To Walk A Fine Line

Today’s story is about finding one’s way in unusual situations without any role models or rules to guide you.

My husband and I divorced about 25 yrs ago and he basically disappeared and didn’t keep visitation or support our 4 children. About 15 yrs ago he just showed up with a 1 yr old, said he wanted to introduce his baby to his other siblings (our 4 were about grown by then). The baby was a sweet heart and well all adored him, met the mother and she was a sweetheart too.

Both of the parents were dealing with addiction issues and the baby ended up staying with me and my 2 children who were still living at home at the time. Once the baby was old enough for Prekindergarten, I went to court and got guardianship but wanted both parents to have extensive visitation rights. At first the dad, my ex, visited often. The mom kinda came and went depending on her own issues. However the visits kept getting less and less.

Neither has visited in the past 9 yrs. I send the mom updates on her Facebook messenger but she has never responded. I’ve always struggled with what to tell him. I usually just say, “your mom and dad loved you very much but sometimes adults just have issues that takes them away from the things they love and hopefully one day they’ll be able to get it all straightened out.”

He is 16 now and has social media and can reach out to them and I make sure to tell him every so often that he can reach out to them any time and I’ll help in anyway he feels comfortable with or I’ll refrain from being involved at all, if he’s more comfortable with that.

I’ve never adopted him nor terminated their parental rights and the first visitation order we did years ago still stands. I’ve fielded questions for years from people who said, “Why don’t you adopt?”, but it just never felt “right” for me to cut off their parental rights (even if at times I didn’t feel they deserved them).

He has called me mom for years, he asked if he could when he was about 5, I told him he could call me whatever he felt comfortable with. I’ve spent the last 14 yrs second guessing myself and I’m sure I’ve done stuff wrong and surely he has trauma. I just try to be honest without criticism toward his parents, although his older siblings will sometimes let a mouth full fly about their (and his) dad.

Sometimes I feel that he may think I don’t love him as a son because I didn’t adopt him. It’s just hard knowing what was right. He has a maternal uncle who he sees regularly and he gets to see all his maternal family at Christmas, birthdays, holidays , etc. But unfortunately his mom is not in contact with her family at all, so he still doesn’t see her.

I’d take any advice/ideas on how to make sure I’m not adding to his trauma.

One response was this –

I think you did everything perfectly. I would somehow bring up that you love him as a son though and that you just didn’t want to erase his past. Mention if he feels the need when he’s older, you two can discuss it then. If he is an adult and still wishes to be adopted by you, then it was his choice and that’s what matters most, giving him a voice, and loving him.

Mommie Dearest

Christina Crawford

Just the words, “Mommie Dearest” makes me want to cringe. I was aware that Crawford had adopted her children from Georgia Tann. Actually, I had come across the story of the younger siblings, twin girls, while doing my research about Georgia Tann. They have a more positive perception of Crawford. However, I know that one child may be a problem for the parents, while another child won’t be. There are defiant and compliant children and certainly, the complaint ones are easier to parent. Not that I am judging Christina as a problem child but it is clear that she had problems with her mother.

I don’t doubt that she suffered abuse. I’ve read the accounts of too many adoptees in my all things adoption group to doubt anyone’s claim. My first reminder of Christina’s memoir was an article in which the writer describes going to see the film version (about 40 years after its release) and it being found hilarious by many in the audience, that it had become a bit “camp”. Since I really didn’t know the definition, I googled it. Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. Somehow a movie about child abuse just doesn’t seem like the same kind of cult classic as The Rocky Horror Picture Show from my own perspective.

Christina was 80 years old last year. Her memoir came out in 1978 but she had written a musical based on it around the time of her latest birthday. It had a run at Birdland, the renowned New York jazz venue. She was happy about it. “It sold out, it was fabulous,” she says, looking glamorous and spry, before issuing what has become a standard warning: “The musical had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. I want to put that in big capital letters.”

The movie she is referring to (and the one I mentioned above) is the 1981 adaptation of Christina’s memoir that starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Christina’s adoptive mother, whose abuses, soberly detailed in the book, were turned by the movie into high camp. As chronicled in Mommie Dearest, Crawford slapped, kicked, punched and tried to strangle her daughter, while subjecting her to a severe schedule of cleaning and other household chores, driven by the movie star’s alcoholism and who knows what else.

The publication of Mommie Dearest, perhaps the first memoir ever to document child abuse from the child’s point of view, changed the landscape of victim representation and was an early precursor to today’s more robust protection of victims’ rights. Generally speaking, we don’t recognize the long-term psychological damage that is inflicted on people who are abused, neglected and trafficked. It is hard for people to understand that what happened 20 years ago is creating behavior patterns today.

Being sent to boarding school at the age of 10 was a turning point for her. She understood that the rules she grew up under weren’t normal. She tried to build a degree of self-esteem after years of being told by her mother that she was useless. Education was the path forward for her.

“Fear is the water that abused children swim in,” Christina says. “Because you don’t know what’s going to happen and your life is so chaotic. But on the other side of the equation, it’s fear from people who are afraid to speak up. Fear that they’re going to lose their job or that people are going to say something bad about them. If you were to ask me about one thing that embraces all of us, it’s the constant fear.” The fear doesn’t go away when the abuser dies. Christina says, “Because it’s internal.”

After a period of estrangement in the latter years of her mother’s life, she attempted a reconciliation. It turned out not to have been possible. Christina says of Crawford that at that point in their lives, “She was an alcoholic. She was ill. She was drug-addicted. And I think she just wasn’t playing with a full deck. I completely lost context – not contact, but context with her, because I wasn’t physically present. Then she died.”

Christina and her younger brother Christopher were cut out of Crawford’s will, for what was cited as “reasons which are well known to them.” Christina was so furious she went straight to her desk and started writing down everything that had happened in her childhood. Her two younger siblings disputed the book.  Different people in the family experience the parenting situation in different ways. Because the parenting situation is different towards them, they may have trouble believing how awful it was for a sibling.

Credit for much of this blog goes to Emma Brockes for her June 25 2019 article about Christina in The Guardian. Though I hesitate to add this movie trailer, I will for full diligence to this blog.

Questioning an Adoptee’s Legitimacy

Today’s story features an adoptee who’s legitimacy to participate in end of life decisions is being questioned.

My adoptive mom has been hospitalized for three weeks. A few days ago I thought she may not make it. She is now improving but I got call from hospital social worker today saying her team of doctors wanted to have meeting with myself and my siblings about medical directives and end of life decisions. I have four brothers…all my mother’s bio kids. I am the only one adopted. Three of my brothers have not seen or visited my mother in over 14 years. Myself and my fourth brother care for her and she lives on our property next door and that brother lives with her in her home. I mentioned I was so much younger because I was adopted after my mother had remarried and had wanted a girl. The caseworker then paused and then started asking “So you said adopted. were you legally adopted? Was it done thru courts?” I immediately knew she was questioning my legal standing to have any say about my mother’s care….when I am the primary one who cares for her.

One adoptee notes – There are so many ways we are belittled and dismissed as not legitimate.

An estranged bio child can show up out of the blue, and nobody questions their relation. They wouldn’t demand that a non-adopted adult child show their birth certificate.

From another adoptee – I lost my adoptive mother 5 years ago, and when we all made the decision to have her go into hospice (which was mainly her own decision but she wanted all of our opinions on it), it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through (with her actual death being the only thing harder).  I didn’t realize how many feelings of abandonment would come rushing to the surface by losing her, and I truly wasn’t prepared for the trauma response that I had. I wasn’t *as* close to my adoptive mother as you are, but she was still my rock, and my first person that I called whenever something big happened in my life. She’s the reason I completely changed career plans at 29 years old and decided to go into healthcare. Her death inspired me to care for others in her position, and I now care for end of life oncology patients on an inpatient unit.

Another adoptee offers – The perspective I’m offering is that I understand the lady was dismissive and rude, but as an adoptee, I saw first hand that the reality is those questions are standard regardless of biological vs adopted. They have to establish legal representatives and so documents are often requested.

A person in a position to know adds – I work at an inpatient unit of a hospital. I have absolutely *never* had to ask a patient’s child for proof of relation. We *never* ask for a birth certificate, as a Power Of Attorney or Health Care Declarations are legal documents (and a person can name *anybody* their healthcare proxy, regardless of relation). When my adoptive mother died, her estate lawyer did not ask for proof that I was legally her child. 

I believe this really explains the issues – it does not matter WHY it’s done. It knocks you on your feet. It makes you feel like your family relationships are precarious. It can be overwhelming to have someone ask you this. The second they hear the word adoption, the words change. It could be innocent yes. It’s for our benefit most of the time yes. It still feels like the earth was pulled from underneath your feet.

Why ?

Today’s story – I Never Wanted Boys

Husband’s first cousin and his girlfriend have, actually had – 5 children – 3 girls, 2 boys. They have custody of the 3 girls but both boys were placed for adoption because in her words “I never wanted boys”. We didn’t think she meant it, but she did.

She placed the first boy with a friend of hers and the other with my husband and I. She has no relationship with her first son but for the first 4 years of our son’s life, she and his sisters would see my adopted son, a few times a year at family functions. She would always tell him “Hello” and give him a hug, but that was the extent of her interaction with him.

When he turned 4, the couple, parents of these 5 children split up. That was now 2½ years ago. She doesn’t come to family functions anymore and turned down my suggestions, more than once, before blocking me completely for asking her to maintain some sort of relationship with the son that is in my care. He has always known she is his mother, and from birth until he was the age of 4, he was able to have some sort of relationship with his sisters. I’ve explained to her the importance of the children having a sibling relationship and bond. She does not agree with me that this is necessary.

My adopted son is now 6½ years old. His questions have started to be – “Why?” I don’t know what to say to him. The truth to me is harsh and I’ve always struggled with the thought that the day might come when I would have to tell him what her reasons were. Before all of this happened, I was for 100% transparency and truth as regards his adoption. But do I really tell him this?? Surely not this young!!? When he’s older? EVER?? I don’t want to add to his trauma.

One answer that came, really tore at my heart.

99% of the time I am for telling a 100% of the truth all the time – except for this situation. My brother and I are adopted. We have different genetic/biological families. Our story comes quite close to this one. My brother is an adult now. But at the age of 9, my adoptive mom told him – his mom treated him the way she did because he was a boy. Now that he is an adult, his original mother has admitted that is true. But being told this when he was 9, well, my brother was so confused and hurt that he self mutilated himself trying to become a girl. The best advice I can give in this situation is to seek an adoption trauma therapist to help you navigate the years ahead. I know such a rejection definitely messed with my brother’s self identity.

Too Old ?

It is still Foster Care Awareness Month and today, the questions was asked – Should someone in their 50s be able to adopt infants and toddlers from foster care ?

I encounter this as an older mom from time to time. I responded – Recently, visiting my primary care doctor, my youngest son came up and she asked – how old is he ? I said 16-1/2. She did the math quickly – you had him at 50 ? I said, yep. I know this is about adoption and foster care but honestly, it really depends on so many factors. My grandmothers both lost their YOUNG mothers when one of them was 3 mos old and the other one when she was 11 yrs old. The length on any life is simply not guaranteed. I do think health matters. I was put through a whole battery of tests including a heart stress test before being allowed to conceive my last son at such an advanced age. Agencies could require additional health assessments for older persons.

Just before I responded, I was happy to see someone else reply – I was 50 when I had a newborn placed with me for a weekend due to an abuse allegation on a foster parent. I adopted him at 53.

One wrote – While I don’t agree with anyone over 55 adopting (I don’t agree with adopting at all) my state allows people to foster and adopt well into 65.

And of course, it is very common these days to see grandparents raising their grandchildren. I know at least one in that category. So this answer did not surprise me – I fostered my 3 grandchildren (4 & under) at age 53 and adopted them at 56…no way I was letting them go to strangers.

And this view from experience – My parents were that old and I did fine. Only disappointment was that all of my older siblings were my biological mom’s age or older. At 28, all my siblings are old enough to be my kids grandparents. Because they are in their late 40s, early 50s now. Other than that, I still did everything – with sports, dance, went on vacations. They kept up. With me and my little sister who they adopted when she was 1. And I was 6 at the time. Maybe they should have just stopped with me. But I wanted a little sister. So, when she was literally dropped at our door and the mother terminated her rights, they adopted my little sister too.

A concern was expressed but this smacks of ableism to me – I see it every day at work, as soon as our older ladies step in with the kids (especially the toddlers), the children do not get the kind of engagement they need from the caregiver. Toddlers and kids need someone who can physically be involved in their play and in their development. From my experience, older women and men are not usually able to do that for them. That’s not to say the kids don’t love the older ladies, but they know they can’t ask them to play or help because of their limitations. I’m very old school (you know, “get over it and go play”.)

I remember my mom always sent us outside to play – without her !! Out of hair and need for giving us attention – though we knew she loved us. It was just how she was (she had me at age 16 and my youngest sister at 22, so she wasn’t old). I would add until very recently, I will be 67 later this month, there were no physical limitations on the “play” part and we did “play” with our kids. I’ll admit my knees have crapped out a bit, so I can’t do the long hikes anymore. My husband just turned 69 this year and he runs every day – so the physical stuff he can still do with his sons – and he is always willing to have fun. The older one is now 20 and not so much into “play”, actually for that matter the 16-1/2 yr old isn’t either. They are pretty independent of us for entertainment. My husband does like to joke with the youngest one that he’ll be changing his dad’s diapers some day. It really isn’t funny – experienced this stuff with my in-law’s before they died and with my dad after my mom died. It happens. It’s reality.

One commented – How embarrassing would it be at your high school graduation having to explain to your friends that the old lady with a walker is your mom? Yet, I think, would they say this about a person in a wheelchair. In this week’s Time magazine is a feature on Rebekah Taussig – a disabled mom who has paralyzed legs. And she writes about such everyday things as learning to lift him (her baby born during the pandemic) from the floor to her lap, or in and out of his crib, or up and over the baby gate on her own.

I suppose appearances matter a lot when your life is determined by your peers. Maybe we’ve avoided a lot of that comparison angst because our sons are educated at home because we have a home based business and are here all the time anyway. They have grown up with mature conversations and exposure to people of all ages – from babies to people much older than us up in their 80s or 90s.

Of course, I liked this response too –

I’m 50 and have such an issue with this. I’m going to ask that you give your age with your response. I’m tired of people implying that I am too old to do anything. I ran a half marathon in February, I work a full time job and a part time job and just hiked for 4 days straight – over 20,000 steps a day. How dare you all restrict women and what they can do at any age! I am a teacher and an owner of child care centers. I have more patience and experience and knowledge than the vast majority of 20-30 year olds.

I had my daughter when I was 19. I find this too. I may have behaved more like a child with her than I have with my sons but I have gained so much from years of living that is also an advantage over how I was when I was that young.

Another one wrote – My grandma (just found out, not even biological, through 23 & Me) started raising me when she was 60 and I had the best life and upbringing I could have ever asked for. She never missed a beat and was way cooler than all of my friend’s parents. To this day she’s my best friend.

I think I’ll just end it here. There is no one size fits all on this kind of issue. One argument the person who asked the original question made – in response to the above was – Adoptees already have so much stacked against them, that older parents just add more layers. Fair but . . . . again, no one size fits all . . . . even with the experience an adoptee has in their circumstances. I’ll make my anti-ageism stand here.

Open Adoption

Some time ago I read this book by Vanessa McGrady about her experience with an open adoption. Today, the topic of Open Adoptions came back up in my all things adoption group and I thought I would re-visit the topic.

Today’s questions are – What does your open adoption look like? and How is the child connected to their first family?

I will share selective comments because there were 70 and I’m not doing ALL of those. LOL

This one is an adoptive parent of two little girls (biological sisters). We are very fortunate to be able to have a very open adoption with mutual respect. I feel it is similar to co-parenting with the exception they do not stay at her house. (Her personal choice that I support due to varying circumstances in her life.) We speak almost daily. We spend every birthday/holiday together. Mom comes to school programs, recitals and sports games. My husband and I make the normal day to day decisions, but discuss with her major decisions. We value her input on beliefs, values and overall wellbeing of the girls.

Another situation – I talk regularly with mom, though not daily now, as we once did, because she is now working and life happens. Kiddo is able to email mom and text sister as often as she wants (she has her own devices and I do monitor her messages to all but sister and mom). They don’t talk as often as *i’d* like them to, all chat, but I can’t force any of the three to have a relationship. All I can do is say “hey have you emailed mom recently?” We exchange gifts at holidays and when we can afford it, we fly mom and sister out to visit and they stay with us. Unfortunately, dad doesn’t want contact and has kept his kiddo a secret. I’ve made efforts to reach out over the years and his position hasn’t changed. I have made it clear that he needs to get his things in order because kiddo will come knocking when she’s older (she’s 10 now).

And another – We all live in the same city, so we are able to see each other often – mom, dad, both grandmas, aunts, uncles and cousins. We do the usual family stuff like celebrate birthdays and holidays, but we also just do regular life together too – parks, stores, video calls, restaurants. Facebook access to all family members which has been a great tool for keeping our daughter connected to her family (she’s only 2, so we feel like we are responsible for keeping communication open until she’s old enough to do this herself). Her mom and I both enjoy crafting, so we’ve done several projects together. We also did family photos at Christmas! Many of these choices have been continued and enhanced because of this group (thanks!) and the podcast Adoptees On.

A slightly different kind of situation – an adoptive parent of 2 little girls (who are not biologically/genetically not related). One family does not have much contact (their choice). Our other daughter (just turned 7) can call/text/video chat/reach out whenever she wants (she has one of our old phones that is hooked up to wifi) and her parents can contact her that way whenever they want as well. They also have frequent visits and pre-covid would come to dance recitals and school programs and everything… they typically have their own birthday parties for her (their request).

In my all things adoption – one of the suggestions for reform is to turn to guardianship – not adoption. Here’s one that is guardianship. We see both paternal and maternal family members each week, we have photos around our home of their family, they can call/video call their family members anytime they like off my phone or their iPads, I speak with their family members nearly daily with updates/photos about how the girls are going and reach out for advice quite frequently, we go away on holidays together.

Open adoptions are mostly a recent development and so in many of these, the children are still quite young. Here’s another one like that (families are making it up as they go along – I believe closed adoptions are becoming a archaic thing of the past) – Grandma, aunts, cousins, and some adults siblings all call, text, and have access regularly. (More than weekly for texts and calls. Visits were monthly or more before covid. Not as much since then but we are planning for more now as situations are improving.) They attend birthday parties and holiday gatherings. We share photos and have them on my social media account. Our little is only 2. They are welcome at our home anytime and we have been to theirs several times. One of the sisters has been on vacation with us. She will be meeting us at the beach in July for vacation again. Parents are not in a position to parent or be safe at this time. I hope that changes and they can have some kind of relationship. For now they do get updates from family members and have photos of him. He knows all family members just as “Grandma” and “Auntie.” We make no distinction between the biological or the adopted. The siblings are his sisters – whether they are biological or adopted. They all love him and that is what’s most important to us.

Another example –

Fictive kinship (*) adoption but didn’t not know parents prior to fostering—I knew his sisters. Several months after Termination of Parental Rights and no contact – mom reached out. I told her I didn’t care about her personal life and business. I told her that we—specifically her son—needed her in his life. That was the game changer going forward. We have what I’d call a true open adoption to where there’s unlimited access to him, if she wants it. I don’t wait for her to ask either because I know sometimes asking isn’t easy. I’m off summers and include her in our daily/weekly activities—pool, park, splash pad, etc. We talk every week or 2. Our son talks to her too. We just made the switch from calling her momma (insert name) to just momma. We see her every holiday and birthdays too or just on a whim, if we’re both not busy. I don’t like how adopters claim open adoption and all that involves is a Christmas picture. That’s not the intention.

(*) “Fictive Kin” means an individual who is not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child, but who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child; “Kinship Care” is the raising of children by grandparents, or other extended family members within the fourth degree of kinship. From Alec.org – Model Legislation suggestion.

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.

Adoption-Related Complex Trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are 6 main assumptions about the practice of adoption –

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

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

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

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

Cousins Through Adoption

My aunt called me last night to tell me that her only son, my cousin Allan, had died this last Saturday. It was a bit of a shock and not a shock because for several years she would often ask me to pray for him due to some health challenge. When I mentioned his poor health to her, she said he was actually doing better lately and she worried about him less. He was a security dog trainer and he was doing a meet and greet with a potential new client when he literally dropped dead, with his wife nearby waiting for him in their car. The ambulance arriving was what alerted her that something had happened. So, he died instantly without pain doing what he loved.

I became closer to my two aunts – both from the paternal side – after my mom died and then my dad died 4 months later. I really didn’t have much contact with them for decades until that happened. It is like they came to fill a bit of a void for me of connection to something childhood. In fact, I told my husband – cousins are a childhood thing. They connect us to when we were children. My husband remembers meeting this cousin and I remember it was when we visited my aunt at her parents home in Pennsylvania before we had children. In fact, I wasn’t seriously close to this cousin had it not been a reuniting with this aunt by telephone and hearing constant updates on him. My aunt will be 90 this coming December and my cousin and his wife had just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary on April 2nd. I don’t even have a photo of him, though I do have a recent photo of my aunt that she sent me one Christmas not long ago.

My adoptive family relations became more complicated for me once I discovered who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and their siblings were adopted except my dad’s step-sister who is the biological genetic daughter of my dad’s second adoptive father – yes, he was adopted twice in childhood after his adoptive mother divorced – as my youngest son said not too long ago, “you have a very complicated family”, well yes) and started having reunions with my genetic cousins with whom I have no shared life history but through whom I acquired insight into my original, genetic biological grandparents. I also acquired digital copies of photographs of my genetic family members. It is difficult to build relationships with decades of not knowing you existed between the two of you. I take a patient perspective on it and allow it to be whatever it will be. My genetic biological family is important to me and made me whole but there are still these other people with whom I have life history and I have begun to reintegrate them into my life as well.

So, while I was on the phone with my aunt, I thought of my cousin Christy. She is the daughter of the other aunt (that step sister by adoption) I’ve become closer to with the death of my parents. She recently turned 80. I remember my youngest sister sharing with me that she, Christy and Allan used to get into mischief at my Granny’s house (my dad’s adoptive mother). So I told my aunt, I would call and let Christy know and my middle sister as well. My youngest sister ? I am estranged from her, due to the severity of her paranoid schizophrenia which created a wedge between us due to cruel treatment by her towards me as I tried to administer my deceased parents’ estate and create some kind of ongoing support for her now that there are no parents to provide that.

My memories of my now deceased cousin are complicated in ways I would rather not share publicly. He is part of the story of why Thanksgiving was wrecked for my family. My uncle died due to the complications of Lou Gehring’s Disease during a holiday football game on TV as my dad and uncle’s family awaited Thanksgiving dinner to be served. There was always that watching of football games as part of my family’s holiday. The dinner was interrupted and the holiday ever after a reminder of his death. My cousin was only a child when his father died. This cousin was strikingly similar in appearance to his dad and I believe my paternal adoptive grandparents came to relate to him like a replacement for the son they lost that Thanksgiving Day.

RIP Allan Hart. May your dear wife, Christine, find comfort in the closeness of her own mother. They were living on the same property with her at the time of his death. I can truly say of ALL my cousins – God made us cousins. No truer words could ever be said since none of us are genetically, biologically related.

Birthday Blues

My birthday usually falls near the Memorial Day weekend. Many years, I had a L-O-N-G celebration of existing. It was a happy and self-affirmative occasion.

However, when I began to learn about the trauma associated with adoption, I discovered that the day an adoptee was born is not a happy occasion for many of these persons. It is a reminder of abandonment, rejection or at the least, that the parents from who their life descended are not raising them.

Until an adoptee matures and begins to break through the fog of how wonderful it was that they were adopted narrative, many wonder why they act out or sabotage their own birthday celebrations. What is wrong with them ? Everyone else seems happy to celebrate their birthday.

And now I understand better and can see the difference between my own birthday and an adoptee’s. I remember as well there was some confusion about my own mother’s actual birthdate, though eventually it settled on January 31st and now that I have her adoption file – I see the errors and their eventual correction.

Yesterday, I watched a youtube video the Birthday Episode by My Adoption Story by Lilly Fei and the conflicted feelings, which I remember my own mom having about her adoption are so obvious. Two things stood out for me – when she said she was “found” and how she described the way some international adoptions of transracial children involve the child having birth dates that are estimated based upon physical characteristics because the actual date of birth is unknown.

One adoptee writes – One reason I hate my birthday is because its a celebration of the day I was born and then placed in a nursery just sitting there because my birth mom didn’t want to get attached by holding me. It annoys me that this reason even bothers me, but it definitely does. People who aren’t adopted have great stories about the day they were born and how all these people came to see them and hold them and there are pictures. Yeah that doesn’t really exist if you’re adopted.

Many adoptees feel anger and negative emotions that are understandably directed at their birth family…It is not actually the birthday itself. Yet unavoidably the birthday is a reminder of what happened – back then – so each year, when that birthday rolls around, it all comes back into sharp and painful focus. It is what was done to that baby, for whatever reason at the time of birth, that is the actual problem.

One possible strategy for an adoptee is to change the focus of their birthday. Take a few or even several hours of time out on your birthday. Just you – go somewhere you really like, and reflect, alone, on your current goals and how you hope to achieve them. Keep your thoughts written down. Look at them a few times during the following year. Then when the next birthday rolls around, go over your thoughts again and revise them for the current reality. One adoptee found this kind of birthday event to be helpful in overcoming the birthday blues.

One other suggestion is to deal with all of your negative feelings BEFORE your birthday. Don’t avoid them because then you will feel sad that day. By acknowledging your feelings and seeking to understand what they are trying to tell you, you can then let them go for that day and celebrate the fact that you are resilient, you are a survivor, you are worthy to be loved and celebrated, you rock this life (even though you have that trauma of having been adopted).

For more insight, you may wish to read this Medium essay titled Birthday Blues. Adrian Jones says – “There is one certainty with my birthday: I will find a way to sabotage it. As sure as the sun rises each morning, my birthday will somehow become a fiasco. For most of my life it has been like this. I wish it would stop, but it won’t.” He goes on to write what he has discovered is the source of his pain and the anxiety he feels as his birthday approaches –

“You see, I’m adopted. Born a bastard, I was separated from my biological mother at birth. The woman I spent nine months preparing to meet was gone in an instant. In my most vulnerable state, I was motherless. Without mother. At the time, I was overcome by a high degree of trauma, a trauma that cannot be undone. Worse, this trauma is precognitive. I, like millions of my adoptee crib mates, do not know what life is like without trauma, as we were introduced to life in such a traumatic state. Due to recent scientific studies, we know this to be true. Babies are born expecting to meet their mothers, hear their voices, smell their scents, taste their milk.  When their mothers are not available, they become traumatized. If puppies and kittens must stay with their birth mothers for a few weeks before being adopted, why is it okay to separate a newborn from her mother at first breath?”

There is much more to read in that essay. I highly recommend it.