Typical Adoptee Struggles

Today’s story – As much as I love the holidays coming up I usually struggle through them. This year seems to be hitting me harder than usual. I always knew I didn’t belong in the family that adopted me and I was blessed to be able to start my own little family but still I struggle. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that my divorce number 2 will be finalized right after Christmas or that my adoptive mom was diagnosed with dementia and gets mad any time my adoption is brought up or my adoptive dad disowned me for my birthday this year or that I will never get answers about who I am because my biological dad is unknown and biological mom passed away about 5 years ago. I just feel so lost this year. I feel like I’m failing as a mom to a very awesome 13 year old. I know I’m not because I see how strong she is, but I still feel lost. I know my adoption caused a lot of trauma and I have worked really hard to overcome a good portion of it.

An adoptee asks her –  have you by chance tried something like 23 and me? When I did it helped me and brought me so much joy because I got to see where my ancestry is! Maybe you’d find some close relatives on there? I just had to reply – 23 and Me really helped in my case. They are all dead – my adoptee parents (yeah both) who died knowing next to nothing about their origins, the adoptive parents and the birth parents all dead. However, a cousin with the same grandmother (my dad’s first mom) did 23 and Me and not only could she tell me about my grandmother but that led me to another cousin in Mexico who had all of my grandmother’s many photos (including a bread crumb hint about his father).

Someone also suggested Ancestry DNA and I have done that too and it does help with people who never knew you existed to prove that you actually are family. Like her, I have found I have an overwhelmingly HUGE biological-tree and it happened suddenly. Only a few years ago, I only had some names for my first grandparents that didn’t reveal much.

Another adoptee had a sympathetic response – is very understandable and appropriate considering you currently navigating a divorce, a parent with dementia and being disowned by the other. Any one of those things is a lot for a person to handle individually, but you have a stack of upsets. It’s ok to feel lost for a while as long as you don’t forget things can and will get better. I say this as a person who also had a stack of life in their hands for a 4 year period (my mom passed, we moved my dad, who then had a major health crisis, and I also had discovery and reunion and estrangement with parts of my biological family in there as well). It got better. It continues to do so. One day at a time. Be kind to yourself. Don’t forget to slow down and breathe sometimes. You’ll make it through.

Finally another adoptee acknowledges that the layers of loss are surreal for most to understand. She is parenting 2 daughters and not with either of their fathers. Seeing her 11 yr old’s abandonment/ trust issues pulls up her own feelings at that age. She finds that she is reparenting herself while she parents her daughter. Finally able to understand emotions she’s never been able to sort out before.

It Actually Does Matter

I have known quite a few people who were not entirely happy with the family of their birth but those of us who have been touched by adoption lost the family of our birth. Some of us find our way back. Today’s blog is inspired by a story in Severance Magazine written by Kristen Steinhilber titled My Biology Matters. It Did All Along.

She writes – “It took me more than three decades of fairytale-oriented platitudes and assumptions thrown like bombs my way about adoption to piece together one very relevant thread: everyone who told me that biology doesn’t matter—including both sides of my own adoptive family—had intact bloodlines and genetic histories. And that what they were really saying, whether they meant to or not, was that my biology doesn’t matter.”

I encountered something like this as well. When I was first learning about my original families (both of my parents were adopted), I was attending a writer’s conference in St Louis when one of our members questioned me – If the adoptive family was good, why does it matter? As we talked, it slowly dawned on her that if she wanted to know, it would have been a fairly easy thing for her to learn as much as she wanted to know from her older family members. Not so for adoptees.

She goes on to write – “. . . withholding and secrecy—are encouraged in the world of adoption when it comes to the biology of adoptees. In fact, withholding and secrecy are legally enforced through sealed birth records. So when I found out, I assumed this was normal, understandable, or even maybe for my own good. My adoptive mother may have even believed that herself.” And adds, “since I’d always been told that adoption was such a gift, I didn’t feel I had the right to it. I pushed my own feelings away and suppressed what was in my gut.”

Even my adoptee mom, after being denied her adoption file and being told her mother was already dead, tried to put a good face on it all as she abandoned trying to do a family tree at Ancestry using the adoptive family details saying “it wasn’t real” and I understand that but needed to say at that point “because I was adopted, glad I was.” Though I doubt she really meant that, what else could she say at that point ?

She describes her experience of reunion – “I had a beautiful reunion with them for years and ‘fit’ naturally. Not in the same way that they fit with each other; that’s simply not possible when you miss out on all those years.” This has been my experience in having genetic biological relations reunions – I can feel these are really, truly the people who I am related to and at the same time I can’t make up for all of the years they were living their lives and I wasn’t in them. It affects my feelings towards the adoptive family I grew up with. I’m like my mom in very real ways – they aren’t real anymore, though at one time they were. The love remains for the good people they all were and are, yet they are also “strangers”, not actually related to me in reality. 

I understand it when she says, “The spiritual and psychological isolation of having two families but not belonging to either has ripped me from limb to limb . . .” That’s the painful part of it all. While I do now feel more “complete” and know my ethnic and familial roots, I don’t actually belong to either family group in any real way. It is actually very sad and only now do I allow myself to feel this, brought almost to tears by the truth of it. It is the sense of not belonging that plagues many adoptees and now I understand passes down the family line to their children as well.

She talks about the massive number of adoptees who stand in solidarity for adoption reform. At least, I am one of those now as well.

Feeling Out Of Place

Sometimes it happens when an adoptee goes into reunion with their original family that they suddenly become aware that the reality of really seeing the people one is genetically related to makes the adoptee realize their adoptive family are truly the genetic strangers they are.  It can be very confusing and emotional for the adoptee.

An adoptee might notice – I feel so different than this adoptive family I have been made a part of.

An adoptee may honestly love the people in their adoptive family and still feel like (after coming into physical contact with genetic family) a stark spotlight has been shone on the differences between the adoptee and that adoptive family.

Meeting the genetic family cold make a lot of foggy feelings crystal clear.  For an adoptee, meeting these people can be utterly life changing.

It may be that the adoptee will lay their head on their mothers lap and cry while she strokes their hair on that first day of meeting. The adoptee may feel like they could trust her like no one else ever present in their life.  The adoptee may feel a love they had never felt before.  Such is the true mother/child bond.

An adoptee may feel  a deep cellular connection with genetic family that they don’t experience with their adoptive family. One adult adoptee admitted that – “When I have a very real problem, my first mother is often the first person I go to. For me, the reason I do this is because she understands better than most other people the way I think and the way my mind works. We’re very alike and being very alike means she can help me solve my problems better than my adoptive mother, who doesn’t think like I do at all.”

An adoptee may wrestle with guilt feelings about not feeling a sense of belonging to their adopted family.  It can be jarring for an adoptee to find people who are so much like them. That may also be the moment they realize what they have been missing all the years they spent in their adoptive family.  It may become clear how unlike their adoptive family they actually are.  It may only happen when they meet their genetic parents and siblings.

In the nature verses nurture debate, nature can be the undeniable winner in adoption circumstances – though it takes a reunion – and it may take decades before this awareness fully impacts the adoptee.