Being A Supportive Spouse To An Adoptee

The person described in today’s story could have been my father. The difference is that he married another adoptee. Both of my parents grew up knowing they were adopted all along. They had this in common but their perspectives on having been adopted were very different. My mom yearned to know the truth of her adoption. My dad acted content with his lot in life. I suppose that these two adoptees found each other, fell in love and had the support of one another until death did part them, kept the loneliness at bay. Still, my mom did communicate to me her feelings about having been adopted because my dad was not able to empathize with her feelings.

Today’s story –

My husband is adopted. He was adopted at birth and has always known he was adopted. That’s about as much communication as he has ever had with his parents about it. His mom told me once “I just let him know he could ask me whatever he wanted to know and that was that.” Since he’s not a very big talker, he’s never really spoke much at all about his adoption with his parents. I’ve always come from the place of it being his life experience and however he wants to go through life with it, is how I will support him.

We have 4 kids. He’s an amazing dad and husband. I often wonder if I’m being a good enough wife in supporting him. I’ve read about how much trauma even the “good” adoptions have and my heart just dies inside for my husband. He has no desire to look for his biological family and says “I have a mom and dad.” I completely support him in that. Is there anything more I can do? Of course it would be easier to just keep going on with my life and not put any thought towards his mental health, since he’s always seems fine. He’s such a people pleaser (especially for his parents, which I’ve now learned is typical with adoptees). I never want him to put on a happy face for us, if he is hurting inside and I could see him doing this.

Is it actually possible to not care at all or to not feel feelings at all about being adopted? To have a happy childhood and feel no trauma and grow up and never have any of it affect your life? Because so much of what I’ve read says otherwise.

The first response was (I get this about men as well) – It’s totally possible he had a great childhood and doesn’t have any trauma, and it’s also possible he is hiding it inside, since men are socially conditioned to be that way. It’s a tough call. I can tell you it’s possible because that’s me. I have no adoption associated trauma. I’m in therapy; my therapist has tried to “get it out of me” and I’m always open to having the discussion but she closed that door once she concluded there wasn’t any trauma to work on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I can see you truly care about and love your husband and want what’s best for him but forcing the issue may make him drive it deeper into the closet. This is a really tough and delicate situation.

And I do agree with this perspective (BTW my parents were about 8 months old and had spent time with their original mothers before they were adopted back in the 1930s) – You can experience trauma as a newborn and not remember it. It’s not always something you feel. It can just be something that affected you and you’re not conscious of it.

This could be true of my dad as well – he could have dealt with it a long time ago and just doesn’t feel the need to bring up the past. He may be in a healthy place and bringing up that trauma back up would retraumatize him because he thought he had come to peace with it. (My dad used to caution my mom against opening up a can of worms with her own yearning.)

From a voice of experience – I am the spouse of a domestic infant adoptee. I don’t think it’s your place to push, just be supportive. My husband was “fine” until he was not. It was a very, very slow process and I saw things a long time before he discovered them on his own, things like how his behaviors, such as people pleasing and his emotional response to perceived abandonment, the way his adoptive parents treated him, etc. He slowly came out of a fog, and it has been a long and painful process. That being said, not everyone has the same experience. Additionally, if he is in a fog, its something he has to process on his own. I think it could be extremely and emotionally damaging for you to spin this into any sort of realizations (if they exist) that he isn’t emotionally or psychologically ready for. Just love him, don’t push, and support him.

Genetic Mirroring

People often see what they expect to see. It is natural to expect to see some resemblance among family members. I remember comments flowing from my adoptive maternal grandmother to the staff of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society about how much alike the two children, one boy and one girl, she adopted from them looked like “real” brothers and sisters, ie had a family resemblance.

Today, someone in my all things adoption group wrote –

A frequent occurrence throughout my childhood was that someone would stop and tell my to my adoptive mother how much I look like her. Now, I’ve seen pictures of moms and daughters, who look like each other. But me?? I don’t look much like my mother, aside from dark hair and pale skin and glasses. I can’t see my features in anyone, or in my mind’s eye even. I may have connected with a biological uncle and I’m looking through his friend’s pictures and I can’t see me anywhere. I don’t know what I look like well enough to try to compare. I’m about to take a selfie to try to help myself out. I usually think about genetic mirroring more in the context of TransRacial Adoptees (which I am not), so this is really messing with me.

One response, totally mystified, writes – Why did this happen to me too??? My mom is white and I’m native with dark skin and dark hair.. she is white with light skin and blue eyes, like why did people say that….

I have seen this said of husbands and wives, who obviously are not genetically related, that they grow to be more alike in appearance the longer they are married. So one comment noted – Children will take on the facial expressions of their caretakers, which can make them appear more like adoptive parents than they would otherwise. I believe that this is possible. Genetically, often mannerisms and personality traits are more similar among biological family members.

So, I do agree with this person’s perspective and experience – People will see things, if they think they have to. I remember my adoptive father telling someone I was his son, when they asked who I was. I couldn’t be more different than him and this guy squinted his eyes and looked at me for a while before saying, yeah I see the resemblance.

I do look like my brother who is a biological child of my adoptive dad and stepmom. I’m the adoptee. We are 17 years apart. I helped raise him and he also mimics me a lot. I’ve heard everything from jokes that my adoptive dad had an affair and adopted me so my adoptive mom wouldn’t suspect, people laughing their asses off when they say we look alike and I reply I’m adopted, then finding out – it’s true – and of course, that’s awkward… or adoptive mom getting jealous and trying to find traits to pretend we look alike and “it’s just the same”. To me it is messed up because they fail to acknowledge my difference. They’re trying to fit the square peg into the round hole with all they have, instead of celebrating my differences.

Celebrating our individuality and differences. Isn’t that what we all should always be trying to do ?

Judging The Past By Present Values

Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw
~ photo by Carlos Osorio for the Toronto Star, 2012

As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.

The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.

The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.

Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.

The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.

While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.

From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.

Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.

In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values.  That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.

In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.

Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.

I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.

The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).

Adoption-Related Complex Trauma

Also called Cumulative Trauma – The research is definitive. Adopted kids are not only traumatized by the original separation from their parents, they may also have been traumatized by the events that led to them being put up for adoption. In addition to that, foster care itself is considered an adverse childhood experience.

I recently wrote a blog titled “It’s Simply NOT the Same.” Though the traumas may originate similarly, the outcomes are not the same because just like any other person, no two adoptees are exactly alike. That should not prevent any of us from trying to understand that adoptees carry wounds, even if the adoptee is unaware that the wounds are deep within them.

It is not uncommon for an adopted person and/or the adoptive family to seek mental health services due to the effect of the adoptee experiencing traumatic events. Unfortunately, for psychology and psychiatry clinicians, adoption related training is rare. In my all things adoption group, the advice is often to seek out an adoption competent therapist for good reason.

“What does an adopted baby know ? She knows her mother, she knows her loss, sadness and hurt, she knows that those who hold her today may be gone tomorrow and that she will be the only one left to pick up the pieces that no one seems to think are broken.”
~ Karl Stenske, 2012

The reasons a child is put up for adoption or relinquished are many – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, often compounded or driven by a lack of financial resources (poverty) or no familial support to care for a child. Becoming a single parent may simply seem too daunting to an unwed expectant mother. Sadly, for some, a chronic/terminal illness or certain diseases may lead the mother to believe she cannot provide proper care for her baby. Certainly, prolonged substance addiction and/or severe mental health issues (which may be related to addiction) can cause parental rights to be forcefully terminated by child welfare authorities. Adoptees who come out of the child welfare system (legal termination of parental rights by a court of law) cannot legally be returned to their birth families due to safety or other reasons that are considered serious.

Adoption is not always a success. Disruptions and dissolutions do sometimes occur.

Disruptions can happen after the adoption has been finalized when the adoptive parents then experience difficulties with their adopted child. The adoptive parents may have difficulty finding support and the resources they require to deal with the issues that come up.

Risk factors leading to a higher rate of disruptions are: older age when adopted, existing emotional and behavioral issues, having a strong attachment to their birth mother, having been a victim of pre-adoption sexual abuse, suffering from a lack of social support from relatives causing the adoption to occur, unrealistic expectations surrounding the adoption and the child on the part of hopeful adoptive parents, and a lack of adequate preparation and ongoing support for the adoptive family prior to and after the placement.

A devastating occurrence is a dissolution or breakdown. This applies to an adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child is severed, either voluntary or involuntarily. Usually this will result in the entry or re-entry of the child into the foster care system, or less commonly a second chance adoption, or even the private transfer of the child from the adoptive parents to a non-vetted receiving parent.

Adoption has been subject to both positive and negative assumptions related to the practice and this is of no surprise to anyone who has studied the practice of adoption for a period of time.

There are 6 main assumptions about the practice of adoption –

[1] Adoption is a joyous event for all involved – known as the Unicorns and Rainbows Fantasy in adoption centric communities; [2] adoption parallels genetic birth experience and a biological family life – which close observation and mixed families (who have both biological and adopted children often belie); [3] once adopted, all of the child’s problems disappear and there will be no additional challenges – rarely true – and often attachment or bonding fail to occur; [4] creating a family through adoption is “false,” only biological families are “real” – this goes too far in making a case because many adults create chosen families – the truth is as regards children, family is those persons we grow up with – believing we are related to them – in my case, both of my parents were adopted and all of my “relations” growing up were non-genetic and non-biological but I have a life history with them and continue to have contact with aunts, an uncle and cousins I obtained through my parents’ adoptions; [5] the adoptive life is better than the biological life the child had or would have had – never a known assumption – more accurately, the adoptee’s life is different than that child would have had, if they had not been adopted; and, [6] closed adoptions are in the best interest of the child – this one was promoted with the intention of shielding adoptive parents from original parents who regretted the surrender, from the child who might yearn for their original family and often in some cases to shield a person operating unscrupulously, such as the baby thief Georgia Tann who sold ill-gotten children. Popular media has reinforced both the positive and the negative messages about adoption and many myths and stereotypes regarding adoptive families and birth parents are believed in society as a whole.

The term “adoption-related complex trauma” is rarely used in discussing symptoms and behaviors. It is more common to see terms such as “developmental trauma” or “complex trauma” to describe the psychological effects found within the adopted population.

The terms complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder have been used to describe the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an personal nature such as sexual, physical, verbal abuse or of a societal nature such as war or community violence. These exposures often have occurred within the child’s caregiving environment and may include physical, emotional and/or other forms of neglect and maltreatment that begin early in childhood. In the case of infant adoptions, the trauma is non-verbal but stored in the body of that baby – not conscious but recorded.

Some of this content has been sourced from a long dissertation titled Treatment Considerations For Adoption-related Complex Trauma. Anyone interested is encouraged to read more at the link.

Why Is The Truth Hard to Hear ?

Today’s thoughts –

Relationships between adoptive parents and their biological kids are different than relationships adoptive parents have with their adopted kids. The connection with one’s biological kids is often deeper, biological connections are often stronger.

Many adoptees talk about how they could clearly see those differences in their adoptive families and in the way they were treated. Adoptive parents always defend themselves. “I love all my kids exactly the same. My connection is the same with all of my kids. My kids don’t feel that way and never will.”

There are a multitude of similar comments that have been uttered a thousand times.

If the reader is an adoptive parent – why is that something that’s hard to hear or gets you so defensive ?

No one is saying that adoptive parents don’t love their adopted children, or that they don’t have any connection with them. It’s simply not the same because biological connections matter. Yet an adoptive parent will immediately feel hurt because they don’t believe this is true about them.

For me, loving my biological children has always been natural, easy and effortless. Our bond was amazing the moment I laid eyes on them after birth. I hope my children all feel equally attached to me as their mom.

I suspect that anyone with adopted children has found they have had to work hard to love them with the same kind of overwhelming devotion (and some clearly don’t, as when the child is put back up for a second chance adoption). An adoptive parent must get to know their adopted child during the worst time in their lives. An adoptive parent may have to break some really hard news to them. In my own family, I had to explain to the adoptive mother of my nephew that his mother has a severe mental illness and that she has indicated that if she were in his presence she would not really be all that warm with him. It is very sad and I suspect he struggles now with all the truth that has come his way, including discovering that the man my sister named as his father was not and that the actual father was a co-worker with our dad that my sister seduced. No wonder she wanted to put the evidence of her behavior far away.

Any person who adopts has directly caused trauma. An adoptive parent may find that they did not bond or attach easily to the adopted child in the beginning. It may have taken a lot of work, a lot of therapy, blood, sweat, and tears. As parent and child, they may have had to work through mountains of pain, and will likely have some always. And maybe it is still hard somedays.

You can love them fiercely and they may even get more one on one attention than your biological children most days because they need it.

Yet, if you are being totally honest with yourself, you will admit that your bond with them is not the same as it is with your biological children. The love – while it is there and it is strong – is not the same, your biological connections with those children are strong as hell.

And as difficult as it is for you as an adoptive parent, it’s even more difficult for them. You are not their mom or dad, you never will be. They may have love for you, and maybe you have achieved some bonding, but the truth will always be that if they could go live with their mom/dad or other biological relatives – they absolutely would – without a second thought, simply because biological connections are strong as hell.

As an adoptive parent, if they can be honest with you, then you can know that your connection is strong. If you are able to hear them say that they wish they weren’t adopted sometimes, you are doing a great job. If you can suffer them telling you that they wish they were with their mom, you are humble and real.

They can tell you that even though their biological family treated them badly, they may still wish they lived with them – so they could (potentially) also be with their other siblings (often the case in these families that sibling groups become separated).

Maybe they are able to tell you that they are mad that you didn’t adopt their other siblings and maybe it wasn’t an option available to you at the time.

Most importantly, they know that you will respect and validate everything they say without trying change their minds, and without making excuses. They know that your love for them isn’t fragile and can’t be broken because they are able share feelings that sometimes hurt you feelings or make you feel bad.

Know this, your feelings are your problem. Don’t put them on your adopted child. And admit this, though your love for them, despite it being deep, is different than the love you have for your biological children, you will not deny the facts. Acknowledge that your connections, and bonds are different.

As an adoptive parent, these are things you should do your best to understand. It’s not about you and your image of saintliness out in the world. Your adopted kids know it’s different, don’t try to convince yourself that it’s not.

Tainted Love

I heard this old song from the 70s and immediately, I thought of current events, our president and his supporters since the election was called in favor of the opponent. However, as the lyrics kept playing in my head, the words of so many adoptees who’s perspectives I have read for the last 3 years started forming themselves into the truth of this situation.

The sad truth is that no matter how much love an adoptive parent has to give the adopted child there will always be something tainted about it. Not that the adoptive parent could do anything to prevent that or that their love is not genuine and heartfelt.

An adoptee begins with a serious strike of perceived abandonment at the start of their relationship with the adoptive parent. It matters not the reason really – it is a fact. The parent who gave birth to them isn’t there. This happens as well in divorce when the two parents that were one entity for the child split apart. I know that one. Coming of age in the early 70s, I bought into the idea of male/female equality and that extended itself in my own perspective to the two parents. Either one was equal to the other. In a divorce, it really didn’t matter which parent raised the child, both were equally the parent. And it is true as far as it goes.

Since learning about adoption trauma and the impact of mother loss, I have had to accept that it really wasn’t the same. Not that I can change the way things came out but I do understand the errors in my own thinking at the time. I remember clearly explaining to my daughter regarding the divorce – you still have a mother who loves you and you still have a father who loves you but we won’t all be living together anymore. That was true as well. What I didn’t conceive of at the time was that she would not grow up with me but with him. And decades later, come to find out, it wasn’t the good situation that I thought it was but I was never told until very recently.

So, back to adoption. Fact is, an adoptive parent is never going to be the same as the parents the child was born to. There are many issues. There is the feeling that if the adoptee doesn’t live up to the adoptive parents expectations, they could send the child back. While that may sound like a far-fetched worry, it actually happens and causes what are called second-chance adoptions. So there is an insecurity and people-pleasing aspect to being an adoptee.

If the parents actually have biological children AND adopt, there are differences in the parental response to the children, even if that is NOT the intention of the adoptive parents. It has been explained as – your house is on fire and you can’t save ALL of your children. Which would you chose ? Your biological/genetic child or the one you adopted ? Sadly, the answer is obvious excluding issues that preclude a choice at all.

And I have read more times than I would like to admit to that adoptees can be difficult to love and tolerate. They act out. They often do not understand themselves why they behave that way. These are deep seated psychological issues. It is always recommended that a trauma/adoption informed therapist be employed to salvage a truly destructive and dangerous situation. Yes, it gets that bad sometimes.

Now you know why those words “tainted love” inspired me to write today’s blog.

Validating The Hurt

The adoption group that I have been a part of for 3 years and has now closed to new content was often criticized for allowing the negative feelings and experiences of adoptees to be the primary and supported voice. It has been a space where an adoptee’s hurt is validated and not instantly turned into, “but what about your (adoptive parent’s) sacrifice?” that is found in most adoption oriented groups. In that regard, it was very unique.

When I first arrived there, because of how I grew up with two parents who were both adoptees, I considered adoption a normal situation and the outcomes to be nothing but good. I quickly got slammed and was totally set back by the responses but I stayed with it and I read books recommended there and I found books on my own and read those to and I learned the truth that adoption is a best the “second choice” and that keeping families intact – children with the parents who conceived them – was always going to be the best choice for everyone involved. The adoption industry doesn’t like that point of view but realize that their revenues depend on separating children from their parents. It really is that simple – follow the money – and the truth reveals itself.

Here is one adoptee’s voice –

I don’t know my mother and it kills me. Some days more than others. Pregnancy – all 80+ weeks plus a miscarriage – triggered me like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The first three months of their lives nearly killed me and my marriage.

I walk around not knowing who I am. I walk around knowing i was not loved in any healthy definition of that word. I walk around knowing I was not enough to redeem my adoptive parent’s wounds. I walk around living culture shock. I walk around knowing I don’t have a strong attachment to my parents.

You are asking me to tell you why the quality of the air I breathe is different from your air. It’s gonna take you some time to understand my air is fundamentally different.

In many ways, I do believe this is how my own mother felt. When she tried to re-connect with the woman who gave birth to her, my mom said – As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child. She wasn’t hoping for very much but she was driven by an emotional need to try. Her mother had already died by the time my mom was communicating with the Tennessee Dept of Children’s Services and learning that reality devastated her.

Christmas will arrive very soon, here is the perspective of another adoptee, Anne Heffron

I’ve been thinking about the comment a parent wrote here after reading my post about adoptees walking a tightrope, and, in order to answer, I decided to take on an authority I don’t have, and to speak universally when really I’m just speaking from my own experience. I thought about not replying because any answer I might give won’t be enough—it will be one paint splotch on a bare wall, but at least it will be a start, so here goes.

She compares the trauma of motherloss, the primal wound that Nancy Verrier writes about, to a car accident that has embedded jagged pieces of glass inside our bodies. Heffron asks, What if these pieces cut our muscles, internal organs and brain, causing messages of distress to travel from the vagus nerve both from the organs to the brain and from the brain to the organs? What if no one can see these glass fragments because no doctor has the right machine, the right kind of x-ray to find them? What if they are things that have to naturally work their way out of the body with the help of time and space and nutritional support and exercise and therapy and other friends who are adopted? What if this process takes decades? What if this process takes a lifetime?

What if the pain these pieces of glass cause the person to act in certain ways, ways that confuse those around them because, to the naked eye, nothing is wrong—the accident happened a long time ago and the person looks fine? What if the parents of this child they adopted believe their love can heal pain of which they can not see the source?

If a body is full of glass shards and the person cries out in pain and is told that everything is okay, that they are safe, loved, and if the person is asked why can’t they just accept the love and relax, then what happens?

The body gets tighter. The barriers between parent and child get thicker.

What if being relinquished and adopted is a body experience that takes time for the wounded person to sit with until the glass fragments finally, if they do at all (many people die with the glass still in their guts and hearts and minds), emerge?

This is what I think happened to me: when I was young, I felt the discomfort of the glass parts but I did not know they were there because I could not see inside my own guts and brain, and no one knew to tell me the story of my pain.

If they had been able to tell me the story of my pain, I might have fought them, hated them for speaking, for putting me in a forever prison of different than. Being different than your friends, particularly when you are young, is its own death sentence. So I don’t have an answer for you here. I don’t know what good all the information you have gathered about the side effects of relinquishment actually does when it comes right down to it. I mean, it’s not nothing, but, it’s clearly not enough.

My answer in brief is to be love but to know that when you decided to adopt, you entered a different universe. The rules you grew up with, rules for living, may well no longer work in this new life you now inhabit. For example, you just can’t hug a burned person the same way you do everyone else.

I think many people adopt babies for the same reason people adopt kittens: they want something soft to protect and love that will love them back. What if you think of an adoptee more like a porcupine? A porcupine doesn’t choose to have quills. It just has them, and this changes the way you can touch it. Hoping that one day the quills will disappear and soft fur will emerge is useless and harmful. What if adopting a child does not guarantee you will receive love back in the same measure you give it (or, I have to say, at all)? Would you still travel this road?

We like our stories to have happy endings, and we force most of our experiences through the funnel of “and then everything was okay,” and I’m here to tell you that I’m doing the best I can in this life with the body and mind I was given: one full of glass shards, and it’s a lot of work to try to keep up with those who weren’t in an accident. I know the ending is supposed to be happy, and so I’m trying. When you look at me with your lipid eyes, wondering why I don’t open to you, I won’t tell you it’s because I can’t. I won’t tell you it’s because I am in so much pain I can’t even process your questions. I won’t tell you because I know you won’t understand. I won’t tell you because maybe I don’t understand myself. I won’t tell you because you are asking a porcupine why it doesn’t purr, and this blindness makes me fear that either you or I are crazy, and this fear makes real communication feel impossible

Can We Just Pretend ?

What to do for this little boy ?

Ok here is my question – I adopted our kiddo when he was 4. He has always known he’s adopted, he’s always been excited and proud of it. He introduces himself as adopted. He has a long story but basically he came to us with the termination of parental rights and two failed adoptions. Lots of trauma and 17 placements.

He’s now almost 7 and in 1st grade. So here’s what’s up…all of a sudden he wants us to pretend he’s not adopted. To not talk about it and let him pretend he came from us. He wants us to make up a birth story. We don’t have biological kiddos, so it’s not like he’s hearing other birth stories here. The kids all vocalize adoption and biological families. His mother is deceased and his biological family hasn’t been open to any contact.

He’s super smart but isn’t able to articulate what created this idea. He just wants it. My question is how to approach this…do we give him this? Do we allow it for however long it lasts, while initially reminding him that he can always take it back? Or do we just apologize that his story is his and he doesn’t have to ever share it with anyone he doesn’t want to but that we can’t just pretend?

I’m at a loss. I want to do what’s right by him and honor his experience but I also don’t want to play along, if it’s harmful down the road. I feel like I will make the wrong decision no matter what I choose.

Someone offered this explanation that makes sense – We had a friend that didn’t want people knowing she was adopted. Said she hated when people would say “oh, she’s adopted”. She just wanted to be like her friends and be a part of the family. Maybe that’s how he is feeling.

Then there was this sad reality (kids really can be cruel) – When I was in high school I had someone make fun of me for being adopted and refer to me as a “dumpster baby” multiple times. I was 15 and shut it down and moved on.  IF that had happened to me when I was 7, I imagine it would have been incredibly damaging and embarrassing for me.

Someone else suggested –  I work with young kids, and I think pretending/role playing is their way of reflecting. In order to understand, “What does it mean to be adopted?” he has to first ask, “Well, what would it be like if I wasn’t adopted? In what ways is it different?” Completely normal child behavior; I’d let it happen.

To which another affirmed –  That’s a great way of thinking about it. Children do think about hypotheticals a lot and that’s discouraged more and more as we age. I think that makes a lot of sense given that he’s 7.

An adoptee suggests –  I would personally ask him if there is a reason he wants to – if someone said something or why ? – and just go with it. I would not tell him he can’t pretend. It may just be his way of coping right now because obviously something is going on in his mind that’s causing him to want this. So I would just ask questions to make sure he’s okay and listen to him and go with it.

And I really, really like this suggestion –  “Sometimes I think of “if” you had been born to me but then, I remember you wouldn’t be the same you, if you had. Your mom, DNA and genetics have made you – you – and I would never want to miss you. You wouldn’t be the same you, if you were born to me.”

Now that is beautifully honest.

Not A Blank Slate

The trauma of being separated from your mother can’t be ignored. No matter the age of the child. The trauma is intensified by the fact that an infant can’t understand, healthily process, or vocalize what’s happening to them.

One of the first things I learned about Georgia Tann was her assertion that the babies she provided to adoptive couples were a blank slate they could mold in their own image and preferences.  This is decidedly obsolete and archaic thinking. You can’t try to put a square peg in a round hole and expect it to fit.

This blank slate idea was never the truth as many adult adoptees can tell you today, as families in reunion discover where their natural traits actually came from.  One such story from an adoptee is this – I really never related to my adopted family. We didn’t enjoy the same activities, foods, interests etc. When I finally found my birth family the very first night I felt like I was finally home.

However, even biological children can’t be molded after their parent’s ideal. So why should any adoptive parent expect a child (that’s not even from their own genes) to turn out according to the adoptive parent wishes ?  Natural biology is real and shows through. DNA is a thing that exists. Being adopted doesn’t mean that your adopted child will all of a sudden biologically come from your adoptive parent genes. Even if the adoptee’s birth certificate lies and says they were born to the adoptive parents.

My own daughter and two sons have often reminded me of how much they are their own person.  My daughter may have some personality aspects that feel very much like my own but she is not a mini-me.  Even our two boys raised under very similar circumstances are different from one another, reminding me to treat each one as individually as they deserve. Any adoptive parent who expects things to be any different is simply fooling themselves with a fantasy that cannot be fulfilled.

And people can be so clueless and ask the most awkward questions.  Case in point.  One woman shared – I am a brown Latina woman. I went to a birthday party for my daughter’s friend (4 at the time) and I was holding our foster son and as soon as I walked in a woman said to me, ‘how did you get a ‘white baby’?! I was so shocked that I could not think of what to say. I’ve practiced a lot since then. LOL.

Or how some people after an attempt to “educate” them will say something like – “God clearly put you together and meant for you to be a family.” At that point, an enlightened adoptive mother might get more forceful and say that if their god had intended us to be a family, he would have made it so without putting my child through adoption trauma. The woman who shared this went on to say “I don’t really stand for people who think they can speak for their god, especially when it comes to adoption.”

One of the uglier remarks come from a person who upon learning a child had been adopted, went on to say they are so glad the child won’t turn out like their original parents.  In front of the child no less.

As for the blank slate theory, regardless – no one should become a parent simply to enforce what they want on their children. Parents to help their children become the best version of themselves, find their own path and passions, and are supportive of the child along the way.

 

Feeling Out Of Place

Sometimes it happens when an adoptee goes into reunion with their original family that they suddenly become aware that the reality of really seeing the people one is genetically related to makes the adoptee realize their adoptive family are truly the genetic strangers they are.  It can be very confusing and emotional for the adoptee.

An adoptee might notice – I feel so different than this adoptive family I have been made a part of.

An adoptee may honestly love the people in their adoptive family and still feel like (after coming into physical contact with genetic family) a stark spotlight has been shone on the differences between the adoptee and that adoptive family.

Meeting the genetic family cold make a lot of foggy feelings crystal clear.  For an adoptee, meeting these people can be utterly life changing.

It may be that the adoptee will lay their head on their mothers lap and cry while she strokes their hair on that first day of meeting. The adoptee may feel like they could trust her like no one else ever present in their life.  The adoptee may feel a love they had never felt before.  Such is the true mother/child bond.

An adoptee may feel  a deep cellular connection with genetic family that they don’t experience with their adoptive family. One adult adoptee admitted that – “When I have a very real problem, my first mother is often the first person I go to. For me, the reason I do this is because she understands better than most other people the way I think and the way my mind works. We’re very alike and being very alike means she can help me solve my problems better than my adoptive mother, who doesn’t think like I do at all.”

An adoptee may wrestle with guilt feelings about not feeling a sense of belonging to their adopted family.  It can be jarring for an adoptee to find people who are so much like them. That may also be the moment they realize what they have been missing all the years they spent in their adoptive family.  It may become clear how unlike their adoptive family they actually are.  It may only happen when they meet their genetic parents and siblings.

In the nature verses nurture debate, nature can be the undeniable winner in adoption circumstances – though it takes a reunion – and it may take decades before this awareness fully impacts the adoptee.