A Complicated Relationship with Love

“No one has a more complicated relationship with love than a child who was adopted.” from an article in Psychology Today titled The Complicated Calibration of Love by Carrie Goldman. Children are the only ones who simultaneously crave, reject, embrace, need, challenge, inhale, absorb, return, share, fight, accept, and question your love on a daily basis.

How does the world convince an adoptee they are loved and valued ? The same world that thrust a great injustice upon this child by separating them from their first mother and possibly siblings, the world that passed them along to a doting foster mom to whom they became attached and then separated them again, the world that dropped this child into the outstretched, naïve, and eager arms of adoptive parents, their greatest joy intricately tied to the child’s greatest sadness, the world that views this child’s story as a happily-ever-after and now expects them to be grateful, happy, well adjusted, and perfect at all times—how does such a child learn to trust the love of that world?

Carrie notes – To match the giving of love with the exact need of any recipient is a moving calibration. There is no reliable unit of measurement for something so imprecise as human affection. We try. We offer up our love in words and actions, hoping to meet the ever-changing needs of our lovers, our children, our friends, and our families – every relationship that matters takes some work.

When one person in the relationship inhales the sour breath of the beast that is insecurity, a beast whose presence twists the very air between two humans and makes greater the flaws that beckoned it in the door. Insecurity, also known as fear, feeds on the dark and scary parts of the mind, growing in strength and power as it distorts what is real and what is imagined.

Sometimes insecurity grows too large until there is almost no space left for the relationship. But the antidote to such despair is hope, and hope, fortunately, needs less fuel to stay alive. These dynamics occur in any relationship, and the intensity can be magnified by a thousand when one of the partners is an adoptee.

The choice to be an adoptive parent is built on mountains of hope, oceans of hope, forests filled with the hope that a thousand seeds planted might one day yield a mighty tree. What combination of internal resilience, good parenting, genetics, access to birth history, love, acceptance of grief, and endless empathy is needed to raise an adoptee to wholeness ?

An adoptee did not choose to be adopted at a very young age; it was foisted upon them and packaged as “you’re so lucky” by the world. An adoptive parent must allow and validate all the feelings and viewpoints, even the ones that don’t fit the happily-ever-after narrative. 

An adoptee is unlucky. They are not growing up with their first family. If biological children for their adoptive parents are also in the picture, they cannot help but wonder if the adoptive parents love their biological children more. Many adoptees worry they will never be good enough. Most adoptee do battle with legitimate fears of abandonment in every relationship they enter into throughout life. Often an adoptee rages against the unfairness of being adopted and basically hates being adopted.

~ Carrie Goldman writes a parenting blog called Portrait of an Adoption.

Ancestral Emotions

Please bear with me (not to be confused with the mammal but in the sense of enduring any clumsiness in my delivery), if this blog seems to lack cohesiveness. Many times my day seems to develop a pattern and it informs my thoughts and my emotions as diverse elements seem to play off one another. So that happened today and it started as soon as I sat down at my computer. I will do my best to make sense of the notes I jotted down for you, my reader.

I spent most of the decades of my life with no knowledge of my familial roots due to both of my parents having been adopted before the age of one under sealed (closed) adoption files. They died clueless really but I had always thought after my mom had been denied her own adoption file (related to the Georgia Tann scandal in Memphis) that maybe after she was dead I would be able to get what she had not been able to obtain. All the state of Tennessee did for her was break her heart with news that the woman who gave birth to her had died some years before.

My day began with several links from a Facebook friend. She has been grappling with the admission that defines her as a NPE. In genetics, a non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity or not the parent expected). This happens when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father. Often an inexpensive DNA test at a matching site reveals that. The primary effect is a feeling of betrayal or having been lied to. Late discovery adoptees (meaning they didn’t know they were adopted until well into their maturity) experience similar feelings.

“The place where it’s interesting is what it takes to get from one stage of your life to another. The trick is finding a way . . . ” ~ Susan Rigetti in a Time article about her new novel, Cover Story. To which I add, to get there. In my own journey of genetic biological discovery, my past, present and presumably now future have come into harmony. And it feels so very good. For me, it has been entirely worth learning what I learned and brought me a surprised gratitude to understand that I could have so easily been given up for adoption by my unwed (at the time of my conception) high school student mother.

One link was a YouTube by Thich Nhat Hanh, he addresses ancestors one never knew. And he points out something quite obvious, some people in contact with parents still living don’t really know them. My parents, like many, did not share a lot about their lives. I am grateful for what they did share. He is correct that each of us is a continuation. As that, we have an opportunity to transform the negative and develop the wonderful.

One link related to a practice referred to as Emotional Genealogy. It is what we have inherited from those who came before us. It is the stories about our ancestors, and what their lives were like. It is the connection we have, with or without our awareness, to our grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents…going back two, three, four, five and sometimes more generations. It is the emotional traits that were handed down within our family lineage: the optimism, grit, rage, pain, inaccessibility, kindness, cruelty, avoidance, violence, tenderness, fear. It was noted that what is not transformed, is transmitted down the family line.

We owe our existence to those who came before us. Simply put, if they hadn’t lived, we would have no life. And simply put, the realization I arrived at was that if my grandmothers (because in each case it was the mother, the father did not have an actual say in the circumstances – whether my grandparents were married or not – there was one case of each) had not given up my parents to a different set of parents to raise them, I would not exist. That is a fact I can not get away from. I value the price that each of them had to pay. It is considerable, as I have learned from others that are part of the adoption triad of adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents.

In my own roots journey, my family found over time that they didn’t come from the town or country that we (and at least I) had thought they originated from. For example, my mom was adopted in Memphis TN but was born in Richmond VA. My dad was not Hispanic and left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. Yet because he had been adopted in El Paso TX I thought that. The crazy thing is that I also knew he had been born in San Diego CA. Go figure. When we lack complete information we fill in the blank places as best we can. And while I struggle with acknowledging double the usual set of maternal and paternal grandparents, I do know that because my adoptive grandparents cared, they deserve to be remembered.

Some people find out after twenty or thirty years that what they felt and suspected was true. Always know that intuitive knowledge IS knowledge, and it is a resource to be treasured.

My image at the top of this blog may still seem out of place but it is not to me. Robin Easton writes – “your exquisitely beautiful sensitivity. I see this refreshing trait expressed through you in so many ways: in your wisdom, your creativity, in the ways that you face life’s challenges, and in the ways that you help me walk through this life. Thank you, for such a sacred and intelligent gift.”

Whatever you know about your family can help you develop emotional intelligence. Make the effort.

Links shared with me this morning –

How to love and understand your ancestors when you don’t know them?
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
https://youtu.be/pdodGeRNjt0

What Is Your Emotional Genealogy?
~ Judith Fein in Psychology Today

How Your Ancestors Can Help You Become a Better Person
~ Crucial Dimensions
https://youtu.be/-Syo-QorTJQ

Judging The Past By Present Values

Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw
~ photo by Carlos Osorio for the Toronto Star, 2012

As a Gemini, twins have always fascinated me. I have wondered if I once had a twin in utero who vanished. Having gone through assisted reproductive medical interventions, I know this happens. It happened with my older son when my pregnancy originally appeared to be twins. I really didn’t want the challenge but in my mom’s group we have several pairs of twins and one set of triplets. The father of the man I am married to was a twin. Both my father in law and his twin brother are now deceased.

The less than common occurrence of multiple births has my attention this morning after watching the documentary – Three Identical Strangers. The story tells how these men were separated at 6 mos and adopted out with strategic intent by the clinical psychiatrist, Peter Neubauer, through the cooperation of the Louise Wise adoption agency. Psychology Today did an article entitled The Truth About “Three Identical Strangers.” The article explains – Dr Viola Bernard was the chief psychiatric consultant to the Wise agency. In the late 1950s (before Dr Peter Neubauer was involved), Dr Bernard created a policy of separating identical twins when they were adopted. Dr Bernard’s intentions are described as benign. In a memo subsequently recovered, she expresses her hope that “early mothering would be less burdened and divided and the child’s developing individuality would be facilitated” by this separation. It wasn’t only the Wise agency but many other agencies that also practiced the separation of twins at the time of adoption.

The conclusion by Dr Lois Oppenheim in the Psychology Today article is – The basic premise of the film, that the triplets’ separation was a heartless scheme undertaken at the expense of the children’s well-being to enable a scientific study, is fiction. The filmmakers could have created a documentary about the complexities of the twin study, its origins and context, and the changing standards of ethical norms and lessons learned. This might have been less dramatic, but it would have made an important contribution to our understanding of gene research and parenting.

Yet, the practice of separating identical or even non-identical siblings in the adoption industry continues and the study and research of such persons continues to this day. Regarding my photo above of Lily MacLeod and Gillian Shaw, the story in The Toronto Star by Amy Dempsey tells us that the 12-year-olds were separated as babies in China but reunited after the two separate Ontario couples adopted them. When their separate/different adoptive parents made the startling discovery that their two daughters were identical twins, they vowed to raise the girls as sisters. Their situation is highly unusual: Lily and Gillian are two of only a handful of twin pairs – mostly Chinese children adopted by North American parents – who are being raised, knowing they are siblings but separately apart. For scientific researchers, the girls are yet another opportunity to study the effects of nature vs nurture in real-time. As for their families – strangers thrown together by the most unusual of circumstances – their situation explores a new kind of blended family, with unique and fascinating joys and challenges.

The Toronto Star goes beyond the story of the twin Chinese girls to note that in the late 1970s, scientists at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research began studying what was then a new category of multiples — adopted twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults. Dr Thomas Bouchard’s landmark paper was titled “Minnesota Study of Identical Twins Reared Apart.” The study shook the scientific community by demonstrating, across a number of traits, that twins raised apart are as similar as twins raised together. The study’s evidence of genetic influence in traits such as personality (50 per cent heritable) and intelligence (70 per cent heritable) overturned conventional ideas about parenting and teaching. And findings of genetic influence on physiological characteristics have led to new ways of fighting and preventing disease.

While I was yet pregnant with my oldest son, I chose to read a book titled Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy which had just come out in the year before. So my interest is long standing and it is little wonder that the issues continue to capture my interest. For centuries, the self-sacrificing mother who places her child’s needs and desires above her own has defined womanhood. Designed by nature for the task of rearing offspring, women are “naturally” tender, selfless and compassionate where their progeny are concerned. Those who reject childbearing or fail to nurture their offspring directly are typed as pathological, “unnatural” women. In traditional Darwinian evolutionary biology, the female of any species has evolved to produce and nurture the species; one could say it is her only role. Feminist treatises have long argued against the necessary conflation of “woman” with “mother,” and classics such as Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born have cogently argued that such altruistic maternity is a cultural construct and not a biological given.

From a review (link above) of Hrdy’s book Mother Nature – US anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy strides into the minefield, examining motherhood across cultures, historical periods, evolutionary tracts and biological species to better understand human maternity. Hrdy’s book resides in that rare space between academic disciplines (she is a professor emerita at the University of California-Davis and she has been schooled in anthropology, primatology, evolutionary theory, history and feminism). Her work can be situated somewhere between specialist treatise and popular biological science. Hrdy’s unique placement enables her to combine the best of Darwinian evolutionary biology with feminist cultural theory, without falling into the political entrapments of either camp.

Heartening for me, as a biological/genetic mother who lost physical (but not legal) custody of her daughter when she was only 3 years old, I am reminded in this review of Hrdy’s book that stay-at-home mothers are rare in the historical and evolutionary archives; community caregiving is an age-old model of childrearing. Throughout history in primate and human communities, mothering techniques involve “allomothers”: the delegation of child caretaking to other members (male and female) of the community. “Mothers have worked for as long as our species has existed, and they have depended on others to help them rear their children,” Hrdy writes. That means I was not the abject failure I believed my self to be for over 60 years but just another kind of mother. Motherhood today often includes women who have jobs and incomes of their own. Hrdy sees this as an evolutionary process to ensure long and safe lives for these mother’s child(ren). A lack of financial resources most certainly drove me to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother, while I took a risk to see if I could earn some decent money driving an 18-wheel truck. There never was the intention to permanently abandon my child to other people. Thankfully, as adults we are happily close enough at heart and I believe love one another as fully as any mom could hope for. It is actually the lack of financial resources that is at cause for most adoptions.

In “60 Years On, Twin/Triplet Study Still Raises Questions” – an interview of Dr Leon Hoffman by Elizabeth Hlavinka for Medpage Today looks at the ethics of that study, which began in 1960 (the documents from which are sealed in the archives at Yale University until 2065). This tells me that Peter Neubauer, who died in 2008, eventually had his own qualms about the ethics of what he had perpetrated, though he is judged to have mostly been concerned with confidentiality issues that (until open adoptions began) were the rule in commercial closed adoptions (the effects of which continue to obstruct and vex adult adoptees to this day – change comes slowly). My blog today takes it title from an observation by Dr Hoffman – that the problem with a lot of “exposés” is that we judge the past by our present values.  That is an important point. He also notes that at the time of the Neubauer project, there was a prevailing belief that twins would be better off separated, if they were going to be adopted. That twins were more difficult for the mother and that it would be easier for the mother to take care of one child instead of two children. I understand. In our mom’s group, those with twins often hired au pairs to assist them in those early days.

In this interview, Dr Hoffman notes – I always tell parents of kids that I see, “How much is genetic and how much is environment?” and I always say, “It’s 100% of both,” because those two are always interacting with one another. More and more data has shown that genetic variations get very much affected by the environment. I believe this is also evident in the story about the triplets. They even admit that during that time of their own high publicity, they amplified their similarities because that is what people were curious about. It is clear that they each had unique personalities that do seem to have been affected by their adoptive parents and the differing environmental situations they were raised in. As aging adults, the two surviving individuals have very different surface appearances while retaining many similarities.

Since I have looked at mother/child separations now for several years and am against the practice of adoption generally and in favor of family preservation, I was emotionally triggered last night by thinking about the amplifying effect of separation trauma (which IS mentioned by the triplets in their documentary) as yet another separation wound for babies who grew into their humanity in the same womb. Fortunately for the children in my mom’s group, they don’t have either of those added traumas. “The twin relationship, particularly with (identical) twins, is probably the closest of human social ties,” says Nancy Segal, who is herself a twin. This is why it’s so important for multiples to grow up together. Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.

I found one other article that I’m not going to say very much about. You can read the story – Stories of Twins Separated at Birth by Pamela Prindle Fierro at the VeryWell Family website. There are the two sisters – Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. They found each other through Facebook and YouTube. They had been raised on different continents. The article includes information about the “Jim Twins” – James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis who found each other at the age of 39 in 1979. And there are actually MORE stories at this link.

The important thing to learn is that every action taken, that affects another human being, has the possibility of unintended consequences and that there is always the need for a fully informed consent in the interest of human well-being. An issue with adoptees is that due to their young age, they are never able to give informed consent and therefore, their rights are never considered. This is an issue with many adoptees who feel they are treated like second-class citizens with important basic human rights withheld from them – identity and medical issues foremost. An evolving issue with donor conceptions is similar. The human being conceived in that manner had no ability to consent to the method of their conception. Realistically, none of us consents (in a human sense, but I believe we do in non-physical prior to birth as I believe we are eternal souls).