Using Detachment To Make Space

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. We now know that a child’s attachment to her mother starts in the womb, so even a child adopted at birth can experience severe attachment disruption later on in life. A friend was recently expounding on attachment and it seemed like some worthy thoughts to put in this blog.

She writes – Had a conversation recently with a loved one about loss, trauma, wounds, living in a bubble where the sense of belonging is not clear. When we lose loved ones, for example, due to death or breakups, when we are rejected, or misunderstandings separate you from people who are important to you – places where there is lack of warmth, lack of connection, a kind of coldness and cruelty that is hard to put in words and if you do put into words, you look weak – it is embarrassing, humiliating – further you go into the wound, building a fence around you made of loss, confusion, distorted or loss in sense of purpose, aloneness, pain, trauma, rejection, grief, loss of control. You can create narratives that preach positivity and strength but the heart is wounded, the heart has a stab pain, bleeding your life away, whispers in your inner ear of why you are not good enough – if only you were this or that..then maybe it would be alright. What can you do? A silent rage covers the wound, like a thin skin to help you function. A fight for your life that feel a fight in a dark room with no light in sight.

Then the idea “don’t be attached” sounds like more abuse, more alone, squeezing the heart tighter, as if trying to end what you are, your life. “Don’t be attached” feels like more of a stab. Abandoning yourself, your hopes. Hearing the word detachment can feel shattering. ..that as bad as you feel, now, don’t be attached.

Don’t be attached doesn’t mean withdraw from love, hope, from what you care or cared about. Particularly not withdrawing from the part of you that hurts. Not being attached is to draw closer to the hurt parts, abandoned parts, wounded parts. Not being attached is separating your self from the *story*, situations, to change the focus from the situation to the wounds to learn from them what you need to, to take time to transform into a newer version of yourself that has yet to be embraced and has navigated billions of hurts and disappointments, sometimes flat out rejections and absolute betrayals and abandonments, some that go very deep. The deep wound can cause even the lightest slights to feel exaggerated. We become sensitive to how the wind is blowing. We haven’t embraced our pain fully enough to heal. Everything that brings that pain to the surface or creates those feelings, it is a chance to embrace the wounded part, look at it, reason through, let others off the hook for a time, look at yourself, the wound, be alone with yourself, giving yourself time to heal. Otherwise, we might not sense when we are in relationships with people that abandon, hurt, reject – – because we haven’t yet developed a healthy one with the wounds we carry – using that as proof over and again that we are not worthy of more or pursue it, or even how…where.

Detachment is a short term method to make space to see yourself differently, to tend to your wounds properly, to love yourself rightly, to see things thorough and to come to terms once and for all – help yourself, gently, so we can evolve beyond the wounds.

**I do also consider there possibly being a radical process to detachment. A leap – as if off a cliff into a void, another world – where if you could do it – as if die to what you are – you would open to a world you had no idea is there, that you have only been seeing your thoughts and hardly reflecting anything at all but those thoughts – not reality. I imagine a Remembering, a rejoining with something exciting and pure. Personally, I find the idea and concept curious, the thought intriguing, and at times dwell on getting beyond idea and thoughts and wonder if there is another world..maybe a real world, reflected from a free conscience, a surprise, beyond *your* mind.

She ends it with this advice – Think about that then turn and say something silly and reveal your human flaws and personal prejudices. Even though your mind is there, inching in miles toward a leap.

Adoptee Margot Tenenbaum

I watched a Wes Anderson movie titled The Royal Tenenbaums. The rest of my family chose not to. What really got my attention was the character of Margo Tenenbaum played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The character as written and her behavioral traits mirror what I have read from so many adoptees.

Paltrow as Margot

I knew someone had to have written about it. I found it at a site called LINK> Very Troubled Child from where the image above was found. The creator, Alberto Favaretto creates unique travel bags, he writes – “Margot Tenenbaum was adopted at age two. Her father had always noted this when introducing her. She was a playwright, and won a Braverman Grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade. She and her brother Richie ran away from home one winter and camped out in the African wing of the Public Archives. They shared a sleeping bag and survived on crackers and root beer.”

Another WordPress blog, LINK> Film Genres, shares Margot’s failed reunion with her biological family this way – “Margot’s lack of a father figure comes about mostly from her adopted father’s refusal to accept her as one of his own children. Each time she was introduced to anyone by her father, he always referred to her as “my adopted daughter.” Margot snuck away from home at the age of fourteen to find her biological father, only to have him “castrate” her in a sense by cutting her finger off when chopping wood. She sought out for her biological father and he essentially cuts her off with the removal of her finger. The removal of her finger created a gap that she can be seen as constantly searching for something to fill with.”

In Vogue, Christian Allaire wrote just over a year ago – LINK> What Makes Margot Tenenbaum’s Style So Good, Even 20 Years Later – Margot is an outsider. That’s only underscored by her fashion sense: She’s decidedly more fashion-forward than the rest of the Tenenbaums. But her looks, while distinctive, are never overstyled. In one scene, she’s smoking in the bathroom while painting her toes and wearing a tight, nude slip dress. You get the sense that she does this very thing—in the same exact outfit—every single day. “She was known for her extreme secrecy,” says the narrator. “None of the Tenenbaums knew she was a smoker, which she had been since the age of 12.” Margot has an air of mystery to her, and her chic, demure wardrobe only adds to this.

From Brain Mass, Sociology, Family & Childhood, LINK> Character Analysis of Margot. Margot was adopted at age two. This is the foundation of her identity issues. My response will always come back to this foundational issue in Margot’s existence. Margot may feel as though she is not really a part of the family and just an attachment piece to the family when she is continually reminded publicly that she is adopted. This act will intensify feelings of rejection and low self-esteem. As a child, she appears to be in desperate want of nurturing. This lack of acknowledgement intensifies the obscure feelings she may be experiencing due to her being adopted. Adoption does influence a child’s development. The specific issues that a child will experience when he/she has knowledge that he/she is adopted are: separation, loss, anger, grief, and identity. Between the ages of 7 and 12, the adopted child experiences the “full emotional impact” of being . . . (more at a paywall there).

Enough for today’s blog. I just recognized how richly the adoptee character of Margot in this movie was developed. I’ve had so much exposure within a group that prioritizes the voices of adoptees. where I have spent a lot of time the last few years, since my adoptee parents died and I started on my own genetic, adoption influenced, roots journey.

Never The Priority

From an Adoptee:

Do other adoptees feel as though they have never been a priority ? I struggle to explain it. Often it feels like I am just in the background of the lives of the people I love. Sometimes it feels like I am a tool they use to make their lives better. It rarely feels like people choose to be in my life for me. I can’t be the only one.

And she is NOT.

From another adoptee –  I feel like a ghost, an echo, invisible. It’s as if I am tolerated, even enjoyed sometimes, but not sought out or after. It is hard to explain.

And another – My whole life is basically me being used in one way or another. Even my closest friends mostly only call me when there’s a problem for me to solve. I guess that’s what I get for learning how to be the problem solver, because I learned early that I have only myself to rely on, while others have loving family to support them.

Yet another – Totally get that feeling. I’m in my 30s and still struggling. Except the way I’ve always felt with my family, my in laws, and definitely my biological family is the black sheep of every family. I really don’t feel like I belong anywhere.

And this – Only after I found out I was adopted did I start feeling like this. I question so many aspects of my life thanks to my adoptive mother and her controlling ways, I got so sick and tired of people defending her, saying she did it because she didn’t want to hurt me. As much as I hate to speak ill of the dead and given how much I loved her, (she died when I was 11, I didn’t learn the truth until I was 17) I can’t help but resent her and sometimes hate her because I feel like I was some sort of possession or weapon to be used against my biological mother. It’s a long and painful story to be honest, my family is pretty damn toxic, maybe I’ll be able to put it all into words one day, but right now…I just feel too much anger and resentment to be able to do so.

Another example –  I never felt like I wasn’t a priority to my adoptive parents with to their own biological children, I wasn’t accepted. I’m older now and it’s even more apparent the last 15 years. My adoptive parents adopted 5 kids in total and their biological children didn’t want anything to do with any of us. Always shunned us out. Even now, they never want us around their kids etc. It’s sad. I think they were jealous in some way. But I always felt like I did something wrong or I wasn’t good enough. Rejection trauma hurts.

This response is all too common (my mom was like that and passed it down to us girls) – I think my insecure attachment led to this. I am such a people pleaser and I tend to hide my emotions, so I’m not ‘a burden’. I’m deep down scared that if I act in or feel a way that others don’t approve of, people with leave me. With therapy, it’s gotten a lot better but my first instinct will probably always be to fawn. Another agreed – I think part of it is my people pleasing nature, I let people walk all over me and put my own stuff aside.

As the child of two adoptee parents, who now knows what my parents didn’t, who our original families were, this has been my experience too and on some level I understand – I don’t share life history with these people, it feels more like an accident of my parents’ birth – “I am a part of 4 different families. After finding my biologicals, I still don’t “fit” anywhere. It’s not at all a negative reunion story, I just don’t fully belong,” and that includes my adoptive relations. It has been the surprising downside of learning our truth.

Another adoptee perspective – I rarely even prioritize myself. I find more value in those around me than myself and feel I’m wasting time when I focus on me. I end up thinking that’s probably how others view me too. I’m also not sure what being a priority would look/feel like… I question if I’d recognize it or accept it, even if it were happening.

It is so universal, the wounds are deep and it never seems to get better – Even when I can look at how someone is treating me and can logically tell that I’m valued and a priority, I still don’t feel it. For me I think that it comes from feeling like an outsider in my family, I’m always waiting for the rejection.

I feel like I have to be super helpful just to get recognition that I’m a good person. It’s screwed up. I don’t feel good enough or worthy, even though I know I am… I still do these things to feel noticed and wanted.

Finally this admission – I am a reunited adoptee, very much integrated into my birth family. I was raised the youngest of four adopted children in a family that contentiously broke up when I was three. I was left out so many times in adopted family and am now having the experience of feeling excluded from something in my birth family. It has totally triggered my abandonment issues. The fact that I generally feel left out and am often alone, in general, with friends and family. Once again, I turn to forgiving others for not being who I wanted them to be and forgiving myself for wanting them to be people they are not. It’s tiring though. 

A Lifelong Sorrow

Birth Mothers matter to me. There are 4 women close to me who gave their baby up for adoption. Both of my genetic grandmothers and both of my sisters. Therefore, when I was at the VeryWellMind site yesterday, another article caught my attention. >LINK Putting A Child Up For Adoption Impacts Mental Health, Stigma Doesn’t Help by Sarah Fielding.

The story reveals that when Janice Wright was 16 years old, she became pregnant, and her fiancé dumped her. The most significant struggle she faced came from the lack of mental health care provided to explore her feelings and prepare her for the difficult process. After she gave birth, the doctor who suggested adoption to her loaded her up with a three-week supply of pain pills to help her ‘numb’ her way back to life afterward. Wow.

Without a person in their corner, birth parents can feel even more traumatized by the process. Such was the case for Wright, who felt incredibly alone after putting her child up for adoption. “I had to bear it alone because no one wanted to talk about it,” she explains. “Maybe friends and family were afraid to bring it up, and no one talked about it.”

Both of my grandmothers had some months (6-8 months) with their first born before they lost them to adoption. My maternal grandmother never had anymore children. My paternal grandmother went on to have 3 more. My sisters lost their babies almost immediately. I believe my youngest sister had a bit more time (days, weeks?) with hers than my middle sister did.

Dr Bethany Cook, a psychologist, an adopted child herself and author of For What It’s Worth – A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0 – 2, notes that “Contemplating putting your child up for adoption is a very traumatic experience regardless of whether or not you believe the choice you’re making is the right one.” She adds, “An individual may feel anxious, sad, fear, confusion, frustration, happiness, and even relief. Many times there are people in your life trying to influence your decision one way or another creating even more angst and dilemmas. Along with natural hormones influencing mood and thoughts, it’s typical for an individual to go back and forth about their decision several times throughout the pregnancy. Even after the adoption has gone through, some biological parents still struggle with their decision.”

Whether made as a teenager or as an adult, unlike many other decisions, adoption is forever and can feel incredibly overwhelming in its finality. The all things adoption community I belong to often refers to this as a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” They encourage unmarried expectant mothers to at least try to parent their child before taking the irrevocable step. >LINK Saving Our Sisters is an organization devoted to supporting and encouraging that choice. I didn’t know about them when my own sisters were going through this. It was years before I knew the sister closest in age to me had given up her daughter. However, I was the only family member aware of my youngest sister’s choice and was alongside her during her decision making process. Unfortunately, I didn’t know then, what I know now.

Each birth mother’s circumstance is different and so, the decision is incredibly personal and unique to the individual. Here’s another story – Kira Bracken, who put her child up for adoption in January 2019. “The fact I have an open adoption helps for me to know when he has questions, I can answer them,” she says. However, turning again to the vast experience in my all things adoption group, it has been proven time and again, that the intention to have an “open adoption” all too often fails and this intention turns out not to be legally binding.

After unexpectedly becoming pregnant, Kira felt that the compounding factors of being a single mom to a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, recently leaving a marriage, and her mother’s passing of cancer, led to her decision to place her child into an adoption. Bracken felt sad and grieved the life she and the child could have had, “You lose the right to be the mom they turn to when they are sad or get hurt, just the everyday life things.”

Bracken attributes the stigma she felt for giving her child up for adoption to a lack of understanding. “Adoption is so complex and happens for a multitude of reasons. Birth moms go back and forth constantly until they sign those papers on whether this is what they want to do. It’s not an easy decision, and I wish people would stop acting like it was and that one answer fits all scenarios,” she says. “We beat ourselves up enough for the both of us, so instead of criticizing our choice, be there as a friend to help in whatever way we need.”

“The best thing you can do is be a non-judging, validating place they can turn to vent and process their conflicted feelings without fear of filtering what or how they share their core emotions,” says Cook. This includes validating their feelings, listening to them when they’re upset, and providing regular support. A therapist can also help some people sort through their emotions long-term. 

Tired Of Clichés

A cliché is an element of an artistic work, saying, or idea that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

It’s hard enough to come out of the “it’s all beautiful” unicorns and rainbows narratives FOG about adoption without having clichés thrown at you. Like this –

Many adoptees would say – I’m so annoyed by people acting like my trauma is a blessing. Or this – I still cringe when I hear someone say “you are so lucky, you were chosen,” Heard that a lot growing up.

“Yeah I’m strong, but it’s despite my experiences not because of them.” ~ woke adoptee.

Letting Go of Expectations is Liberating

Today I offer you a not uncommon adoptee challenge –

For so many of us, birthdays suck. And I’m realizing it doesn’t get easier with age. So many complicated emotions. For me this is the day I was born and the day I was separated from my birth mom. I‘m not resentful for the choice she made, she’s a wonderful human.

I think it has to do with expectations that birthdays are supposed to be happy. I never want to be the center of attention but if someone overlooks me, or my feelings, I get super sad. It feels like a rejection thing. I might prefer celebrating my adoption day… but that would be difficult to explain.. to people who could never comprehend.

I’m sick of crying every single birthday (and having to hide it) and faking it for the rest of the day. I’m (hopefully) going to have at least 50 more of these and I don’t want to look back hating every single one and dreading the next. Therapy is great (I’ve had awesome therapists for over 7 years) but certain topics like these don’t feel solvable in therapy. I wish I could talk to others that understand from life experience.

An inspirational message from Agape that I listened to yesterday focused on Expectations and how to make peace with them. You can watch the July 3rd 9am Service HERE (fast forward to the 37 minute point, if you want to only listen to her message).

Always The Question

From The Huffington Post – I Was Adopted Before Roe v. Wade. I Wish My Mother Had Been Given A Choice by Andrea Ross.

“Would you rather have been aborted?” This is the question some people asked me when I publicly expressed horror at the June 24 overturning of Roe v. Wade.

This question is not only mean-spirited and presumptuous, it’s a logical fallacy. The notion that adopted people should not or cannot be pro-choice simply because we were born ignores the possibility that we can value being alive at the same time we value the right to make decisions about our bodies, our lives and our futures.

My birth mother was 18 years old and partway through her first year of college when she discovered she was pregnant. Her parents arranged for her to go away to a home for unwed mothers once she started showing. My birth mother had limited choices; abortion was illegal, so her options were to keep or to relinquish her baby. And maybe it wasn’t she who decided; perhaps her parents made that decision for her. Maybe she had no choice at all.

Either way, the right to choose to have an abortion has nothing to do with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention crudely referred to in 2008 as the need to maintain a “domestic supply of infants” available for adoption, a notion that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito referred to in the opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade.

I was born in the home for unwed mothers, whisked away into foster care within a day, then adopted by yet another family three weeks later. I was shuffled between three families in my first three weeks of life.

The logic of the anti-choice, pro-adoption crowd is that I should be grateful for the fact I wasn’t aborted. After all, I didn’t languish in foster care for 18 years. And my birth mother got to finish college and pursue a career, to have kids when she was ready. It was a win-win, right?

Not by a long shot. Psychology research shows that women who relinquish their children frequently exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. And children who have been relinquished frequently develop relinquishment trauma ― a kind of trauma that “changes an individual’s brain chemistry and functioning … and can elevate adrenaline and cortisol and lower serotonin resulting in adoptees feeling hypervigilant, anxious, and depressed.”

What’s more, the institution of adoption denied me the right to know anything about my heritage, ethnicity or medical history. My birth certificate was whitewashed, amended to say I was born to my adoptive parents, in “Hospital,” delivered by “Doctor.” As a kid, I agonized over what I had done wrong, and worse, how as a baby, I could have been considered so intrinsically deficient as to be unworthy of being kept by my original parents. My life has been marked by self-doubt. I also have a constant and abiding fear of abandonment. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I’ve spent countless hours and many thousands of dollars on psychotherapy.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett argues that “safe haven” laws allowing women to relinquish parental rights after birth are adequate to relieve the burdens of parenthood discussed in Roe v. Wade, implying that providing a ready avenue for adoption substitutes for the need for safe and legal abortion. Her claim is also a logical fallacy. Adoption is not a substitute for choice.

I’m now past childbearing age, and I don’t have daughters, so the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not affect me directly. But I think of my beloved nieces and female students at the large university where I teach. I am furious that they no longer have the constitutional right to bodily sovereignty, and I’m terrified by the possibility their lives might change for the worse if they are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. I do have a young-adult son, and if he impregnated his partner, I would want them both to be able to decide which option made the most sense for them. The circumstances that dictated my birth have no bearing on their rights.

No, I don’t wish I had been aborted, but I do wish that all those years ago, my birth mother had possessed the right to make her own decisions about what to do with her own body, the same right we all deserve.

It Can Be Hard To Reconcile

Consider this. You are an adoptee. You are highly dependent on your adoptive parents’ good will. You have already experienced what felt like abandonment or rejection, regardless of whether that was the truth of your adoption circumstances. This reluctance, and often even an inability to get to the honest truth within one’s self, is true for many adoptees. It is even possible for them to be happy with the people who adopted them – I know that my parents were, and that as the “grandchildren,” we loved and respected and cherished those people.

One comment on this graphic image admitted – “Shit it took me until I was 25 to even have this conversation with myself.” Another said – “took me until my early 50’s.” or “35 for me!” And this – “Going through the fog was unlike anything I could imagine. Isn’t it nuts? I’m 31 now and I’ve only talked to 2 people honestly about it all.”

More – “I’m only 55. So it’s still only been a few years and I’m still reeling some days.” Or this, “The last couple years I would think I was through, only to be thrown back in even deeper.”

I have also read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier – I would recommend it to anyone with adoption within their own family background. I found it balanced and fair in her perspectives as the mother of an adoptee plus a biological child, and not only that, as a therapist to families with adoption related issues.

So this one resonates with me – “40 for me! And that was only after my birthmother died and a fellow adoptee gave me ‘The Primal Wound’ to read.” 

One wrote – I want to share this on my personal page but I know my adoptive parents will be offended. In response, another person noted that this is how so many adoptees feel. They’d never risk sharing their feelings. Going public on Facebook is brave. I do it and then most of the time I get annoyed – it’s crickets and so I delete it.

Human With Feelings

From a birth mother –

I have something to say and it won’t be popular in today’s day and age of “it’s my right”. I have read so many posts where people are upset that their biological mom’s are denying them. I get it. It’s painful on many levels. You want and need answers. You’re seeking roots out there in a big strange world, where some are fortunate enough to find them and some aren’t.

Today I came out of the shower to an adoption reunification program on the TV. I don’t generally watch them. As a biological mom (3/31/97), I must have faith that I’ve done the right thing for all and when the time is right the mending will begin. In this episode it was a woman and her daughter that worked side by side for years. They knew each other. When they met you could see the mother …….. She went back all those years into that pain. The loss.

Please remember – when your screaming it’s your right to just go blasting past them and blowing up another family – that your also reigniting another woman’s trauma. Whatever it may be. It was a trauma and she suffered. Especially if she’s of an older generation where the shame was so much deeper. Even in ’97, I was shamed for my decision. So imagine what it was like in the 40s 50s ……70s 80s……

I completely understand your need for answers and connection but you must also understand that these are traumatized women. They’ve suffered loss and been shamed for it. They’ve been told they deserve to be ashamed of it. In the older cases, they were forced to keep the secret to the point that it’s hard to come clean – after decades of forced lies and shame.

Yes, you have a right to find out who you are and where you come from. But you don’t have the right to traumatize her again in order to get those answers. She’s human and she also has emotions and feelings about what happened to and through her.

Adoptee Jodie Sweetin

I will admit that I didn’t know who this woman was nor did I ever watch Full House. That said, today I learned that she was adopted and has now spoken out about her adoptive family. I read that Full House portrayed the perfect life, the perfect kids, as well as the most perfect parents one could hope for. Jodie Sweetin played the adorably sarcastic Stephanie Tanner on the much-beloved family sitcom. She also starred in some Hallmark movies. Years later, after Jodie was all grown up, she reprised her role on the Netflix revival series Fuller House.

At the time of Jodie’s birth, both of her biological parents were incarcerated. Her original mother was a struggling addict. Her father was killed in a prison riot before Jodie ever had the chance to meet him. Recently, she made an appearance on Olivia Jade’s ‘Conversations’ podcast and opened up a lot about her life. “My dad, Sam, my adopted dad, his ex-wife who he had three adult kids with when they adopted me, she was my biological father’s aunt,” Jodie explained.

Janice was his second wife and they were hoping to start a family but were having troubles with conception. Because of her original parents’ circumstances, Jodie was in dire need of a family and Sam and Janice wanted a child of their own and so, fates aligned and roughly one year later, the adoption was finalized.

The adoption began fostering feelings of hurt and rejection. In her younger years, she used to think “‘Oh, something was wrong with me.’ There’s this point in your life where you finally kind of realize what happened,” Sweetin said. “That it no longer becomes something about you, that it’s like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t wanted.’ ”

Intrafamily adoptions are incredibly common and even preferred. An intrafamily adoption is a specific type of adoption that allows a family member to adopt a child. This is a streamlined kind of adoption. “People don’t really talk about it, because I think there’s this weird sense of shame, if there’s an interfamily adoption,” Jodie said.

Having resolved some of her emotions around adoption, currently Sweetin says, “They actually made the healthiest decision for me by allowing me to be adopted by another family that could provide better.”