Holiday Expectations

Holidays often bring with them unrealistic expectations. Even realistic expectations can prove disappointing. For an adoptee recently entering into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to them, failed expectations can be especially painful. One woman in that situation shared this story –

Merry Christmas to you all. I know it’s a difficult day for many of you. I heard from several people in my birth family except my birth mom…why? Honestly, what would keep her from shooting a simple text saying Merry Christmas?! Yesterday was the two year anniversary of us reconnecting and when I didn’t hear from her then, I just knew I would today. But no…. I didn’t. Can other birth moms explain something I’m not realizing or seeing?! Or other adoptees…. do you feel like expectations around the holidays are difficult?! I felt like it was a minimal expectation but I’m looking for feedback to understand and not just be hurt.

Some replies – from a first mom, Christmas may remind her of all she lost when she lost you. I am on the other end of the spectrum, tried for many years to reconnect with my son and nothing.

Another adoptee shares – I am the deer in headlights, can’t talk because it’s just too much sorrow and then, I feel horrible because I really do want to talk to all of my biological family, hug them, but it’s so hard to talk a lot of the time, even though I love them more than they will ever know. I try to keep the door open. You never know what’s going on… I know I’m going to try again tomorrow, and the next day, to reach out to people I should have today, but sometimes it’s just so scary putting yourself out there. Some days are tough for other reasons. I’m sorry that happened, though still sucks no matter why.

One such natural mother writes – I am 25 years into a very open adoption. I’m sorry she didn’t reach out when you wanted her to. This is the first year I didn’t send a message to my daughter. Mainly I wanted to see if she would actually want to reach out to me – I always initiate contact, meeting up or messages etc and am always the one to send “Merry Xmas” etc. I don’t know if she cares or even wants me to send a message, would I be interrupting a nice day for her? Sometimes she takes days to reply or doesn’t reply at all. I struggle enormously (something I keep well hidden) with the emotional toll it takes on me. Perhaps it is hard for her too, I don’t know.

 As the blog author, I can relate. My daughter was raised by her dad and step-mother from the age of 3. I sensed that I had to keep a low profile because I didn’t want to disrupt her family life. I gave her a calling card she could use to call me anytime she wanted. Sometimes, there were long gaps between contacts. Sometimes, I would learn she gave the Christmas presents I sent to her, to her younger siblings. I was hard being an absentee mother and not knowing what the right thing to do was. While this wasn’t an adoption situation, per se, it was an unintended surrender due to financial hardship (which sadly, I share with both of my natural grandmothers who lost their own children to adoption for very similar reasons).

One other natural mother also shares – I am in reunion with my daughter. I always leave it to her to text, call, face time. I think it goes back to the 1st time you make contact, of not wanting to over step or put pressure on a delicate relationship. So, I always let her guide the contact. Perhaps your mother is doing the same. It can be hard when both parties feel they don’t want to be over bearing, so no one makes the 1st move. I’m lucky my daughter calls when she feels like. But there can be 2 times a week, then nothing for few weeks. It varies. Maybe text your mom. Open up the conversation and say that you’d love a holiday text from her too.

These separation relationships will always be fragile and there is nothing to guide any of us in attempting them. Even so, we should try. The other person may be struggling as much as we are. Any contact is better than none. And sometimes the contact or lack of it will be disappointing because there are no guarantees in this life.

Like the song goes . . .

 I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime
When you take, you got to give – so live and let live – or let go

I think the risk is always worth the potential disappointment. Sometimes we get a happy surprise.

Good Intentions, Broken Promises

I can’t even begin to count all of the sad stories I have read about open adoptions that don’t stay open. So many original mothers, who surrendered their baby for one reason or another, with expectations of continued contact, at the least photos and updates, who discover too late that they’ve been dismissed by the adoptive parents.

Here’s today’s story –

Her son is 4 and a half. She gave him up for adoption at birth to what she believed were the perfect adoptive parents. They promised her they’d keep her updated with pictures, texts, phone calls, etc. She just wanted to remain a part of her son’s life at a distance. She didn’t want to steal their thunder. She just wanted to know something about her son as he grows up but always intended to respect the adoptive parent’s relationship. The adoptive parents agreed to that expectation of the original mother.

They knew her situation, which was that she was single mom with 3 children to support. She had zero family to help her. She simply couldn’t afford another baby. Her son’s father (she also has a daughter by him) is from India. She knew he’d never be a part of his son’s life, as he isn’t even involved with his daughter.

Within a month of giving them her son, they stopped all communication. They won’t respond to any of her texts.

She is beside herself and doesn’t know what to do. She signed 50 pages of documents at the hospital, in a tiny room with 15 other people present as witnessed. They rushed her to sign the papers without giving her any time to read what she was signing first. They even had a taxi waiting outside for her and told her she needed to hurry up. She doesn’t have no clue what she signed.

She is at a loss as to what she can do now. Her son will be 5 in May. He has black hair, black eyes and beautiful golden skin. He doesn’t look anything like his adoptive parents, so it is likely he’s going to ask questions. She doesn’t want to step on any toes or ruin anyone’s relationship.

She just wants them to keep up their end of the deal. She admits that giving him up was the hardest decision she ever made. She only wants to be able to see his pictures. See how he’s doing in pre-Kindergarten. She just wants to know her son is alright.

She adds – “I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I don’t party. I’m a trauma bay RN and at the time, single mom struggling to feed my 3 kids and keep a home for them. I refused an abortion. I wanted my son to live a good life and accomplish something. I’m now engaged to a wonderful man that knows my struggle.”

This is a cautionary tale for any woman who is pregnant and contemplating giving her baby up for adoption because she has a set of prospective adoptive parents promising they will keep her updated. I’ve seen too many of these stories of the adoptive parents then closing communication. This woman ends her story with “How I wish I could go back in time and change my decision.”

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.

What Should Never Be

One might think this only happens in third world countries, children without a stable home being taken in for the free labor they can provide but it happens here in the US too and often through the foster care system.

Read an account this morning about a woman who wants to foster a teen in order to have a live-in babysitter for her younger biological children.   She also expects help with the housework, other chores, as well as help for her business that is baking and selling cookies.  Probably looks at it as another avenue of revenue (foster care stipends) as well.

She expects so much gratitude that the foster care teen now has a roof over their head that they will not require payment for all of the work she expects for free from the unfortunate teen.  And after the teen turns 18 and ages out of the foster care system ?  She’ll simply sign up for another one.

The woman was dumb enough to put her sister down for a reference.  Here’s why that part –

The reference sister is 8 years younger than this cold calculating woman described above.  For two years, the younger sister lived with her older sister and her husband and the two kids, a boy and a girl, who she does describe as typical siblings, mostly no trouble at all but squabble sometimes as siblings always do.

Living with her older sister permanently damaged their relationship.  She felt that her older sister only saw her as free labor, money (forced to hand over half her pay from a small, part time job) and babysitting.  She describes feeling taken advantage of and says those years were HELL.  And even so, she does still babysit for her sister sometimes but does control the amount of time she is willing to give now that she has moved out.

So, I know that children in third world countries are often exploited as domestic labor and I can even understand some expectations in a foster home of at least not contributing to extra household work for the family by keeping picked up after one’s self.  I have read about situations so bad, that the foster parents actually put a lock on the refrigerator and pantry shelves, severely controlling the amount of food a foster child is able to consumed.

Maybe the system is not always broken and there are genuinely caring people doing this for the right reasons but it does seem from all the stories I come across that there are a lot of opportunistic and exploitative people taking in youth with nowhere decent or safe to go and sometimes the unsafe and awful conditions are actually in that foster home.

Post Adoption Depression

Yes, it is a thing.  I believe it is partly caused by unrealistic expectations.  Fantasy and reality have collided.  The difference between those expectations and reality create a very real stress and may even lead to depression.

It is a crash in the “high” of adopting (basically the excitement is over), the dopamine is no longer being released.  The sad fact is that the adoptive parent finds they still have the same emptiness troubling them that drove them to adopt to begin with.

Life had been a flurry of emotions during the adoption journey: hope, relief, frustration, waiting, excitement, and not to mention adding another person to one’s family.  Not having the hormone fluctuations related to birth does not mean that the adoptive parent won’t have their own share of emotional fluctuation.

Of course, new parents of both genders have emotional reactions to 1) sleep deprivation 2) new roles and 3) reconfiguration of daily life, but having this is not the same as hormone induced postpartum depression that a delivering mother experiences.

So, with a newborn, sleep deprivation can certainly be a factor. If an older child was adopted, then the reality of a traumatized child may be very different than the idealistic vision hopeful adoptive parents  expected.

An adoptive parent may even grieve for the child who is now in their own home, who they may love desperately, only to find that child dreams of his original mother coming back to reclaim him.  An adoptive mother can never replace the original one.

So a couple does CHOOSE to adopt.  If those circumstances turn out to be hard to live, like any biological parent, they need to deal directly with it.  If it’s all NOT what the adoptive parents expected, they should seek help and learn to deal with the reality. That’s parenting and adoptive parents have signed up for it voluntarily.

Depression sucks regardless of what it’s caused by. Affected parents need to seek help, see a trauma informed therapist, seek out specific resources, get on anti depressants if necessary – but NEVER just throw away a child.

Birth Order

My husband and I are both first borns and I see the personality traits are present in us.  We both have a middle and a youngest sibling of the same gender that we are.  Siblings are raised essentially in the same environment, so it could be assumed that we might be more like our brothers and sisters. Yet it appears that the same home environment makes up only 5-10% of our personality.  Many of us would agree that we are somewhat or very different from our siblings.  Genetic factors have more impact on our personality, maybe as much as 50%. Nurturing, how we are cared for must matter a lot.

Does birth order matter in adoption ?  That is a question that I came to this morning’s blog with in mind.  Does it matter if children are adopted out of their birth order ?  My mom was the first born of her original mother and also the only child but was the youngest in the home she was raised in with an older brother who was also adopted.  My dad was the first born and the oldest in the home where he was adopted.  He grew up with a younger brother who was also adopted.

One study concluded that the rearing order of the children had little impact on personality except for conscientiousness, which was higher for children who were raised as first-born. The child’s sex had more impact than did rearing order.

Most adoptive families do not consider the impact that rearing order will have on infants who are first born to their biological parents, if they enter an adoptive home as the second or third child. If a child is an infant, it is assumed that such a child will have the characteristics associated with the rearing order in which they are placed.  More often, adoptive families want to know the impact of adopting children out of age order on the children already there— especially on the oldest child or on several younger children when adopting an older child.

Sibling rivalry and the need for attention are very real factors in any multi-child home.  I have seen it up close and personal with my two sons and have experienced a misplaced idealism upon my own reality that simply was not real by my youngest sister.  I have seen frequently that the younger children often look up to the oldest.  I have experienced first hand that parents expect the oldest to be an example of a “good” person – whatever that means in any family’s context.

Here is one reality some adoptive families face – maybe you have a larger age gap among your genetic/biological children.  So you chose to adopt a child who can fill in the gap in age differences. Neither the oldest nor the youngest child’s position in your family is displaced by this decision.  However, in any adoption of an older child, the chronological age of that child can be quite different from the child’s emotional age due to the trauma they have experienced.  The reality you may find is that this new “middle” child is more like the youngest child in the family.

In any adoption – it is all about your expectations as an adopting parent. If you adopt a child who fits nicely into the age range where your children are right now, this newly adopted child may not blend in as well as you anticipated.  Some precautions will be necessary when adopting an older child or when adopting a sibling group.

The Basics of Adoption

Raising an adopted child is not the same as raising your biological children.  That is the first thing to understand.  I can just imagine my mom’s adoptive parents (a banker and a socialite) saying something like this – “If it were not for us, you would never have had the kind of life you’ve had. Just always remember that.”  And there is truth in that.  My mom would have grown up in abject poverty.  She was able to go to a university for a degree because of her parents’ wealth.  I was able to take a special summer session as a student at Claire College, Cambridge and see the country of England, thanks to my mom’s adoptive mother.

Different isn’t always better. Also, more money doesn’t always mean happier.  My mom had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother who used a lure of money against her frequently.  I can see she used money to control my mom when that (to control my mom) was not truly possible.  I do know how blessed my adoptive grandmother felt to receive her two children.  But as my mom grew up that feeling seems to have mutated into something controlling and judgmental.

I will honestly admit, I am grateful I was not adopted. Though I didn’t know family beyond my parents, at least I knew who my parents were. I did not have the name I was given at birth taken away from me. I did not have to pretend to belong when I knew that I didn’t. I was not abused but no one ever tried to convince me I was special because they chose me for adoption. I did not feel abandoned or rejected. My parents believed in honesty and truth.

No one tries to make me feel better by telling me my life could have been worse.  Or that I would be dead if these people didn’t adopt me.  That’s putting a huge burden on a child to meet the adoptive parents’ expectations.

Adoptees suffer a primal wound by being separated from their original mother. Many have symptoms of PTSD. Many adoptive mothers never resolve their feelings of inadequacy due to not being able to conceive naturally. Adoptees are often overwhelmed by feelings that they need to search for their genetic lineage. As adults, adoptees often experience difficulties in achieving a successful romantic relationship.

Reunion Disappointments

Search on “adoptee reunion disappointments” and you will come up with a lot of links.  Many adoptees, while they are children, fantasize about what their original parents were like and how they would have treated them differently than the adoptive parents raising them.  The reality cannot live up to the fantasy.

First there is the joy in discovery and finally, finally, knowing the truth of where one came from and perhaps how they came to be conceived (which may or may not actually be a very happy story).  Then there is the old “nature vs nurture” story.  How much of who we become is due to genetics and how much is due to the culture we are raised within.

Finally, there is the issue of gratitude.  Adoptees often feel like they need to be grateful to the parents that raised them for saving them from ?  That is the problem.  There is no way of knowing what would have been better.  Reality is whatever it was.  There are always issues of abandonment and rejection and fears of causing more of those wounds if the adoptee betrays the affections of those who raised them.

Here is one adoptee’s story –

Paul had spent his whole life dreaming about his mother. He imagined what it would be like to meet someone who looked like him, who offered unconditional love and who took away the empty feeling he had always carried in the pit of his stomach.

“I thought meeting her would make me whole. I had had a happy childhood but somewhere deep in my gut, I have always been hollow,” said Paul, now 42 years old and living in Kent.

But Paul’s meeting with his mother was a disaster. “I now believe you can never recreate that mother-child relationship,” he said. “Away from the dreams, the initial rejection an adopted child has suffered makes unconditional love impossible to recreate in the cold light of reality.”

“I understand why my mother gave me up but I still find it impossible to forgive,” he said. “Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my life looking for something that was never there.”

One study revealed that, eight years after first making contact, almost 60 per cent of adopted children have ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth parent.  It is rare that a birth relative rejects the adoptee.  Even so, the birth parent may have higher expectations of a renewed relationship than the adopted child, who may only want to answer questions about their own identity.

According to one survey, over 70 per cent of searchers and 89 per cent of non-searchers fail to feel an instant bond with their birth parent.  One in six new relationships break down within one year after initial contact and almost 43 per cent of relationships are abandoned within eight years.

From my own experience of discovering my genetic relations (I am not an adoptee but both of my parents were), one cannot recover lost time nor opportunities to forge closer relations.  One can only begin where they find themselves to slowly, over time, develop whatever relationship is possible.

 

Lacking Permanency

After I learned who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing effectively nothing about their own familial roots), I began to learn about the impacts of adoption.  I read a really good book on this subject – The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier (definitely highly recommended for anyone else who is interested in understanding).  I also joined a group about adoption that is all about facing the realities.  Member of the whole triad of original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents belong to this group and I have learned a lot about the issues from the diversity.

From letters written by my adoptive grandmother in the late 1930s to the Tennessee Children’s Home staff – Fanny Elrod and Georgia Tann – there are indications that my mom had been upset the whole time she was being taken by my adoptive grandmother by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as a 7 mos old infant and that she may have been drugged by a doctor upon arrival there to calm her down.

Though letters from my adoptive grandmother in the early years of my mom’s life indicate that she was over the moon happy with my mom as her adopted child, I know that my mom never felt she lived up to my grandmother’s high standards.  I understand this personally as she was a phenomenal woman and I had my own run-ins with her opinions about me that were deeply hurtful.

My grandmother grew up not far from me in Missouri.  Her mom was lazy by my grandmother’s accounts – only interested in her bible and not in her household – and both her mother and sister were fat (confirmed in photographs of the whole family together).  My grandmother maintained a very trim figure all her life to match the trim figures of her sisters-in-law and worked hard at that by denying herself fattening foods to maintain her figure.  She criticized me once in a public place quite loudly for taking a dinner roll and putting butter on it.  I didn’t even speak to her for a whole 24 hours I was so upset.

Adoptees do not feel special because someone chose to adopt them.  They always feel at risk of being rejected and abandoned all over again if they don’t live up to their adoptive parents’ expectations.  For that reason they become people pleasers as my own mom definitely was.  She was described very positively after she died by the people who knew her but I wonder now – at what price internally did she accomplish that high regard ?

You Can Start Over

There is not much a child can do about the circumstances of having been adopted.  When a adoptee matures into adulthood, there is a chance to reframe the experience, to find ways to make the unique experiences that an adoptee goes through – a strength.

There is not a universal agreement that adoption harms the self-esteem of adoptees.  Studies seem to indicate it does not but adoptees will often highlight the ways that it did harm their own self-esteem.  I trust the adoptee’s perception over that of a researcher.

Without a doubt, an adoptee suffers the loss of their natural family connection.  This impacts the development of their identity.  Often, as an adoptee matures they have an understandable interest in their true genetic information.

Compared to a true orphan who cannot regain the physical presence of their original parents, an adoptee will have a sense that out there somewhere are the people who are related to them genetically.  It is like missing a limb that one knows should be there.  There will always be an uncertainty and often a level of grief or anger over a situation the adoptee did not create.  There is often a fear that if the adoptee does not live up to the expectations of the adoptive parents they could be rejected, abandoned or sent back to some place that is not a home.

In every person’s life there are emotionally charged milestones – marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent – when the unique issues of having been adopted are more keenly felt.  In fact, it is often in giving birth to their own children, that an adoptee begins to really want to seek their origin information and if possible, experience a reunion with the people they were taken away from.

It is not possible to undo a life that has always been informed by having been an adopted person.  It is possible to seek a perspective that empowers rather than victimizes the adoptee.  An adoptee can seek to take control over their life and it’s further direction, something most of them lacked (control) in their childhoods.