Not Of My Blood

This topic comes up repeatedly in my all things adoption group. It seems that the incidence of varying degrees of abuse is more prevalent on the part of adoptive parents. Adoptees often wonder and theorize why.

It started with this insight – So many adopted people I know have stories of child abuse by both of their adoptive parents. What is the mentality behind this, what is the psychological mechanism that results in so many adoptive parents getting a child just to abuse them? I don’t think every single case is where adults actively seek out children so they can have someone to abuse, but it’s way too common to just be a case of easy hunting grounds. Is there something that happens inside of the brains of adoptive parents that turns so many of them into child abusers?

Although, anything conceivable probably exists, I do not believe most couples go into adoption with the intent of mistreating their adopted child. There is something else going on.

One thought was this – Humans developed over millennia to raise their own biological/genetic offspring. Our biology knows whether the child is our own or not. Adoptive parents are preconditioned by social workers and adoption agencies to have expectations that “nurture” will adjust the child to be the same “as if” they had given birth to the child but it does not work that way.

Until very recently, and to some extent this remains true, adoption in the modern western version is predicated on treating adoptive parents like they are the original natural parents. Birth certificates are falsified to support that perspective. Often, in the past, adoptive parents lied to the child about their origins. Thanks to more accessible, inexpensive DNA testing and well reported adoptee reunions with their biological families, this fantasy can no longer hold dominance in adoptionland.

Raising kids is hard! They test and exhaust us. This is especially true when there isn’t shared blood and genetics. The frustration isn’t tempered by biology and deep parental bonds. My oldest son was very challenging at the age of 6, when his younger brother had had the lion’s share of my attention throughout infancy and his first 2 years. I actually would say to him, it is lucky for you that I love you. If you challenge other people the way you have challenged me, you could end up hurt very badly or dead. It was my maternal bond with him that stayed me from actually hurting him, though my anger could surprise me.

One adoptee shares – I can only speak for my adoptive parents but I was property to them. I was meant to fulfill a role and anything out of line with that expectation was punished. I recognize that they knew what the social worker looked for and how the system worked, therefore they were very good at hiding it. No one would ever believe me. It was clearly easier for them to take their emotions out on me (an adopted child) than on their own biological children.

Another adoptee shares – When I started calling my narcissistic adoptive mother out on her shit, it caused a huge fight with my whole family against me. And one of my aunts basically said it didn’t matter how they treated me, I just had to suck it up, take it, and thank them, because they “took me in” out of the “goodness” of their hearts when they didn’t have to. This implied they received a free pass regarding how they treated me. Which is obviously wrong. I think that is the mentality that a lot people have, when it comes to adoption, especially among the older generations. Like you could have/would have had it worse if they hadn’t come along, so you should feel “lucky.” It doesn’t feel “lucky.”

What happens when adoptive parents finally achieve the birth of a biological, genetic child ? One adoptee shares – we were all adopted and it was a loving safe environment until I turned 8. Then they had their only biological child and the rest of us had to scramble and grab for pieces of affection. I don’t know if it was regret for adopting, the satisfaction of finally having what they wanted, something else or a mix of it all but whatever the case, we went from cherished to easily replaceable.

Another woman adds – I think can be twofold. Either one, or a combination of, the psychological effects of infertility grief and the impact on an adopted child of emotional neglect as a result of the adoptive parent being unable to meet the needs of a traumatized, adopted child. (Note all adopted children suffer adoption related trauma, ie a belief they were rejected by their natural parents.) Chronic emotional neglect (causes more trauma) and has profound effects on an adopted child. It is worse when the caregiver doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that they don’t feel the love and acceptance for their adopted child that they expected to feel. It’s all too common then to blame the child for not meeting the adoptive parents needs, rather than looking at the emotional content in the adoptive parent. Throw in a societal saviorism belief related to adoption and there are the frustrated feelings of believing they are entitled to a child they didn’t receive.

Another adoptee shares – My adoptive parents were very physically abusive. I don’t know any science behind it but my honest thought was always that because I wasn’t flesh and blood, they couldn’t love me the same. There was no genetic connection… I don’t really know …. but that is how it has felt. I don’t think they adopted me with the intention of being abusive, but they couldn’t control themselves. It’s like if my daughter has a play date and that child is being awful, I’m like their parent needs to do something before I do…I just don’t have a motherly connection to anyone else but my own children…and it might sound super messed up but its literally how I rationalized all the physical and mental abuse I suffered … They didn’t even care if they hurt my feelings. Just like I wouldn’t care if I hurt someone else’s kid’s feelings, if they were little assholes. Of course, I know there are people who abuse their biological children…but I always think that’s generational and based on some mental health issues. The reason anyone abuses a child is complicated.

Someone else shares their perspective – I believe most adoptive parents adopt as a solution to their infertility and to “save a poor baby in need”. They are fed rainbows and unicorn stories that convince them that they are wonderful people doing a wonderful thing and that the adopted child it will be just the same as their own baby. So they treat a traumatized child just the same as they would their own. Except it’s not the same. If they don’t allow the child to have feelings, go to therapy, etc as soon as the child acts out, they won’t understand why the child is behaving that way. Most adoptive parents signed up for the “cute baby and matching sweater” they see on Instagram. Instead they get a screaming demon !! The more frustrated the parents become, the more they refuse to acknowledge their adopted child has trauma. That inability to empathize becomes more triggering for the adopted child. The parents eventually snap under the pressure and enter a cycle of abuse because “we tried love and it didn’t work”. When all they actually tried was to force the child to bond with them and pretend the child is the same as a their own biological child. It messes with the brains on both sides and often leads to the point of violence.

And finally, this perspective – every adopted child has a job. It might be to fix infertility or it might be to take the place of a dead child. Whatever it is, as adoptees we are given a job with no description and unfortunately, we don’t know when we miss the mark until we trip over it. That accounts for a lot of disappointed adoptive parents. Just as the adopted child does not recognize any genetic markers in regard to physical appearance and personality – neither do the adoptive parents. So on top of the heartbreak of infertility comes the heartbreak, disappointment and anger in having to continue living with why you adopted the child in the first place.

Heal Yourself First

Couples need to heal from their infertility and come to grips with not being able to conceive a child before inflicting themselves on a traumatized adoptee. Much of what you will read in today’s blog comes from an adoptee writing on this issue – The Importance of Fully Grieving Infertility. I have chosen what I share here selectively and have added my own thoughts as well. You can read the original blog at the link.

Receiving a diagnosis of infertility is a devastating loss. It’s natural to feel angry, sad, disappointed or a combination of a bunch of different feelings. You may want to start the process of becoming a parent through other means as soon as possible, in an effort to fill that aching, empty space in your heart.

Please don’t start the process of adopting a child until you have fully grieved your infertility, let go of your initial dream of having a biological child, and are truly ready to adopt.

Why? Because, when you pursue adoption, your infertility journey will affect more than just you.

Adoption is not a solution for infertility. Pretending it is — without doing the hard, personal work — will just set you and your future adopted child up for failure.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again from your infertility counselors and adoption professionals. But I think you should hear it from an adoptee — someone who will be forever changed if you are unable to move forward from your losses.

As an adoptee, I’ve watched infertility take its toll on my parents, friends and family members. Even just having seen the effects secondhand, it’s clear that this is often a diagnosis that causes lasting emotional and psychological damage.

About 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. That’s a lot of people walking around with a lot of pain in their hearts.

This is a loss, and as such, you may experience the stages of grief. As hard as it is to believe, this is actually a good thing, because it means you are processing your loss and are on the road to the final stage: acceptance. And only once you feel acceptance should you start considering adoption.

If you don’t resolve your experience with infertility, it could cause serious mental, emotional and physical harm to yourself and to those around you. You may start to resent your partner, your emotions might develop into depression, you risk not feeling able to find happiness because of the lingering hopes and dreams of “maybe we’ll still get pregnant,” and all of that stress can take a toll on your physical health.

Unresolved issues can affect all of your relationships — the relationship with your partner, with yourself, with your friends (who all seem to easily have children) and eventually, upon your adopted child. Moving forward into adoption under these circumstances may feel like you are “settling” for your “second-choice” way to build your family, and that’s not fair to the child you may adopt.

I don’t write this blog to promote adoption (I think it is all around a harmful choice). So I can hope that adoption isn’t your own answer for building your family. I do know that you staying stuck in grief isn’t good for you or the ones you love either. You may ultimately decide to live child-free. What is important here is seeking a good quality of life by working through your feelings and letting the unproductive perspectives go. 

Adopting a child does not fix anything. There is no replacement for your original dream of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. When you’re an adoptee, viewing the world’s preoccupation with having biological children is hard. It’s probably hard for couples who discover they are infertile. That is one of the reasons it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never have a biological child. It is unfair and unrealistic to believe any infertile, potential adoptive set of parents will no longer experience grief over not having biological children after they adopt. One of the reasons I don’t believe adoptions are actually a good thing. Honestly (and adoption is ALL over my own birth family – both of my parents were adopted and each of my sisters gave up children to adoption – I wouldn’t exist but for my parents’ adoptions and even so . . . my perspective has changed over the last several years, obviously).

The Uncertainty Inherent

Today’s story is about a birth mother who’s daughter, put up for adoption, has rejected contact with her 25 years later thanks to the Dear Therapist article in The Atlantic.

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Blog Author’s note – It’s tough being a vulnerable, under supported, financially struggling birth mother. I get it. In my own family, the two children put up for adoption have since reconnected with this but that does not un-do all the years of living lives separated into other families. Even for my own self, I’ve re-connected with my actually genetic, biological relatives but it doesn’t make up for not knowing each other for decades. It is better to know who they are, it’s just tough building a relationship after so much time has gone by. So I am interested in this response.

Answer from the therapist –

I’m glad you’re curious about why the woman your daughter put up for adoption 25 years ago might not want to meet her birth mother. I say this because you write about your daughter’s pain and feeling of rejection, but I’m not sure that your daughter has a good sense of how her adopted child might feel—not only about this meeting, but about the circumstances that led to the adoption and her life since then.

Something to consider: Adopted children don’t get to choose whether or not they are adopted, or what family they’ll end up in. Adults make these choices for them. Given their lack of choice in what happened, making their own decisions about how to handle their experiences later on matters greatly.

Of course, different adoptees will make different decisions, for all kinds of reasons. But too often, adults try to dictate how they should feel and what they should do with regard to their birth parents. Sometimes it goes something like “You shouldn’t try to find your birth parents; after all, your mom and dad will be so hurt.” Other times it might be “Don’t search for your birth parents, because it might disrupt their lives or that of their families. They chose a closed adoption for a reason.” Or: “You should definitely search for them, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.” Or: “How can you refuse to meet your birth parents? Don’t you realize how lucky you are that they’ve reached out and you have the opportunity to know them?” None of this, of course, respects the feelings of the person who was adopted.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship. In fact, there’s so little regard for this young woman’s feelings that your daughter, despite knowing that her biological child has consistently said she’s not interested in meeting, reached out to her on Facebook.

As for why someone who was adopted may not want to meet her birth mother, the reasons are as varied as the individuals involved. Some adopted children feel angry or abandoned by the birth parents, especially if there are other siblings who stayed with one or both biological parents, as is the case here. (This may feel like being the “unwanted child.”) Some adoptees don’t have those feelings—they are living a perfectly happy life—but there’s fear of the emotional turmoil such a meeting might bring. It could raise new questions of what might have been; it could reveal information that the adoptee would rather not have known; it could start a relationship that doesn’t work out, resulting in a loss that could be quite painful on top of whatever feelings of loss the adoptee already has.

I’ve also heard from some adoptees who have met their biological parents that they found the experience disappointing. Despite imagining that they’d have a lot in common with their biological parents, upon meeting they felt as though these people were aliens with different interests, worldviews, personalities, and values—leaving them with a sense of emptiness. Some have told me that they would have preferred to maintain whatever fantasy they had of their biological parents rather than be faced with the much starker reality.

All of this is to say: A lot can go wrong, so it makes sense that some adoptees would choose not to be in contact with their biological parents. But whatever this young woman’s reasons, she doesn’t owe your daughter an explanation. It’s not her job to meet your daughter’s emotional needs.

Instead, gaining a better understanding of what those emotional needs are might help your daughter feel less pain about not meeting her biological daughter. I imagine that she has a lot of complicated feelings about the adoption that perhaps she doesn’t fully understand, and talking to a therapist about them might not only lessen the intensity of the longing but also help her consider what she’s asking of her biological daughter and why.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that your daughter’s biological child may feel differently about reaching out at another juncture in her life. She may have some questions about the family’s medical history one day, or decide that she wants the experience of seeing her biological mother face-to-face. If that time does come, it will be important to focus on her needs. There’s a difference between a phone conversation and a meeting, and between a meeting and embarking on a relationship. The less this woman worries that her biological family might want more from her than she’s willing to give—which is likely how she feels now—the more open she might become one day to making contact. But even if she doesn’t, the most loving thing you can do for her is to honor her choice.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

One of the interesting things about having become a mother for the first time in 1973 and then becoming a mother for the second and third time in 2001 and 2004 was how much some baby advice had changed.

Back in 1973, I had an acquaintance who lost a baby to SIDS, so I was terrified about the possibility.  I would stand outside my daughter’s bedroom door to listen for her breathing.  If she didn’t wake up at the usual time in the morning, I would go in to check on her and she was always beginning to wake up – thankfully.  Back then, we put a baby to sleep on their stomach in case they threw up, they wouldn’t choke on it.

But by the early 2000s, the advice had changed and I can only assume it was due to statistics that proved babies would be safer sleeping on their backs.  And both of my sons also survived their infancy.

The reason this is on my mind today is an awful story I just read about a hopeful adoptive mother.

She and her husband were going to adopt from a “friend”. The pregnant mother changed her mind only a week before she gave birth. And of course, this was a terrible disappointment for the couple hoping to adopt and destroyed the friendship that had previously existed.

Sadly, this baby died from SIDS.

The hopeful adoptive mother admits to conflicted feelings about this. She admits that the adoption failing to go through left her heartbroken because she had become emotionally attached to the developing fetus, thinking of it becoming her own baby to love. The baby now dying has left her feeling like she lost her baby twice. She understands that she really doesn’t have any right to mourn the loss of a baby that was never hers but never-the-less.

The hateful part is that she also feels vindicated, as though it is karma taking the baby away from its original mother, because the hopeful adoptive mother was denied the opportunity to raise this child.

She also admits to being irrationally angry. She believes the baby would still be alive had this child been in her care.

Weirdly, she is relieved the baby didn’t die in her care, if this was the child’s destiny from the beginning.

What to make of all of this ?  She is one very mixed up lady to put it kindly, which I would.

However, I don’t disagree with this woman in my adoption group’s harsher response to the hopeful adoptive mother –

What you should be feeling is sad that a baby died, and compassion for the mother. A decent person would stuff their selfishness and feel sympathy. This baby was never the hopeful adoptive mother’s responsibility. Some more advice, you could thank god that baby didn’t have to feel the torment of a mother/child bond being broken before she left this world. I’m sure her Mom’s kisses were what she fell asleep thinking about, as it should be. And this part hurts but you were never her friend. You are lying to yourself about that part. Unkindly, what you are is a predator, mad that your potential prey got away.

Disappointing Reunions

Worse than not having the opportunity at all to experience a reunion with the woman who gave birth to you is having one that turns out crappy.  This story breaks my heart –

Feeling so lost and broken. Although a relationship can be built, it’ll never be the same as being raised by my mom. Currently stuck in Nebraska and waiting to leave the hotel at 4 am. No point in sleeping for 3 and a half hours.  I’m stressed, hoping Uber shows up on time so I can make it to the train station in time with my 3 kids.

To make a long story short I got a ride to Nebraska last week.  My hubby’s job traveled from Chicago to Nebraska.  So I said, “Please take me with you.”  We got a hotel after begging my mom to make the 3 hour trip from South Dakota to Nebraska to see us. I had to pay for her gas and give her the king size bed in our hotel.  I slept with my 3 kids on the sofa bed.

Then, my husband’s job finished by the end of that same week.  I said to him, “You go home.  I’m gonna go back to South Dakota with my mom.  She said she’ll bring me back in her van.”

I was there almost a week and the plan was for us to leave and go home today. She texts me from her room and asks me to leave on a plane.  She can’t handle the kids.  Their noise causes her fibromyalgia pain to be worse.

I reply, “Can we wait till you feel better and you can take us home?”

She said, “No, I really can’t take it.”

So I went online to check flights.  A last minute effort is really expensive.  So I try to rent a car but I can’t because my credit card is maxed out. The train doesn’t depart from South Dakota.  I have to find a way to get back to Nebraska.

My mom’s husband drops us off at the hotel in Nebraska that my husband paid for.  He also paid for (what feels to me to be unnecessary) train tickets, but that is the reality.

This trip to reconnect with my mom cost more than a real vacation to Wisconsin Dells.

Today I feel so alone and abandoned – once again.  Sorry, but I really wish she had aborted me.  Mine was a Termination of Parental Rights adoption due to neglect and drug use.

And – she has the audacity to tell me I need to parent better and get off of my phone !?! At least, my kids are alive, well fed and loved. MY KIDS ARE KIDS.  THEY ARE NOT SOLDIERS!

I actually said, “Let’s not talk about parenting.”  LOL  I really wanted to add, “the nerve of you.”

So, I am just feeling completely broken.  This is the first time I have ever actually cried in front of my kids.  I just couldn’t control it.

=========================

I’m just going to let this one speak for itself.  I have no words to offer but lots of compassion for the heartbreak and disappointments. 

Conflicted Feelings

Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso

A young woman writes –

I had my first child at 16 and I stopped a lot of good things in my life.  Now, two babies at 18.  I have been with his father now for only a year.  I know that in no way is he ready for a baby.  This has worried me so much.

This pregnancy has been an emotional rollercoaster and I have not felt any attachment to the baby. I gave birth to my baby yesterday at 2:32 am.  He is beautiful but still no connection. Maybe this is because I knew he was leaving me.  It’s like my emotions were preparing for that.

For the last 9 months, I have grieved my old body. I grieved being happy all the time.  I enjoyed being able to have a few days to myself each week because my daughter’s father and I split custody.  For a few days each week, I could just be an average 18 yr old.

Today something changed in me and I wanted my babies. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted someone crying for me because they needed me. My daughter having a melt down about a bug touching her or my baby boy just wanting to be rocked back to sleep.

Right now I am sitting in my room with my boyfriend, without my baby. A few rooms down the adoptive parents have him. You may think, “how nasty they are” but I can tell you, these people are so genuine, they have to be the most kindhearted understanding people I have ever met.  Tomorrow I will hurt them because my heart and mind have changed. Tomorrow they won’t be going home with my son because I will.

I have no idea what will come next.  No idea where I’ll be living (not that I will be homeless, I will stay with my boyfriend but I will be leaving, if he does not want to parent).  I have no idea how everyone’s going to react when they learn I have changed my mind.  I have no idea how I’m going to react. I’m just doing it. With only having my toddler a few days each week, I have days where I feel so crushed with anxiety.

I can’t do it.  I can’t give my son up for adoption. PLEASE pray for me because I’m just so scared right now but I’m just going to do it.  Parent my child.

Fragility Self-Test

Before you decide to adopt or foster a child, consider your own emotional state.  Here’s some help for contemplation.

1. Do I feel defensive when an adoptee, former foster youth or birth/first mother says “adoptive parents tend to…?”

2. Do I feel angry when people tell me I benefit from adoptive parent privilege — that the adoption industry works in my favor, or that my socioeconomic class and/or race enabled me to adopt?

3. When an adoptee, former foster youth or original mother talks about adoption, do I feel defensive because they’re describing things that I do or think?

4. Do I feel angry or annoyed by the above questions?

5. Do I have a history of embracing hopeful or adoptive parent behavior that I now feel ashamed of, so I need to show people that I’m no longer “like that”?

6. Does saying “not all adoptive parents” or similar phrases make me feel better when someone calls adoptive parents out for some perspective or behavior?

7. Do I expect an apology when I feel like I’ve been unfairly accused of poor adoptive parent behavior?

8. Do I feel better when I say, hear, or read, “every (adoption) experience is different?”

9. Do I try to convince adoptees, former foster youth and original mothers that they’re wrong about adoption by pointing out people from their position in the triad who agree with me?

10. Do I feel the need to talk about my own hardships (such as infertility, a “failed” adoption, or a difficult childhood) when an adoptee or original mother talks about their pain?

11. Do I think the adoption community would benefit if people stopped talking about the hard stuff, were more supportive, learned from “both sides,” or focused more on the positive?

12. Does being told that something I say, think, do, or otherwise value is harmful make me want to shut down, leave, or express my discomfort/displeasure in some way?

13. Do I feel the need to state that I have friends/family who are adoptees or first mothers when someone points out my problematic behavior?

14. Do I feel the need to prove that I’m one of the good ones?

15. Do I feel that my opinions and perspectives about adoption should be given equal weight to that of an adoptee or original mother, that I have something unique and important to contribute to the adoption conversation, and/or that it is unfair to be told to listen more than I speak?

16. Do I feel the need to defend myself on any of the above points when commenting in a discussion?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are dealing with adoptive parent fragility. Take time to reflect on why you feel the way that you do. Take time to listen to adoptee and original mother perspectives.

Adoptive parent fragility is a hindrance to healing because it prevents adoptees/original mothers from being able to engage with adoptive parents in honest conversation, without also having to bear the burden of catering to adoptive parents’ emotional comfort.

At its worst, adoptive parent fragility can cause an emotionally unhealthy situation for adoptees/original mothers because of the power dynamics and the weight of being responsible for the adoptive parents’ feelings, while not being allowed the same consideration to express their own.

There is also the weight that comes with people that you care about lashing out at and abusing you (verbally, emotionally, and/or digitally).

If we cannot talk honestly about the issues surrounding the traditional adoption industry, then we cannot make progress towards creating a healthy reform.

It’s Better To Know

Searching for where an adoptee came from requires a special kind of courage.  It might be opening up a “can of worms” has my dad always believed.  There could be disappointment.  The relatives one finds are real people with real flaws and also a kind of beauty because they are a connection.  It is better to know who you are rather than live in a mystery.

For an adoptee, the connection to one’s ancestors has been broken. That matters.  When adoption is in one’s family history, those impacted only want answers and the truth. There isn’t a desire to disrupt anyone’s life. If relatives want to meet – wonderful – those I have met have been very helpful in filling in the understandable gaps in my ancestry.  Sharing the stories we weren’t there for can help us to heal.

Loss of the most sacred bond in life, that of a mother and child, is one of the most severe traumas and this loss will require long-term, if not lifelong, therapy.  If not therapy, then answers and a knowledge of something that is real and not falsified.

Finding one’s roots does not deny the love and value that one gives to the people who were there in life thanks to adoption.  The aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in my own life are treasured and held precious even if there is no true genetic bond with these.

A life can be symbolized by a circle – birth, maturity, old age and death – completion, rebirth or heaven.  Coming to know my roots has also been a kind of completion, a bringing the arc of my life full circle.