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.

Fears Related To Reunions

It is understandable really. There is the gulf between you, the elapsed time living different lives and yet, you are unmistakably and without a doubt springing from the same DNA tree – and that matters. Yet, I see so often the fears. Stories today as examples which reflect typical experiences.

From a birth mother – I finally met my son! He contacted me on Mother’s Day and said he wanted to meet. He just turned 19. We met last Sunday and it went well. He said he wanted to plan another visit soon. I know after meeting it can be overwhelming for an adoptee. It has been very overwhelming for me. To be honest, I’m a mess. I can barely function. He is already pulling away, maybe, I think. He just kind of stopped replying to texts. He is bad at texting anyway – according to him. I am trying to give him space. But I have also heard adoptees say they don’t like feeling like they have to do all the work in the relationship. I did text him last but it was one that didn’t necessarily need a reply. Would sending a “thinking of you” text be too much, if you are overwhelmed? I don’t know if he is or not. I’m in the dark trying to navigate this.

From an adoptee – I’m 20 and JUST started texting my biological mom the day after Mother’s Day as well, I’m not ready to meet her and I’m not ready to text her all the time. Getting those thinking of you messages really are nice though because I get in my head and can’t text because it’s overwhelming. I also have a lot of fear that she is also pulling back – so knowing she is thinking would help. I encourage you to tell him exactly what you are thinking. We are adults now and I personally want her to speak to me as an adult and not as the child she lost!

From another adoptee – I would love for my birth mother to contact me more often. She never just contacts me. It’s always me emailing her, and she does reply to some of my emails. If I were in your shoes, I would send him another text message and perhaps mention that you don’t want to bother him with too many text messages, but you’ve just been so happy to have met him. Be ready to answer questions and even ask if he has any.

And yet another adoptee – My first mom knows I have issues with texting her back when I’m dealing with stress AT all. She texts me every once and a while and says she loves me or says she is thinking of me but never expects a response. Mother’s Day wasn’t that long ago, and it’s the first time y’all met? Give him some time to adjust. He’s probably processing it all – just like you are. I don’t think it would be invasive to send a text that shows you are thinking of him and he is in your heart and mind. I know that always makes me feel happy, even when I cannot reply.

This from an adoptee in reunion as an adult – At that age I would have just put up walls, and stayed quiet, if things started to feel overwhelming. I didn’t know why I felt how I did, most of the time. Every one is different though. If you haven’t already, consider reading The Body Keeps The Score. You have probably seen this book recommended before. It may be helpful in understanding your behavior/feelings/reactions and possibly his.

From experience – It took my mom and I years just be comfortable enough to have the conversation of – “I wish you’d call me more often.” I am sure he is hesitant because he does not want you to walk away again and he is likely dealing with guilt over loyalty to his adoptive parents – even if they are supportive. The guilt just comes with the fear of rejection that every adoptee lives with. Take it slow. If you don’t hear from him for awhile – it’s ok to text him. I would have loved for my mom to be more active in communicating. She said she didn’t feel she had the right and she didn’t want to scare me away.

And this is a good perspective as well –

Now you begin the slow process of fiquring it all out, what works for you together.. so you can definitely acknowledge what you want- “I’m so thrilled to be able to check in” and what you fear- “but I don’t want to overwhelm you or add any stress. I know this is really a lot to deal with.” And “If you want, you can totally tell me to just chill and I’ll totally understand! It’s totally normally to need a break.” It’s like building the framework of a space where you are able to accept the full range of his experiences, centered on his needs. It is important to make certain he knows that space is being held and that you are inviting him to help shape it.

Adoption Is NOT The Goal

A foster parent is asked by some other person – “So . . . are you going to adopt him ?”

A red flag that this foster parent is in it for the wrong reason would be this answer – “We hope so. We’ve been waiting a long time. His parents are (insert case details here).”

A better answer that would be more appropriate would be – “The goal of foster care is to support a family in crisis. We will support the goals of the state as long as they need us to.”

But the best answer is actually the most direct and simplest – “That’s not the goal of foster care.”

Love this post by a woman named Lauren Flynn –

Y’all, it’s #fostercarewarenessmonth and we need to talk: Why is “foster to adopt” an acceptable phrase, ever? Why are there SO many people who become foster parents (which is SUPPOSED to mean pledging to love and support a child AND their family and be part of the crisis remediation team for that family) when they have zero intention of actually working towards the goal of reunification?!

Why does #fostertoadopt have hundreds of thousands of posts but #fostertoreunify has barely 500?! Shouldn’t every foster parent foster to reunify?!

No seriously. Don’t just dismiss that, resist the urge to get defensive, sit with it. Sit with it, and think about if you were, God forbid, in a situation where your babies were taken from you. Would you want them to be in a home that was “fostering to adopt”?! Or would you want them to be in a home that would fight like hell for your family’s healing?!

I wish I could say that I could never imagine praying for another mama to fail so that I could keep her babies, but God help me, that wouldn’t be true. I know how it feels to want to keep these babies close, because I’ve been there. To hope for a family to be separated, to lay awake and pray for the children you love to lose everything…that’s true selfishness.

I don’t want that for myself or for any other foster parents, and I sure as hell don’t want that for families in crisis, families the system is supposed to be HELPING.

We can fight for a better way. This #fostercareawarenessmonth let’s start with doing away with the term “foster to adopt”

🤍

 

Adoption Fragility

Today’s story –

I am an adoptive parent and I will admit I have to stop myself sometimes and realize my thoughts or fears are out of fragility. My adopted son (age 6) is “star of the week” at school this week and is choosing his pictures to share with his classmates. He has chosen pictures of both biological siblings and mom, and those of us he lives with. My fragility I am afraid is coming into play because I don’t want him to be hurt by the questions others may ask. Any insight on how to help him navigate his peers in this situation? I don’t want to hold back on him sharing what he wants to share, it is his story to tell. I also don’t want him hurt.

One response was – You are assuming he will be hurt. Maybe he will, but his status as an adoptee is for life, so he has to deal with that. I’d let it happen organically and address anything that may occur, after, if he wants to. Don’t make it a big deal. Let him lead and just be aware the days after for any signs.

Similarly, Let him lead here and don’t interfere. The reactions of others is something he now gets to deal with for as long as he lives. Your role is to prepare him to answer the questions in a manner that he is comfy with.

And wise – Stop trying to stop him hurting. STOP, STOP, STOP. Just let him be. Get a grip on your emotions. YOU cannot stand that he is hurt. He will be hurt he is human.

And this recognition – none of us – whether you are a biological parent or adoptive parent – want our children to “hurt”. Sharing his truth, with you in support of his sharing (because it IS his truth), is how you provide as stable a reality as possible for him. Could it be that you do not want the “hurt”? The reality that others will know the whole truth regarding your son and his place in your life? When everyone in family’s loves and supports a child, it is a beautiful thing. Let him shine – it sounds like he has a great group of “family” cheering him on.

One often sees warnings for adoptive parents not to share a child’s adoptive status with others because it leads to bullying and people treating them differently. There’s *absolutely* a difference between an adoptive parent sharing this info and a child sharing it of their own volition. She might be trying to figure out how to make sure her child doesn’t inadvertently open themselves up for poor treatment from others, while still making sure they’re able to share their truth in a way that is comfortable to them.

Some more good advice – let him know that he can share what he wants to. Then give him words in case someone asks something he doesn’t want to share..like “hmm I don’t remember that” or “I’m not sure.”

And this honest recognition that many of us know – Kids are mean. I’d just be prepared for the fact that they could be very cruel to him. Kids used to tell me that I was adopted because my “real family” hated me, or they they’d thrown me away. It might go well or he might be in a lot of pain afterwards. I was just as cruel back, lots of “any morons can have kids” etc. It wasn’t a super productive response – so 0 out of 10 – I do not recommend him going that route.

Also, the times they are a’changing – Talk about what he feels comfortable sharing in a calm environment before he’s in the spotlight. Let him practice. Pretend you’re a classmate, so that he gets to practice his answer when someone says, “if that’s your mom, who is this?” But also know that at 6, kids may not even care. Lots of kids come from blended families or have same-gender parents, so it might not even be on a 6 year old’s radar to ask. People are in so many diverse family situations nowadays. My friend who teaches elementary school says they refer to “your adult(s)” rather than parents.

Reality – Honestly just let them ask questions and him answer. Kids are better at this than you would think. What gets bad is when adults bring shame into the situation. If you act like questions shouldn’t be asked or the answers are bad then that’s what will bring shame into it. 

And regarding transracial adoption (hinted at in the graphic above) – My girls are 17 and 19. I am white they are Black and adopted. They feared telling their story but also got really tired of kids asking why their mother was white. When my younger one was in 2nd grade she told her story. She did not have any pictures of her true family because we don’t know who they were. She came home beaming. The kids asked very tough questions and she was unflinching. She then grew up with these kids no longer wondering why her mother is white. It was behind her. IF there is no shame in being their mother, there is no shame in them being able to tell their story.

And all adoptees are not the same – Ohh, this is a hard one. I hated when kids used to ask questions. It would make me so uncomfortable. (still does haha). I would just gently remind him that he doesn’t have to answer any questions he doesn’t want to answer and that he only has to give out the details he feels like sharing! And this is true – most questions come from pure curiosity rather than mean intent.

Having an idea of what to say can help – I always told my daughter that it’s her choice what she wants to share and her choice whether or not she wants to answer questions about it, but to be prepared that people WILL ask questions. I gave her some phrases to use if she didn’t want to answer certain things such as ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’. I had to explain to her that most people don’t understand adoption much less open adoption and they will ask invasive questions even though it may come from an innocent place. I think preparing kids for other people’s reactions is important.

It commonly happens in school these days that children are asked to do family trees which can feel awkward to an adoptee. Here’s how one family dealt with that – In kindergarten my class did family trees, and I didn’t know who my first family was. My mom helped me with practice answering questions about adoption and we made up a song about adoption to help my classmates understand. There were 3 other kids adopted in my class so my mom came in and our entire class learned about adoption, I sang my song, classmates asked me questions and mom answered the ones I deferred to her. I loved sharing my story and it made me feel comfortable and not as “different” after. I’d let your kids know it’s also okay if they don’t want to share either.

It’s okay to be cautious. Just be careful not to place your anxieties on your kid. Have a conversation about how they are feeling. Ask for them to “perform” for you since you can’t be there. Ask them how they feel about adoption, what’s something they are excited to share, if they have any questions. But mostly express that you’re excited for them to show off their WHOLE family.

Late Discoveries

This is not as uncommon as you might believe. There are people who believe that someone is their original parent all of their lives, and suddenly, usually because someone in their family has died, they learn the truth. Today’s story is one of those . . .

My grandmother just passed away a few days ago. Yesterday my mother (grandmother’s oldest of six kids) gets a call from one of the sisters who has been taking care of things (the mother is in Colorado, sister and grandmother are in Hawaii). The sister tells my mother that my grandmother was married to another man, prior to marrying the man who we all thought was my mother’s dad.

The first husband was my mother’s actual biological father. He abandoned my grandmother, leaving her with my mom and disappeared. So the ‘grandfather ‘ we always knew, offered to marry my grandmother and tell everyone that my mom was his oldest daughter. They got married and moved to Germany. They told everyone that my mom was his daughter. And this was my mom’s life.

Somehow my mom, lived into her 60’s without ever needing a copy of her birth certificate….honestly, which I am not sure how…but yeah. Now, she needs her birth certificate and asks her mother if she has it….her mom tells her that the hospital had burned down or flooded and all the records were destroyed….

Somehow after going back and forth, my mom managed to get a copy of her birth certificate…which had what she thought was the wrong name on it. It had my great grandmother’s last name on it, my grandmother’s ‘maiden’ name….which coincidentally turns out to be also the last name of her biological father. (Apparently grandmother married a step brother? Maybe. No actual biological relationship though….because his father was not my grandmother’s father and his mother was not her mother.) My mom has a fit and somehow manages to get her birth certificate changed to my grandfather’s last name….all because that is who she has always thought she was.

Now she is questioning everything. Apparently she is not who she thought she was. Her birth certificate should not have my grandfather’s name on it. She wants to know if she is LEGALLY married to my dad…they have been ‘married’ for over 50 years.

But of course – Yes, she is legally married to the woman’s dad because she legally used her legal name when filing for her marriage certificate. Officials do ask for information on the parents, but that is to streamline county record keeping and would not make the marriage certificate null and void. The mom answered those questions to the best of her ability with the knowledge she had, she did not commit fraud and her marriage is valid.

 It is shocking to hear something like this. It takes a while to adjust and get through the emotions that any person would feel when presented with such unexpected information. It is not unusual in these kinds of circumstances to find out after one’s mother has passed. In this case, the mom at the age of 70….this grandmother would have been 92, but she passed a few days before her birthday. It is life changing and learning this is like having the rug pulled out from a person.

The sister finding out was accidental. There are three sisters. The father told the second sister in 1984 after he had been drinking too much…and she told everyone but the mother and a third sister. The third sister found out and crying, very upset, told the mother. She only told her because the second sister was threatening to tell the mother but not a nice way. Sadly, the family is a bit horrible and not terribly close.

Reclaiming The Adoption Story

Ashley Billings

I’ve been running behind on everything all week and today is no exception.  Running out of time to do a blog today, I thought I would share Ashley’s own blog with you as she is an adoptee with her own story to share.  I met her through this blog and I follow her own blog too.

In her “About” section, she writes that she is 17 years old and was adopted at five days old. She describes her adoptive family as the most amazing in the world.  However, she also admits that being adopted has definitely brought up many issues and feelings. She says that she has found adoption is often told from parent’s and family’s perspective. Way too often, people don’t consider what the adoptee is feeling and going through. Most resources are geared towards parents and families.

She wants her readers to know – EVERYONE’S feelings are valid.

She wants other adoptees that find her to know that they are not taking this journey alone. She acknowledges that everyone’s story is unique.  Her purpose in writing the blog is to reclaim the adoption story by voicing her own journey through adoption.

Her latest entry is titled My Perfect Life. She writes that while everything on the surface of her life appeared very good, it was weird to her how she was still so sad all the time.  For her, discovering God through a friend has helped her continue forward with her life.

In another blog – I’m A Foster Aunt – she describes how she has struggled with a fear of being unwanted. Because she was given up for adoption, she always felt like, “Well, if my own mom didn’t want me before she knew me, why would anyone else?”  Many adoptees have abandonment and rejection issues.

In What Is My Tattoo – she describes it as right under her ankle and is It is a heart and a triangle overlaid one another. To her represents the love between the child, birth family, and adoptive family during the adoption process. She says it is a constant reminder to her that no matter what she believe at any moment, love went into her adoption. She says “I know my adoptive family loves me, but often I question if my birth family does.”

Adoption is complicated and every triad is different.  I can’t answer her question about her birth family but I sincerely hope that someday she knows the answer herself.

Living In The Fog

Adoption Fog – the hazy perception that everything about adoption is (or should be) simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not questioned.

Adoptees are told what to think, not how to think.  They are told the perspective from which they should see their adoption.  They are told to be grateful.  They live in a fantasy land.  They were too young or too afraid to realize the truth of the situation they are living in or to feel the full impact of it.  I can see now that as I began to understand the stories of my parents adoptions, I was in a fog before and in the early part of that process of believing the unicorns and rainbows version of adoption.

Coming out of the fog can mean enlightenment and healing.  Along the way, there are painful realizations and personal acknowledgements.  Coming out of the fog does not necessarily mean searching.  One can be searching and still be in the fog.  Maybe simply curious about family and heritage.

Adoptees are conditioned from the beginning to be grateful. They were “chosen”.  There is a story, ingrained lovingly, about how the biological parents were not able or did not want to take care of the adoptee. “They loved me so much they had to give me away so I could have a better life. I was saved by my adoptive parents from life as an orphan.  Adoption is a good thing.  Without it where would all the abandoned, unwanted children go?”

While such stories are meant to be comforting, it is often scary for the child.  To be “chosen” by one family means to be “unchosen” or rejected by another one.  And it is that fear of rejection that causes many adoptees to become people pleasers.

It is only natural, that as they come to maturity, they begin to understand that their very lives fulfill a desire on the part of their adoptive parents.  Adopted children are therefore often fearful (either consciously or subconsciously) that they could become rejected again.

There really is no such thing as a well-adjusted adoptee, or even child of two adoptees, even if it appears to be so.  The contradictions are simply too big to reconcile.

Clueless Questions

Quite a long time ago, I learned not to ask potentially embarrassing questions.  In fact, I rarely ask what could be defined as a “personal” question.  If someone wants to tell me about whatever, it is their prerogative not my right.

So I was reading about some of the clueless questions adoptees sometimes receive –

Where are your real parents ?

Couldn’t your parents have their own kids ?

Are your adoptive parents angry you reunited ?

“Was your birth mother on drugs ?”

In the book The Declassified Adoptee, she gives those who just have to know better ways of asking these kinds of questions.  She suggests that “Good questions are strengths first, person first.  They consider the feelings of the person answering a question first, above the necessity for information.”

She adds “It is ALWAYS important to validate an adoptee’s membership within ALL of the families that she identifies with.”

As the child of two adoptees, who after 6 decades of life, has only recently discovered my biological, genetic relations (mostly cousins and one aunt), I get it.  I love the adoptive families I grew up with and have shared life experiences with.  I love that I now know people who share my DNA.  I love them all, differently, for different reasons but love is love.

A Sacred Quest

Art by Stephen Delamare

If every life is actually a sacred quest to know who and what we really are, mine has certainly been easily viewed as just that.

I feel as though the “real” me has finally emerged out of the broken family tree that once concealed my true origins.

Now I know that we never were what we were forced to pretend we were due to adoptions.

We now have family, always had family, but that family was intentionally hidden from us until I was able to discover it in only the last year and a half.

Certainly, there are shadows and unanswered questions and it may be impossible to shed light on them now that so many years have passed.

But I am grateful for what I know and the “new” family I can build relationships with now. They are no more “perfect” than the members of the adoptive family that I still consider my “relations” as well.

It’s just that I know the same blood that runs in the “new” family’s veins, runs also in mine and for that I am eternally grateful.

I feel that I have fulfilled some part of my life’s purpose now.

The Wound Never Heals

In her book – A Hole in My Heart – Lorraine Dusky notes “You would be surprised how many little blond girls there are in the world when you are not looking for them. They are everywhere, filling your sightline like a chorus line of charming little dolls, reminding, mocking, making you aware of what you are missing, what you have done.

You stare at them, check out their clothes, absorb their little-girl movements and words.

The girl in the coffee shop with her mother. Another at the supermarket. Creating a scene at the mall. The daughter of a friend of someone you are dating, you can’t take your eyes off her, blonde, fine-bones and only a few months older than yours.”

Questions haunt a mother who has given up her child to adoption – Are my daughter’s parents good to her ? How is she ? Who does she look like ? Is she blonde like me ? Does she have my flat feet and his blue eyes ?

It is more than the girls themselves – an invitation to a baby shower. A picture of a baby in a magazine. Forsythia in a flower shop window. A family reunion.

I have this secret that makes me – different. Alien. Deep inside me there is a gnawing sense that I must find my daughter one day. Surely I am not the only one in this private hell.

It is good that the trend now is for – at the least – open adoptions.  And there are activists among those who were adopted themselves trying to reform the system to make adoption rare, if at all.

It is good.  It will stop some of the pain . . . as a society, we should care about our mothers and children more than we do.