Making Friends

Today’s adoption related story –

My 10 yr old daughter (adopted last year from foster care, who has been with us for 2 years) just came home from her first time at church camp today and has been very emotional about all of the “best friends” she made that she will “never see again” (they’re from all over about a 300 mile radius and there’s a chance they’ll see each other at camp again next year but no guarantees). She tends to deem kids her “best friends” VERY quickly and then gets very upset when/if something goes wrong in the relationship or they move away or something. As I was reflecting on the situation tonight it struck me that this could very well be related to her trauma from being removed from her birth mom and being in multiple foster homes—anytime someone “leaves” her, she is devastated…which makes sense given her history.

Some thoughts –

My 14 year old went to a 3 day day camp and it took her two days to get out of the funk of never seeing these kids again.

From what I have been reading regarding trauma and it’s effects on future relationships, that sounds exactly what it is. To which someone else affirmed – Yep. Trauma response. Someone else suggested “family therapy.” Also an adoption competent therapist and/or trauma informed. Trauma impacts brain development and in many ways she might still be developing some skills that other 10 year olds are expected to have. Speech therapy is actually super helpful for working on these skills.

Another person noted – It is very common for kids to say this after an intense camp experience and for her it is tied up with her trauma too. It isn’t either/or. This is yes/and.

And this thought – Being sad you may not see your new friends again is normal. Strongly attaching in a short period of time and being completely devastated when the time ends, is not. This behavior may escalate once she reaches her teens and starts dating. Feeling like you have to do anything possible to keep from losing someone puts one in some pretty terrible situations.

Another adds – the dating part sounds so close to what I did as a teen. I had the hardest time leaving relationships, even if they were abusive. I was so afraid to be alone.

Yet another example – this can happen with changing grades/saying goodbye to teachers and friends as well. We talk a lot about how just because someone’s gone, it doesn’t mean they’re not connected to you; same with when someone dies.

There was also this wise perspective – The children we are parenting have always had bigger and more intense responses to these types of situations than their peers, which we recognize as a response to their big grief and loss. And yes, we’ve had amazing therapists and their responses are more typical now, much of the time, but not always and the trauma will always be with them. And we know to validate this sadness, grief, loss, etc. and validate all the people/situations they may be missing and sad about. 

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

Heal Yourself First

Couples need to heal from their infertility and come to grips with not being able to conceive a child before inflicting themselves on a traumatized adoptee. Much of what you will read in today’s blog comes from an adoptee writing on this issue – The Importance of Fully Grieving Infertility. I have chosen what I share here selectively and have added my own thoughts as well. You can read the original blog at the link.

Receiving a diagnosis of infertility is a devastating loss. It’s natural to feel angry, sad, disappointed or a combination of a bunch of different feelings. You may want to start the process of becoming a parent through other means as soon as possible, in an effort to fill that aching, empty space in your heart.

Please don’t start the process of adopting a child until you have fully grieved your infertility, let go of your initial dream of having a biological child, and are truly ready to adopt.

Why? Because, when you pursue adoption, your infertility journey will affect more than just you.

Adoption is not a solution for infertility. Pretending it is — without doing the hard, personal work — will just set you and your future adopted child up for failure.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again from your infertility counselors and adoption professionals. But I think you should hear it from an adoptee — someone who will be forever changed if you are unable to move forward from your losses.

As an adoptee, I’ve watched infertility take its toll on my parents, friends and family members. Even just having seen the effects secondhand, it’s clear that this is often a diagnosis that causes lasting emotional and psychological damage.

About 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. That’s a lot of people walking around with a lot of pain in their hearts.

This is a loss, and as such, you may experience the stages of grief. As hard as it is to believe, this is actually a good thing, because it means you are processing your loss and are on the road to the final stage: acceptance. And only once you feel acceptance should you start considering adoption.

If you don’t resolve your experience with infertility, it could cause serious mental, emotional and physical harm to yourself and to those around you. You may start to resent your partner, your emotions might develop into depression, you risk not feeling able to find happiness because of the lingering hopes and dreams of “maybe we’ll still get pregnant,” and all of that stress can take a toll on your physical health.

Unresolved issues can affect all of your relationships — the relationship with your partner, with yourself, with your friends (who all seem to easily have children) and eventually, upon your adopted child. Moving forward into adoption under these circumstances may feel like you are “settling” for your “second-choice” way to build your family, and that’s not fair to the child you may adopt.

I don’t write this blog to promote adoption (I think it is all around a harmful choice). So I can hope that adoption isn’t your own answer for building your family. I do know that you staying stuck in grief isn’t good for you or the ones you love either. You may ultimately decide to live child-free. What is important here is seeking a good quality of life by working through your feelings and letting the unproductive perspectives go. 

Adopting a child does not fix anything. There is no replacement for your original dream of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. When you’re an adoptee, viewing the world’s preoccupation with having biological children is hard. It’s probably hard for couples who discover they are infertile. That is one of the reasons it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never have a biological child. It is unfair and unrealistic to believe any infertile, potential adoptive set of parents will no longer experience grief over not having biological children after they adopt. One of the reasons I don’t believe adoptions are actually a good thing. Honestly (and adoption is ALL over my own birth family – both of my parents were adopted and each of my sisters gave up children to adoption – I wouldn’t exist but for my parents’ adoptions and even so . . . my perspective has changed over the last several years, obviously).

The Open Hearted Way

Headed into the future, I will always prefer a mother raising the baby she gave birth to. That is hands down the best outcome as far as I am concerned. But as a realist, adoptions are still going to happen. Today I caught a mention of this book – I’ve not read it but the intention behind it seems to be a good one.

Prior to 1990, fewer than five percent of domestic infant adoptions were open. In 2012, ninety percent or more of adoption agencies are recommending open adoption. Yet these agencies do not often or adequately prepare either adopting parents or birth parents for the road ahead of them! The adult parties in open adoptions are left floundering.

There are many resources on why to do open adoption, but what about how? Open adoption isn’t just something parents do when they exchange photos, send emails, share a visit. It’s a lifestyle that may feel intrusive at times, be difficult or inconvenient at other times. Tensions can arise even in the best of circumstances. But knowing how to handle these situations and how to continue to make arrangements work for the child involved is paramount.

It is said that this book offers readers the tools and the insights to do just that. It covers common open-adoption situations and how real families have navigated typical issues successfully. Like all useful parenting books, it provides parents with the tools to arrive at answers on their own, and answers questions that might not yet have come up.

Through their own stories and those of other families of open adoption, Lori Holden (an adoptive parent) and Crystal Hass (a birth mother) share the pathways to successfully navigating the pitfalls and challenges, the joys and triumphs. The most important focus to center on is putting the adopted child’s best interests FIRST as the guiding principle. It is possible for the families involved to travel the path of open adoption by mitigating whatever challenges may arise.

This book is said to be more than a how-to. More a mindset, a heartset, that can be learned and internalized. All the parents involved CAN choose to act from their love for the child and go forward with honesty. The goal of everyone involved should be to help their child grow up whole.

The take-away ? The adoptive/birth family relationship is not an “either-or.” Within the framework of an open adoption that works for everyone involved, it has to be an “and.” Adoption creates a split between a person’s biology and their biography. Openness in adoption is an effective way to heal that split when the reality is – the adoption is – and must be lived through.

Lori Holden’s website – https://lavenderluz.com/. Podcast link – The Long View.

Sometimes They Die

I think one of the sadder things that happen in adoption is when the possibility of any kind of reunion ends because the other party has died. In my own family, I can think of 2 instances.

In the early 1990s, before Tennessee decided to relent and let the victims of Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal have the closed adoption files the state was charged with protecting, my mom tried to get hers. She was unsuccessful but the state did tell her that her original mother had already died. She had said to me as she embarked on her own effort that as a mother herself, she would have wanted to know what became of her child. My mom was devastated that she would never be able to connect with the woman who gestated and birthed her.

After my dad died 4 months after I lost my mom, I began my own search effort as the child of two adoptees. When I learned who my dad’s original mother was and connected with some cousins who shared my grandmother with me, I discovered that at the time of my dad’s death, he had a half sibling living only 90 miles away who could have told him so much about his mother.

When in my own search, I discovered my mom’s original father’s family, I learned that her half-sister had only died a few months before I arrived. Thankfully, her daughter spent a wonderful afternoon with me and her mother’s numerous family albums to trigger lots of stories of what the family had been doing throughout my long absence from the biological, genetic relations.

Both of my parents could have had relationships with genetic, biological family during their lifetimes, if closed and sealed adoptions records had not kept them apart – which has always been the only reason these records have been closed and sealed and birth names changed to mask the original identities.

So this morning I read several others in similar straits caused by adoption –

“I just heard that my birth mother passed away yesterday. She denied my existence to her son, my half brother that I now have a passing relationship with. Have known her name forever and never had the courage to reach out. My chances are gone now. Feeling double sadnesses tonight. I pray you are at peace now.”

“My birth mom wants nothing to do with me, I just hope to meet her before one of us passes.”

“I met my birth mother but it wasn’t really that good. I bonded with one sister and birth mother passed before we could try and have a decent relationship.”

“My birth mother is 84. I am doubting things will ever change to reunite us before she passes.”

“When I finally looked for my birth mom, she had passed away.”

“The power of secrets and shame can be heartbreaking.”

“As a birth mother, this is one of my biggest fears – that I will die before she decides its time to see me. I have reached out to her but she hasn’t acknowledged me.” 

They Always DO Grow Up

A question was asked – when adopting a child, particularly a baby, do the adoptive parents ever think about what will happen when that child is an adult ? And by that I mean after the parents are dead. Will that child have a legacy or a family or a tribe (other than their friends if they are lucky enough to have friends) or partners to last a lifetime ?

The person posing the question goes on to wonder – did you ever think, will your child when they are an adult, get what they need or deserve from family property ? Do you really think that your adult will hold onto a claim to your family ? When everyone is sitting around talking about Aunt Jenny, how will that make your adult child feel ?

One response was this –  you adopted a child to love, that does not automatically extend to other people, who may not feel the same way as you, the adoptive parent, when it comes to sharing an inheritance or even in how they actually feel about the adopted kid. Lots of families and other people “play along” with the game of pretending the adopted child is the same as if you had given birth to them for the adoptive parents sake. Sadly, there have been cases of adoptees who have been denied family keepsakes, etc after the adoptive parents’ death specifically because of the adoption. Adoptees told they are not worthy because the charade is over.

Adoption in most cases is very much about the baby. The savior/hero thought process of most adoptive parents focuses on the baby/child. It’s such a short term view of a real person and their entire life.

I found this story very interesting – So I’m adopted: my grandfather left me a trust fund and none of the biological grandchildren have one. They all contested his will. They didn’t understand why I received a trust fund. However, they did all receive some money from his estate. I was the one who saw my grandfather weekly and never asked for money or anything. He would take me out for dinner and always slip me a $20.00 for gas. I was always grateful. I loved my grandfather best because he was like me – his parents died and he was abandoned with his brother. So we both had that hole in our souls. When he was dying, I made sure I was there with him. I was the product of a forced adoption and I have an adopted son (from foster care). He will receive a portion of the trust from my grandfather and the trust will be split with my husband. I made certain to set it up for everyone five ways. My adoptive parents are still alive and the will they have created is so stupid that I just cannot. However, I will get some amount monthly until I die, then my remaining money goes to their own blood relatives and is divided up among them. My kids will receive nothing. When I’ve shared the will with a few close friends, they are all like WTF ! The way my adoptive parents hold money over my head, even at this stage and age, is so annoying and uncalled for ! I wish people realized you cannot be buried with your money.

This really spoke to me on more than one level. I don’t know what the laws are now but when my mom’s adoptive parents created a generation skipping trust, my mom told me that it was against the law for adoptive parents to disinherit adopted children. So, my mom and her also adopted brother, received income from the trust but cannot cash it out. However, my mom also struggled with the way her wealthy adoptive mother held money over her head. I also experienced that when I went to England with my adoptive grandmother. I had very little in the way of spending money. She was like – I paid for this trip, be grateful (as I watched her spend freely on her self). It’s not like she had to directly earn that money with hard work. My grandparents got in on the ground floor of Circle K when it first started. It made them wealthy as the stock appreciated. My grandfather retired as a vice president of a bank. He died at a relatively young age – in his 60s. My grandmother lived 3 decades longer on those funds and traveled the world and was always giving money away in philanthropy. I think she did it to earn respect. She actually grew up poor.

One more story and I have to end this for today – my son was placed at 4 days with his adoptive family. He is now 33. Typical closed domestic infant adoption. He lived with and cared for his maternal adoptive grandparents for the last five years. They both passed on either side of Christmas. His grandmother’s literal last words were “don’t kick him to the curb”. She must have sensed what was coming. The family gave him to the end of March (about 3 months) to move out. Once he was out of his grandparents house, he will continue to get paid $500/month but only for a year. They want to basically be done with him. That’s how his adoption ended. Thankfully, he has moved “home” with me and I am happy to have all of my kids back. We’re planting fruit trees now. I changed my own final documents years ago to provide for all four of my children equally.

No Answers

I have a friend with a similar problem to today’s story. Her daughter is not adopted. Her situation is as complex but not as fraught – perhaps. Unless we have the experience our self, we really can’t judge how someone else copes or not with the challenges of their life. I have no answers or even ideas for this one, only empathy and compassion for the whole situation. Though an adoption problem is mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it isn’t clear that the daughter is adopted but she may very well be. Adoptees often (though not all) have relationship issues.

“We dissolved the adoption of our son 5 years ago.”

“We currently have a daughter in a private residential treatment center. She is beginning to own her problems and making an attempt to work on her life, maybe 5% of the time. The staff says they see improvement, we have seen very little, if any, plus her usual tactic is to put forth just enough effort to get you off her back but then regress severely. I have zero faith that the effort they see is going to be genuine, granted she has never had full support 24/7 when she would achieve these moments of trying to cooperate before, so maybe this time is different. Anyway, staff is telling us we need to give her the benefit of the doubt. ‘She is beginning to see that there is a better way to work through her trauma, but doesn’t fully believe she has what it takes. She needs to see you believe in her, that you think she can do it.’ This came after we cut a phone call short because she refused to engage. Kinda like a smack on the wrist.”

“Her program has periodic 10 day home visits and one is coming up the end of this month. To say I am dreading it, is putting it mildly. She causes chaos and pain at every turn and I am the one stuck with her for the whole 10 days. I am really struggling with the ‘Trust her more,’ issue. I don’t trust her one bit. She has stabbed me in the back, figuratively, so many times over the years when I gave her one bit of trust.”

“It feels to me like my daughter is all that matters, no matter what she does to our family, her siblings suffer too, we are to put that behind us and give her the benefit of the doubt. I have always had issues with healthy boundaries and am actively working on that area. This issue feels like I am to push all that aside because my daughter’s life matters more.”

She posted this in an adoption disruption group. She felt the members would understand her point of view. Many of them have shared stories about their challenges and know all about the trauma and grief these children bring into a family.

The woman goes on to write – “I want to love her, but she makes it incredibly hard to do so. My question is, how do you stay emotionally healthy when you feel as though your needs don’t matter? Are you to ignore your own needs, while giving a child who has destroyed so much, the benefit of the doubt? How do you begin to process it? I crashed emotionally on April 1st because I know this is the month for her next home visit…I can’t keep reacting this way.”

It’s Simply NOT the Same

The same question has come up again that reminds me that each adoptee experiences adoption in their unique personal way. A woman writes –

Can a mother and child have the same kind of bond if the baby is adopted versus biological? I am an adoptee and adoptive parent. My daughter was a foster preemie. I brought her home at 3 pounds 14 ounces. Her mom abandoned her and the family already had 5 older siblings. I feel so bonded to both my adoptive mom and child but I don’t have the experience of bonding to a bio mom or child. My adoption was far from perfect but I do know my parents and grandparents loved me.

A response –

I’m an adoptive mother and I have a biological daughter. My adopted daughters were older when I adopted them, so I don’t have the foster infant side of that. But I can say that I believe biology matters. My bond with my biological daughter runs deep, it’s insane how close we are. Loving her, hugging her, holding her, it’s all natural. I made her, I bonded with her before she was even born. I love my adopted daughters so much. But it’s not natural. I don’t feel it’s as easy to be affectionate because the truth is that they aren’t “my” kids, even though the law says otherwise. They will also never have the same bond with me that they have with their mother. They bonded with her before they were born, her love for them was natural, and came easy. I bet she never hesitated to hug them, or kiss them. I think expecting or thinking the bond will be the same sets everyone up for disappointment. My love for my adopted daughters is fierce, and I would do anything for them, but it’s not natural.

There can be a security issue – As an adoptee in an open adoption I can say I personally am bonded to both Moms but I have a more secure attachment to my adoptive mom. My first mom still has a lot of trauma and can be a fair-weather mom, which is totally understandable but doesn’t make me feel secure – whereas I know without a doubt my adoptive mom will always be there for me, unconditionally. But I know that is not necessarily typical of adoptee experience. It is just my personal story. With my son, both grandma’s love him equally and between my two moms and my mother in law there is NO difference – they are all bonded to him. I think this is because my first mom is able to release her trauma with him in a way she can’t do with me. 

And step vs biological differences –

I honestly have a hard time believing a mother (or father) can have the same kind of bond. My husband and I have had this conversation many times – he is the step father to my 4 oldest kids, 100% their father in every way and he loves them like his own – their bio dad isn’t involved in their lives. Then we had a baby together. He is an amazing father to all 5 of our kids. But he finally admitted (after she was a year old) that there is just something different about how he feels with her vs my other 4 kids. I even told him he would feel that way and he brushed me off, because he truly loves my kids – but it’s different. There is an undeniable biological bond that you just cannot ignore.

One adoptee writes and shares a link – Understanding what I understand now I have a hard time calling anything an adoptive parent does love. And truth is any “bonding” that does happen with an adoptee is probably, for them, more akin to Stockholm syndrome. Here’s that link – A “successful adoption” begins with a traumatic bonding.

A comment at that link above fits today’s topic –

I am an American and a domestic adoptee. I never could love my adoptive parents. I was told that I was adopted before i could speak. My adoptive mother would repeat “you are adopted” and, “I am your mother” over and over to me as she changed my diapers.

She says I stared at her and made her uncomfortable. I was placed with them at 1 month old.

I could never love someone who thought it was right for me to be separated from my mother. I could not love someone who thought it was right to bring up child who was never allowed to know who she was. I didn’t think she was a good, honest person because she allowed these things to happen to me.

I could not believe that she loved me either. You can’t really love someone, and be so blind to their pain.

And especially, when an adoptee becomes the genetic, biological parent of a child – they understand. One writes –  My adoptive mom loved me immensely, but I never really bonded to her. I came to them at 9 weeks old. Once I had my own biological kids, I realized what a true parent/child bond was. I believe biology plays a huge role.

Different situations bring with them different experiences for people who all vary immensely. There is no one size fits all.

Unreasonable Fears

I remember worrying the first time we visited our egg donor after our oldest son was born. We were there to try a second time with her to conceive a sibling for our son (spoiler alert – we succeeded). As his gestational, biological but not genetic mom, I was worried about how I was going to feel when she interacted with him. That turned out to be an unreasonable fear on my part because it was clear that she had ZERO confusion about what her role in our family was. She had 3 genetically related biological children already. She has always been interested in the boys but from a distance, never initiating contact with them. They are linked to her as their genetic mother at 23 and Me and so they have an avenue of contact without concerns about my monitoring any such interaction.

The truth is, no matter the reassurances prospective adoptive parents were once given and regardless of the continued practice in half these United States of maintaining sealed records and denying adult adoptees the right to their own origin information, it is a whole new ballgame now. Inexpensive DNA and social networking platforms now make it possible for adoptees to discover and reach out to their original, natural families. Adoptive parents best get over it. Therefore, today I share a piece from Slate because the advice this nervous adoptive parent receives is spot on. I will excerpt the original question (my asides in parentheses) but share the response in full. If you want to read the entire piece – you can go to this link – I’m Devastated My Daughter Secretly Contacted Her Birth Mother.

Dear Care and Feeding, Apparently, when our adopted daughter went through our files a few months ago looking for her Social Security number, she found some adoption records with her biological mom’s name and a little bit of info, and she used it to find her on Facebook. We did a closed adoption and have never had contact with the woman.

I didn’t think she cared who her bio parents were, or about being adopted. (Truth – adoptees always care, even if it isn’t apparent.) She and her biological mother have been talking for about three months, but she hadn’t told me because she was afraid we wouldn’t approve or we would think it was a rejection of us. (And her instincts appear to have been correct.)

They’re planning to meet at a coffee shop, and from the messages, bio mom sounds very eager to meet my daughter. I know I should be happy that they’ve been reunited, but I can’t help feeling hurt and rejected, like I’m not enough for her. I am terrified that this woman might try to take over my role in her life and become her mother figure in adulthood. I’m also apprehensive because my daughter has kept their relationship a secret. It worries me that they have been talking behind my back.

The main reason I’m writing is because my daughter is now wanting to involve me in the in-person reunion, and her bio mom wants to meet me too (we never met when I picked my daughter up from the hospital). I don’t want to go. I chose a closed adoption for a reason. 

The response –

Dear Tale of Two Moms, I understand how hard this is for you. If you chose a closed adoption because you didn’t want the bio mom involved in your life in any way, and you’ve spent 17 years certain that your daughter “didn’t care” that she was adopted or have any curiosity about her biological parents, this development must make you feel that your world is tilting on its axis. I’m hoping you can take a breath and think this through clearly, setting all of your own feelings aside for a moment.

Your daughter is offering you the chance to participate in something that’s important to her. Is she making that offer because she truly wants you and her bio mom to get to know each other? Maybe—maybe simply sitting with the two of you will be helpful to her and bring her a sense of wholeness or resolution that she is seeking as she enters adulthood. Or maybe she is asking you to join her simply because she wants you to feel included, to make it clear to you that her desire to meet her bio mom is not a rejection of you. Or how about this? Maybe she’s nervous about this meeting and wants to be able to lean on her mom. Or—for all you know—maybe she’s acceding to the bio mom’s wishes: The woman who gave her up for adoption would like to know who has been the mother to this child. To reassure herself that she did the right thing all those years ago—and/or to have the chance to thank you. And the daughter you raised is kind and generous enough to want to help her do that.

No matter which one of these possibilities is true—and all of them may be true—you should brave this meeting. It’s the right thing to do. Will there be tension? I suspect this is up to you.

And please try to let go of your distress about your daughter keeping her correspondence with her bio mom a secret from you, and talking to her “behind your back.” She did so because she feared you wouldn’t approve or would feel rejected—and she was right, wasn’t she? You don’t approve; you do feel rejected. Your terror, as you describe it, that the woman will take over your role in your daughter’s life is something for you to work out (I hope with the help of a therapist, because it sounds like you are having a very rough time with this). You can’t pretend any longer that your daughter’s adoption at birth isn’t a part of her life story.

And I will remind you, too, that the amount of love we all have available to give is not finite. If it turns out that your daughter and her bio mom do develop a real, ongoing relationship at this point, it does not take anything away from you; it gives your child one more person to love and to be loved by. I’m not suggesting that jealousy and envy—and insecurity—are easy to rise above. What I’m suggesting is that for your daughter’s sake, you make every effort. And if, in the end, nothing comes of this reunion except that your daughter is able to satisfy her curiosity about where she comes from, I hope you’ll make an effort to understand and support her in that too. For that matter, if things “get complicated” and go awry, as you also fear, and your daughter ends up heartbroken, your job will be to support her through that too. Because you are her mom, and that’s what moms do.

Intergenerational Trauma

My blog yesterday was inspired by an article – Intergenerational Trauma: How to Break the Cycle – and the Maya Angelou quote at the beginning of it. Then, I went off on the story of my own version of that. Today, seeing that this article has real value, I return to it’s inspiration. The paragraph below is quoted from the article.

From our families, we inherit genes, foundational life skills, traditions, knowledge, connections, wisdom, identity, resilience, etc. Sometimes we also inherit behavior patterns, coping strategies of our parents, grandparents who did not process their trauma. Children learn to be by mimicking the adults around them but when these adults are acting from their own trauma, children pick up patterns and behaviors that become their norm. The first victims of intergenerational trauma in families are the most fragile, i.e. children. They might suffer from anxiety or depression as adults without being able to pinpoint its origin, indeed intergenerational trauma in families is not easily recognized or its impact is minimized. Intergenerational trauma in families often happens in an overarching societal context which offers the setting that facilitates trauma to be passed down (poverty, patriarchy, war, colonialism, slavery, genocide, etc).

Just yesterday, as I thought an issue had reached a level of acceptance and even an ability to see how I was better off for having gone through the unexpected and unwanted rupture of a relationship, something “new” had happened fully 2 months after the initial events and I was obsessed with it again. Why am I not more mature about this whole thing ? Then, it hit me – rejection – that was what I was struggling with. Rejection is a common emotional experience in adoptees (and both of my parents were – adopted). And it is the very personal kinds of rejection – relationship ending kinds of rejection that hurt me the most. More neutral rejections – from a literary agent I am hoping will represent me or from a resume submission for some job or other – these don’t trouble me. My recent trauma of rejection was decidedly caused by an overarching societal context – COVID.

Again from the linked article – In families with a pattern of trauma, there are many secrets, taboos, things that are not allowed to be talked about. Secrets that are kept but live and manifest themselves as poverty, being trapped in cycles of abuse, violence, depression, anxiety, self-sabotage, difficulty in relationships, etc. The individual is born with and into fears and feelings that don’t always belong to them but that shape their life in ways that they are not always conscious of.

Adoption was a kind of open secret in my family. Meaning when I was old enough to know, I did know. However, the whys, I didn’t know – in fact, my parents didn’t know those either. We really didn’t talk about it in my family other than the factual knowledge that my parents were adopted. In my earliest awareness, I thought both of my parents were orphans. I had know idea that there were people out there living their lives genetically and biologically directly related to me. When my mom wanted to search and find her mother, my father was unsympathetic. Therefore, she could not share her feelings with him but thankfully, she did share her feelings about all of it with me and I am grateful that I now know how she felt, since I now know more about the impacts of adoption.

Milestones in life can greatly affect a person living with intergenerational trauma (finishing university, starting a new job, having a baby, moving to a new country, being rejected by a new partner and suffering unsurmountable grief, etc.). Intergenerational trauma can also impact our physical health through the nutrition habits we develop and our relationship with food.

Food is an issue – it was with both my mom and my dad. First, my dad experienced near starvation and food insecurity in his youth. Growing up, there always had to be more food on our table than we could eat in a single meal. My mom was a lifelong dieter and passed that fear of obesity down to me. I struggle with what I think of as “stuffing disease” – a compulsion to eat every kind of non-nutritive “fun” food in my house – cookies, candy and potato chips. Then, I regret it and try again to “do better” and I do for awhile – until the next restless, rebellious binge happens. My mom’s struggles could have been impacted by spending some time at Porter Leath Orphanage in Memphis as a baby – not because her mother didn’t want her but abandoned by her husband (my mom’s father to whom my grandmother was married) – my grandmother asked for temporary care while she tried to become financially strong enough to support the two of them. I also learned to eat “in secret” from my mom.

At this point, I found my initial link is an excerpt of a longer blog – Miriamnjoku.com‘s blog on Intergenerational Trauma. There is an awesome graphic on the blog.

When one knows the history of abandonment and/or abuse that their parents or grandparents suffered, they are better able to understand why their loved one was/is disconnected. There is a Chinese Proverb that says that “The beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name” . We cannot heal what we are not aware of, so the first step is to acknowledge the existence of trauma. Making the invisible visible is the prerequisite for transformation: acknowledging with compassion that certain patterns are the fruit of pain, trauma and oppression.

Learning the stories of my grandparents was the beginning of understanding why my parents were “abandoned” (that is the view of an adoptee), more conventionally understood as surrendered or relinquished for adoption. Especially, I do believe the loss of their mothers at young ages had a profound impact on both of my grandmothers and their choices and experiences in life overall. This quote by Anna Freud really speaks to me in that regard – “The horrors of war, pale in significance to the loss of a mother.”

What are the things that were passed down to us that we do not want to pass on to our children? We can look at the past with compassion and still want to change dysfunctional patterns that do not serve us. It is a hard journey which is often met with misunderstanding from the family. Are you going to be the first one in your family to go to therapy? Take care of your health? We have to be willing to step into the uncomfortable to heal, even willing to risk rejection, being misunderstood to live well, to release the psychological charge even if it means being different.

There is more in her blog – I recommend reading Miriam Njoku‘s full blog.