Parallels – Adoption & Abduction

A chart created by The Bumbling Adoptee on Facebook caught my attention – “the loss and trauma associated with infant abduction and infant adoption run parallel.”

The author shows in graphic form the vast differences regarding societal expectations in each situation as regards the outcomes. The similarities are in the loss of the child’s original family and the fact that the child is then raised by genetic strangers.

Within adoption – most of the time the child’s original name is changed. Some are not even told they were adopted, only to discover it later in life with a heavy emotional cost. Many adoptees will never be able to find out anything about who their original family was.

A lack of important medical information is a major issue for a lot of adoptees – it was for my parents (mom and dad were both adoptees) and has been for me as their child too.

It is now being acknowledged more frequently, though sometimes minimized by profit motivated interests, that there is trauma whenever a child is separated from their original family.

In the case of adoptions by one race of another race, there is often a loss of culture and native language.

The child never had a choice but was thrust into the situation.

How is an infant abduction viewed differently in society ?

Their original identity will always be considered their real identity. The law will side against the abductor. There will be an attempt to reunify the child with their original family. It is seen by society as a tragedy instead of a blessing or even God’s plan. The child is considered a victim.

In adoption, the outcome is far different with loyalty to the adoptive parents expected along with gratitude. Often society does not acknowledge the trauma that the adoptee experienced.

To simply this – An abducted child is expected to retain fond memories of, and long for reunification with, their “real” families of birth, and reject the abductor raising them, while adoptees are expected to bond unquestioningly to non-related strangers, and in some cases are expected or encouraged to abandon any thoughts or talk of seeking out their roots.

A longer article is available from The Huffington Post – Adoption and Abduction: Legal Differences, Emotional Similarities by Mirah Riben.

No Choice

There are so many ways adoptees experience a life that they had no choice in. Beginning with their adoption, especially if they were too young to have a say, which the majority are consummated when the child is too young to be given a say.

There are also situations where a mother gave up one or more children when she was young. She then subsequently remarried and had more children in that stable union. So it was in a story I was reading today.

The adoptee in this story had a no-contact failed reunion and was re-rejected in her attempt by her birth mother. The two children relinquished found each other in adulthood. While the father who knew about the surrendered children had died, their children had not been told about these half-siblings.

This adoptee became aware of her genetic, biological family thanks to DNA matching. The extended family she discovered have proven to be lovely, considerate, sensitive and good people. However, the subsequent children who were birthed by this woman’s original mother, who are all adults and have known about these two other children for a couple of years now, don’t acknowledge them or treat them as anything other than shameful embarrassments and inconveniences, a response modeled by their mother.

The mother contracted cancer and subsequently died of the complications. Before she died, she sent this woman a birthday card, accompanied by a handwritten letter expressly stating that she should not to come to her mother’s funeral. It was hurtful for her to say that she “only wanted people who loved her there.”

She never gave these two relinquished children a chance to love her and piling on their wounds, rejected them again as adults. In fact, they didn’t even know she was dying. When this woman died, none of her subsequent children told them anything about the arrangements. So neither of these two attended her funeral but at the last minute did send a wreath. They hoped to be at the least mentioned at her funeral, or in her eulogy or at her cremation but the purposeful silence continued.

Finally, the day after her funeral, her oldest son set up a What’sApp group with him, her brother and this woman and so, there was a video call. He was very matter of fact and explained about her death. He asked if they had any questions. Mostly the call was simply made to justify how he was carrying out their mother’s wishes. These wishes were extensive – excluding them from knowing anything about her deterioration, prognosis, hospitalization, palliative care, imminent death nor were they to be told about her dying or the funeral arrangements. This son admitted that he did think she was wrong to demand that,

This story takes place in Ireland and they have a “month’s memory mass.” Her name will be called out in her church as a mark of respect at her recent passing. It’s a tradition for family to attend at this mass that takes place four weeks after the passing of a loved one. She writes that her brother has to work but her husband will be there to be supportive. She says – “I have as much right to be there as any of them. Being banned from her funeral doesn’t mean I can’t go to this mass in her church. I need to be there to show they haven’t broken me and to have some closure. I also feel it would be a show of defiance to them for ostracizing us so blatantly.”

I totally agree with her and support this decision !!

Intergenerational Trauma

My blog yesterday was inspired by an article – Intergenerational Trauma: How to Break the Cycle – and the Maya Angelou quote at the beginning of it. Then, I went off on the story of my own version of that. Today, seeing that this article has real value, I return to it’s inspiration. The paragraph below is quoted from the article.

From our families, we inherit genes, foundational life skills, traditions, knowledge, connections, wisdom, identity, resilience, etc. Sometimes we also inherit behavior patterns, coping strategies of our parents, grandparents who did not process their trauma. Children learn to be by mimicking the adults around them but when these adults are acting from their own trauma, children pick up patterns and behaviors that become their norm. The first victims of intergenerational trauma in families are the most fragile, i.e. children. They might suffer from anxiety or depression as adults without being able to pinpoint its origin, indeed intergenerational trauma in families is not easily recognized or its impact is minimized. Intergenerational trauma in families often happens in an overarching societal context which offers the setting that facilitates trauma to be passed down (poverty, patriarchy, war, colonialism, slavery, genocide, etc).

Just yesterday, as I thought an issue had reached a level of acceptance and even an ability to see how I was better off for having gone through the unexpected and unwanted rupture of a relationship, something “new” had happened fully 2 months after the initial events and I was obsessed with it again. Why am I not more mature about this whole thing ? Then, it hit me – rejection – that was what I was struggling with. Rejection is a common emotional experience in adoptees (and both of my parents were – adopted). And it is the very personal kinds of rejection – relationship ending kinds of rejection that hurt me the most. More neutral rejections – from a literary agent I am hoping will represent me or from a resume submission for some job or other – these don’t trouble me. My recent trauma of rejection was decidedly caused by an overarching societal context – COVID.

Again from the linked article – In families with a pattern of trauma, there are many secrets, taboos, things that are not allowed to be talked about. Secrets that are kept but live and manifest themselves as poverty, being trapped in cycles of abuse, violence, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, difficulty in relationships, etc. The individual is born with and into fears and feelings that don’t always belong to them but that shape their life in ways that they are not always conscious of.

Adoption was a kind of open secret in my family. Meaning when I was old enough to know, I did know. However, the whys, I didn’t know – in fact, my parents didn’t know those either. We really didn’t talk about it in my family other than the factual knowledge that my parents were adopted. In my earliest awareness, I thought both of my parents were orphans. I had know idea that there were people out there living their lives genetically and biologically directly related to me. When my mom wanted to search and find her mother, my father was unsympathetic. Therefore, she could not share her feelings with him but thankfully, she did share her feelings about all of it with me and I am grateful that I now know how she felt, since I now know more about the impacts of adoption.

Milestones in life can greatly affect a person living with intergenerational trauma (finishing university, starting a new job, having a baby, moving to a new country, being rejected by a new partner and suffering unsurmountable grief, etc.). Intergenerational trauma can also impact our physical health through the nutrition habits we develop and our relationship with food.

Food is an issue – it was with both my mom and my dad. First, my dad experienced near starvation and food insecurity in his youth. Growing up, there always had to be more food on our table than we could eat in a single meal. My mom was a lifelong dieter and passed that fear of obesity down to me. I struggle with what I think of as “stuffing disease” – a compulsion to eat every kind of non-nutritive “fun” food in my house – cookies, candy and potato chips. Then, I regret it and try again to “do better” and I do for awhile – until the next restless, rebellious binge happens. My mom’s struggles could have been impacted by spending some time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis as a baby – not because her mother didn’t want her but abandoned by her husband (my mom’s father to whom my grandmother was married) – my grandmother asked for temporary care while she tried to become financially strong enough to support the two of them. I also learned to eat “in secret” from my mom.

At this point, I found my initial link is an excerpt of a longer blog – Miriamnjoku.com‘s blog on Intergenerational Trauma. There is an awesome graphic on the blog.

When one knows the history of abandonment and/or abuse that their parents or grandparents suffered, they are better able to understand why their loved one was/is disconnected. There is a Chinese Proverb that says that “The beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name” . We cannot heal what we are not aware of, so the first step is to acknowledge the existence of trauma. Making the invisible visible is the prerequisite for transformation: acknowledging with compassion that certain patterns are the fruit of pain, trauma and oppression.

Learning the stories of my grandparents was the beginning of understanding why my parents were “abandoned” (that is the view of an adoptee), more conventionally understood as surrendered or relinquished for adoption. Especially, I do believe the loss of their mothers at young ages had a profound impact on both of my grandmothers and their choices and experiences in life overall. This quote by Anna Freud really speaks to me in that regard – “The horrors of war, pale in significance to the loss of a mother.”

What are the things that were passed down to us that we do not want to pass on to our children? We can look at the past with compassion and still want to change dysfunctional patterns that do not serve us. It is a hard journey which is often met with misunderstanding from the family. Are you going to be the first one in your family to go to therapy? Take care of your health? We have to be willing to step into the uncomfortable to heal, even willing to risk rejection, being misunderstood to live well, to release the psychological charge even if it means being different.

There is more in her blog – I recommend reading Miriam Njoku‘s full blog.

A Lie Or Pretend

Someone in my all things adoption group wrote – I think it’s important to recognize that adoption for all parties is literally living a lie or playing pretend. I know my mom who was adopted felt this. She had her DNA tested at Ancestry and was in the middle of creating family trees when it really hit her. Both my mom and my dad were adopted and she realized none of it was real. I now know who the real grandparents are and I do intend to complete each of my parents’ family trees, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

One woman responded – When people get so hung up on I’m real and start lecturing their kid on it I want to laugh. They look like the fool…yeah you’re real but you aren’t “the mother”. Yeah I’m the mother but I’m not raising my kid. Reality, people.

Another woman shared – It is both at different times, yes. It’s also filled with excuses and justifications for the truth. Why can’t we JUST be real about it. Addressing that I really wasn’t “chosen” by my adoptive parents didn’t send me in a tailspin. I was next on the list that fit their criteria. That’s just fact. Could have easily been some other blonde, blue-eyed toddler they ended up raising. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s hurtful. Do adoptive parents really think we don’t know we were given away and them being our parents is a crapshoot? It’s kind of obvious, yet they go through all kinds of gyrations to fluff up the simple facts.

People act like adoptees are oblivious or incapable of handling the truth. Adoptees crave the truth, it’s all they ever want. Honesty. That’s it. Of course, adoptees already know the truth and adoptive parents just need to acknowledge what the adoptee already knows.

Acknowledge and validate. The two most important things to remember.

Someone else needed to add more complex context.

There are children being raised by extended relatives or adopted after a Termination of Parental Rights (assuming good reason). Do you tell these children they are living a lie? Or do you tell them that this is not the first choice, but it is what we have and we can try to make it work. Denying the trauma is living a lie, but I don’t think the family formed afterwards necessarily is. I don’t think every family formed outside of biological relationships is living a lie or pretending.

And sadly, not every family is good for the children born into it. Here’s one such story – I was raised by a very narcissistic mother and a very hands off father except when my mother manipulated him into abusing my brother and I (including putting me in foster care for being suicidal and self harming). I don’t feel towards them the way a child should parents. I lost the woman I actually considered a mom at 12. I personally feel like being a parent is more than giving birth and doing the bare necessities for a child. My parents may have given me everything I could have needed and let me play sports and go to camps, but they severely neglected my emotionally and mentally. I found my family elsewhere in other people. Them not being blood doesn’t invalidate my experience. I personally don’t agree with infant adoption or foster to adopt, but some people who give birth, really should just not be parents.

An Inability to Relate

Actually . . . it isn’t that simple or easy in reality.  Today, I read this –

I adopted my daughter at birth. She’s now 3. I wanted an open adoption, but I find it hard to connect with her mom. I had visions of a close relationship and it’s just not happening that way. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. I know she feels it too. She is about 10 years younger than me and we have nothing in common. By now I feel we should be in a better place. To be honest, it’s become something that I find myself avoiding more and more because it’s uncomfortable. I hate that I do that. I push off calling or texting. I am not sure what I’m feeling. I think a lot is guilt. I see how when they are together how perfectly they interact. My daughter loves her. I have been reading in here and trying to self reflect to make sure it’s not my fragility. I do genuinely love that they have a close connection, so I don’t think it’s jealousy.

What it is, is reality.  What is happening is that real maternal bond that deep inside is never severed.  As an adoptive mother, you will never have that same kind of connection.  Yes, you can love a child.  Yes, you can be grateful that your child is able to know the mother who gave birth to them.

You had a fantasy about having this “close relationship” and that is the reason it is “just not happening”.  It was you fantasy and not an achievable reality.  Your presence reminds this child’s mother that you and not she is with the child most of the time.  Your deepest self is acknowledging the guilt you feel at having separated them by seeing how perfectly they naturally interact with one another.

So get real with why this feels so uncomfortable to you.  Get over your own feelings.  The well-being of this little girl should be the only deciding factor in your behavior going forward.

Oversharing

I have been reticent until recent years to share some things that I consider privacy sensitive.  Our perspectives on where the boundaries are can change over time.

It is a topic in adoption related groups that the balance is difficult to determine.  There are adoptive parents who upon meeting you will immediately share with you that their children are adopted and have trauma histories.  Realize you only just met and they don’t really know you or you them.  That is considered in poor taste now within our modern society.

An enlightened adoptive parent may wish to be aware of not owning their adopted child.  The adoptive parent may take care not to ignore the original family.  At the same time, the adoptive parent may be concerned that they don’t stigmatize their child by making an issue of the child’s adoption.

One balance can be to remain open to discussing adoption while not initiating the conversation.  The context in which it comes up matters.

It appears that oversharing is often related to wanting to be acknowledged for doing a “good deed”.  Saving a child’s life – is often NOT the truth – no matter how much the adoptive parent would like to believe that.  Adoptive parents have often not accepted their role in separating a mother and child.

Adoptive Parents in some groups want to be quick to point out that the behavior they’re asking for help managing is NOT A RESULT OF THEIR PARENTING.  Some Pro-Life adoptive parents overshare to burnish their credentials – I saved this child from abortion by convincing her mother to give her up to me instead.  You get the idea . . .

Before you overshare, ask yourself – Why does anyone need to know ?  There may be times.  Just be selective and consider whether sharing will eventually cause some kind of problem in the future.

They Aren’t My Relatives

Even before I knew who my original grandparents were and something about their stories, back when I was cleaning out my deceased parent’s residence, I began to have an awareness that so much stuff my parents stored in their house as they were executors of their own adoptive parents estates, was not actually relevant to my life.  As a historian, it did pain me to send to the landfill tons of genealogy and binders full of personal recollections from a life of far flung traveling, because in reality, I’m not related to those people.

This awareness came back full force yesterday as my family has been going through an extreme phase of de-cluttering.  As I now approach my own 66th birthday, I seem to be even more able than ever to let a lot of irrelevant stuff go.

Of course, I do acknowledge those relationships that helped to shape me in my youth.  The adoptive grandparents and the aunts, uncles and cousins related to them had influence in my life and I do have fond memories of loving gestures and concern, as well as any opportunities that actually did come my way through these people.  There will always be a place in my heart for these people who chose to love and nurture my parents and because of them – for us who were the children and so were treated equally as being somehow “related”.  Though we weren’t, not really.

Now that I do know who my original grandparents were, it is these people who I think of as grandparents and there are new aunts but most of that ancestral level of relationship has already died and I’ll never be able to know them but second-hand through those who are my true cousins in a genetic sense.

While I honor and acknowledge the more direct relationships that came my way because of the adoption of my parents, the siblings and ancestors of those adoptive grandparents have lost all meaning for me.  I am simply not related to those persons and their familial history holds no interest for me any longer.

My mom belonged to Ancestry and found she had to quit working on the family trees that were based on the circumstance of having been adopted.  She said, “They just weren’t REAL to me.”  I understand.  In a short period of time, I have come to feel the same way.

The Better Option

There is such a thing as privilege.  It is a privilege to have enough wealth that if you can’t have a child naturally, you are able to adopt someone else’s.  Is wealth a better option than keeping a family intact ?  There are cases where a child is going to need a safer environment but no child needs to have their identity erased and cultural heritage hidden from them.

It is weird to grow up with all these relatives and then reach an age in advanced maturity when one knows who their true genetic relatives are.  Both of my parents were adopted.  That means the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were never really my relations.  It is a very weird feeling to know that with certainty now.

Of course, I acknowledge that there were these couples who provided for and raised my parents.  They were the people I knew as grandparents growing up and they were without a doubt influential in my life.  Now that I know who the real ones were, they are who I think of when I think of who my grandparents were, even though I never had the privilege of knowing them in life.

One of the expectations is that an adoptee is supposed to be grateful and acknowledge all the sacrifices their adoptive parents made to raise them.  On the adoptees part there is this lifelong requirement to live up to the expectations of the adoptive parent.  I know that my mom felt this and I know that she felt like she had failed to equal those expectations.

All parents expect something from their children but most children are quite free to ignore those parental expectations.  An adoptee often fears being returned to a no-family state if they don’t live up to the expectations of the people who purchased their very lives.

It may be hard to read but it is a real thing for those who’s roots have been cut off from underneath them.

Acceptance

My adoptee mom shared with me before she died that she had to stop working on the family tree at Ancestry that she had been creating from the lineage of the adoptive parents (my dad was also an adoptee).  She said “It just wasn’t real to me.  I am adopted.”  Then she added, “Glad I was.” because she had reached a place of acceptance that she would never know her origins and whether having been adopted was actually a “good” thing or not.

Acceptance is a phase of grieving.  My mom grieved that her original mother had died before her search began.  Arriving at acceptance can feel lighter, more balanced and has the ability to realize what all of our experiences have brought to us.

Adoptees will likely struggle with what it means to belong to two families.  Coming to terms with that, could also make comfortable – duality, complexity and ambiguity.  An adoptee may be able to see both/and rather than either/or.

What will always be true is that an adoptee can never be not adopted. That’s a given.

Adoption can add an element of compassion.  There is no getting around the reality that the adoptee was given up.  Taken in by strangers. There are consequences to both.

Healing can happen when an adoptee can accept that what happened, happened. This was their fate. They were surrendered by one mother and raised by a different one.  An adoptee can’t avoid the pain that is part of that experience.

Platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason” or “it’s all part of God’s plan” are not helpful.  Nor are attitudes that an adult adoptee should simply “move on” or “get over it” or “stop dwelling in the past”.  These are not helpful either. The past is an adoptee’s history, their identity, their connection to a concept of family.

Babies adopted shortly after birth experience a trauma so early in life that there is no “before” the trauma to return to.  Consider that.  Add to it the pain adoptees experience by being mostly invalidated by society.

So better words don’t include a non-adoptee’s judgement of what would have been better or worse.  A simple acknowledgement of fact is enough.  Adoption can’t be undone.

Even so, an adoptee can know that they are also a survivor with those kinds of strengths and gifts. The adoption system is deeply flawed.  Seeking to reform it is a worthy outcome for having gone through the experience.