The Fog

In adoptee centric communities, one quickly learns about “the fog”. This is the feel good narrative that adoption agencies and adoptive parents “feed” their adopted child. Many adoptees never come out of the fog. Most do not come out until maturity, maybe when they give birth to a biological child genetically related to them and begin searching the adoption related literature, a prominent one is The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. This is the preverbal, subconscious trauma experienced by a baby when they are taken from the mother who gestated them and then gave birth. It matters not a lot whether this separation occurs immediately after birth or months later. My parents were 6 mos and 8 mos old at the time they were separated from their mothers – so preverbal. The trauma is real and has ongoing effects.

So, I was attracted to an article in The Guardian titled Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory in the Health & wellbeing section by Moya Sarner. A feeling of brain fog has become more common as a result of the collective trauma of the COVID pandemic. It is described as a feeling of being unable to concentrate. There’s this sense of debilitation or of losing ordinary facility with everyday life.

It could be helpful for an adoptee to understand that this feeling isn’t unusual or weird. There isn’t something wrong with you. It’s a completely normal reaction to a seriously traumatic experience. This can affect you ability to problem-solve, your capacity to be creative in the face of life’s challenges. There can be a lot of different factors that taken together and interacting with each other, can cause these impairments, attentional deficits and other processing difficulties. Humans have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.

For an adoptee, it is life changes such has giving birth that can begin the process of waking up from the fog. The adoptive parents dying, so freeing the adopted child from a need to remain loyal to the people who cared and nurtured them growing up that may kindle a need for their own personal truth. Who were the people that gave them life ? Are they still living ? What is the background story ? Are there other genetic relations ? What can they learn about their familial medical history ? What is their cultural identity ? Waking up to the reality of who the adopted person actually is.

Brain fog is a common experience but it’s very complex. It is the cognitive equivalent of feeling emotionally distressed; it’s almost the way the brain expresses sadness, beyond the emotion. One needs to think about the mind, the brain, the immune and the hormonal systems to understand the various mental and physical processes that might underlie this consequence of stress.  

When our mind appraises a situation as stressful, our brain immediately transmits the message to our immune and endocrine systems. These systems respond in exactly the same way they did in early humans – with what may feel like an irrational fear.  The heart beats faster so we can run away, inflammation is initiated by the immune system and the hormone cortisol is released. A dose of cortisol will lower a person’s attention, concentration and memory for their immediate environment. 

An experience of the fog is one of the most disturbing aspects of the unconscious. Recognizing the fog is our body and our brain telling us something, a signal – an alarm bell. We should stop and ask ourselves, why am I feeling this way ? What is the trigger ? What is the source ?  The idea is that we have a force inside us that is propelling us towards life. What has been hidden from us is now pushing us into a discovery. To make connections with our familial tribe and seek to expand the meaning of our very own life with the truth. 

The mental weight of our unknowns becomes harder to drag around. We have – at some moment in our lifetime – a will to know something about ourselves and our lives, even when that knowledge is profoundly painful. Paradoxically, there is also a powerful will not to know, a wish to defend against this awareness so that we can continue to live cosseted by lies. An adoptee might chose to live in the misty, murky fog rather than to face, to suffer, the painful truth and horror of their origin situation because the truth of the experience of how and why they were separated from their natural mother is too hard to bear.

We all experience grief, times in our lives where we feel like we can’t function at all. If you find yourself here, may it be mercifully temporary and may you recover from the shocks of reality and move forward, feeling a new wholeness in an expanded identity of yourself.

It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.