Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

A Deep Evolutionary, Hormonal Need

A couple of questions were asked of adoptive parents in an all things adoption group I belong to –

Does being an adoptive parent feel the way you thought it would before you adopted ?

Does it fulfill your needs ?

In fairness, the question could be asked of biological/genetic parents as well. So it was that this thoughtful woman attracted my attention with her response –

She says directly that she is not an adoptive parent. She is a grandmother and the mother of 3 adult biological children with some post-divorce estrangement issues. She is the child of narcissistic parents from whom she picked up narcissistic habits that she’s now trying to recognize and eradicate within herself.

She describes herself as “a middle-aged woman coming to terms with my own flaws, strengths, and failures of both commission and omission. The questions shown above are phrased like arrows —bound to pierce anyone who truly is open to them.” She goes on to admit that these are great questions— and horrible questions, too. For sure, necessary— probably for ANY parent, but especially for adoptive parents.

She says honestly, “At each and every stage of motherhood I could have answered Yes and No to the first question. PARENTHOOD overall does not always feel AT ALL the way we think it will, before we experience it. And parenthood itself has plenty of rosy myths associated with it— but obviously NOT the sanctity and saviorism that gilds our culture’s concept of adoption and adoptive parenthood.”

She notes that – “The second question is intended to be an unsettling question— even for biological parents. We’ve got a huge biological imperative to bear children, as a species, so there’s a deep evolutionary, hormonal sense of “need” to procreate for which I don’t think we should be shamed. Many humans get pregnant by accident, or without much thought given to the repercussions of sex.”

Once a living, breathing child exists, that person is NOT AT ALL here to fulfill the parent’s needs. And it doesn’t take very long for that one to be recognized. Even so, we do not always realize that. During the toughest years of parenting, most parents barely have time to breathe, much less analyze the psychological, ethical, and moral framework that their parenting rests upon— and there is always a framework, whether the parent knows it or not.

These penetrating questions are relevant to ALL parents, at any stage of parenting. We all live as the protagonists of our own lives, and thus are prone to centering our stories upon ourselves. Sometimes it’s okay to center yourself in a story. Yet, that is NOT true in terms of your children or perhaps more accurately, they are going to center their own stories on their own lives. This is the great web of interpersonal interconnectivity that binds us all.

So okay, maybe there is no huge profound wisdom in this blog today. Even so, these are really deep questions that are WORTH sitting with, even if they cause some discomfort when thinking about our own answers to them. It is not surprising if they feel hugely uncomfortable when you read them. You may even feel that you have somehow failed as a parent. We are all too self-centered, even when we think we are being self-sacrificing for our children.

The Damage Done

I came of age in the early 1970s. I will admit that I have way too much life history with drug use. In fact, addiction was the primary cause of my first marriage’s failure. So many children are removed from their parents due to addiction issues. The money that should be feeding and housing and providing all the basics for their family goes into drugs. I understand. I remember food and housing insecurity because of that in my first marriage. Today’s blog was triggered by this story of a foster care child.

My 11 year old foster daughter is (understandably) having an incredibly hard time coping with feelings of abandonment by her mother. While I don’t agree with it and have advocated otherwise, she is not allowed to talk to or see her mom until she takes a drug test. Mom has refused and my foster daughter is feeling unloved and abandoned. I’m at a loss for how to help her cope. She often asks me to validate her feelings by saying things such as “If she loved me, she would just go do the drug test, right?” or “She must be on drugs. She loves them more than me, doesn’t she?”. She wants me to answer her yes or no. I don’t know how to answer to help her. I don’t want to speak negative about her parents by agreeing with her but I don’t want to make her feel like her feelings aren’t valid by saying something like “She loves you but drugs are powerful and affecting her choices.” I have reached out to mom and tried to get her to take the drug test so they can have contact and let her know what is going on with her daughter. She always says she is going to but hasn’t yet. It has been over a year now.

She ends with this request for advice – Those who have been through similar situations, how would you recommend I help this child?

The first answers are good ones. Is she in therapy? She needs somewhere to process feelings and learn about addiction. Does she have a therapist? If not, that would be very helpful. Someone who is trauma informed, addiction experience, and foster care and adoption competent would be a good thing for her. Sounds like you and her therapist need to have a discussion about addiction with her.

I didn’t know about this person but it sounds like reasonable advice – I highly recommended listening to and reading Gabor Mate and as an addiction expert and particularly his compassionate, scientifically based approach to addiction. It will help you (and your subsequently foster daughter) understand with compassion rather that judgement, anger, exasperation or frustration.

Personally, I saw this perspective immediately and am glad this was said – Her mom probably can’t pass a test and doesn’t want to make things worse. I would start by explaining that. We wouldn’t make an illiterate person pass a reading test for a basic human right…sad. Being a child of an addict there is a lot of pain and hard days for sure but she should be able to see her mom. All the therapy suggestions are on point and hopefully the therapist can also advocate.

I had not heard of this concept (except from link below) but it also seems right to my own heart – I would advocate for safe use with the social worker on the case about safe use, and creating a safety plan. Passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal safety and not passing a urine analysis doesn’t equal unsafe. I don’t think “she loves you but drugs are powerful….” would invalidate her feelings. That statement and her feelings can both be valid at the same time.

Traditionally, the substance use field has focused simply on substance use and ways to measure, prevent and treat negative consequences. This has led to a continuum of laws, policies and services that runs from restricting supply to reducing demand and, for some, continuing on to harm reduction.

Various versions of this simple continuum have been used over time, all of them beginning with a focus on a disease or harm that must be avoided. While this may seem completely sensible at first glance, it makes less sense when considering that many people use psychoactive substances to promote physical, mental, emotional, social and/or spiritual well-being. In other words, people use substances to promote health, yet substance use services focus on how drug use detracts from health.

Health promotion begins from a fundamentally different focus. Rather than primarily seeking to protect people from disease or harm, it seeks to enable people to increase control over their health whether they are using substances or not.

Since many people use drugs often or in part to promote health and well-being, health promotion along these lines involves helping people manage their substance use in a way that maximizes benefit and minimizes harm. (Indeed, this is how we address other risky behaviors in our everyday lives, including driving and participating in sports.) It means giving attention to the full picture—the substances, the environments in which they are used and in which people live, and the individuals who use those substances and shape the environments.

Someone else shares their personal experience – My kids (adoptees) parents have issues they go through and are not always on the up and up but we make time together happen. It’s always (right now) supervised etc. However soon my daughter will be 16 and she will likely want to drop by their house when she’s driving etc and I have helped her understand enough on ways to stay safe emotionally and legally by going to see her family and having open discussion with her on addiction. Some may not agree but they eventually grow up. I prefer to help her work through it now than stumble more later. She has a therapist who is mainly focused on addictions as well.

One more from personal experience – I would probably say screw the social worker’s orders and let them have a visit. My adopted daughters’ mom had the same type of demand and I followed the rules. Their mom died, and it had been so long since they’d seen her in person. I frequently regret not breaking the rules. Life’s too fucking short and unpredictable. Using drugs doesn’t automatically equate to being unsafe. It’s going to be way harder for this mom to get clean and sober if she’s not allowed to see her child.

Addiction is a VERY complex issue. My heart breaks for the young girl.

Some Wounds Don’t Heal

Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal. And what happened ?, you ask. I’ll share the story of selfish points of view.

A somewhat distant cousin had wanted to adopt my oldest child when I found out I was pregnant in high school though I did not take her up on her offer. Fast forward to 2 years ago, I was again pregnant with my third child. At that time, I was highly considering adoption. I asked this cousin – knowing shes always wanted to adopt – what would happen if she adopted my baby. I was simply exploring my options. I explained to her that the only reason I was considering giving him up was because I felt like mentally and financially I couldn’t take care of 3 kids. Which was a correct assessment on my part at the time.

Allow me to explain my conditions related to a surrender –

I want to be a part of his life. I would still consider myself his mom. My motivation is for him to have a better chance. And here was her reply –

If she did adopt him – I would not be his mom. He wouldn’t know anything about me other than I was related family. I wouldn’t get visitations or special calls and pictures. I’d only see him at family reunions (get real, in my 24 years in this family, we’ve only had 1 reunion on that side and I was a kid when it happened). She said that other than that, my contact would be seeing her Facebook posts, and occasional text updates, but he would be her child and I would (in her words) “in fact no longer be his mother”. I politely said thank you but that doesn’t work for me.

She messaged me a few more times telling me to let her know if I changed my mind and how badly she “wanted this opportunity.” I kept my baby.

Since then there have been moments in spending time with my aunt (my cousin’s mom), that this has been brought up and I’m told about how much it hurt my cousin that I didn’t let her adopt my son. That “it hurt her deeply and was wrong.” Blah blah blah.

I answer, “How do you think I would have felt having to get rid of my baby? I would have been suicidal.”

Fast forward again –

My cousin has finally adopted the baby she always wanted. She is now having a baby shower, inviting everyone in my family (my aunt, cousins and step-grandma). They are all mad at me that I’m refusing to go and “celebrate this with her and her new baby.”

Back to the beginning, she says, “Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal.”

When one really begins to read what grown adoptees say for themselves about their experience of having been adopted and when one reads deeply some of the therapists that work with adoptees to heal their trauma, one understands why this young mother feels the way she feels. I belong to an adoption group with all aspects of the practice represented – adoptees, former foster youth, original mothers, adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents. This group works actively to encourage young pregnant women to keep and parent their child. Often they even supply resources for her to do so. Society should be actively trying to keep families together instead of tearing them apart. And there are reforms being promoted for dealing with the circumstances of the tragic few that have no family to go to.

A Question of Ethics

A question arises among adoptees about the morality of putting a price on their lives.  It is a fair question.  Is it right to pay tens of thousands of dollars to buy a child ?  The going price is often in the $30,000-$40,000 price range.

One adoptive parent answered that question rather honestly – “We were so clouded by desire that we really didn’t think about the cost.”

What would you think, if you knew, that an agency had tiered pricing on the babies they are selling ?   White$$$, whomever $$, Black$.  Is value related to the ethnicity of a person ?

An adoptive parent in an honest evaluation of how they are feeling might say, “The moment we drove away from the hospital it felt like we stole him. It was such a conflicting feeling.”  Some won’t even give it a moment’s pause.

What would you think if you knew the legal system was being gamed ?  “Our lawyer was a whole other bag of nuts as she moved our court date around because the judge that was assigned to our case hates adoption.”  I wonder why ?  Could it be that judge knows something about the realities ?

A very honest adoptive parent might admit to an adoptee that – “Yes we bought a kid, yes at the time we thought we were doing the right thing ‘if we didn’t take him…’ yes, I wish it was different for him that he wasn’t a secret. But I love him. I am totally geeked when he discovers something new. I make little videos and pictures to send to the one app that I know the natural mother checks, so she can see her son. I hope that she comes and builds a relationship with this amazing human. I also daily feel conflicted with the whole process. I caught myself in the market one day when asked if he was adopted – I replied ‘oh no we bought him.’ I struggle with not wanting him to feel like he was a purchase. Do you ever feel like you were not bought ?”

Money will always be a complicating factor.  It is often said of corrupt practices “follow the money.”  That makes sense.  Who is gaining wealth at the expense of whom ?  Just one of the reasons that the whole system of adoption is being looked at deeply and reforms to that practice are being discussed.