How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

Adoption IS Trauma

Today’s adoptee story –

Through writing this story, I became *very* angry with my biological mother for the first time since I met her almost ten years ago now.

I’ve always known I was adopted (at birth, through Catholic Charities, not “private” adoption but also not a foster care adoption.). I had great adoptive parents, who I know loved me (but didn’t always). There were no biological children in the family. My sister was adopted at four years old (when I was six) from foster care.

Blogger’s note – adoptive parents often adopt another child to be a sibling to the first one they adopted. This was true for my mom – the Jill for the Jack they already had – as her adoptive mother actually wrote in a letter to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. This was true for my dad – who’s adoptive mother went back to The Salvation Army home for unwed mothers in El Paso TX to get a brother for him.

I always, always, always felt alone. I’d cry, when I was very young, and curl up on the couch and sob “I want to go home, why can’t you just let me go home.” I’d never known another home, but that was what I always wanted when I was very small, was to “go home.”

I always believed I was something different than my peers. I found it hard to make friends. I had no sense of my own identity. I spent my entire childhood longing for my blood kin. When I grew up and finally found them, only my mother and her younger son (who wants nothing to do with me) were alive. My older sister, my father, my older brother, all gone.

Blogger’s note – it is interesting that as a child I never connected the dots that my parents being adoptees made me “different”. I never thought about the fact that my parents were “different” from the parents of my school peers, that their parents were not also adopted, though subconsciously I knew this because I could not say to anyone what my cultural identity was (Danish, Scottish are what I have learned, along with Irish and English).

Even now, in my early forties, a part of me feels like there’s something about me not worthy of being wanted by them, not worthy of knowing them (the biological, genetic family).

I’d have rather been aborted.

Blogger’s note -This is true for many, not all adoptees, but in my all things adoption group, I’ve seen this written many times.

Great adoptive family or not, this life is not what I deserved. My biological mother doesn’t regret her choice. And part of me hates her for that, now that I’ve had some time to really process everything that’s happened since we met.

This is not a life I would wish on any person.

Adoption IS trauma.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

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. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

Parallel Universes

I only just learned about this book by David Bohl. I have not read it. He is an adoptee. I found an story he tells about being an adoptee and I share from that story today. He talks about the moment he learned shame in connection to his adoption, as well as the confusion and hurt that followed. A hurt that could not and should not be ignored, because ignoring it just fuels the fire of shame…and for him, alcoholism, until he found the origin story that helped him become whole. 

He says, I’ve been two people my entire life. I don’t have a dissociative personality disorder—I’m just a regular guy whose reality is that I am a relinquishee and adoptee, and a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism. In the past my perception was so warped I had to occupy a few Parallel Universes: worlds that collided with each other, but that were also able to contain a person made out of two people. Until I made those worlds connect and interlock, living a split existence almost killed me: I was terrified of confronting my reality; its darkness. 

He shares an old Cherokee fable called “Tale of Two Wolves.” A battle between two ‘wolves’ inside us. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?“ The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.” 

Bohl disagrees. He says, It is possible to free yourself from the bad wolf—such as the evil of trauma—but starving it won’t work. Your darkness is part of you. Even if you manage to starve the wolf, there will still be a skeleton left behind. A skeleton is not closure—there’s no such thing as closure: we only have context and from context comes wisdom. For me, starving the bad wolf would mean I’d ignore my past, my authentic self, which means I’d ignore reality and the fact that I am a human being who had been relinquished and traumatized by it. I would ignore the fact that I was also drinking myself to death.

He shares, When I was six years old, I told two friends that I was adopted. It was never a secret in my family, and it felt normal, although I understood that it made me unique. I’d look at my family members—most of them olive-skinned, dark-haired – and I’d look at myself in the mirror with my freckled face and red hair. But our difference didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me until the day I confessed my adoption to two friends. Their shock was so palatable that I urged them to my house so that my mother would confirm the secret I just shared with them. At first, I thought their shock came from being impressed—as if I told them I could fly—but as my adoptive mother cheerfully explained that it was indeed true, I saw shadows of pity, even revulsion, cross my friends’ faces. In that moment I learned about shame. I needed to hide and never reveal my true self. Revealing true self was dangerous. 

The revelation of my adoption introduced capital-S Shame into my life—a thing so huge it overshadowed everything. The world became a giant microscope and I felt observed, scrutinized because I was different. I felt like a freak. As an adult, he became an alcoholic. He had ignored the fact that he had been relinquished. He didn’t want to know about his origins. For Bohl, once he confronted that reality, he could no longer drink in peace. It was the beginning of his recovery.

His story gives me pause. After my dad (an adoptee) died, my sister and I discovered a “confession” of sorts that he wrote for a religious retreat that he and my mom attended. It was about the time he was arrested for drunk driving and bargained with God to let him escape the worst impacts (loss of family and employment). Then, he admits that he broke his bargain, for the most part though he returned to church with my mom after their children had flown the nest to keep her company and I know from personal experience that he continued to go to church during the 4 months he lived after her death until he joined her there in whatever place the soul goes.

This story touches me not only because I discovered his DWI arrest but also because he never seemed interested in his origins. His adoptive parents were his parents and he wished to know no more than that. More’s the pity. He had a half-sister living only 90 miles from him when he died who could have told him about his mother. His father never knew he had a son. His father died in 1968 but they were so much alike – both loved fishing and the ocean – that they would have been great buddies had they known of one another. Was my father ashamed of having been given up and adopted ? I don’t know, he never expressed any feelings about it with me. When my mom, also an adoptee, wanted to search for her mother, he cautioned her against it, saying she might be opening up a can of worms. So, she confided in me but that is the only indication of my dad’s feelings about his adoption that I ever received.

Back to the interview with Bohl, which takes a heartbreaking turn – he says, I got sober at the age of 45 after a seizure that forced me to dig up the records of my birth—I had to know my medical history. And then there she was: Miss Karen Bender, who died at the age of 56. She was a red-headed coed, a flight attendant, a mother to three daughters and two sons—one, me, relinquished—and, eventually, a half-ghost drinking herself to death in a heap of old blankets in a rented storage. Her lonely heart gave out in a homeless shelter. She died alone, isolated like a sick animal, hiding from the world. Not wanting to bother anyone. No one around to see her final departure. Her shame. 

He ends his story with this – she was a tragic wolf. But instead of starving the memory of her, I dug deeper and it helped me to become a survivor whose heart started to heal once I got context and clarity about where I came from and who I was. And even then, I sometimes still felt like an outsider. Yet I wanted to live the kind of life that didn’t depend on adapting. I understood reality and the two wolves that informed it. I had my own family, I was learning my origins. There was darkness in my past but there was also healing that stemmed from it. There was joy, too, and freedom— I was connecting with people in genuine way; no longer through the haze of shame and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  The Reality that I found triumphs over Shame, its capital S getting smaller and smaller as I now live as a man who is whole. 

David Bohl was adopted at birth by a prosperous family. Throughout his earlier years, he tried to keep up a good front and surpass the expectations of his adoptive parents, as he tried desperately to fit in. Bohl was raised with no religious teachings. David later struggled with traditional recovery fellowships; and so, instead sought out secular supports, where he finally fit in. This support allowed him to learn the stark facts about mental health and addiction, as well as the monumental issues many “reliquishees” need to overcome to find peace and the quality of life they deserve. Today, David is an independent addiction consultant

Never Belonged There

From an adoptee –

I haven’t been “woke” for very long when it comes to adoption. Things have always felt wrong or at least, at times, on and off, weird about it. But when you’ve always been told getting adopted is a “gift” and a “blessing” and you’re “lucky” but you don’t feel that, it’s complicated isn’t it ?

I started speaking up about how I felt a little bit as I got older, especially to people not in my adoptive family who act like I should be grateful that my parents “saved” me. Well, no, I don’t feel like I was. I’m told I should just basically eat shit politely with a spoon and fork and say thank you (my adoptive family has a narcissistic dynamic like I’m learning so many adoptive families do. Guess who’s the scapegoat?).

Anyway, it wasn’t until the last few years, when I realized there were communities and groups for adoptees like me. Then, I really started to learn just how messed up the whole adoption and foster care thing is. Now, I’m almost 39 and I still haven’t really unpacked any of my trauma. I have so many health issues including anxiety and high blood pressure and these are becoming critical. I know I really need to seek therapy.

I’ve never quite felt like I belonged anywhere, certainly not within my adoptive family, and it’s so hard for me to make friends. It’s hard when you’ve been told your whole life that you are just too much, because your personality is so different than that of your family. It always felt like I was walking a couple feet above everyone else. I’ve always felt like I lived in a different, parallel world. Books like Harry Potter really resonated with me, the ones where the main characters are living life feeling all alone like they don’t fit in, when suddenly they discover the other, secret world in which they actually belong but somehow unknowingly were taken away from, and they actually do belong somewhere! I have probably used books like that to dissociate from my adoptive reality a bit. I have preferred books in a series so that I could live in that other world as long as I could. I would always feel devastated and grieved when the story ended.

I recently found my birth family, only two weeks ago. I have been talking to my birth mother and I’ve talked to my birth father, too. My birth mother has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and only a very limited amount of time left to live.

I realize now what I never realized before – how angry I am. I put off finding her because when I was a child, my adoptive (narcissistic) mother would sob and make me promise I wouldn’t look for my original mother. And to be honest, these last few years, I didn’t know if I could handle emotionally not fitting in with another family. But now that I’ve found her, she seems wonderful so far and yet now I have only a very limited amount of time left with her. Not only that, I will have to watch her die a horrible death.

Even though I should be and actually am grateful I found her before it’s too late, that is offset by just how devastated and angry I am. And my birth father, During our first conversation, my birth father wanted to know if my adoptive family was wonderful. How am I supposed to respond to that? I think I said something along the lines of “uh, uh, yeah, I guess” and thankfully my kids interrupted. My birth mother hasn’t broached the subject, I think she suspects it was not wonderful for me..

Together Together

So, I just learned about this movie today. The movie has a 92% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is defined as a comedy and I did LOL at some moments in the youtube movie trailer. The short summary of the movie’s plot is this – A young loner becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle-aged man who wants a child. Their unexpected relationship soon challenges their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

I do have feelings about surrogacy and have know of some surrogate pregnancies. Since learning so much about baby’s bonding with the mother who is carrying them in her womb, I am honestly not in favor of it. I do know of one case of a woman’s mother being the surrogate for her daughter who could not carry to term. I am okay with that situation, especially because “grandma” will be in that baby’s life.

According to a Roger Ebert review – You go into (the movie) thinking you know what you’re getting into, and feeling impatient or dismissive as a result, because the movie conspicuously makes choices that seem intended to announce which boxes it’s about to check off. Then it keeps confounding you—in a way that’s understated rather than show-offy—until you have to accept it on its own terms. It’s the perfect storytelling tactic for a movie about a surrogate mother and her patron, a divorced man 20 years her senior. The main characters don’t fully appreciate each other until they quit trying to categorize their relationship and let it be whatever it’s going to be, while trying not obsess over what’ll happen once the baby is born. 

As it turns out, this is not the kind of film where the leads overcome social obstacles and live happily every after as husband and wife. In fact, it turns out to be a rare film about two characters you’ve never seen in a movie. They initially seem cut from middling romantic comedy cloth.  Matt and Anna quickly disclose shared feelings of loneliness and aloneness (different concepts) and talk about their troubled pasts. 

Matt’s marriage collapsed but he decided to have a kid anyway, using his own sperm and a donated egg. Anna got pregnant in college, gave the baby up for adoption, and earned the double-ire of her parents, who considered her a failure both for having an unplanned pregnancy and not keeping the kid. As with any donor conception, it’s complicated. Money is involved. Just don’t expect an ending that answers the question: Now what ?

But then – What’s Love Got To Do With It ? Just for fun . . . .

Simply Going Along

I used to be a big Garfield fan but I never knew about McDonald’s offering these glass mugs in 1978 and 1987 until today when I was looking for an image to illustrate today’s blog.

Today’s questions for adoptive parents go like this –

What if your love and security wasn’t enough for your child? Would you know? If your child lashes out and says you’re not their real parents, that’s tangible, specific about their emotions. But what if your child seems simply part of your family, is agreeable, goes through the motions. Says the things you’d expect. Gets upset the way you think biological kids react. Would you think that meant they felt connected to you or the family? Would you consider them to be well adjusted and free from trauma? How would you know if they felt disconnected from you or the family?

Now for some replies –

First this – I’m not an adoptive parent but I was am adoptive child who went overboard trying to be the perfect child. Busyness, perfectionism, not asking for needs to be met. All signs.

And in sympathy, this one – This was me too. I lashed out at my teachers instead of my parents and confused the hell out of everyone.

Now this honesty from an adoptive parent – My son is all the things you describe: agreeable, helpful, thoughtful….But, I can see the sadness in his eyes even when we are all together and “happy”. He is lonely even when he isn’t alone. The only time he seems to shake it is when he is with his natural family. On visits, he seems truly at peace. I can’t imagine how it must feel to struggle with that loss everyday.

And another one similarly – I see the same thing in my girls eyes. There’s definitely some sadness, hurt, anger, and confusion there, even in moments they seem to be happy. There’s a void there.

An older adult writes – To this day I feel like I am performing to expectations with my adoptive family. When I met my natural family it was just . . . well natural. It clicked. I describe it as sitting under a comfortable blanket. It just felt comfortable and easy. I didn’t have to think so much. I could just “be,” if that makes sense.

Then this – If there’s one upside to having blatantly sucky adopters, it was never feeling I had to perform anything. I told my adoptive dad (who was raising us singly because adoptive mom ran off – after the divorce, when I was 4) regularly and loudly I hated him, being adopted, everything about it. I honestly feel bad for adoptees with good adoptions feeling like they have to keep negative things about it to themselves simply in order to make their adoptive families happy.

Another adoptive parent’s perspective – My honest response to this is – an adopted child not having the reactions described would be a large red flag for me. The truth is, I am not their parent and regardless of my intentions (meaning selfish or not) I never will be and I don’t think I should try to force that specific bond. It is not mine to try to take (and if you feel threatened by that as an adoptive parent, you should reevaluate your outlook). But that opinion is formed based on many of the adoptee voices I have heard in a support group. My guess is (I cannot say for sure because I have not walked this) that feeling a connection like family is tough with the trauma of not having your parents there. A child can want to feel that connection and at times, I believe they can feel connected but there will often always be a longing for blood connections. As adoptive parents, I feel like our responsibility is to help keep (or find, if necessary) as many of these connections as possible or we are essentially harming the very child we claim to be “protecting”. But I try to pay attention to what our children are not saying because that often speaks much louder than what they are saying, if you are looking and listening.

I do credit my nephew’s adoptive mother with making an attempt – by contacting me, by doing the work necessary to correct the lie my youngest sister told about who his natural father was. My heart breaks for my nephew. Though his questions are now answered for the most part (I gave him a video of my husband’s and my wedding where my mentally ill – probably paranoid schizophrenia – youngest sister was probably as natural and “normal” as she ever was – so he could see that side of her in lieu of meeting her in person) and he has met his father and related half-siblings. Even so, now that he is a mature adult with a girlfriend who has what seems like an intact birth family that remains close to one another, he has pretty much cut all ties with his adoptive mother in favor of being a part of her family. I hasten to add that a romantic relationship (even when such complications are the truth as in my nephew’s life) can split a person mostly off from their natural family. As a woman, I’ve experienced that with all 3 of my long-term romantic relationships.

Someone once told me that children come in two types – defiant and compliant. I have two sons who certainly illustrate that truth. So, I would suspect that adoptees (from what I have learned in my own study) tend more to the compliant (which does not mean that there are not defiant types), simply because of a fear of abandonment and rejection which is common to almost every adoptee.

Feelings Of Rejection

Feelings of rejection may be one of the most common impacts for any person who was adopted. Today’s story breaks my heart . . .

It’s never going to stop. These feelings of rejection are going to be part of my life forever. I have worked so hard in therapy these past 5 years to learn all the coping skills and most of the time they have worked.

Today, not so much. I am sitting here with tears running down my face for the stupidest reasons. The irrational thoughts of rejection in my head triggered by conversations that anyone else would consider completely normal, logical and with no ill intent. I can type that, I can say it out loud, but my brain cannot stop these feelings of being rejected. It’s a freight train out of control.

This is the life adoption created for me and no amount of therapy or positive reunion or being the administer of a group that allows me to speak freely is going to change the fact that a simple statement telling me not to come to my adoptive brother’s on Christmas Eve in the middle of Covid but learning that all my nieces and nephews and my adoptive mother will be there, set’s off a chain reaction of feeling personal rejection.

We are in a pandemic, my adoptive mom goes there weekly anyway, my nieces and nephews are their children. It makes logical sense they would/could be there. Yet the second my adoptive mom told me she was going there and I told her we were not asked to come, I instantly had to put on my sunglasses and hide my eyes. Hide the tears that were forming quickly.

I desperately want to avoid being irrational, but the chain reaction starts. My husband’s phone dings and I wonder who is texting him. I have no reason to be concerned, yet I can’t help it in this moment. My adoptive mom mentions my out of state niece sent a big batch of cookies to my adoptive brother. I sit and wonder why him and not me.

Cookies…..text messages…..keeping distance during a pandemic…..anyone would consider all that innocuous. I should too. There are real issues going on in this world. There are people that don’t have family, there are people that are struggling. I try hard to get it in check, to move past it. Then I walk my adoptive mom to the door and she says “Don’t worry so much about things. You worry too much” and the tears start up again.

I’ve been told this all my life and I want to scream back at her and say do you think I WANT to be like this? To let these inconsequential things set me off at 55 years old, stupid shit that should be irrelevant? I don’t, because in this moment, my brain cannot make my mouth do that. The risk is too great. I just weakly smile and walk away.

They will never understand. Not my adoptive family, not my natural family. They will never understand that I CANNOT control this. Our brains are not wired like everyone else’s and this is the result. Me…..crying over a gathering during covid, cookies and text messages…..SIGH….tell me again how much adoption rocks. I could not hate myself more right now, for not being able to avoid this spiral over nonsense.

Schizophrenic Identity

Lately, I’ve been reading a book with the title Healing the Split by John Nelson MD. The subtitle is “Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill”. It is a topic of interest to me. I’ve not read very far into the book and it is a lot of pages but it seems worth the time. I give it approx an hour a day but am taking notes, so I don’t go very far but do have lots of time to digest the content.

This caused me to think about how it might apply to adoptees. It cannot be anything but a bit odd to know you were born to someone else – not the parents who are raising you. And that you had a different name at birth but the people who are raising you changed your name. You have no knowledge of genetic relatives, no natural mirror of your self that most people have their whole lives and no family medical history of any quantity or quality to convey to your doctor.

It is known that adoptees in general suffer more mental health effects than the general population and given what I just outlined above, it can come as no surprise that an adoptee might. While genetics always contributes some vulnerabilities in any person, adoptees have slightly more mental health problems – such as depressive symptoms, bipolar disorder, higher neuroticism and loneliness. Researchers into the impacts have found a slightly elevated genetic risk of depression, schizophrenia and neuroticism among adoptees. Personally, I believe this could be the result of conflicted feelings in the gestating mother. Not that I am a scientist or expert in this field.

The adoption of children may be a fundamental method of building families for some couples. However, adoptees often face subsequent adaptive challenges associated with family stress at the time of birth and during the adoption process. How could it be otherwise ? The main factor in these effects is both environmental and genetic.

It is known that psychiatric disorders, which includes depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are, to varying degrees, inheritable. The good news is that adoptees in a study reported being happy and satisfied with their lives. When compared to the general population, the study participants were more likely to be male, to smoke, have less education, attain a lower income, and to experience more stressful life events. 

Research found that genetic risk and adoption are both predictors of psychiatric problems. So, importantly both adoption and genetic risk contribute only a small amount to the individual differences in mental health. It does not surprise me that there are many factors that contribute to the development of mental health problems in any individual. It is also not surprising then that adopted children may face both special environmental and genetic risks which lead to adjustment problems and potentially mental illness.