Caught In The Middle

Some circumstances in life are just plain hard to judge. I understand the point of view of this adoptive mother, even so, where is the compassionate middle ground. I haven’t decided. Here is one adoptive mother’s point of view –

I had to discuss with my son’s biological mom that there are boundaries and if she wanted to be involved in any way then she needed to understand them and honor them. My son is MY son, not hers. We came up with a special name that we refer to her as. Never mom. Also we discussed social media. She is never to address him as her son. He is not her son. She is to call him by his given name. I understand that biological moms have to deal with the emotional aspect but so do the adoptive moms. She is no longer his mother. A mother is far more than giving birth. A mother raises you and puts you first. I am very close with his biological mom. I have a great relationship with her for my son’s sake and it was a surrender. She was not forced in any way. But she is not his mother any longer. I am. I accept her role in his life as a special person who loves him. But I am his mother, not her. And she understands and respects that. She is thankful that I allow her to be a part of our family. I didn’t take his mom away from him. She took her role as mom away from herself including by making bad choices and choosing drugs over parenting. I’m his mom and will always be. She will always be a special person in his life but never his mom. Advice to other adoptive moms – set boundaries and don’t let biological moms walk all over you. Let them know their role in the family now.

The person who revealed this mindset commented – I find this very sad and very controlling. What if the child decided one day to call his birth mom “mom” ? She can’t call him her son ? This is sad. Birth parents grieve too. They hurt too. Even parents from foster care. They grieve. They lost their child. I wish we can offer empathy to birth parents especially from foster care instead of looking down on them and using innocent children to hurt them and the child.

I do feel that putting a child in the middle of this situation isn’t fair to the child. The same kind of thing happens very often in divorce. I remember trying to walk that difficult middle ground. “You still have a mother who loves you. And you still have a father who loves you. But we are not going to all live together anymore.” Life is complicated enough. So how to simplify the situation suggested above ?

I do agree with this perspective – “I’m sure the only reason the biological mother agrees with this is so she can have something to do with her son. There is a difference between a ‘mom’ and a ‘mother’ but it is ultimately up to the child to decide how to view each one of these women. Not the biological mom or the adoptive mom.” These two should not be playing their own issues off with the child caught in the middle.

Someone else disagreed and I do see this point as well – No difference between a mother and mom to me. I have two moms and two mothers. Same difference. It’s not confusing. I see no reason to distinguish a difference or set them apart.

And in fact, this is a valid point – If it wasn’t for the biological mom, the adoptive mom wouldn’t even have her son in the first place. I don’t give a damn if the biological mother’s rights where legally severed, she is still his mom at the end of the day and always will be the woman who gave birth to him.

I am still seeking what I sense is an important middle ground. I understand the need for the adoptive mother to be the final say in most of what happens in this child’s life, to maintain her parental authority to make decisions – at least for a minor child. Yet, emotions and feelings are less clear. I believe that most children actually are capable of keeping the two women in a separate yet proper perspective. My heart tells me that is the truth.

What I am sensing is a possessiveness, an ownership of one person over the love of another person, by putting the magical role of motherhood into the middle of this situation. As the divorced mother of a daughter who’s step-mother married her father and so, the two of them raised my daughter, I already understand what a difficult balancing act these situations are. I did attempt to put my daughter’s feelings and interests ahead of my own. My daughter and I have discussed how similar her childhood was to that of someone who was adopted.

White Fragility

This is a very personal post about me and my daughter. We got into a huge fight last night over the n-word.

We were driving in the city listening to her songs. I personally found the songs disgusting and demeaning to women. Every other word was p—-y, Ho, b—ch and especially nig-er. Not nig—a. But nig-er.

To me there’s a huge difference. And I told her that NO ONE, black or white, should ever use that word. I also told her that I think it’s disgraceful to hear singers use it in their songs.

My daughter told me that I was acting like a racist. She said white people can’t use the word. But that black people can because they are taking back the word. They are taking ownership of the word.

I have no clue what that means. And if I’m wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. But I think using that word under ANY circumstances is wrong. And that includes rap stars.

I’ll be blunt. I think the way these rap stars talk about women is despicable and demeaning. They are NOT ho’s, bitc—s, and nig-rs.

They are beautiful women who deserve our respect.

So, wonderful that he cares about this young woman and wants her treated well. But it appears that he’s trying to tell her she can’t use words from the culture she’s scrambling to belong to because she’s been raised outside of it ? If you are the Caucasian parent of a Person of Color, it matters not what way, shape or form, it is NOT your place to tell your children about their own culture or what is racist to them. As a parent, it is ESPECIALLY your job to listen.

You Don’t Own That Child

Even with one’s biological/genetic children, we don’t own them. We may be the vessel through which they came to Life but that does not give us ownership rights. This is true as well regarding adoptees. An adoptive parent does not own their adopted child. Hence the disturbing nature of today’s story –

The child is sad and missing his birth mother. He has been with his adoptive parents since birth. He wants to be with his birth mom. He wants to know why he’s adopted and is asking questions about his birth mother. One of the comments from the post that is now deleted is actually how some foster and adoptive parents think. “Tell him ‘I got you away from her because I need a child to love. Stop bringing her up. You are not meeting her end of discussion, you belong to me, not her. period’. Lady, you need to fight for what is yours, be strong. How would you feel if this was your husband wanting to visit an ex girlfriend he really liked? This is your family, not theirs, fight for it”.

Comparing one’s adopted child to a cheating husband ? Unbelievable.

Fear is common in adoptive parents. Here’s another adoptee’s experience – My adoptive parents would say “they don’t care about you. They wanted a closed adoption. They didn’t show up for court.” They wouldn’t let me see my adoption papers until I was 25 and actually called the lawyer that handled my adoption for advice. I found out that’s totally not the case. I think my adoptive parents are still scared (since I call my original parents “mom and dad” now). To be honest, I call friend’s parents mom and dad too. And my adoptive parents are scared that I’m going to choose my first family over them. What I really want is for everyone to get along.

From another adoptee – It’s common to want to know. I didn’t understand until I was older. My biological mom was an addict. She lied and made me think she had custody of my 3 brothers and she didn’t. She lost custody of my brothers when my youngest was 3. And I lost contact with them until 2012, when I found one of them on Facebook.

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

There is a Chinese proverb that states that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name. The term ”adoption” does not do this but rather disguises a series of complex, developmental traumas that begin with relinquishment and continues on, sometimes through challenging episodes of care, to the adaptions necessary to attach to the adoptive family. The legacy of this trauma for the relinquished child is a conflict between wanting to connect and fearing connection. This is often experienced as a hyper vigilance that has an enormous impact on relationships and functioning which can disrupt the ability to be present, with feelings that one is both “too much” and “not enough”.

It is hard to imagine a more devastating wound than a child being separated from its mother at the beginning of life. Trauma is an event that overwhelms ordinary human responses to life and as early separation is a relational trauma it manifests later in life as problems in significant relationships and, more often than not, in attempts at self-regulation through chemical and process addictions.

The impact of trauma on functioning is both physical and psychological: heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline raise anxiety levels leading to difficulties with concentration, while lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, making feelings of shame harder to manage. The trauma victim becomes reactive rather than reflective and experiences disabling feelings around issues of belonging and abandonment. A hunger for attachment means that the capacity for intimacy is compromised by intense and contradictory feelings of need and fear. In relationships there is a belief that they cannot be accepted for who they are and the sufferer is left literally in two minds; at best indecisive and at worst questioning their sanity.

Unlike the computer, the human brain starts working before building is finished. There are 100 billion neurons at birth waiting to make connections based on instructions from life experience. In the first years of life explicit memory systems have yet to be established and the adoption wound is stored, like other early attachment wounds, in implicit memory systems. The unconscious remembers the relinquishment as devastating and makes a mental note to avoid any similar experience at all costs. The conscious mind cannot recall the experience and so has no defense against the old lie that what cannot be recalled cannot have impact. Furthermore, because adoptees have no pre-trauma personality that they can refer to, they develop a false, core belief that their post-traumatic coping behavior, along with the associated shame and anxiety, is in fact their personality.

It is important to understand too that politics and the establishment play, and have played, an enormous part in the psychological wounds of relinquishment and adoption. Traditionally the world of adoption has referred to “the adoption triad” comprising the adopted child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents. However, this term is also misleading and disguises the fourth party in the adoption quartet: The establishment and the adoption business.

The establishment has legislated the assigning of a new identity and the erasing of the birth identity so that it is often not legally recognized. It is as if the adoptive family owns the adopted child. This is a particular issue for trans racial adoptees many of whom, as well as experiencing disconnect between racial self-identification and the racialization of the receiving country, would struggle to obtain a passport from their, or their birth parents, country of birth. Needless to say this has associations with the historic relationships between colonizer and the colonized.

The business of adoption and the industry that facilitates relinquishment and placement comprises state organizations and religious organizations as well as “kidnappers” and “baby finders”. The impact of some of these practices is being revealed.

It is clear that many adoptees have been struggling with a sophisticated, developmental trauma that has been hidden from them and those around them. In many cases it involves a series of traumatic experiences involving attachment changes that are experienced as life threatening. This trauma is hidden from consciousness both by the brain that remembers but cannot recall the events, but also by society that views adoptees as “chosen” and “fortunate”. If mental health is dependent on a commitment to reality, then it is vital that we call these traumas by their proper name. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that change and recovery begin with acknowledgement and continue with the taking of personal responsibility for solutions. Victims don’t recover but those who dare to take uncomfortable, therapeutic actions certainly can.

Inspired by a blog written by Paul Sunderland titled “Relinquishment and Adoption: Understanding the Impact of an Early Psychological Wound”.

If It Was So Good . . .

why am I so unhappy ?

It is a paradox and difficult to explain beyond the fact that fear and trauma put the child into a survival mechanism.  Yes, even with a loving and kind, caring adoptive family, an adoptee can feel messed up a lot of the time.  The adoptee may rationally feel like they should be okay with having been adopted by such nice people.  Yet, they are sad.  There is a trauma that exists deep down in every adoptee whether they ever become aware of it or not.  Adoption by strangers is never a normal experience in reality.

Adoptive parents may say, “My adopted child is so close to me.  It is like they are attached at the hip.”  While this may seem like a good thing, and the adoptive parent interprets this to mean that their child is well adjusted and/or bonded to them, it is actually a fear driven survival instinct in response to an abandonment, even if the child could never define it as such to their adoptive parent.

Sadly, the perspective of many adoptive parents is something akin to owning a possession.  In some adoptees, the response to the adoptive parents is similar to repulsion.  While an adoptee may attach, it is an attachment based on a longing for what is not there between the adopted child and the adoptive parents.  It is inescapable that all adoptees are deprived of something fundamental that affects them developmentally.

The young adopted child will eventually stop crying for the need that can never be met.  Unfortunately, in this surrender, the adoptee is seen as “such a good baby”.  By the time this happens, the adoptee’s attachment style has already been deeply altered.  They adapt.

Adoptees know how to use all of the different attachment coping styles, and switch between them based on the specific situation they find themselves in. Very little of what they are expressing outside reflects their true internal feelings.  It is not how they are really feeling or what they are really needing.  Mostly it is about appeasing the adult who is caring for them.  It is a survival tactic.  Always, what is seen, is even so, coming out of a deep and unaddressed trauma.

Guardianship vs Adoption

Within adoption reform movements, guardianship is seen as a better alternative for the potential adoptee than the formal process of adoption as it has been practiced over decades.

Guardianship preserves the identity of the child and gives the parents an opportunity to make changes and get any help they might need to be in a better position to parent the child.

What is needed is a complete restructuring of the system (and of the public’s understanding of the system) to get people thinking in a new way.  For many years, the public has been encouraged to think of foster care=temporary and adoption=permanent.

It has been difficult to get couples to accept guardianship. This alternative means the child doesn’t feel like it’s fully theirs. So many prospective adopters want an “all in” method and to them adoption finalizes the transfer of a child from one parent set to another, making that child “theirs”.

Guardianship may feel as though it puts the hopeful adoptive couple in a worrisome space of fulfilling a “temporary” role.  Not what many of them are seeking when they chose to adopt.

Who Am I ?

“Whose tummy did I grow in ?”

Consider this.  Most of us take for granted that we grew inside our mother’s womb.  A child that has always been told they were adopted will eventually reach a point where this question will arise in their own mind.  In closed adoptions, the child will never be given an answer.  In fact, great care has been taken to erase every fact related to their beginning in life.

Georgia Tann often falsified birth certificates and original parental data so that even after records were allowed to be opened for “qualified” persons (the adoptee or their direct descendants) one had to view the information skeptically.  I am fortunate that for the most part, the information in my mom’s adoption file seems to have been accurate.

But there was fudging about the nature of her parents who were presented to my adoptive grandmother (who thought very highly of advanced education) as two unfortunate college students who were caught by pregnancy.  That was hardly the truth.  My grandmother never went to college and my grandfather was a widower 20 years older than her who had already fathered 5 children.

Adoptees in a closed adoption will have their birth certificates falsified (as both of my parents did) to appear that their adoptive parents gave birth to them when they did not.  They will have their original name changed to something the adoptive parents want.  In my dad’s case, it happened twice, because my Granny divorced the husband she was married to when she adopted my dad.  The second husband objected to my dad carrying the vanquished man’s name and so at an age of already 8 years, my dad was given a new name.

Is it any wonder that adoptees often struggle with an identity crisis ?  Many adult adoptees believe that adoption should be ended.  The children should be given guardians and keep all of their original identity information.  Much like in the case of slavery, a child is not something one owns but a human being we are privileged to protect and provide for.

What’s It Like Living A False Identity

As I began to learn about my own parent’s identities (they were both adopted and died knowing next to nothing about that), it very quickly dawned on me how awful it must be, to be forced to live a false identity.  Most people never even consider that.

This is the statute for only one state but most states are the same regarding adoption laws.

Why is it so difficult to just love a child in a parental way without the ownership of that child? Adoption legally strips away a child’s heritage and attempts to force another one on them. Is it any wonder that adoptees struggle with identity?

When my cousin from my dad’s original mother and I discovered each other, I said I had his adoption certificate.  She immediately noticed something I didn’t, his mother’s name wasn’t on the paper.  Instead the Salvation Army had taken “ownership” of him.

One doesn’t own a child like they own a pet or car or house.  A child is also a human being.  Take away their name and the name of their original parents, what’s left?

Something that is no longer wholly real.  Sadly.