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.

When Adoptions Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultra-Independence as a Trauma Response

Each of my grandmother’s experienced childhood traumas and both were ultra-independent.  Independence is important but when it becomes a survival mechanism then it is a problem.  It can be detrimental when a person becomes so independent that they fail to ask for help when they really need it.

Ultra-Independence can stem from trauma growing up, possibly in a household where you had to take on a care giver role to your siblings (as my maternal grandmother did – she was 11 years old when her mom died, leaving her to care for 4 younger siblings, the youngest barely a toddler). Or a home where your parents were distant or abusive towards you (as my paternal grandmother experienced with a truly cruel step-mother and a father so grief-stricken by the death of his 3 year old daughter, run over by a car, and his wife a year later and 3 months after my grandmother was born).

There are many other causes – being bullied as a child, a failed love affair, an abusive or narcissistic lover and the death of a loved one are a few of these.

Ultra-Independent people tend to be the rulers of the family and household, they run the show, and take on all the responsibilities and decisions at home because they don’t trust others to make the correct decisions, this results in far too much responsibility on one person that can cause one to become overwhelmed and unable to cope with the pressure anymore.

They can become so used to doing everything for their self, making all the decisions, paying their own bills, fixing all the issues that arise – alone without anyone’s help – that asking for help becomes terrifying. Even admitting that they are not coping is something an Ultra-Independent person will never dream of admitting because that implies that they need others to assist them, which is out of the question.

Ultra-Independent people also tend to take on codependent relationships, as they feel their independence allows them to fix everything and therefore can fix others and it feels safer having someone need them, than a person who will try help them. A normal independent partner scares a Ultra Independent far more than having a codependent that allows them to keep their control.

To an extent Ultra-Independence becomes codependency on one’s self ………. and they will beat themselves up if they cannot fix a situation or do all the things they need done without assistance.  They can become very hard on their own self because they expect to be the super hero all the time. This can result in internal anger and disappointment.  The same kind of anger as they might feel in a co –dependent relationship. These emotions and demands put onto one’s self can eventually lead to stress and burnout.

Credit for much of the content in today’s blog comes from Ultra-Independence is a Trauma response.

 

 

The Reluctant Birth Mother

So sharing with you today the tale of two women.  One gave birth to the little girl – the other adopted her.  I’ll let the adoptive mother speak here –

I am looking for advice. My daughter is 8 months old. Without sharing too much of her story, her birth mother initially preferred a closed adoption, however, after getting to know each other she was willing to let it be open. She initially didn’t want her daughter to know that she was her birth mother, she just wants to be a “family friend.” I cannot and will not lie to our daughter. Her birth mother and I haven’t spoken about this again, but as our daughter gets older, this will need to be addressed (sooner rather than later). Suggestions on how to address this with her mother?

Her birth mother has gradually decreased our communication from a few times a week to now monthly. I continue to send her text updates every 2 weeks and regularly share photos/videos to our privately shared album. She is no longer responding to any texts and only comments in the album maybe once a month. She rarely, if ever, answers my questions to her regarding her life, family, health etc.

I KNOW that she loves our daughter and that she is grieving. Her birth mother really is a wonderful soul and I believe she thought, in her circumstances, she was doing the best thing she could for her daughter. I also know that she is trying and struggling to care for herself and get herself back on her feet. Since she initially preferred a closed adoption, I am afraid if I give her too much space, she will stop responding completely. (I thought over time, her and I’s (and my husband) relationship would get closer and then better communication, and I had hoped visits, would follow).

My questions are –

What do I do? I have so many questions for my daughter. I want to be able to give her a “family tree” of her birth family. I want her to have visits and memories/pictures with/of them. I care very much about her birth mothers mental and physical health and am worried of pushing her too much too fast. Any suggestions on moving towards more regular communication and a more open relationship? Am I being impatient and need to give it more time? I’m afraid of looking back and thinking “I should have tried harder then”. Or, am I completely in the wrong here and need to follow her lead instead?

To some, this first bit of advice may seem extreme but when one considers the goal of family preservation it makes a lot of sense.  Adoptive parents are significantly more financially strong than the original parents which is often the main reason babies are surrendered.  Here it is – What if you invited her to live with you and get on her feet? Honestly, her daughter should be with her, and your role should be as a god parent, and letting her have the resources to stabilize will help her parent her daughter.

Another woman bluntly explains – Every communication may be horribly painful and fraught to her, this isn’t a casual friendship. You have her child.

And regarding semantics –  I suggest you use “lost a child to adoption”, instead of “placed.”

The adoptive mother is attempting to get a lot of information out of the birth mother which so far she does not answer.  In response to this effort by the adoptive mother, she is told – do not ask her questions! None of your business! Her business is her daughter. Your job is to facilitate contact however mom desires…and, it will change and vary for her lifetime!

And in an honest assessment – you can not force anyone to communicate or share anything and I don’t feel you’re giving adequate enough time for her to even begin to process anything ! (Again note – this child is only 8 months old !!)  You need to take a step back and stop trying to force anything before you ruin the chance of her daughter knowing her at all in any capacity – that’s how people push away! Keep putting in effort to show mom you’re willing when SHE IS READY – even if she decides not to! Still her choice !

Yet another woman added – I read your post as desperate to control, but not selfish per se–at this point it seems to me that you are trying to create a reality for your daughter that you see as ideal. There isn’t an ideal in this situation. You can’t create the ideal. You can forge a real relationship with the mom based on respect and care and awareness of pain and even unspoken boundaries.

The bottom line advice to the adoptive mother about the reality of the birth mother is this – time & space, she needs to grieve.