Different Not Better

Valid response from a former foster kid –

Stop saying better. Start saying different. When the adoptee is rehomed, abused or killed then it’s not our problem. We can’t guarantee better. Right now adoption is based on what people want. It was based on this way ever since the government and agencies took over. It’s not about helping kids but helping yourself to kids. People don’t adopt to help kids. They adopt to become parents. To be mommy and daddy – not play mommy and daddy.

It also upsets me – the kids who aren’t seen as worthy, don’t get adopted. So again, who is adoption for ? People are waiting for a non-existent baby to be created or a baby to lose their family in foster care, so they can grow their family.

What was this in response to ?

I am a social worker by education, been out of the field for about 6 years, I worked for about 1 year in foster care/adoptions. I left the field because I felt it was difficult to make a difference/help due to all red tape and bureaucracy.

Anyway, one thing I took from my experience, was that I want to adopt. I just thought I would be loving a child, adding to the family, teaching them, helping them grow, etc.

I did believe/was taught (or something) that adopting children from foster care, etc was… making a difference, that it was in a way, giving them another chance. A chance to give them a good home, better opportunity and away from abuse, neglect, exploitation etc. Or that parents who give up their children for adoption are brave, because it’s really hard to give up a child, but they do it out of love, because at that moment they can’t provide a good life for them, etc.

Holiday Expectations

Holidays often bring with them unrealistic expectations. Even realistic expectations can prove disappointing. For an adoptee recently entering into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to them, failed expectations can be especially painful. One woman in that situation shared this story –

Merry Christmas to you all. I know it’s a difficult day for many of you. I heard from several people in my birth family except my birth mom…why? Honestly, what would keep her from shooting a simple text saying Merry Christmas?! Yesterday was the two year anniversary of us reconnecting and when I didn’t hear from her then, I just knew I would today. But no…. I didn’t. Can other birth moms explain something I’m not realizing or seeing?! Or other adoptees…. do you feel like expectations around the holidays are difficult?! I felt like it was a minimal expectation but I’m looking for feedback to understand and not just be hurt.

Some replies – from a first mom, Christmas may remind her of all she lost when she lost you. I am on the other end of the spectrum, tried for many years to reconnect with my son and nothing.

Another adoptee shares – I am the deer in headlights, can’t talk because it’s just too much sorrow and then, I feel horrible because I really do want to talk to all of my biological family, hug them, but it’s so hard to talk a lot of the time, even though I love them more than they will ever know. I try to keep the door open. You never know what’s going on… I know I’m going to try again tomorrow, and the next day, to reach out to people I should have today, but sometimes it’s just so scary putting yourself out there. Some days are tough for other reasons. I’m sorry that happened, though still sucks no matter why.

One such natural mother writes – I am 25 years into a very open adoption. I’m sorry she didn’t reach out when you wanted her to. This is the first year I didn’t send a message to my daughter. Mainly I wanted to see if she would actually want to reach out to me – I always initiate contact, meeting up or messages etc and am always the one to send “Merry Xmas” etc. I don’t know if she cares or even wants me to send a message, would I be interrupting a nice day for her? Sometimes she takes days to reply or doesn’t reply at all. I struggle enormously (something I keep well hidden) with the emotional toll it takes on me. Perhaps it is hard for her too, I don’t know.

 As the blog author, I can relate. My daughter was raised by her dad and step-mother from the age of 3. I sensed that I had to keep a low profile because I didn’t want to disrupt her family life. I gave her a calling card she could use to call me anytime she wanted. Sometimes, there were long gaps between contacts. Sometimes, I would learn she gave the Christmas presents I sent to her, to her younger siblings. I was hard being an absentee mother and not knowing what the right thing to do was. While this wasn’t an adoption situation, per se, it was an unintended surrender due to financial hardship (which sadly, I share with both of my natural grandmothers who lost their own children to adoption for very similar reasons).

One other natural mother also shares – I am in reunion with my daughter. I always leave it to her to text, call, face time. I think it goes back to the 1st time you make contact, of not wanting to over step or put pressure on a delicate relationship. So, I always let her guide the contact. Perhaps your mother is doing the same. It can be hard when both parties feel they don’t want to be over bearing, so no one makes the 1st move. I’m lucky my daughter calls when she feels like. But there can be 2 times a week, then nothing for few weeks. It varies. Maybe text your mom. Open up the conversation and say that you’d love a holiday text from her too.

These separation relationships will always be fragile and there is nothing to guide any of us in attempting them. Even so, we should try. The other person may be struggling as much as we are. Any contact is better than none. And sometimes the contact or lack of it will be disappointing because there are no guarantees in this life.

Like the song goes . . .

 I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime
When you take, you got to give – so live and let live – or let go

I think the risk is always worth the potential disappointment. Sometimes we get a happy surprise.

Validating The Hurt

The adoption group that I have been a part of for 3 years and has now closed to new content was often criticized for allowing the negative feelings and experiences of adoptees to be the primary and supported voice. It has been a space where an adoptee’s hurt is validated and not instantly turned into, “but what about your (adoptive parent’s) sacrifice?” that is found in most adoption oriented groups. In that regard, it was very unique.

When I first arrived there, because of how I grew up with two parents who were both adoptees, I considered adoption a normal situation and the outcomes to be nothing but good. I quickly got slammed and was totally set back by the responses but I stayed with it and I read books recommended there and I found books on my own and read those to and I learned the truth that adoption is a best the “second choice” and that keeping families intact – children with the parents who conceived them – was always going to be the best choice for everyone involved. The adoption industry doesn’t like that point of view but realize that their revenues depend on separating children from their parents. It really is that simple – follow the money – and the truth reveals itself.

Here is one adoptee’s voice –

I don’t know my mother and it kills me. Some days more than others. Pregnancy – all 80+ weeks plus a miscarriage – triggered me like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The first three months of their lives nearly killed me and my marriage.

I walk around not knowing who I am. I walk around knowing i was not loved in any healthy definition of that word. I walk around knowing I was not enough to redeem my adoptive parent’s wounds. I walk around living culture shock. I walk around knowing I don’t have a strong attachment to my parents.

You are asking me to tell you why the quality of the air I breathe is different from your air. It’s gonna take you some time to understand my air is fundamentally different.

In many ways, I do believe this is how my own mother felt. When she tried to re-connect with the woman who gave birth to her, my mom said – As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child. She wasn’t hoping for very much but she was driven by an emotional need to try. Her mother had already died by the time my mom was communicating with the Tennessee Dept of Children’s Services and learning that reality devastated her.

Christmas will arrive very soon, here is the perspective of another adoptee, Anne Heffron

I’ve been thinking about the comment a parent wrote here after reading my post about adoptees walking a tightrope, and, in order to answer, I decided to take on an authority I don’t have, and to speak universally when really I’m just speaking from my own experience. I thought about not replying because any answer I might give won’t be enough—it will be one paint splotch on a bare wall, but at least it will be a start, so here goes.

She compares the trauma of motherloss, the primal wound that Nancy Verrier writes about, to a car accident that has embedded jagged pieces of glass inside our bodies. Heffron asks, What if these pieces cut our muscles, internal organs and brain, causing messages of distress to travel from the vagus nerve both from the organs to the brain and from the brain to the organs? What if no one can see these glass fragments because no doctor has the right machine, the right kind of x-ray to find them? What if they are things that have to naturally work their way out of the body with the help of time and space and nutritional support and exercise and therapy and other friends who are adopted? What if this process takes decades? What if this process takes a lifetime?

What if the pain these pieces of glass cause the person to act in certain ways, ways that confuse those around them because, to the naked eye, nothing is wrong—the accident happened a long time ago and the person looks fine? What if the parents of this child they adopted believe their love can heal pain of which they can not see the source?

If a body is full of glass shards and the person cries out in pain and is told that everything is okay, that they are safe, loved, and if the person is asked why can’t they just accept the love and relax, then what happens?

The body gets tighter. The barriers between parent and child get thicker.

What if being relinquished and adopted is a body experience that takes time for the wounded person to sit with until the glass fragments finally, if they do at all (many people die with the glass still in their guts and hearts and minds), emerge?

This is what I think happened to me: when I was young, I felt the discomfort of the glass parts but I did not know they were there because I could not see inside my own guts and brain, and no one knew to tell me the story of my pain.

If they had been able to tell me the story of my pain, I might have fought them, hated them for speaking, for putting me in a forever prison of different than. Being different than your friends, particularly when you are young, is its own death sentence. So I don’t have an answer for you here. I don’t know what good all the information you have gathered about the side effects of relinquishment actually does when it comes right down to it. I mean, it’s not nothing, but, it’s clearly not enough.

My answer in brief is to be love but to know that when you decided to adopt, you entered a different universe. The rules you grew up with, rules for living, may well no longer work in this new life you now inhabit. For example, you just can’t hug a burned person the same way you do everyone else.

I think many people adopt babies for the same reason people adopt kittens: they want something soft to protect and love that will love them back. What if you think of an adoptee more like a porcupine? A porcupine doesn’t choose to have quills. It just has them, and this changes the way you can touch it. Hoping that one day the quills will disappear and soft fur will emerge is useless and harmful. What if adopting a child does not guarantee you will receive love back in the same measure you give it (or, I have to say, at all)? Would you still travel this road?

We like our stories to have happy endings, and we force most of our experiences through the funnel of “and then everything was okay,” and I’m here to tell you that I’m doing the best I can in this life with the body and mind I was given: one full of glass shards, and it’s a lot of work to try to keep up with those who weren’t in an accident. I know the ending is supposed to be happy, and so I’m trying. When you look at me with your lipid eyes, wondering why I don’t open to you, I won’t tell you it’s because I can’t. I won’t tell you it’s because I am in so much pain I can’t even process your questions. I won’t tell you because I know you won’t understand. I won’t tell you because maybe I don’t understand myself. I won’t tell you because you are asking a porcupine why it doesn’t purr, and this blindness makes me fear that either you or I are crazy, and this fear makes real communication feel impossible