
If you are at all interested, you can read about his perspectives in this article – Do Children Need a Male and Female Parent?“Need” is probably too strong a concept given the realities. I would say in a perfect world . . . but this isn’t . . . is it ? So adoptions still continue to happen today. They probably always will but reforms in the practice are still possible and adoptees are leading the charge to make reforms possible – keeping genetic and identity information intact – even after an adoption.
Strong male/female influences can be created through other family members such as an aunt or uncle, grandfather or grandmother. In an imperfect world this is a reasonable alternative method of supplying male or female role models in single sex households.
Persistence really does make all the difference in some situations. On Sunday night, my family had a lesson in persistence. We’ve been playing Scrabble on Sunday nights and are finding while it causes our night to run late, the whole family becomes engaged and some of the problematic issues we were encountering trying to watch videos as a family are now gone. We’ve been playing with the tiny board with lock in pieces meant for traveling rather than the large, more traditional board. That small footprint works out well on our cluttered dining room table.
But on Sunday night, my youngest son dropped his piece holder. Most of the pieces stayed on the floor but improbably one piece went bouncing down the stairs to the basement. We looked forever, everywhere, and discussed giving up and playing with one piece missing. However, my son could not accept that. He suggested sending another piece down the stairs to try and determine what happened with the missing piece. I thought for certain we’d end up with two pieces missing. We didn’t lose the second piece but it did show us the missing piece probably didn’t go very far from the stairs. It was then my youngest son, who was definitely the cause of this crazy situation and very upset by knowing that, saw the piece on the floor right under the lowest stair. How we all missed that is something to wonder at. His persistence made all the difference. That word has been on my mind as a writer and I even have a book in our library with that title that I haven’t read.
Today’s story involves the persistent effort of a transracial, internationally sourced adoptee.
I have paperwork from my closed international adoption. The thing is, for many of us, we don’t know how accurate or truthful our information is. I have names of both birth parents and in 2017, I searched my birth mom’s name on Facebook out of curiosity. It was a little tricky because her name is in English but I needed to translate and search it in Hangul. A couple profiles popped up and one of them had pictures. The woman and I share so many physical similarities. So I debated and agonized over whether or not I message or friend request her. I did both. Nothing.
4 years later, I decide to try again. I messaged her this time in Hangul hoping it would help. I’ve been learning Korean since February this year in hopes of being able to communicate. I also changed my profile name to include my Korean birth name in Hangul. This was in March, still nothing. I don’t have the option to friend request her again. I know I can go through other channels to find my birth mom but I’m so discouraged already. It takes so much out of me just to even make the choice to take action. Plus, if this woman is my birth mom and I contact her through other channels, she may deny me anyway.
I know I’ll never know unless I truly try. I know I can’t and shouldn’t assume anything. I know it’ll eat away at me if I don’t eventually do this. I just wish it wasn’t this hard, scary, expensive, confusing, terrifying, and frustrating. My reality is that right now, I wish I wasn’t adopted.
One very good suggestion was this – Have you joined any Facebook groups for ex-pats in Korea? I live in Korea right now and I see people posting in the ex-pat groups looking for information about original families or unknown fathers, there’s enough people in those groups that maybe some information can turn up.
I know that in my own adoption search efforts (both parents were adopted) it did take some degree of persistence and I did not have the international complications to deal with. However, my paternal grandmother was unwed and went to a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers to give birth to my dad. His original birth certificate does not name the father. Thankfully, my grandmother left me breadcrumbs – both in the name she gave my dad and in a little headshot photo with his father’s name on the back. And I did go into some dead ends. My breakthrough came through Find A Grave and his second marriage step-daughter. She confirmed the headshot was the man she knew.
Then, DNA matching really completed the task, even connecting me to Danish relatives still living in that country who had no idea my paternal grandfather had any children. So, a task that seemed unlikely to succeed at first, eventually brought me knowledge of all 4 original grandparents – even against what seemed like daunting odds at first.
Coming on the heels of yesterday’s blog, I encountered this article in The Guardian – My brother has two new children – and it’s making me sad. When you want to be a parent and can’t, this is a loss to be mourned, says Philippa Perry.
A woman writes – My partner is older than me and has a grown-up son. He is not keen to have more children, so I feel I’ve missed the boat. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame in my response (to my siblings having children). It is causing problems within my family because my older brother has stopped communicating with me. I’m unsure how to relate to these new children and also to my brother now. It’s constantly nagging on my mind. I feel like a terrible person and very alone.
Ms Perry replies – Reading between the lines, I wonder if there isn’t a whole lot of loss here to process. We think about mourning when we lose someone close to us: when we lose a parent or a friend everyone around us expects us to be sad or angry or confused, in denial or simply deadened for a while – wherever the journey of mourning takes us – and even if it is a hard journey, we know that unless we allow ourselves to mourn, we won’t recover our equilibrium. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has usefully charted this complex journey, and her thinking is instructive. Above all, we learn from her that the only way beyond loss is through it. When you want to be a parent and, for whatever reason, you can’t be, this is a loss and like all losses needs to be mourned.
This point is made frequently in my all things adoption group. The need to mourn infertility, rather than papering over it with adopted children.
The advice columnist goes on to note – It’s much harder, isn’t it, when the loss we experience is situational rather than personal? Often nobody notices or names it, and there is no expectation that we may have work to do. Instead of finding loving support for the process of grieving, we can lock ourselves in a silent, agonizing world in which we feel increasingly isolated.
Whether it is choice or circumstance that has led to you not having a child, you’re clearly sensing that as a loss, and I wonder whether now that those who are close to you seem to be abounding in new children, it is easier to cut off, or feel jealous, or over-rationalise, rather than having your feelings. Gaps are tough – and they’re real, at least to us. Reality is often disappointing.
You do not say why your brother isn’t speaking to you. Echoes of some long-distant childhood rivalry playing out, maybe? Or has something happened to create awkwardness. You’ll know – but I’m wondering what part you not engaging with your sadness and loss may be contributing to this awkwardness? After all, when the task of processing loss doesn’t happen in us, we find other ways of dealing with our feelings: projecting disappointment and envy on to others, rather than owning it ourselves. This makes us unhappy and creates avoidable friction with others. And, no, I don’t think you are a terrible person – just a person in pain with nowhere to place it.
Then there’s what you describe as your own loving relationship. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, nor whether there was a chance to consider having a child, but what is now encroaching is this sense of a gap. What, I wonder, would happen if you were to name it – not in terms of any “right” to have had a child, nor in terms of “blame” that the two of you aren’t having one, but simply in terms of the sense of loss and sadness it is creating in you? It’s not that he has to fix it by having a child with you, but not speaking about it may stop you keeping your relationship as “loving” as it can be. If you are not being heard and understood by him it may deny you the support you need to move forward – speaking simply about it may open up whole new ways of being fulfilled together. We might feel that if we own the disappointment and name the gaps, our feelings will become more intense and unmanageable, but more often the opposite is true. To talk about your loss will begin to process those feelings and will be, I think, the first steps to healing all of this. I don’t want you to carry that “chasm of sadness” on your own. But even in the most loving of partnerships we cannot be everything we need for each other and if your partner is more of a problem-solver – no one wants to hear the “well-you-should…” in response to their pain – you may try for extra listening and understanding from a therapist.
When you can own, then contain, your sadness I am hoping you will be able to relate to these new nephews and nieces in your life, not as reminders of what you are missing out on, but as new people to have rewarding, lifelong relationships with.
Why is it, when adoption comes up, that there are a majority of adoptive parents who will say “Well, what was I supposed to do…just accept that I couldn’t have a baby?” What do you want an adoptee’s answer to you to be ? Just take someone else’s kid ? I get that people want children, but is it another person’s job to supply a child for you ?
Life is not fair. If you didn’t complete your degree, do you say – what am I supposed to do ? Would other people tell you to just go and take someone else’s degree off the wall ? Why isn’t it your job, to give all of the money you have, to the people who are poor ? Or leave your current job, so someone who is unemployed can have it instead ? Would you take your dream home and give it someone who is homeless to live in ? How about that fancy car ? Should you hand the keys over to someone without one ?
Sometimes, life requires us to accept something that is true but that we sincerely don’t want to be part of our reality. Certainly, modern medical science does have some solutions that allow previously infertile women to conceive a child using assisted reproductive techniques. Not only is adoption in the process of being reconsidered and reformed but the medical approaches are as well. Not only are adoptee searches all the rage these days – and many of those searches have successful outcomes with the photos from these reunions making my own heart happy when I see them – but people who were conceived using donor sperm or donor eggs (or both) are discovering that the anonymity that was once standard, leaves them with the same black hole of genetic identity and lost familial medical history that adoptees in closed adoptions have been contending with since the beginning of adoption, which adoptees started pushing back against as early as the 1990s. Now donor conceived persons are pushing back against similar issues.
What sometimes gets lost in these conversations is that people are not inanimate objects like a university degree, employment, a person’s acquired wealth (whether by inheritance or hard work) or the home they bought to live in, the car that transports them wherever they want to go. Actually considering the reality that a child is not a commodity. In their desperate attempt to acquire a child to fill their own unfilled need, the humanity of that child and their birth mother is sometimes lost. That reality that these are human beings with feelings and emotions needs to be carefully reconsidered. You won’t die if you never have a child but you could utterly ruin two other lives in the process of taking someone else’s child – the birth mother’s and the adoptee’s lives – for the remainder of their personal lifetimes. Yes, reunions do relieve some of that long-held sorrow but you cannot recover or make up for the time or relationship development that was lost in the interim.