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.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

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.

Hope Meadows

Of the roughly 40 houses currently rented in Hope Meadows in Rantou IL – 10 are occupied by families who’ve adopted children from foster care. The rest are occupied by older adults who volunteer to help them.

I stumbled upon mention of this reading something else. It was just a little “also” paragraph at the end but I was intrigued and had to go looking into it.

On a quiet street in Rantoul sits a small neighborhood of 15 nondescript duplex houses, part of a larger subdivision built decades ago to house the families of pilots and workers at the now-closed Chanute Air Force Base. Although it’s impossible to tell just by looking, something remarkable is happening here: adopted kids from troubled backgrounds are finding acceptance and support in the arms of neighbors old enough to be their grandparents. That’s by design at Hope Meadows, a community bringing together several generations of people from all walks of life for one purpose: building a safe and stable environment for adopted children.

Started in 1994 by Brenda Eheart, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hope Meadows is a neighborhood of adopted children, their families and senior citizen volunteers, all working together to form a community of support and interdependence. What was started as a permanent destination for adopted children has also become a place where adoptive parents find support as they deal with often troubled kids, and where seniors can find continued purpose as they age. Hope is the first iteration of a social services model known as ICI – intergenerational community as intervention – and it is on the verge of spreading nationwide.

Families seeking to adopt move to Hope Meadows and are paired with children in need of a permanent home. Each family lives for free in one of the 15 six-bedroom homes converted from pairs of duplex apartments, and one parent is employed by Hope Meadows as a “family manager,” earning a stipend and health insurance coverage for the family. Meanwhile, senior residents at Hope volunteer for six hours each week and receive reduced rent on an apartment in the neighborhood. There is on-site counseling available for adopted children, and the whole neighborhood regularly participates in group activities that build intergenerational relationships. The secret of the program’s success is that the relationships are allowed to form naturally, which helps provide meaningful interaction and a sort of informal therapy for all involved.

The children adopted at Hope often come from situations of sexual abuse, neglect or overwhelmed parents, Calhoun says, and they often have issues with trust and abandonment. At Hope, those children find a permanent place to unpack their bags, literally and figuratively. With the seniors and staff involved, the families have constant support. The seniors have raised their own kids and can give hindsight about what might work in whatever situation. The support makes a lot of difference in the closeness at Hope Meadows because everyone is looking at what’s good for the children.

Hope used to accept foster kids but now the program focuses solely on adoption. Hope Meadows found that the bonds that were broken when those foster children eventually left were too hard on everyone involved. It was like they were losing not only the attachment to the foster parents, but an attachment to the entire community. Childhood is all about forming attachments. That’s how we evolve, and if that’s disrupted when you’re young, it makes it harder to do it again and again. It’s harder to trust and believe that this is really going to be your new family, your new home.

The community’s senior volunteers benefit from the program as well, and not just in the form of reduced rent. Seniors at Hope generally feel a sense of continued purpose because of the impact they can have on young lives, and the relationships they build provide meaningful interaction. As seniors grow older, they can rely on community members to look after them. Seniors are an integral part of Hope’s success because they provide wisdom and support for other community members.

The program is intergenerational, interracial, inter-whatever. Many of the adopted children are African-American and most other residents are white. Everybody gets to know everybody else as an individual, and when you know someone as an individual, it’s harder to put them into a category. This is it’s intentional.  The majority of children in foster care are African American.

The Executive Director at Hope Meadows is Elaine Gehrmann. She is a former Unitarian minister and public defense attorney. Gehrmann says she wanted to be a part of Hope because it “deals with the whole person and their whole situation. Being a lawyer, clearly I helped some people, but I could only help them with their legal problems,” Gehrmann says. “A legal problem may be the least of your problems, and may be a manifestation of a larger problem. This place provides a lot of the things that communities used to provide that they don’t anymore.”

This blog was excerpted from a longer article. You can read the complete Illinois Times story here – This Is The Village It Takes.

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.

Foster Care Reality Check

Sadly, that Rose Garden we were NOT promised at birth is a nightmare for some children and their families. Today, in my all things adoption group that includes foster care former youth and related issues – this question was asked.

Foster Parents: What do you provide that biological families don’t? No specifics!

This was a balanced and complete perspective, I believe –

If the biological parents didn’t have to worry about finances, they would have been able to provide stable housing and access to food, which they were not able to provide. However beyond those two things, there is a lot the biological parents would not have been able to provide, even if given access to a stipend – emotional safety from emotional abuse – safety from physical and sexual abuse – access to mental health care, due to understanding and education, not due to lack of medical insurance or transportation – medical care for the same reason as above – appropriate attention to emotional needs, affection and secure attachment – a model for healthy adult behaviors (as in, an adult who does not actively impose sex onto children) – acceptance of LGBT status – home environment that caters to their emotional and mental health needs – access to extracurriculars that promote mental and physical health such as sports – space to develop individuality without fear of rejection. There are also things the biological parents can provide that a foster parent will never be able to provide: a genetic mirror – the comfort of being in a “normal” family – never having to explain one’s adoption status / history, awkward conversations one can be forced into – insecurities a foster child or adoptee may feel if the parent has or conceives biological kids at some later date – not feeling like one is a charity case or having to feel like they are required to be insanely grateful all the time – missing their biological parents is a really big issue, regardless of any history they caused the removal from those parents – grieving a loss that the foster parent will never be able to fill for that child.

And there was push-back on this and other similar responses – “I can tell you all are foster parents…so many child protective services buzz words…security, safety, stability etc…I know the original poster asked for no specifics ,so you don’t have to tell me, but you all should be questioning whether you provide anything actually concrete or are you blowing sunshine up the behind by inflating what you offer ?”

Foster care is troublesome as is the reason it exists. This is enough from me today.

It’s Simply NOT the Same

The same question has come up again that reminds me that each adoptee experiences adoption in their unique personal way. A woman writes –

Can a mother and child have the same kind of bond if the baby is adopted versus biological? I am an adoptee and adoptive parent. My daughter was a foster preemie. I brought her home at 3 pounds 14 ounces. Her mom abandoned her and the family already had 5 older siblings. I feel so bonded to both my adoptive mom and child but I don’t have the experience of bonding to a bio mom or child. My adoption was far from perfect but I do know my parents and grandparents loved me.

A response –

I’m an adoptive mother and I have a biological daughter. My adopted daughters were older when I adopted them, so I don’t have the foster infant side of that. But I can say that I believe biology matters. My bond with my biological daughter runs deep, it’s insane how close we are. Loving her, hugging her, holding her, it’s all natural. I made her, I bonded with her before she was even born. I love my adopted daughters so much. But it’s not natural. I don’t feel it’s as easy to be affectionate because the truth is that they aren’t “my” kids, even though the law says otherwise. They will also never have the same bond with me that they have with their mother. They bonded with her before they were born, her love for them was natural, and came easy. I bet she never hesitated to hug them, or kiss them. I think expecting or thinking the bond will be the same sets everyone up for disappointment. My love for my adopted daughters is fierce, and I would do anything for them, but it’s not natural.

There can be a security issue – As an adoptee in an open adoption I can say I personally am bonded to both Moms but I have a more secure attachment to my adoptive mom. My first mom still has a lot of trauma and can be a fair-weather mom, which is totally understandable but doesn’t make me feel secure – whereas I know without a doubt my adoptive mom will always be there for me, unconditionally. But I know that is not necessarily typical of adoptee experience. It is just my personal story. With my son, both grandma’s love him equally and between my two moms and my mother in law there is NO difference – they are all bonded to him. I think this is because my first mom is able to release her trauma with him in a way she can’t do with me. 

And step vs biological differences –

I honestly have a hard time believing a mother (or father) can have the same kind of bond. My husband and I have had this conversation many times – he is the step father to my 4 oldest kids, 100% their father in every way and he loves them like his own – their bio dad isn’t involved in their lives. Then we had a baby together. He is an amazing father to all 5 of our kids. But he finally admitted (after she was a year old) that there is just something different about how he feels with her vs my other 4 kids. I even told him he would feel that way and he brushed me off, because he truly loves my kids – but it’s different. There is an undeniable biological bond that you just cannot ignore.

One adoptee writes and shares a link – Understanding what I understand now I have a hard time calling anything an adoptive parent does love. And truth is any “bonding” that does happen with an adoptee is probably, for them, more akin to Stockholm syndrome. Here’s that link – A “successful adoption” begins with a traumatic bonding.

A comment at that link above fits today’s topic –

I am an American and a domestic adoptee. I never could love my adoptive parents. I was told that I was adopted before i could speak. My adoptive mother would repeat “you are adopted” and, “I am your mother” over and over to me as she changed my diapers.

She says I stared at her and made her uncomfortable. I was placed with them at 1 month old.

I could never love someone who thought it was right for me to be separated from my mother. I could not love someone who thought it was right to bring up child who was never allowed to know who she was. I didn’t think she was a good, honest person because she allowed these things to happen to me.

I could not believe that she loved me either. You can’t really love someone, and be so blind to their pain.

And especially, when an adoptee becomes the genetic, biological parent of a child – they understand. One writes –  My adoptive mom loved me immensely, but I never really bonded to her. I came to them at 9 weeks old. Once I had my own biological kids, I realized what a true parent/child bond was. I believe biology plays a huge role.

Different situations bring with them different experiences for people who all vary immensely. There is no one size fits all.

Just Babysitting ?

An adoptee wrote – for Christmas, I would just love for an adoptive parent to honestly say that they just feel like they are babysitting someone else’s child. I feel like that’s how I would feel if I were an adoptive parent and I wonder if they really think they are that child’s parents…

I thought this was a rather novel perspective and will share with you a few responses to this.

From an adoptive parent –

 I did feel that way and my husband did too. It took time for us to become a family. We became a family when our daughter was just shy of 5. It took time, attachment takes time. Earning trust takes time. My daughter has expressed she was scared when she met us. TOTALLY FAIR! I would have been worried if she wasn’t to be honest.

Adoption is so awful, and so hard, and I more than anything wish that her birth parents were known and could be involved. Heck! Would have been great for our daughter to be known and loved and cherished by her birth family. We don’t know why she needed adoption in her life. Likely poverty.

And it’s so so sad and disheartening to know that was likely their reality. One day hopefully sooner rather than later (with the help of a lot of technology) we will find them and she can know what it is like to have those relationships and call them “home” too.

Another adoptive parent said – while I love my adopted daughters, I know that I’m just caring for them, and loving them until they are able to leave and search out the rest of their birth family. I try to connect with various members of their birth families but no one responds to my efforts. I’ve told them that they may respond to them when they are adults and ask about them and if that’s something they want to pursue in years to come I will support them. They are still quite young to have that responsibility, but when they are ready, I’ll be there to help.

I believe they love me, and they are happy with me. But I know it’s not their first or even second choice. It was just the only one. I’m preparing myself already for all the many scenarios that may play out in the coming years. I am not and will never be their mother. They have a mother, and she’s passed all too recently. I am a motherly figure in their lives but I will never be their mom, and I will never try to take her place.

Yet another adoptive parent writes – Adoption was simply a last resort for these kids to give them some stability in life. It was not something that was planned, or desired on my part. These girls along with my biological daughter are my whole entire world. I live and breathe for them. I am a better person because of them. But I know they aren’t mine. They will forever and always be my girls, they will forever and always be our family. No matter what happens, my door will always be open for them. They can always come back.

I know my place in their lives. I know that while they were happy to be adopted to have a home they don’t have to leave, it’s not what they wanted. I know that they want their family, whatever family they can find. And I know that there’s a huge possibility that as soon as they turn 18 they will leave and search out their family. And I’m okay with that. I’m here to support them. I will drive them, pack their things, whatever they need. That’s my job. Loving them unconditionally means supporting them, even when it destroys me.

And now for balance perhaps, an adoptee’s voice –

My adoptive parents were my parents. They loved my brother and I. They worked hard for us, provided for us, loved us, taught us, nurtured us, instilled goodness in us and sacrificed for us.

They were not mere babysitters to us.

They were parents and family to us and responsible for us.

My birth mother has been a curse for me, a rotten haggard hypocrite to me, a liar and manipulator to me, a shameful and shamefilled harbinger of sorrow for me and I wouldn’t let her babysit my soiled laundry for me. I’m not in the fog. I’m not blinded by the adoption narrative. I’m not naive, grateful or meek. I hate the adoption system. I hate that my rights are superseded and ignored and that my personal information, identity and birth certificate are denied to me. I hate what adoption does and that the general belief is that it is inherently and unquestionably good, despite the evidence of Adoptees lived experiences, but I won’t allow the other extreme you put forward be my truth.

I’ve had enough people…stranger’s opinions be expressed on my behalf, silencing me and my truth, to let this post go unchallenged. Adoption has too many faults and many adopters have too many faults for anybody’s liking. Standards, policies and procedures are severely lacking. The system is not fit for purpose. No arguments here. But it is unfortunately, necessary in some cases.

My birth mother was 30 years old when she had me…her second mistake…that we know of. I hate her AND I hate the adoption system. Full blown despise them. My adoptive parents were not perfect, I don’t think they ever claimed to be, nor are biological parents. I’m a biological parent, I’m in no way perfect.

To which this blog author can honestly say – me too, sister.

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

There is a Chinese proverb that states that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name. The term ”adoption” does not do this but rather disguises a series of complex, developmental traumas that begin with relinquishment and continues on, sometimes through challenging episodes of care, to the adaptions necessary to attach to the adoptive family. The legacy of this trauma for the relinquished child is a conflict between wanting to connect and fearing connection. This is often experienced as a hyper vigilance that has an enormous impact on relationships and functioning which can disrupt the ability to be present, with feelings that one is both “too much” and “not enough”.

It is hard to imagine a more devastating wound than a child being separated from its mother at the beginning of life. Trauma is an event that overwhelms ordinary human responses to life and as early separation is a relational trauma it manifests later in life as problems in significant relationships and, more often than not, in attempts at self-regulation through chemical and process addictions.

The impact of trauma on functioning is both physical and psychological: heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline raise anxiety levels leading to difficulties with concentration, while lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, making feelings of shame harder to manage. The trauma victim becomes reactive rather than reflective and experiences disabling feelings around issues of belonging and abandonment. A hunger for attachment means that the capacity for intimacy is compromised by intense and contradictory feelings of need and fear. In relationships there is a belief that they cannot be accepted for who they are and the sufferer is left literally in two minds; at best indecisive and at worst questioning their sanity.

Unlike the computer, the human brain starts working before building is finished. There are 100 billion neurons at birth waiting to make connections based on instructions from life experience. In the first years of life explicit memory systems have yet to be established and the adoption wound is stored, like other early attachment wounds, in implicit memory systems. The unconscious remembers the relinquishment as devastating and makes a mental note to avoid any similar experience at all costs. The conscious mind cannot recall the experience and so has no defense against the old lie that what cannot be recalled cannot have impact. Furthermore, because adoptees have no pre-trauma personality that they can refer to, they develop a false, core belief that their post-traumatic coping behavior, along with the associated shame and anxiety, is in fact their personality.

It is important to understand too that politics and the establishment play, and have played, an enormous part in the psychological wounds of relinquishment and adoption. Traditionally the world of adoption has referred to “the adoption triad” comprising the adopted child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents. However, this term is also misleading and disguises the fourth party in the adoption quartet: The establishment and the adoption business.

The establishment has legislated the assigning of a new identity and the erasing of the birth identity so that it is often not legally recognized. It is as if the adoptive family owns the adopted child. This is a particular issue for trans racial adoptees many of whom, as well as experiencing disconnect between racial self-identification and the racialization of the receiving country, would struggle to obtain a passport from their, or their birth parents, country of birth. Needless to say this has associations with the historic relationships between colonizer and the colonized.

The business of adoption and the industry that facilitates relinquishment and placement comprises state organizations and religious organizations as well as “kidnappers” and “baby finders”. The impact of some of these practices is being revealed.

It is clear that many adoptees have been struggling with a sophisticated, developmental trauma that has been hidden from them and those around them. In many cases it involves a series of traumatic experiences involving attachment changes that are experienced as life threatening. This trauma is hidden from consciousness both by the brain that remembers but cannot recall the events, but also by society that views adoptees as “chosen” and “fortunate”. If mental health is dependent on a commitment to reality, then it is vital that we call these traumas by their proper name. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that change and recovery begin with acknowledgement and continue with the taking of personal responsibility for solutions. Victims don’t recover but those who dare to take uncomfortable, therapeutic actions certainly can.

Inspired by a blog written by Paul Sunderland titled “Relinquishment and Adoption: Understanding the Impact of an Early Psychological Wound”.

Healing Trauma

I’ve only just learned about this book and have not read it but didn’t want to wait for whenever, if ever, that might happen to pass it on to readers here.

Many adoptees and foster children have some degree of trauma. It is said that this is one of the best-known books about trauma, and in particular early life trauma (which especially applies to the topics I cover in this blog). 

It is not light weight reading, has almost 500 pages that includes a significant reference section. Someone who did read this (link at bottom of this essay) says – “It’s very in-depth, giving plenty of detail, but it’s not unnecessarily complicated. There’s some technical terminology used, particularly with respect to the functioning of the brain, but I thought this was explained well.”

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who initially began working with trauma while treating war veterans. There was a lot that wasn’t known about trauma then. He’s been an active researcher throughout his career and often considered at the forefront of new trauma-related knowledge.

In this book, he repeatedly stresses the importance of recognizing the changes that occur in the brains and nervous systems of people who’ve been through trauma, and targeting treatment accordingly with the goal of getting back the functioning they have lost. He is quoted as saying, “Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Imaging studies have produced some new understandings about flashbacks. There’s activation of the right brain along with a drop in activity in the brain structure called the thalamus, which prevents the events from being remembered as a coherent narrative, as would be the case with other kinds of memories.

Brain scans have also shown an impaired self-awareness. Van der Kolk explains that this is why it’s important to work on breathing, mindfulness, and recognizing the link between physical sensations and emotions. He writes further: “The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

The book pays a lot of attention to early life trauma, including issues like attachment and attunement. The author explains that trauma increases the need for attachment, even when the only attachment figure available to the child is the abuser.

Van der Kolk championed adding complex PTSD as a separate diagnosis from PTSD. He was part of the working group that proposed C-PTSD for inclusion in the DSM-IV, and the group that proposed developmental trauma disorder for inclusion in the DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association did not approve any of these suggestions as new diagnoses.

I am indebted to Ashley of The Mental Health @ Home blog for her review which is the basis of my own blog today. You can read more about this book in her article.