Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

No Answers

I have a friend with a similar problem to today’s story. Her daughter is not adopted. Her situation is as complex but not as fraught – perhaps. Unless we have the experience our self, we really can’t judge how someone else copes or not with the challenges of their life. I have no answers or even ideas for this one, only empathy and compassion for the whole situation. Though an adoption problem is mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it isn’t clear that the daughter is adopted but she may very well be. Adoptees often (though not all) have relationship issues.

“We dissolved the adoption of our son 5 years ago.”

“We currently have a daughter in a private residential treatment center. She is beginning to own her problems and making an attempt to work on her life, maybe 5% of the time. The staff says they see improvement, we have seen very little, if any, plus her usual tactic is to put forth just enough effort to get you off her back but then regress severely. I have zero faith that the effort they see is going to be genuine, granted she has never had full support 24/7 when she would achieve these moments of trying to cooperate before, so maybe this time is different. Anyway, staff is telling us we need to give her the benefit of the doubt. ‘She is beginning to see that there is a better way to work through her trauma, but doesn’t fully believe she has what it takes. She needs to see you believe in her, that you think she can do it.’ This came after we cut a phone call short because she refused to engage. Kinda like a smack on the wrist.”

“Her program has periodic 10 day home visits and one is coming up the end of this month. To say I am dreading it, is putting it mildly. She causes chaos and pain at every turn and I am the one stuck with her for the whole 10 days. I am really struggling with the ‘Trust her more,’ issue. I don’t trust her one bit. She has stabbed me in the back, figuratively, so many times over the years when I gave her one bit of trust.”

“It feels to me like my daughter is all that matters, no matter what she does to our family, her siblings suffer too, we are to put that behind us and give her the benefit of the doubt. I have always had issues with healthy boundaries and am actively working on that area. This issue feels like I am to push all that aside because my daughter’s life matters more.”

She posted this in an adoption disruption group. She felt the members would understand her point of view. Many of them have shared stories about their challenges and know all about the trauma and grief these children bring into a family.

The woman goes on to write – “I want to love her, but she makes it incredibly hard to do so. My question is, how do you stay emotionally healthy when you feel as though your needs don’t matter? Are you to ignore your own needs, while giving a child who has destroyed so much, the benefit of the doubt? How do you begin to process it? I crashed emotionally on April 1st because I know this is the month for her next home visit…I can’t keep reacting this way.”

Normal, Not Cured

Today’s story comes from a woman who was in foster care as a youth.

I live a perfectly regular life. I have a career, kids, a loving husband. I go on vacations, I read, I cook, I attend PTA meetings. I go to parties, concerts, weddings. I don’t talk about my foster care experiences that you may have seen were bad in real life. Very few know I was a foster kid. Heck, you might take your kid in to see me and wouldn’t know my foster care experiences. I’m just a normal person in real life.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I still struggle. I still attend therapy to cope with my experiences so many of which were negative. I still have nightmares and triggers. I’m not cured. My trauma is with me for life. I’ve learned how to cope and can wake up without it being the first thing on my mind. I know myself well enough to know when I’m triggered. I’ve learned how to put on a fake smile to hide my pain.

So please remember this, stop putting former foster youth and adoptees in a box and pitting them against each other. You want to believe all of the negative perspectives from former foster youth and adoptees are only online and the ones who had positive good experiences aren’t online but out there enjoying life. No, all of them are just living their life.

There are many adoptees and former foster youth who aren’t online and they’re struggling in real life. Many former foster youth in real life are trying to heal and many are fighting for a better system. Your own foster or adopted child might be struggling right now. You might not know because you want to believe they don’t hurt. All of the good adoptees and former foster youth are out living life and the negative ones are online in your mind. This is simply not true. You just want to believe it’s true.

Also, please stop putting individual experiences in the negative or positive box. If a former foster youth or adoptee says their experiences were negative or positive – that’s their right – it is their lived experience. You don’t get the right to define someone else’s experience.

If anything we all need to listen to the difficult, uncomfortable bad stories, more than the good. The bad story is what may have gotten you a child to raise in the first place. The bad stories are much more common than you want to believe. Sadly, the overwhelming evidence is that the bad stuff is way too common.

Trauma and Stress

The possibility of trauma passing down through generations as genetic mutations affecting health had reason to re-enter my awareness last night.

My mom was an adoptee.  I know for a fact she suffered because of it.  She told me so.  She died believing she had been stolen.  While her made-up story based upon other stories that were sadly all too real under the reign of the notorious Georgia Tann were not entirely accurate, I do believe deep in her soul “stolen” was not that far off.  She died believing it and now that I have her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, I know that her mother never intended to give her up and was trapped into an impossible situation.

She had left my mom at an orphanage in Memphis (Porter-Leath) for temporary care.  That was a decision point from which there was no return of the mother-child bonding for my mom and her mother.  My grandmother was allowed to see my mom one final time before she was ripped away and placed with strangers.  I have those black and white photos now.  The happiness upon seeing her mother again is evident in my mom’s body language.

The adoption file tells me she screamed all the way from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as my adoptive grandmother carried her home.  No wonder my mom felt stolen.  When they reached Arizona, she was drugged to calm her down.  Eventually, with no other choice, she adapted to her circumstances and coped.

Yet, the health impacts left her a medical basket case all her life and I believe her stress at conceiving me as an unwed high school student impacted my health.  And it may go on down the line to my daughter and granddaughter.  Medical science is discovering through research some truth to these theories on my part but they have a lot of work to do yet.

It does appear that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.  Some people are born with genetic vulnerabilities and circumstances can then cause those vulnerabilities to manifest as disease.  This is true for every adoptee, regardless of what the manifestations are or how minimally impacted that adoptee may appear.