Being Understood

When faced with complex feelings related to complicated situations, people with no experience with that reality will try to throw in a feel good positive but that does not indicate that they really understood how this experience has affected you.

A woman in my all things adoption group received this response from a friend and she acknowledges – My friend means well but they really don’t grasp how adoption IS trauma. This is my main support person. The only person who is there when no one else is and to have such a huge disconnect cuts deep. They are very accepting that everything is just the way it is and not allowing trauma to define your life. Which at times is super helpful – yet right now I’m hurting and on this subject it doesn’t actually work.

She goes on to explain – Saying that it “Wasn’t that bad” or complimenting me by saying “as amazing as you are” does not help. Was adoption not that bad because it shaped me into who I am ? Or is it that who I am is that resilient that I make being adopted seem like adoption isn’t that bad ? See I can’t have one thing without the other. I’m not allowed my identity without adoption being brought into it. I can’t be truly separated from my trauma, so that it wouldn’t define my life, which in turn makes me feel like a living breathing trauma in a skin suit. I’m like 2 people in one body that feels one story 2 different ways.

A birth mother can struggle in similar ways. One said – I am not an adoptee, but a birth mother and I relate so much to this situation. My dad and I are very close and any time I try to talk to him about my feelings regarding my birth daughter, he says things like “it could be so much worse than it is”. It would be so nice to have friends that genuinely understood.

One of my own reasons for writing this blog every day and sharing a diversity of situations and experiences is so that people without any adoption or foster care in their personal experience might understand these situations better and find a greater degree of empathy for an adoptee or birth mother, than these people usually encounter in their own everyday life.

Finding Empathy

Gabrielle Union, daughter Kaavia
and husband Dwayne Wade

I will admit that I have become generally against surrogacy as part of my own journey to understand adoption as it has manifested in my own family. However, in reading Gabrielle Union’s beautifully written essay in Time magazine – Hard Truths – I ended up feeling a definite empathy for her situation and believe the outcome to have been perfect for the situation.

Within my spiritual philosophy it is believed, as also is stated in Hindu Scripture, that “Mind, being impelled by a desire to create, performs the work of creation by giving form to Itself.” Some of my ability to empathize may have also arisen from experiencing secondary infertility in attempting to conceive my oldest son. I believe that Assisted Reproduction is a knowledge granted to man by Mind and so, many children are today being created using these medical techniques. This is a fact of modern life.

Gabrielle suffers from adenomyosis in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall. Adenomyosis occurs most often late in the childbearing years. So in reading the Time magazine article I found poignant her experience of multiple miscarriages and various medical interventions in her many attempts to conceive. Many women then turn to adoption and it is often noted that the infertility itself must be dealt with in therapy before even considering adoption because an adopted child will never be that child you would have conceived and carried through a pregnancy to birth.

My objection to surrogacy is my awareness of how the developing fetus begins bonding with the gestational mother during pregnancy. Gabrielle writes of her awareness of this disconnect with clarity – “the question lingers in my mind: I will always wonder if Kaav would love me more if I had carried her. Would our bond be even tighter? I will never know . . .” She goes on to admit that when she met her daughter, they met “as strangers, the sound of my voice and my heartbeat foreign to her. It’s a pain that has dimmed but remains present in my fears that I was not, and never will be, enough.” She ends her essay with “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” It seems healthy and realistic to my own understandings.

As the mother of donor conceived sons, I can understand the complex feelings. I can remember distinctly feeling less entitlement to my sons than my husband since it was his sperm that created them. I am also aware of adoptee trauma from that separation from their natural mother. Both of my parents were with their natural mothers for some months before they were surrendered for adoption. I think I see this issue in a couple of photos I have managed to obtain from their early years.

My mom held by a nurse from the orphanage she had been left in for “temporary care,” while my grandmother tried to get on her feet. My mom appears to be looking at
her mother in this photo.
I notice this expression on my baby dad’s face.
I wonder if my grandmother was there and was
he puzzling about her presence ? I can’t know
but it has caused me to ponder.

I will add that Union’s surrogate was of a different race. Another issue with surrogates is that they often become emotionally attached to the baby growing in them. Gabrielle describes her surrogate and the surrogate’s husband as “free spirit” people. She says at the time she met her surrogate in person, “The first thing I noticed was a nose ring. Oh, I thought, she’s a cool-ass white girl.” The surrogate wasn’t bothered at all – there was an excitement to her voice when she said, “This is such a trip. I have your book on hold at four different libraries.” She must have been referring to Gabrielle’s first collection of essays, We’re Going to Need More Wine, which sparked powerful conversations by examining topics such as power, color, gender, feminism, and fame through her stories.

Carrie Thornton, Dey Street’s (the publisher) VP and Editorial Director says of the new book, You Got Anything Stronger?, that it is “a book that tugs at the heart, feels relatable, and . . . you see her for exactly who she is. . . ” I would agree having read this story.

It’s Not What Comes After . . .

The better life, the money, “stability” etc…it is the “before” that causes the trauma. This can’t be loved or bought or guilt forced away. Taking children in the first place is what causes the trauma, not how you treat them after. Nothing un-dos that first wound.

When I was unable to financially support my daughter and her father refused to pay child support, like my maternal grandmother before me, I sought temporary care for her with her paternal grandmother who she had been cared for by since infancy as I had to go to work in the outside world. So that is who I turned to, when I tried to make some significant funds to cushion my intended reunion with my daughter. I was driving an 18-wheel truck with a partner. I didn’t even know whether I could do that work (turned out I was relatively good at everything but backing that big rig up) or how long I would be doing it. I didn’t have a long view and I didn’t know what I know now about mother/child separations.

It didn’t turn out to be temporary. She ended up with her dad and he remarried a woman with a daughter and together had another daughter. A yours-mine and ours family life I was not able to give her during the period of her childhood. She is now nearing 50 years old and I only recently found out that her life in that family situation was not as good as I imagined it to be – though she loved her step-mother (now deceased) and loves her dad still regardless. We once shared that her circumstances make her in many ways subject to the same deep emotional wounds of separation that adoptees experience. It does make me very sad that I inflicted that on her in my ignorance and belief that as long as one of the two parents were in the child’s life it was equally good for that child.

Here is someone else’s story taken from the Daily KOS and the source of my image for today – My Family Separation Trauma: A Wound that Never Heals. Excerpts, you can read the entire story at the title link.

I was separated from my primary caregivers, my grandparents, when I was five; thirty years later I was separated from my four-year-old daughter. Now she is 19 and we are estranged. None of this is of my choosing. I fought it with all I had. I ended up with no family at all.

Lots of people have a family-separation story, and they’re all heartbreaking.

For my own self, the effects have been similar to how this woman describes it below for her own self. I will add, for me, it was always difficult to pick out a “daughter” birthday card because the words never fit the relationship I had with her (thankfully, as adults we are loving and close, though at times the wounds shine through as they should so I never deny what was done).

I seldom got to see my daughter as she was growing up. I was prevented from being a part of her life. I’m having a hard time grappling with the enormity of all that I lost—from her first day of kindergarten, to picking out her prom dress, to what’s going on with her right now—the depth and breadth of experiences that I missed. The richness of bonding with one’s growing child and seeing their personhood evolve. I missed it all and I can never, ever get it back.

She goes on to write – “I always thought, “At least my daughter is fine.” By all reports she has been happy and thriving. But this happened to her, too. I understand that now; she has trauma of her own. She was only four.” Mine was 3 and I thought the same. At least, she is a generally upbeat and happy person today.

I carry my own wound. There were no role models for an absentee mother in the mid 1970s. I always felt that others must be judging me as some kind of monster of a mother not to be raising my own daughter. The writer says for her own self, “In the meantime I carry this wound. I must move forward with it, accounting for it, dealing with it. Most of the people who see me every day have no idea of how badly I’m damaged. It’s taken a long time for me to figure it out myself.”

My daughter seems to forgive me and understands I was doing the best I knew how to at the time but I seem unable to fully forgive my own self for inflicting an abandonment on her (even if I never thought of it as “that” until very recently, since learning about the practice of adoption more deeply, as I uncovered my adopted parents (both) origin stories. First, I came to accept this about my parents and their original parents, only later realizing the effects on my own life and my daughter’s life.

Unintended Consequences

We do not always see down the road of our life’s journey far enough to know where our decisions will leave us.  When I left my daughter temporarily with her paternal grandmother, I did not intend for her to be raised by her father and step-mother and to never live with me permanently again.  When my maternal grandmother sought temporary care for my mom at Porter-Leath Orphanage she did not intend to fall into Georgia Tann’s trap and lose my mom.

At first, it was a joy to discover who my original grandparents were.  Both of my parents were adoptees and they each died knowing next to nothing (just a few names) about their origins.  Because of the Georgia Tann scandal, Tennessee turned my mom’s adoption file over to me in October 2017.  Suddenly, doors opened for me all the way down both lines and within a year, I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were and for the first time in over 60 years of living, not only felt whole but had real genetic relations.

What I was not prepared for was how that would ultimately make me feel.  How do I feel now ?  Like a total outsider.  The people I grew up with are not related to me.  Oh I am glad my parents were treated well.  It may be that their lives were easier for having been adopted.  I loved my grandparents through adoption very much and deeply appreciated aunts, uncle and cousins.  Yet, learning the truth of my origins has unexpectedly diminished all of them for me.

I am full of joy for the genetic relations I have uncovered and they have helped me know my original grandparents’ lives better than I would have otherwise.  I do feel an honest connection to each of them.  However, I have no life experience with these people.  That leaves me feeling again like an outsider.  They are all very kind and welcoming but knowing me is not really a priority in their own lives.  I understand.  I go slowly and attempt to build relationships over time through the sharing of some experiences.  It is so late in life for me that it won’t be huge but it is something.

This is what adoption does to us.  It shatters our families and I had no idea when I embarked on this new journey that I would feel today the way I do.