A Product Of A Product

I read an interesting thread this morning that I thought reveals some really important perspectives and so, I share this.

Things I find odd: in the decades following discovery, none of my adoptive family asked about or acknowledged the existence of my half-siblings.

Nor did they either ask how I felt about being lied to for over thirty years; lies they participated in telling. I don’t say this to shame them. I am not even naming them here. As children, they were emotionally abused in that they were told to lie to a family member, every single day. They should not have been asked to do that. I don’t fault them for remaining silent prior to my accidental discovery of my adoption. What I find completely baffling is the continued silence.

What does that say about the nature of love, respect, compassion and connection that adoption supposedly creates? You may say; most adoptees know, so your experience is an anomaly. If so, there are thousands and thousands of anomalies running around these days. There are STILL adoptive parents posting on social media who say they haven’t told the adoptee, don’t know when or if they will. In transracial adoptions, adoptive parents can’t avoid the truth of adoption, but many make a practice of dodging questions, fabricating stories, joking about the adoptee’s pain. And I add, knowing a good number in the donor conception contingent of family creating, there were many who did not ever intend to tell their children. Of course, that was in the days before inexpensive DNA testing. Oops.

I guess odd is not a strong enough word. Cruel, maybe?

There were 4 children in my family; two of those were adopted. First a biological, genetic daughter, then the adoptee girl – me – and an adoptee boy, then a biological, genetic son. My adoptee brother died when I was 13. He was 12. The oldest daughter always knew. The youngest son learnt in high school. Yep; both of those were told to lie. Apparently it was important for them to tell other friends and acquaintances that I was not their “real” sister. I, however, was never told.

What a way to set family relationships up to fail. The refusal to engage with me now “post-discovery” reveals how deep that failure goes and it does increase the pain that I felt as an adoptee to an almost unendurable level.

In their defense, I don’t think they ever learned, nor knew how to learn, how to engage emotionally in a healthy way, not just with me but with others. Some of this was the result of being raised by adult children of alcoholics and a great deal of death and dysfunction occurred in the course of our upbringing. How much of that dysfunction can be attributed to being taught to lie ? It could not have helped the circumstances.

This brings on additional sharings of a similar nature.

Thanks to a friend recognizing my now ex husband was a functional alcoholic, I got into Al-Anon. I was also fortunate to find a couple adoptee support groups at that same time and found that there is a lot of overlap!! Dysfunction doesn’t discriminate. The ex was the son of a violent alcoholic. I dated men who had drug or alcohol issues. My adoptive parents were the youngest in their pre-Depression era families and we’re definitely not what we would refer to as “healthy” today. Add adoption to the mix…

My adoptive mom’s dad was a violent alcoholic. My adoptive dad’s dad was more of a gentle alcoholic, I think. They came out of hard times. Add the pressures of infertility during a time when women’s primary role was parenthood ? So much pain and suffering.

You are right about silence being cruel. Speaking as a first mom… losing my baby to adoption at 17 years old … I was told I would go on with my life, as if nothing had happened. My family never spoke to me about it. It’s traumatizing and cruel to pretend it never happened. I’m sorry that any of us are here having this discussion but we must talk about it, if we are to heal. I was in the adoptee fog for 43 years… & now 12+ years in reunion… I won’t be silenced any longer.

And by sharing such personal thoughts about personal situations, maybe some who encounter people living with such pain will be a little kinder. Until you walk a mile in my shoes . . . seems to fit. Always give the benefit of the doubt and consider the kindest possible explanation for whatever seems “off” is also good advice.

My Past Does Not Dictate My Future

I was very sad to learn that this kind of governmental judgement takes place.

“I was adopted into a foster home in the 80’s. My babies were just taken from me and are being adopted out. I keep hearing how they will be fine and have great lives and how they won’t experience the same life I have had.”

The first commenter acknowledged – “Sadly Child Protective Services does think that if you grew up in the system, you will not be good enough to be a parent.”

Yet another put forth a different perspective –

I am a former foster care youth that aged out of the system and became a foster parent. It is a lot of hard work to be a parent, especially a parent with trauma. It is something I am aware of and ‘show up and work on every day!’ But that doesn’t mean that we will not be good enough to be good parents or can’t be good parents. Does it mean we have to work harder and be aware that we have trauma that a lot of people don’t?! Yes! But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t incapable, it just means we actively work every day to be different then the generations before us! Child Protective Services asked me very extensively about my past and trauma, and I had to prove in a lot of ways how I have worked on it and that I am aware of it and continue to be aware of it. And work on my trauma and triggers as they arise. Now that doesn’t mean that former foster care youth and other people with trauma aren’t at higher risk for having Child Protective Services involved or their children removed. Because unfortunately, many of the kids I grew up with in the foster system are still in some way involved in the system or dead, it is a hard trauma to break out of. But honestly I feel like a lot of that, comes from the fact that everyone in my life, told me I would never be any better than my parents, or better then my genetics. We need to start telling these children with trauma that our pasts do not dictate our futures, we get to control them. We get to be better. And we need to help them do that. Before their inner voice turns into this message of ‘I’ll never be good enough, so why try to be better?’.

It is a tough world out there for a lot of people. Not every one has the same experience. Here is one that turned out “better” than “worse,” and still . . .

After finding my biological family and meeting my sisters, I definitely had the better life (theirs was full of switching homes, being raised by different people, drugs and addictions, and poverty). I was raised as an only child and had college paid for by my adoptive parents – up to my masters degree. They also helped me and my husband buy our house. Does adoption still affect me? Heck yeah it does. I have horrific abandonment issues, anxiety and depression.

This experience is also VERY COMMON among adoptees –

I was adopted at birth. My adoptive parents were great, and I didn’t deal with a lot of the issues I’ve seen mentioned by other adoptees (favoritism, neglect, abuse, doing the bare minimum, etc) I love them very much and consider them my parents. I would imagine my childhood is what most adoptive parents think they will provide, and birth moms think they’re giving their child up to.

But I still have always had this very deep sense of not belonging or fitting in anywhere. Feeling that everyone will leave me, I can never be good enough. I don’t ever feel “home”. I always thought there was something wrong with me, and despite my best intentions or efforts I still just couldn’t do it “right”.

And I do agree with this person –

I was adopted into an amazing family, always loved and cared for. Had a good life and am a privileged adult. I have a good relationship with my biological family too. However, I despise adoption. It affected me in negative ways regardless of my “good” adoptive family and upbringing. It also has the ability to greatly affect our children and future generations. The trauma gets passed down. Nothing about adoption is ok. It should be a crime to separate families simply because there is money to be made from a demand greater than a supply. We need to overhaul our system so that adoption is nearly non-existent, like it is in other countries.

The outcomes are always unique and individual. No need to not all or even so –

I was adopted within a year of my birth. I had crappy adoptive parents. My life became significantly better after I was kicked out. I worked extremely hard to pay my way through college and live on my own. Life got even better when they stopped talking to me permanently. My biological kids are amazing and so is my marriage. However, I still sit and wait, expecting it to all fall apart. I don’t feel deserving.

One last perspective –

I was adopted at birth and have felt “lost” my whole life – empty – and have struggled. I’ve never felt complete and have always had bonding issues even with my own children. It’s like I love mentally but emotionally it’s a struggle to feel. If that makes sense. I’ve went through years of counseling, when I was in my 40s. I’ve worked my DNA, so I know who all my people are. I have a good relationship with my birth dad and some biological siblings and I now feel complete. But the love side of me, the connection…. I still don’t have it and probably never will.

I have often described my own adoptee parents (yes, both were adopted) as “good” parents but strangely detached. I blame adoption for that.

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Handmaid’s Tale

Not to mention the maternal mortality rate in the US. Why do I have to put my body and life at risk. And it’s ESPECIALLY high for women of color.

Forcing women to breed (this word is deliberate) is so disgusting!!! We are not livestock! What happens in any womb except your own should be of exactly zero concern to you!!!

A woman should be allowed to CHOOSE adoption — armed with all of the information she can possibly have at her disposal. She should be allowed to CHOOSE adoption with the support she needs to parent her baby.

It should never be coerced or forced. Adoption agencies have a stake in taking her baby for adoption because they receive money from the adoptive parents for her child. This leads to coercive tactics which entirely remove her choice in the matter.

Or what about a woman whose choice is raising a child in poverty and being told she’s a terrible mother and that the child’s better off with someone else? Not really much of a choice, is it?

So I believe in the CHOICE, but that in order to make any choice about this matter, we must be fully informed on what’s happening and given all options possible. Most women who surrender a child to adoption regret their decision, or wish they had been given the choice to parent.

The money adoptive parents spend to take a child from its natural mother could better be used to help support that mother in caring for her child. Then, the child’s identity doesn’t need to be altered in order to support the needs of the adoptive parents (because that doesn’t provide for the needs of the child or natural parents, only the adoptive parents).

Very few women giving their child up for adoption really have a choice. There is a TON of coercion in adoption, not to mention the mother child separation trauma an adoptee will have to deal with the rest of their lives.

Regarding abortion – a group of cells will not survive outside the human that is hosting them. There’s no killing of any healthy baby, ever, in most abortions. Every person who has a late term abortion (which is the only time it’s possible to kill an actual baby) has it done to protect their own life or save the baby from a horrendous existence. If the woman’s doctor must know the baby will not survive long and will not suffer while dying, or that doctor would not perform a late term abortion. It’s literally not possible to kill something that doesn’t exist.

Here’s one adoptee’s story – I’m not only an adoptee but a former foster youth. I was adopted when I was 3. All my life I’ve never felt a connection with my adoptive mother, like I see my friends have with their moms. When I was younger I think I did (but have no memories from childhood). As I got older, any connection I may have had has faded. Sometimes her presence makes me angry or even how she talks or does things. I feel bad that I feel this way. I do have love for her but I don’t know … I just don’t feel that connection that everyone else does with their mother.

Adoption is generally not a good solution for most of the people involved, even the adoptive parents suffer in many cases.

One Can Only Do So Much

A woman writes –

I have a teen in my care for whom reunification is not an option. One parent was not able to parent and has recently left the country. The other parent is an offender. No other bio family in this country. I am fictive kin, case plan is adoption. My foster son is 15 and has started to express feelings like this home is not his and never will be. He feels like an outsider, etc. Home is just myself and my two children, who are biological siblings. I have validated his feelings, reinforced that its OK to miss Mom and want Mom, acknowledged that this situation is not ideal, etc. There are plans to visit Mom abroad in the future. I expressed that its OK to feel this way, but that he is wanted, welcomed and loved in this home and that there will always be a place for him here.

Is there anything else I can be doing? I don’t want to minimize or ignore the fact that he wants to be with his mom and that this whole scenario isn’t what he wants, but I also don’t want him to never feel like he can settle in and get comfortable. This is his home, he’s been here for well over a year, how can I help him feel at home? I just finished re-doing his room and making it really nice and really reflective of him, but I think that just added to his feelings because having a really nice room is such a stark contrast to what his reality used to be. He’s in therapy, what else can I be doing?

Going to live with mom would not be in his best interest. He has mental health concerns as a result of the abuse and neglect that occurred with his mom due to issues out of her control. She is now being cared for by her family. In the country of origin, there would be issues of poverty, education and opportunity. He would not be able to get an education and would be put to work instead.

Some of the responses –

Maybe he is afraid of losing his connection to his mother if this begins to feel like “home”? I would reinforce his feeling of ambivalence as being normal in a very ambivalent situation.

Do you have a hallway where you hang family pictures? Hanging pictures of his mom might be good – and if you don’t have this sort of thing yet, you could have him help pick out photos, frames, a fresh wall color, or piece of furniture to put the frames on.

Adoptees will never feel like they are home. You can’t force or foster that feeling. Home is mom. And when mom won’t be home, there will never be home again. This is an entirely emotional thing he’s expressing. An emotional emptiness, a hole which cannot be filled. In my case, I now don’t really even feel home with my natural family. We lost too much time. Once the connection is severed, it’s severed. You can build a new bond, but you can never have back what you lost. What he does need is therapy with someone who is an adoptee. Anything else will not do.

The original woman admits – I struggle with wanting to “fix” everything – I know that I can’t. I want him to feel comfortable and at home but this is the ugly side of adoption and its possible he may never feel at home anywhere and will always be “homesick” no matter where he goes. Its heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

The previous woman added – As adoptees we struggle a LOT with what we should or shouldn’t feel. He “should” feel at home with someone who cares so much, but he doesn’t. He “shouldn’t” miss someone who abused and neglected him, but he does. All of this makes us feel even more wrong and broken. I can’t stress enough the importance of an adoptee therapist to help him work through the complexities of those feelings! It must be an adoptee, no one else can even begin to understand – and this is the very basis of what we need: someone to understand that we are suffering something so unnatural it literally doesn’t happen anywhere else in nature, and we’re expected just to acclimate. We need to talk about it, over and over and over, to someone who understands, so that someday it won’t hurt so much.

Another suggestions was to connect him with other people from his country. It won’t help the loss of mom but might help with feeling connected to his culture.

Finally these words of wisdom – You can’t fix him. This is a really an adoptive parent issue because it’s hard to parent a child when you can’t help them, fix what hurts them. Acknowledging this and knowing you are never going to be enough is key. You have done several things right seeing that he is able to verbalize to you how he feels about you and his mom. That’s a really positive thing for an adoptee to feel safe to do that.

It’s going to take time. He is grieving. He is confused. I am sure he feels conflicted and guilty. Let him connect with other kids and adults from his exact culture. That will help him feel a connection to mom and his extended family. Try to leave “but” out of the conversations. “It’s ok to miss mom but you’re welcome and loved” leave that out and just keep validating his feelings.

Ask if there is anything you can do different for him. Just let him continue to express his feelings, get him in therapy with a adoption competent therapist and just walk beside him no matter what he says or does. You’ve mentioned education and opportunity a few times. Please do not assume this is the better life for him due to his country of origin being poverty, lack of education and opportunity. Those things are things YOU think are important for someone, but he may not. Being taken from your culture, your family, it’s pretty hard to think you are getting a better life. Education and opportunity is what America pushes. To assume that makes someone happy and/or successful is inaccurate. Many people living different lives from us are happy and deem themselves successful. It is not for us to judge what’s better.

23 & Me Does It Again

Today’s story from an adoptee (not me) –

Just found some family members through 23 and me, and posted about it to a moms group that I’m in. One of these moms is cautioning me that it might be too upsetting for them to find out about me. I thought that group was supposed to be there for support for me? I guess that can’t really happen anywhere except among fellow adoptees have been told their whole life that their very existence might bother someone. I’m so done with that. My existence is amazing and wonderful and if it bothers anyone else that’s not my fault. I am treading lightly and my note to them was very sweet and sensitive I think. If they have signed up for 23 and me that, they know what might come. They don’t have to have their family tree public.

I am shaking and feel like crying now honestly. I’m so done with people lecturing me about how important everyone else’s feelings are. Wasn’t that what my whole life was about? Shame and secrets? Wasn’t that what caused the 20 years of connecting with my birth mom to be partly wonderful and partly stressful? I wasn’t even invited to her own memorial service. My own birth mom that I was close to, I thought, for 20 years. Connection and truth should not be traumatizing. If it is, the trauma was caused by other people and there is healing that is possible. That’s the energy and vibe I feel and I’m not going to march into somebody’s house screaming who I am, either literally or energetically.

I do have concern about how they will emotionally feel and let them decide how and when to talk to other family members if they ever do. Or not. That’s their choice as well. But I do think I have a right to know who I am and I’m very excited to at least know the names of some of my relatives in my ancestry a lot more.

Thank you for having this group (an all things adoption and foster care and not of the rainbows and unicorns sunshine always variety on Facebook) because I know that the adoptees feelings and experience is centered and of primary importance. They always talk about adoption helping the baby so much and how grateful we are supposed to be. We’re supposed to be grateful for being told our whole lives that we should be careful how everyone feels? And worship only the adoptive parents in this triad? Nope. Everyone in this experience deserves their feelings and thoughts to be fully 100% honored. There is no competition. I’m just sick of people making this like a competition for feelings.

Trying to focus to get ready to go to a job interview now and it’s pretty challenging with all of this on my mind but mostly I am very excited. (Oh, and I might’ve actually gone to school with one of my 2nd cousins….!)

Bear Hunt

It may seem a bit off topic but really not.  Whether an adoptee or a foster child, all children seem to bond with inanimate stuffed animals that seem very much alive to the child that loves them.  My daughter once had an enormous bear she named Mellisica.  My older son had a red fox that we once lost on the way home from a long journey.  We tried to replace it with an identical one but he was never deceived.  The youngest one had a white tiger he named Lazha.

In this time of physical distancing as children are no longer crowded into the schools a new effort to bring smiles and something more sweetly novel than the virus has begun.  Many people are putting teddy bears in their windows and families who go out to walk together (keeping their distance from other people) or get in their cars to drive around kept distant by the encompassing form of their metallic vehicle are playing a game with one another – a new way of connecting with the rest of the human race.

In 1989, Michael Rosen wrote a children’s book with the title “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”.  Our modern day version is a scavenger hunt or kind of I Spy activity for every who who is stuck at home, adults included.  In some neighborhoods, kids are in full safari outfits, binoculars included, to get into the role.  Some families have turned it into a safari instead of a bear hunt because you see other species of stuffed animals. Or some are putting bear prints on their sidewalks with chalk.

It is really heartwarming.  One can get quite emotional looking at all the pictures coming in from every corner of social media.  People are seeking to hang onto anything positive, even if it’s a stuffed animal in a window.

From a mental health standpoint, this is more than just a children’s game.  It is a way of communicating with other people while staying safe in isolation.  It is a silent visual message that families and individuals are sending to each other from their windows that says, “We’re all in this together. I’m experiencing what you’re experiencing.”

So, if your circumstances allow it (we no longer have any stuffed animals in our home having long ago given them away to the regional women and children’s shelter for protection from domestic abuse), do put something cute in your window and share a feeling of connection even though it isn’t currently possible to have direct physical contact with other people.

You Have To Get Over It And Connect

If you gave up a child to adoption, regardless of the reasons and whether it was totally your own choice or someone pressured you to do so, you have to get over the trauma and connect if the opportunity for a reunion comes your way.

Today, I was reading about the unbelievable pain that a young woman is experiencing.  She is an adoptee and her original mother lives in the same city and refuses to have any contact with her.  She lives in total fear of an unintended encounter and how painful it would be to be snubbed in person.

One such mother shared – about how she thought about the daughter she gave up all the time.  I don’t doubt it.  A piece of a mother’s heart is torn out with any surrender.  Deep down she always did hope her daughter would get in touch with her once she was grown.  The day came.  She  got a Facebook message from her daughter.  Next, the Face Time started to ring and she just froze.  Unbelievably, she couldn’t answer the phone.

Fortunately, her daughter was persistent.  She called 5 times in a row before this mom had the guts to pick up.  She acknowledges how selfish and f’ed up that was.  She admits that the anxiety of talking to or eventually seeing her was just so overwhelming.  She understands now in hindsight that the reaction comes from a place of fear and self protection.

The story does have a happy ending and an encouragement for other women who might be in the same situation.  Once they got past that initial step, now they talk every day.  And even though they live 100s of miles apart, they find a way to meet face to face on a regular basis.

Don’t let fear keep you apart.  The only way to heal is to reconnect.