Using Detachment To Make Space

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. We now know that a child’s attachment to her mother starts in the womb, so even a child adopted at birth can experience severe attachment disruption later on in life. A friend was recently expounding on attachment and it seemed like some worthy thoughts to put in this blog.

She writes – Had a conversation recently with a loved one about loss, trauma, wounds, living in a bubble where the sense of belonging is not clear. When we lose loved ones, for example, due to death or breakups, when we are rejected, or misunderstandings separate you from people who are important to you – places where there is lack of warmth, lack of connection, a kind of coldness and cruelty that is hard to put in words and if you do put into words, you look weak – it is embarrassing, humiliating – further you go into the wound, building a fence around you made of loss, confusion, distorted or loss in sense of purpose, aloneness, pain, trauma, rejection, grief, loss of control. You can create narratives that preach positivity and strength but the heart is wounded, the heart has a stab pain, bleeding your life away, whispers in your inner ear of why you are not good enough – if only you were this or that..then maybe it would be alright. What can you do? A silent rage covers the wound, like a thin skin to help you function. A fight for your life that feel a fight in a dark room with no light in sight.

Then the idea “don’t be attached” sounds like more abuse, more alone, squeezing the heart tighter, as if trying to end what you are, your life. “Don’t be attached” feels like more of a stab. Abandoning yourself, your hopes. Hearing the word detachment can feel shattering. ..that as bad as you feel, now, don’t be attached.

Don’t be attached doesn’t mean withdraw from love, hope, from what you care or cared about. Particularly not withdrawing from the part of you that hurts. Not being attached is to draw closer to the hurt parts, abandoned parts, wounded parts. Not being attached is separating your self from the *story*, situations, to change the focus from the situation to the wounds to learn from them what you need to, to take time to transform into a newer version of yourself that has yet to be embraced and has navigated billions of hurts and disappointments, sometimes flat out rejections and absolute betrayals and abandonments, some that go very deep. The deep wound can cause even the lightest slights to feel exaggerated. We become sensitive to how the wind is blowing. We haven’t embraced our pain fully enough to heal. Everything that brings that pain to the surface or creates those feelings, it is a chance to embrace the wounded part, look at it, reason through, let others off the hook for a time, look at yourself, the wound, be alone with yourself, giving yourself time to heal. Otherwise, we might not sense when we are in relationships with people that abandon, hurt, reject – – because we haven’t yet developed a healthy one with the wounds we carry – using that as proof over and again that we are not worthy of more or pursue it, or even how…where.

Detachment is a short term method to make space to see yourself differently, to tend to your wounds properly, to love yourself rightly, to see things thorough and to come to terms once and for all – help yourself, gently, so we can evolve beyond the wounds.

**I do also consider there possibly being a radical process to detachment. A leap – as if off a cliff into a void, another world – where if you could do it – as if die to what you are – you would open to a world you had no idea is there, that you have only been seeing your thoughts and hardly reflecting anything at all but those thoughts – not reality. I imagine a Remembering, a rejoining with something exciting and pure. Personally, I find the idea and concept curious, the thought intriguing, and at times dwell on getting beyond idea and thoughts and wonder if there is another world..maybe a real world, reflected from a free conscience, a surprise, beyond *your* mind.

She ends it with this advice – Think about that then turn and say something silly and reveal your human flaws and personal prejudices. Even though your mind is there, inching in miles toward a leap.

The Cost Of Hidden Stress

The trauma that afflicts many adoptees occurred pre-language and so the source of it’s effects can seem mysterious but the impacts are very real. Today, I learned about this man – LINK>Dr Gabor Mate. It seemed to fit what I am posting so often in this blog that I thought I would make today’s about him.

For example, one of his books is titled When The Body Says No – “disease can be the body’s way of saying no to what the mind cannot or will not acknowledge.” Dr Mate also believes that “The essential condition for healthy development is the child’s relationship with nurturing adults.” And yet, time and again, I read from adoptees that their adoptive parents were really not prepared to be the kind of parents this subset of our population needed. Under Topics, he has many articles related to LINK>Trauma.

During the pandemic, in April 2021, Dr Mate hosted an online event with Zara Phillips. She is the author of LINK>Somebody’s Daughter, subtitled A Moving Journey of Discovery, Recovery and Adoption. The event information noted that adoptees and children who are fostered are over-represented in the prison system, addiction clinics and are 4 times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. This talk considered why that would be and what, if anything adoptees and their caregivers can do about it. For many, when we talk about adoption, we talk about placing children in need, into loving homes to parents that want them. The assumption behind these conversations is that love will overcome all challenges and obstacles. What we don’t talk about, or rarely, is that the adoption in the new home comes about because another home has ended, or perhaps not even begun. We forget that all adoption is formed from loss. Love is essential but it is not enough. They discussed what it means to carry the trauma of being relinquished. How adoption is not a one-time event but has a lifelong impact. They considered how unresolved trauma can lead to addiction and suicidal thinking. Also what, if anything, an adoptee (and those that support them) can do to heal and recover.

Often adoptive parents think that their love will be enough but time and again that is proven wrong when it comes to adopted children. Dr Mate brings up the myth of the blank slate baby which Georgia Tann used to highlight in selling babies.

There is a LOT at Dr Mate’s website. I believe much that is there could prove helpful to the people who read and follow my blog. Absolutely, he is about how to heal.

Concerned United Birthparents

A woman in my all things adoption group wrote – None of my family understands and it’s eating me up, I need to talk to someone. First thing, is there anyone in here that choose adoption, found an amazing family, went the whole pregnancy talking to them, growing a relationship, became friends but then changed your mind once you held your baby?

This actually happens more often than you might think.

One response was this – I did change my mind but I was so scared to hurt them. I ended up being talked out of keeping my son by my caseworker. PLEASE keep your baby if you have any regrets on adoption. You’ll never get over the loss of your own child but they can adopt and love ANY baby in the world.

Another adoptee also said – Please keep your baby. That feeling you feel is what you are supposed to feel. Adoptive parents are not entitled to your baby. That’s your baby. The bond you will build cannot be replicated. They will be sad but that is not your problem. Their sadness is not worth a lifetime of trauma for your baby.

One birth mother suggested – Birth Moms Support Groups. She notes that a few women who made the choice to parent have stayed in for the continued support.  She says, “I wish I could have had a full scope on adoption before placement, instead of all the “happy successful birth mother” stories I was sent by the agency.”

So I went looking and found this organization – Concerned United Birthparents – that titles, and is the graphic, for this blog. Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) provides support for all family members separated by adoption; resources to help prevent unnecessary family separations; education about the life-long impact on all who are affected by adoption; and advocates for fair and ethical adoption laws, policies, and practices. They are the only national organization focused on birthparents – their experiences, healing and wisdom. They list support groups – both online and in various cities. They do charge $45 for an annual membership. They note that they are an all-volunteer organization that operates almost entirely at cost through our membership dues.

Ancestral Reverence

It is the final Dia de los Muertos and my thoughts are on my ancestors. The image comes from LINK> Christiane Pelmas site for Women’s Ancestral Reverence Group – Weaving Our Radical Roots In These Darkening Times. It is an Autumnal Equinox Kiva. I have scattered roots of American, Mexican and Native experiences in my life having been born in Las Cruces New Mexico and growing up in El Paso Texas. My family often vacationed on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation campgrounds in Ruidoso New Mexico. Once my sons, husband and I spent Christmas Eve at the Acoma Sky City Pueblo.

My ancestors include my deceased parents, their original parents and their adoptive parents. Therefore, I have 8 grandparents instead of the usual 4. The original grandparents are people I never knew but that I now know had lives – information that was kept from me until after my parents deaths. I like Christiane’s site because when adoption is part of one’s core self there is trauma. It can’t be helped but it can be healed. I believe much of what I have been doing since I set off on my genetic roots journey in the Autumn of 2017 has been to heal the broken threads.

So for today, I will share some excerpts from Christiane’s site. I would add that I am aware that many people have uncomfortable relationships with one or more of the members of their family. She writes – “Nearly all human cultures (with the exception of western industrial, capitalist culture) practice complex rituals designed to foster on-going intimacy with, and healing of, their ancestral lineages (deceased relations of our blood lines). In western industrialized culture (and increasingly around the world, as Patriarchy colonizes more, and more, of the globe) we suffer from a devastating orphaning.”

Christiane writes of 3 intentions for practicing Ancestral Healing –

[1] to make connections with people of our blood and bone; those ancestral relatives who are vibrantly well and eager to provide us with their support, love and guidance as we journey through our lives. And in the case of my adoptive grandparents, I will add the people of my heart.

[2] to heal the significant trauma burdens woven deeply into most human lineages today; trauma burdens caused by endless war, poverty, social and economic injustice, environmental devastation and the diaspora it causes, racism, sexism and all forms of intolerance and violence toward the multiplicity and diversity of Life’s expressions. So much pain. In this healing process, the brilliance and medicine of each lineage is excavated and brought forward into its present-day expression, which is my very life, the life of my daughter and the lives of my grandchildren. We all live because they lived.

[3] to do the intimate ancestral healing work necessary – so that we are capable of turning our attention to the tremendous harm we continue to cause the ability of the Earth to sustain us all. I remember within my online social networking community there was developed what was called the Gaia Minute. A daily communion with the Earth (I often did mine in the darkness at night under the stars). From that practice I came to see the Earth as my deepest core mother. Not to leave the Sun out, I acknowledge the father energy that sparks all life with existence.

In my Science of Mind magazine Daily Guide for today written by the Rev Dr Dennis Merritt Jones, he shares this affirmation – “Everywhere I go, I see only the sacred presence of the Beloved One clothing itself in a multitude of divine disguises.” He also writes that Ernest Holmes dined with a vase of weeds on his table. A reminder that the only difference between a weed and a rose was the value we place on one over the other. Through a long reckoning in my own heart, I am balancing my genetic grandparents with those who adopted my parents.

Abandonment is a Perception

Perception matters. As we go through our own “adult” stuff and often have to make hard choices, we are not always aware of how our children are perceiving what we had to do. My marriage at 19 ended in divorce after the birth of our daughter a few years later. Eventually, I then left my daughter with her paternal grandmother (about the age of 3), but she eventually ended up with her dad and a step-mother. I made attempts to stay in contact and reassure her always that it never was about her directly but my own problems. Fortunately, we are close today as adults raising children (my grandchildren and two sons I have now from a subsequent marriage who’s ages are close to that of my grandchildren). I have faced that as a child her perception was understandably about having been abandoned, even though it was never my intention to never to have her under my own roof again during her childhood.

Today, I read about a woman with somewhat similar concerns. She left her child’s father when her daughter was only a year and a half old. She gave her mother legal guardianship of her daughter as she was going through a really rough time in her life. It’s shameful and it’s tough to face these kinds of reality. Finally, this woman met someone with whom she has been able to create a whole and loving family with her daughter and a subsequent baby brother from her new relationship. This daughter is now 9 years old and there are understandably “issues”.

Her daughter has ADHD and a fiery personality. Also some mood and behavioral problems exasperated by her abandonment trauma. She tends to be self-centered (normal) and melodramatic (from me). She can be very mean and unforgiving at times. She easily gets stuck on feelings of being left out or forgotten, even while we’re actively spending time with her.

One response suggested – Behavior is communication. Give each other grace. You are not the choices you made.

Another offered a perspective which I find valid – She has emotions that she is shoving down because she does not know how to deal with them. A huge part of healing childhood trauma is to grieve the losses that caused the trauma. For her, it was not having you or her father in her life for those years. My suggestion is that you start working on grieving your losses, and be open and honest with her about it (age appropriately). Let her see that you are in denial, angry, bargaining, sad, and finally accepting of what happened. That will give her permission to explore those feelings that she has inside of herself. I would also suggest a trauma/grief informed counselor. 

You were part of your daughter’s wounding, you can play a major part in her healing too. It all starts with the parent healing as an adult. Learning what triggers us, so we can be the calm, consistent adults that our kids need because our calm becomes their calm, our ability to regulate our emotions becomes their ability.

More than one recommended LINK> Trust Based Relational Intervention – which I have seen and mentioned before. TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.

Someone else suggested mediation. Sometimes a safe person who’s not her parent can help her better understand/hear what you may be trying to communicate (and vice versa). And her suggestion came from personal experience – “I’ve had mediations done with both my and my mother’s therapist, and each time seemed to help shed some light on new aspects of a topic being discussed with our respective therapists.”

And an acknowledgement that I also understand personally – The mere fact that you care so deeply, is absolutely everything. DO NOT ever give up on that. Parenting is so hard, even without the added guilt you carry. All you can do is wake up and do the best you can do for that day.

Finally this from someone who’s been there (and hits me in the guilt place for I have done this too) – I wish my mom had owned her hand in my trauma WITHOUT excuses or trying to push blame onto others. I wish she would have validated my experiences. I wish she would have created and protected a safe space for me to understand and unpack all of the feelings and thoughts I had, preferably with a therapist. I wish she would have spent time one on one with me doing things I cared about, getting to know me deeper. I wish she wouldn’t have told me how hard XYZ was for her, I didn’t care, it wasn’t a competition, I was the helpless child. Even if my mom’s choices were between bad and worse, she was an adult who had brought me with her to that point. I wanted a mom who wanted to BE my mom.

She added – Your bit you wrote about your daughter feeling left out or forgotten hit me like a ton of bricks. That feeling is something I am working on to this day. I felt so out of place with my mom, stepdad, and new baby brother. I knew I was forgettable and honestly with a new baby – replaceable. They felt like a whole little family and I was just the chump she had to come back and get so I could tag along. (blogger’s note – though I never was able to bring my daughter back into my own life fulltime – we did have visits – I did go on to have 2 sons who I have been raising. This caused me to consider how that might feel to her – even though she is an adult with children of her own.)

One more – Focus on being your best self today and in the future. That’s how you can make it up to them, they’re often incredibly wise about this stuff. This way of thinking encourages you to reach a point of acceptance and decide… everyone’s alive, healthy, and you can’t change the past. I think that’s what I would say to my own parents, just sin no more and I don’t want to dwell in the past. (Though there may be times when the wounds bubble back up.)

My own last insight – life is messy, complicated and sometimes very very difficult. We can only acknowledge where we have failed but instead of continually beating ourselves up over that – move forward with being the best person we have managed to be at this time.

What To Do ?

Today’s question – A woman adopted 2 kids years ago and has raised them since they were very young. Now that they are older, some truth came out that the situation that caused the adoption wasn’t as bad as she had been led to believe.

1) She wants to know if there is a way for their birth certificates to revert back the originals? She thought she had to change them in order to adopt the kids. (This is a common misperception that adoptees are trying to change because it almost always matters to them.)

And/or

2) Can she help their birth mother regain custody so that she can finish raising her own children ? Or un-adopt them, is that even possible?

A complication is that the kids say they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother or even to meet her. The woman is not certain they are telling the truth. Maybe they don’t want to hurt her feelings?

Some responses –

1) She probably did need to change the birth certificate to adopt, that’s still the case in many jurisdictions. It’s why guardianship is often preferred, though what that means also varies from one jurisdiction to the next, sometimes it is viewed as not allowing for stability.

2) The first step is for the kids need to get to know their mother again. If they refuse, I’m not sure what she can do other than to gently encourage it and never speak poorly of their mother. If they get to that point, what comes next varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next.

The mother may be able to re-adopt her children. However, if the allegation was neglect or abuse determined by Child Protective Services, that may not be possible. Same with guardianship. She might be able to take guardianship of her children, or not, depending on the situation.

These options may fail. It may be possible for the adoptive mother to give the original mother a power of attorney, should the children move in with her, and/or unofficially she could share custody of them, just like some separated/divorced parents do.

The woman definitely needs to consult a lawyer, so that she can determine if the court might view her as a possible risk. This assumes that Child Protective Services removed the children from her care. If her Termination of Parental Rights was a private relinquishment (that would make all of the above FAR easier.)

Another possibility is an adult adoption, which could restore the information that was originally on their birth certificates (by again changing the documents to finalize an adoption). If these children are already teenagers, that makes this option easier, as long as they are in agreement.

And this is the most important point, from an adoptee – It’s very possible that they don’t want a relationship with their biological mother, if she hasn’t been in their lives. Listen to what they are saying. I would never have wanted to leave my adoptive family to go and live with my biological family. It would have felt like a complete rejection of the life I had lived. I wouldn’t want another name. I am the name I have been for a long time, not baby girl “x”. These kids need to be the ones leading. Everyone else needs to just sit back and listen.

Therapy. Individually. Let them heal their own traumas. Create a space that’s safe and secure enough that they know they can speak honestly about how they feel about their biological family.

Another adoptee admits that she wanted so badly to have a relationship with her biological family. “It was freaking awful. The worst.” It’s not always what the adoptee thinks it would be like, either way.

The most important thing is their healing and security. The rest will come, if that is the right direction. They don’t deserve to have the process of reintroduction rushed, if they say “no” for any reason. It should be their lead.

Recognize Your Worth

Many adoptees don’t even realize that they are carrying unhealed trauma with them throughout their lives. Because for infants who were adopted, this trauma occurred during a per-verbal stage of their lives, they lacked words to describe what their emotions were saying to them. Both of my parents were adopted when they were less than one year old. My mom was adopted after having been placed temporarily in Porter Leath orphanage as my desperate maternal grandmother tried mightily to find a way to support the two of them with Georgia Tann circling them like a vulture. My dad was adopted after the Salvation Army coerced my paternal grandmother into relinquishing him. So both of my parents were carrying unhealed trauma throughout their lives.

The various ways people anesthetize themselves . . . is a wail from the deep. I once listened to Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss on cd. I gained a lot of insight into my own compulsive eating experiences listening to her. I see how clothing our bodies in excess weight is a protective device. Both of my parents were more or less overweight their entire lives. I am told that my father was still breastfeeding with his original mother when he was taken for adoption. My mother struggled with her body image due to an adoptive mother who was obsessed by eating and weight issues. I have one memorable experience of that with my adoptive grandmother when she took me to England and embarrassed me dining at The Dorchester in London when I reached for a warm dinner role. I didn’t talk to her for almost 24 hours but gave it up in favor of not ruining our whole experience there together.

Your Blogger at The Dorchester

My mom was passive and secretive about eating. Some of that behavior certainly filtered down to me. My dad struggled with some drunken experiences, one that I didn’t even learn about until after he died, when my sister and I found a letter from him about spending a night in jail for DWI and praying not to lose his job and family over it. But after he was “saved”, he didn’t stop drinking – though he was never a violent alcoholic – and able to work even double shifts and nights at an oil refinery.

Joel Chambers writes about The Lifelong Challenges of Adoptees at the LINK> Search Angels website – Adoptees face more traumas, and more challenges, than many other people, and it affects their lives in ways that we are just beginning to understand. He has also written a post, speaking at great length about how addiction, in all of its various forms, is all too common among adoptees. These have experiences such as grief and loss, self-esteem and identity issues, substance abuse and addiction, mental health, and challenges to the types of relationships that they can form with their adoptive families. Adoptees also deal with feelings of grief, separation, and loss for their biological parents and birth families, even if they never knew them. 

A healing I didn’t even know I needed started in the Autumn of 2017, when I began learning what my parents never knew – who my original grandparents were. Then, it was only natural that I really begin learning about this thing called adoption. My daughter once said to me – “it seems like you are on a mission.” True, guilty as charged.

Surrogates – Mother Infant Separation

I have wondered about this myself. A women in my all things adoption group asks the question for me and gets lots of answers.

I was adopted and I have trauma from my biological mom as well as some from the foster care system and then after getting adopted as well. I have seen a lot of people in this group mention the trauma a newborn baby automatically has when taken from the mother to be placed with a different family. I am wondering about surrogates then? If a new born baby is instantly traumatized due to the mother putting the child up for adoption, would that not be the same for a woman that is being a surrogate for another – couple or single individual ? For women who are unable to conceive, the choice seems to be either to adopt or have a surrogate. For women who can’t conceive, should they not also be allowed to be mothers ?

First response – No one dies from remaining childless. It’s selfish to intentionally create a child born into trauma. It sometimes takes as many as 3 women to make a baby. 1. One to pay for that because a woman she cares about wants a baby. 2. The biological donors and 3. The surrogate. What a boggling circumstance for the resulting child to wrap their mind around. People should just accept their infertility. The reality is that most of these women only want babies. Truth is that babies aren’t “in need” of someone else to mother them. They are in high demand and sought after by many.

Next perspective – No one is “owed” a baby or parenthood. It’s not a fatal condition if one never becomes a parent. However, if people want to be parents, there are legally free children in the foster care system. Children who need parents – though the best outcome is that they are never adopted but cared for under permanent guardianship – people to act in the role that parents would. Truth is – no one “needs” an infant.

Finally, onto the actual question – “There’s also a lot that’s ethically wrong with surrogacy beyond the babies trauma, which I think is the biggest issue. Jennifer Lahl has written and speaks out against it.” So I went looking and have linked her name to an article. She writes – “Gestational surrogacy involves impregnating a surrogate mother by implanting embryos created from the eggs of the intended mother or egg donor, and the sperm of the intended father or sperm donor. Women and newborns often do not survive gestational pregnancies, and those who do are often affected physically and psychologically.” I’m not certain about the do not survive part but that is what she wrote. You can read the rest of her article at the link in her name here.

And then a counter argument and I’m not saying this one isn’t as biased as the one above. “Couple Speaks Out Against Jennifer Lahl” courtesy of The Surrogacy Law Center. “Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.” ~ Susan Donaldson James of ABC News

Jenn and Brad Nixon of Chesterfield County in VA did their best to defeat infertility for 7 years. The Nixon’s chose to use a surrogate, or gestational carrier, after they learned Jenn’s heart problems would make it dangerous for her to get pregnant. Infertility is a disease affecting more than 7 million Americans. While Lahl highlights how affluent couples are using and exploiting surrogate services, objections to her perspective are raised by couples who have experienced infertility and are not in a wealthy income bracket.

Yet while much has been said here and maybe the answer is buried in almost 170 comments and linked responses to them, my heart already knows. Separating an infant from a gestational carrier is no different than separating an infant any time from the mother in who’s womb that baby developed. The least damaging case I know of was of a mother carrying a baby for her daughter. There will still be separation but the grandmother can be expected to remain in the baby’s life throughout at least their childhood and that might mitigate the effects significantly.

That story (which I once wrote about in this blog) is about a 51-year-old grandmother from Illinois who gave birth to her own granddaughter through surrogacy, when her daughter couldn’t conceive. Julie Loving, 51, was the gestational carrier for her daughter, Breanna Lockwood, who delivered a baby girl named Briar Juliette Lockwood. This has inspired a few other instances of grandparent surrogacy, I see.

Julie Loving with Breanna Lockwood and baby

And just adding this perspective because I think it is realistic – I don’t think the whole world must outlaw something because it creates trauma. There are traumatic things happening everywhere. BUT we can help children grow to be happier people – IF we acknowledge that trauma, respect it, be open to talking about it and hopefully maybe healing it. (And being open to the fact that it may never heal). Not all people will eventually be in touch with their trauma. Some will be and some can heal. Some will be and CAN’T heal. Life is a gamble. You will set yourself up for trouble – if you can’t even talk about it or acknowledge it exists.

Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Identity – Before and After

Today’s blog assist comes from this man – Travis Bradburn

What makes you… you? Those people with a DNA surprise have a “before” and “after” marking the day their identity was upended. Family secrets tear at the fabric of who a person is. Tell the truth and practice forgiveness.

In 2018, at the age of 45, Travis Bradburn’s identity was upended. In an instant, his life now had a before and an after. He saw – “Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words he saw when he opened up his 23 and Me app.

He writes – In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. 

He continues telling his story – I’m a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.

As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.

I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.

We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.

About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.

Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.

Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.