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.

 

Shocking Statistics

Private adoption is illegal in other countries. America has made the buying and selling of children a business; a multi billion dollar industry. Children are the commodity.

A woman writes – “I spent the first 16 years of my adoption experience as a ‘birth’ mother in complete isolation. It was preceded by the nearly 10 months of family-conducted isolation during my pregnancy. Such is the life of a shamed pregnant teenager. I had personally never known either an adopted person or a natural mother. ”

Clearly isolation isn’t simply for a time of a global pandemic.  Young women have been isolated for decades in order to relieve them of their baby when it is born.

She goes on to acknowledge – “If I could relive that day (when she gave birth) again, I would run from that hospital with her in my arms and never look back. I would take my chances with being homeless and the foster care system.”

The truth is that “better” life for your child is nothing more than a different life.

Over time, she came to see – that an adoption agent and her very own mother reduced her to a bodily function for total strangers.  It has landed her in trauma therapy. She didn’t receive counseling before or after the adoption by the agency. She had secretly held herself together somehow all these years only to discover she had been suffering with PTSD stemming directly from the adoption itself.

There is a world full of adoptees and natural moms in Adoptionland who have found each other in virtual space and are a kind of sisterhood that understands each other’s pain.  I belong to a group like that.  I have learned so much from reading about the direct experiences and points of view.  So much so that I no longer support the commercial practice of adoption.

Where Does The Fear Come From ?

When my sons were very young and often difficult, so instinctual they were not ready for rational logic and I had to somehow stop whatever, I used to worry a lot that some well-meaning person, or some surveillance camera or simply because we made the choice to educate our sons at home, would cause us to loose custody of them.  Thankfully, they are both almost grown now and have never been away and there has been at least one parent present with them at all times.

Former foster youth sometimes live in constant fear of their children being taken away from them for no good reason.  They may also fear that for some reason they are incapable of properly raising their children. Fears might swing between “they will get taken because the system knows I was a foster kid and is already looking down on me” to “I think I actually am a crap mom.”

I actually thought I was a crap mom for not raising my daughter.  Then many years later, I had an opportunity in a new marriage to have two sons.  Now I know that maybe I’m not the greatest mom but I do love ALL of my children and am always doing the best I can.  I always hope my best is good enough.

I beat myself up over any poor parenting choice. I spoil my kids – that is sort of true but maybe not too much.

Children do not come with care manuals.  Every child is different in temperament and personality.  What works with one does not work with the other.  One son is persistent and defiant.  The other is passive and emotional.  The first could not be disciplined with any amount of physical effort.  The second one we had to tread carefully not to set him off because he cried so easily for a very long time and could not be soothed.

Whether we were adopted or taken from our parents and placed in foster care – I believe every parent faults their skills in raising children.  Some people make it look so easy.  It could be that if you asked them, they would have the same doubts and fears you do.

What’s Done Is Done

I think that I need to add some context.  What I seek is to promote reform in the methods of securing for children who need that, a loving and stable home.  It is not my intent to pass judgement on anyone who has adopted a child and is raising that child.  What is done is done.

I would hope that any prospective adoptive parents reading this blog would pause in their headlong rush to acquire someone else’s rightful baby.  One suggestion would be to read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier.  Actually that is good advice for people who have already adopted and would like to understand their adopted child better.  She says of her book – it is written for the adoptees, birth and adoptive parents as a bridge to understanding their child(ren) and to promote the healing process for all of them.  Rearing an adopted child is different from rearing one’s biological child.

Ms Verrier is the mother of two daughters – one adopted and one she gave birth to.  She also has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is in private practice counseling members of the triad.  I learned about her by being in a private Facebook group of adoptees, original mothers and adoptive parents.  I have learned a lot from them, especially about the effects of adoption as adult adoptees begin to wake up and speak loudly about their experiences.  I know how it feels not to raise my own precious daughter, so I have a sense of what birth mothers feel and that pain of separation as well.  Navigating the complexes of interacting with a second mother who is more mother to my daughter than I am.  It is not an easy path.

I am not an adoptee myself.

My parents were both adoptees, both of my sisters are birth mothers who surrendered a child to adoption and one of my sister’s lost her child in court proceedings.  So there is a lot of observation of life experience to cause my interest in ALL things adoption.  I have read many books and articles and I listen to the wounded in the private group.  Two years ago, I would NOT have said a word against adoption.  Today, I realize how lucky I am that I was not given up when my teenage, unwed mother discovered I was growing within her.

It has been a journey in which my perspectives on adoption have changed radically in only about two years time.  There is no going back for me and I cannot promote or cheer on adoption as it is mostly practiced today.  I know too much now.  No more unicorns and rainbows and I have woken up from my own kind of adoption fog.

So here is where I am at regarding FUTURE loving homes for the children that need it.

Guardianship (kinship if possible), no name changes, no birth certificate alterations, total transparency in an age appropriate manner as to the child’s biological/genetic family and full access to the complete medical histories of their parents. Reform is needed. Making MORE adoptions possible is NOT what I support at all. Loving homes – yes – non-abusive circumstances – absolutely !!

I also support ALL mothers who want to raise their children being financially supported at least until the child(ren) reach maturity.  That would have certainly helped me and at least one of my two sisters remain in our childrens’ lives as we expected when they were born.  If we can obscenely support rich people and corporations and huge military budgets, we could actually support families. That our society does NOT is a travesty with mental health and self-esteem impacts.

Difficult Circumstances

In the world of children at risk there are adoptive parents and foster parents.  Beyond the children, there are their own natural parents to consider.  So, if you are raising someone else’s kids . . . maybe the natural parents don’t like you simply because you have their kids and they don’t.

Maybe they don’t agree with your parenting style, they think you are snooty, they don’t like going by your rules and parameters to see their children.  Maybe the natural parents sense you could cut them off from seeing their children.

Maybe if you are a foster parent, the natural parents worry you will fight against their getting their kids back.

Maybe either substitute parent just thinks you as the natural parent dress funny.

Bottom line, the substitute parents simply do not like you.

What would you as the natural parent do to improve a situation like this ?

Though it is not my situation, I’ve seen a similar situation up close and personal with my middle sister’s son.  It is actually a tragic circumstance where the paternal grandparents gained custody and the paternal grandmother attempted to poison my nephew against our family.  A situation that has not resolved itself and sadly – at the moment – he has closed the door to all contact with us.

Closing The Gap

When an adoption has already occurred and given the importance of identity issues, what is an adoptive mother to do when the original mother doesn’t respond very much to efforts to reach out and keep that mother connected with her natural children ?

This was a question in a group I belong to this morning.

Some good advice that came from another adoptive mother was this –

Educate yourself on issues of generational poverty vs privilege and learn to identify what pushback actually indicates.

Get out of your bubble and be willing to have genuine relationships with people who are not like you.  (All of us in this polarized society could actually benefit from that advice.)

Humble yourself.

I remember an issue that came up.  My youngest sister gave up her son for adoption.  She gave me a lock-box full of mementos that illustrated her experiences and thinking at that time to deliver to her son someday as I was the contact in a registry somewhere.

It did come to pass.  As he read some letters out loud to his adoptive mom on their way home from our first meeting in person, she was startled to hear that she had some attitudes towards my sister.  She admitted later that she probably was projecting feelings of superiority.

Not to dismiss that the woman has done a fine job of nurturing my nephew.  She was very supportive of him when he was seeking to know who his true father was (turns out my sister lied about that one but indications from certain post-birth contacts indicate that she actually did know the truth).

Definitely, class differences can be intimidating.  In fact, this was mirrored to me growing up by my two sets of adoptive grandparents (yes, both of my parents were adoptees).  One set was well-off, socially prominent.  The other set lived in capable poverty.  I say it that way because they seemed to manage the situation without complaining.

When this class difference exists between the adoptive parents and the original parents (which is quite common or else the original parents would raise their own child 99% of the time) subtle messages are transmitted such as –

We are better than you and we know it.

Which can leave the original parents feeling they have to walk on egg shells.  They know the adoptive parents have all the power and money to do what they want including withhold information and contact if they so choose.

Open Adoption

One good in our modern time is an effort to do adoption better, to consider the impacts of mother/child separations and not to change identities and birth certificates to make the adoptive parents feel better.

Here are some preconceived notions about open adoption –

  • Open adoption is basically co-parenting.
  • Adopted children grow up hating their birth mothers.
  • Adopted children grow up hating their adoptive parents.
  • Most open adoption relationships between adoptive parents and birth parents eventually break down.
  • When they’re older, adopted children eventually return to live with their birth parents.

Are these myths or truths?  They are myths.  Here are some accepted understandings about what open adoption is and is not.

In open adoption, the line between family members is clearly defined. The adoptive parents and birth parents do not have shared custody. Adoptive parents are legally responsible for all decisions relating to their child’s welfare. Birth parents are often involved in the children’s lives, but they do not have legal rights over the child.

Children understand the difference between their adoptive parents and their birth parents, and what their roles and responsibilities are. And so do both sets of parents.

Open adoption allows adopted children to having an ongoing relationship with their birth parents. As a result, they have the ability to ask their birth parents questions surrounding their adoption, making them less likely to have doubts or to feel bitterness towards their parents.

Adoptive parents usually introduce their child’s adoption story at a young age. Unlike in the past, it’s not something hidden from them. Because children know their adoption story, there is less chance of them creating a fantasy about their origins. And also there is less resentment about their adoption since it is something that is openly discussed and a part of their life from an early age.

Although some open adoption relationships do break down because of disagreements between adoptive parents and birth parents, the vast majority of them are successful. Because most open adoption agreements are NOT legally binding, the key is to create lasting relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. For the sake of their children, birth parents and adoptive parents must be willing to not only acknowledge but honor each other’s role in this relationship.

For most adopted children, home will be considered that which was their home with the adoptive family. That’s where they were raised and that’s where they usually live, until they are old enough to move out and live independently as an adult. Adopted child are almost always interested in their birth family, but they usually do not go back to living with them, except in cases of family reunification.

Eye Of The Beholder

We need to talk to each other more.  We each have a perspective but it is not the whole picture.  We need to be able to hear the sadness, grief and anger.  We need to be able to hear the needs and good intentions.  We need to be able to hear the frustration of a young parent not receiving enough support to do what it is they were assigned to do when they conceived a child.

Perspective is everything but it need not be fixed in a rigid position.  We can expand upon what we are able to understand by seeking to hear from those others with a different view on a situation.

Money tends to rule too much of what is considered the right perspective in this country.  For too long, the rules have sided quite strongly with the perspective of those people with the money who desire for their position in the adoption triad to be inviolate.  We’ve allowed the legal system to put up walls to deny 2/3s of the triad any kind of rights in the circumstances.

Maybe I don’t have all of the answers to how we go about providing for the welfare of children in our society but I do believe that denying people their right to know where they came from or what became of a child they gave birth to and then lost – often for no better reason than poverty – can’t be the best answer.

Adoptees are speaking out.  Original parents who gave birth and then lost a child who is yet alive and living elsewhere are speaking out.  And the motivations and needs for security by people who are investing their time and resources to provide a stable and secure home for a child should be heard as well – but not to the degree that we deny the needs of other two limbs of this triad of persons.

Just Don’t

But you will.  You believe you won’t make all the mistakes the others have made.  You believe you know a better way.

Don’t be one of THOSE adoptive parents or hopeful adoptive parents who think they know better and their kid won’t be like those angry adoptees, the thousands upon thousands that have struggled with adoption. You don’t even KNOW what to teach them as an adoptive parent.

You do not raise adopted children like you raise biological children and that has nothing to do with love.

An adoptee said to his adoptive mother, “It doesn’t matter how loving and good your parents are and it doesn’t matter that you have a wonderful home….at times it isn’t enough and I am still very unhappy!” When you hear this from your adopted child, it will break your heart. Adopted kids are going to have pain and there isn’t anything an adoptive parent can do to erase it. Understanding that this is the reality is very painful!

You can’t erase the sadness lurking where you can’t reach it.

It would be better if you didn’t adopt but if you already have, the path forward is complicated.

So, if you already did it, then create a home where your adopted children know they can feel however they need to feel and that they know you’ll be there to listen, love, and support them through it.

Whatever your adopted child feels is the reality, don’t dismiss it. Your feelings are yours to deal with.

The trauma of adoption doesn’t stop existing because you want it to. If you think you can love that trauma away, as an adoptive parent you still have a lot to learn.

Love is not enough, good intentions are not enough. No amount of love or honesty can resolve the deep challenges an adoptee faces from being isolated from their biological identity.

You Only Have One Mother

. . . unless you were adopted or raised by a secondary “mother”.

An adoptee has two mothers – the one who gestated and gave birth to us and the adoptive mother who raised us. For adoptees in reunion, there was the initial relationship that may have been almost immediately terminated post-birth. Then that child shows up decades later ? This is one facet of the adoptive experience.

Some adoptees are closer to their adoptive mother and feel a kind of strain in their attempted relationship with their original mother. There is a lifetime of working on getting along and growing a lasting relationship with the adoptive mother.

For many original mothers, their “relationship” to the child they lost to adoption is rooted in heartbreak and loss. For both the adoptee and the woman who gave birth to us, there may have been a lifetime of loving someone from afar, someone we don’t really “know” in the usual sense – it can be hard to bring those lifelong fantasies down to Earth.

The in touch, in person reality will never match that fantasy we have harbored.  It can take years before the original mother and her child – once separated – can feel a closer relationship.

For an adoptee, their two mothers will never be quite alike, they are simply different, that is the reality and they occupy different spaces in the life of any adoptee.

However, love is love and that is always true, even  when one has two mothers.