Ancestral Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links shared with me this morning –

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

Hopes & Wishes

For some time now, I’ve been writing these adoption related blogs every day. I don’t think I have missed many, if I’ve even missed any. I often wonder what there is left to say . . . and then something arises and off my fingers go to type up a new one.

I know my perspectives have grown since I started writing these. A lot of credit for that goes to my all things adoption Facebook group – where I often find stories and perspectives to pass along here without revealing any sensitive or private details. I hope that by sharing these, my readers also find their perspectives broadening along the way.

When I first joined that group, it wasn’t long before one of the members called me out on my unicorns and rainbows happy perspectives on adoption. It hurt at the time but it was an important wake up call and I do believe I have emerged entirely from what is known as adoptionland fog.

Because both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption, what is actually a VERY UN-NATURAL practice seemed entirely normal to me. Yet, now that I know who my grandparents are – I’ve added their birthdates to my annual birthday calendar – because I wasn’t able to acknowledge them in their lifetimes. It matters to me.

I now think of my adoptive grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins as placeholders for the real thing I lacked. This isn’t a judgement of them. They probably all viewed it as natural to our lives as I did but it really isn’t. I don’t even think of them as related to me anymore. But I do have a history with them and have felt their love and concern over the years, especially during my own childhood.

And adoptionland IS changing slowly but surely, one family at a time. In my all things adoption group, expectant mothers are often encouraged and even financially supported to the best of our ability (such as with Amazon gift registries) to keep their babies. It is more of a walk the walk than simply talk the talk group and I am proud of that.

Adoptees and former foster care youth are PRIVILEGED voices in that group, as they should be for they have the direct experience to open the minds and hearts of the public in general. Many people who have already adopted are learning to be more sensitive and to do the already reality situation better, including honesty, truthfulness and attempts to keep their adopted children connected to their biological/genetic families and at times, even culture (when that is different than the adoptive parents’ own culture).

My hope and certainly my wish is for our society to be more supportive of struggling families in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE and to see adoption no longer a choice that couples realizing infertility feel privileged to make – taking some other family’s baby to pretend that child was born to them.

A change it is a comin’ and I am grateful to be part of that. Happy New Year.

Why It Is So Hard

It is often, almost always, difficult for an adoptee to have a conversation with their adoptive parents about how hard it has been for them to be an adopted person.  I believe most adoptees are highly sensitive to their adoptive parents feelings and emotions – whether the adoptee tries very hard to be perfect in order to please their adoptive parents or is sullen and defiant or passive and withdrawn.

There is a genuine fear of rejection and abandonment.  Most adoptive parents feel passionate about doing a good deed and don’t really want to hear that it may be problematic.  At times, it even borders on a savior like delusion.  Just as it was with my mom’s adoption through Georgia Tann, even today, adoptive parents don’t want to know that the system that allowed them to buy a child is in any way a corrupt one.

Even in situations where the adoption is as ethical as any can ever be, an adoptee may find it impossible to ask about their original mother, father and other related biological family members.  Can not even begin to discuss feelings of abandonment. Many simply sense it would be an absolute nightmare to even try.

The prevailing feeling is that people devoted to the idea of adoption don’t want to understand anything perceived as “negative” towards adoption.

And more often than I care to admit – I read stories like this one.

My adoptive sister and I don’t even say that our adoptive mom was abusive. Since she was a narcissist, everyone else thinks she was so nice and loving but that was her public facade. In private, she was mean. But I doubt anyone who knew her when she was alive would believe us if we tried to tell the truth. It ends up making me feel like I have these big parts of my life that I have to keep secret.

Or this one on trying to talk honestly with their adoptive parents –

They’re convinced I’m hyper-sensitive, over emotional and ungrateful to them. They absolutely have a savior complex. They live as though my biological family doesn’t exist, and I don’t exist outside of the box they tried to keep me in.

And even sadder still –

My adoptive mom is deceased (and told me before she died that she wished she hadn’t adopted at all).  It would just be too hard to get my adoptive dad to understand my feelings regarding my adoption. We just don’t really talk about it.

The only discussion I know of my mom having with her adoptive mother was when my mom was in high school and the story about Georgia Tann’s baby stealing and selling scandal broke.  My mom always knew she and her brother (not biological but also adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home) were adopted and from where.  She asked her adoptive mother about it.  Her adoptive mother said something like, yes you came from there but you were NOT one of “those” children.  That was the end of it.

 

Oversharing

I have been reticent until recent years to share some things that I consider privacy sensitive.  Our perspectives on where the boundaries are can change over time.

It is a topic in adoption related groups that the balance is difficult to determine.  There are adoptive parents who upon meeting you will immediately share with you that their children are adopted and have trauma histories.  Realize you only just met and they don’t really know you or you them.  That is considered in poor taste now within our modern society.

An enlightened adoptive parent may wish to be aware of not owning their adopted child.  The adoptive parent may take care not to ignore the original family.  At the same time, the adoptive parent may be concerned that they don’t stigmatize their child by making an issue of the child’s adoption.

One balance can be to remain open to discussing adoption while not initiating the conversation.  The context in which it comes up matters.

It appears that oversharing is often related to wanting to be acknowledged for doing a “good deed”.  Saving a child’s life – is often NOT the truth – no matter how much the adoptive parent would like to believe that.  Adoptive parents have often not accepted their role in separating a mother and child.

Adoptive Parents in some groups want to be quick to point out that the behavior they’re asking for help managing is NOT A RESULT OF THEIR PARENTING.  Some Pro-Life adoptive parents overshare to burnish their credentials – I saved this child from abortion by convincing her mother to give her up to me instead.  You get the idea . . .

Before you overshare, ask yourself – Why does anyone need to know ?  There may be times.  Just be selective and consider whether sharing will eventually cause some kind of problem in the future.

Needing Attention

Though my children are not adopted, when the youngest son was born, at about 2 years old for him and 6 for the older boy, there developed a lot of problems.  I would wake up every morning thinking I am not going to fight with him and within 20 minutes he would act up and I would react.  My dad had quite a temper that terrified us when we were growing up even though he never laid a hand on us – just seeing his face turning red was enough to suppress us for fear of going too far.

Also, my mom and youngest sister had a terrible relationship and so I knew how important it was to turn the situation around as quickly as possible.  My husband started taking the younger one and I started taking the older one when each parent needed to have direct responsibility for one kid.  That took care of it in only a matter of months.  Thankfully.  All that was needed was the direct attention that had been in short supply as I cared for an infant.

Today, I was reading about a foster parent having trouble with older foster children (ages 9 and 12) who also has 4 younger biological girls (ages 2, 3, 4 & 6).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the acting out and behavior problems of the older foster children are cries for attention.  It is tough enough to have been removed from one’s original parents . . . just that explains much.  I do know how this situation came to pass as a kind of natural trajectory but it doesn’t appear to have a good prognosis though the foster parents are trying and do care.  It may be that they simply cannot give enough with the other demands in their immediate family.

An Atlantic article in 2015 details some of the behavioral problems that adoptees exhibit.  This is the happy story a lot of people believe –

There is something temptingly tidy about the idea of adoption: A family with extra love and resources meets a child in desperate need of both. The happy ending almost writes itself.

Only that is often not the story that actually exists.  At the start of kindergarten, one study showed, about one in four adopted children has a diagnosed disability, twice the rate of children being raised by both biological parents. Adopted children were significantly likelier than birth children to have behavior and learning problems; teachers reported they were worse at paying attention in class, and less able to persevere on difficult tasks.

A follow-up study suggests the problems for adopted children not only fail to fade with time—they multiply.  A growing chorus of voices are challenging the popular Pollyannaism around adoption including adoptees who are now speaking out.  Add me to that chorus.

Adoptive parents tend to be especially sensitive about their children’s well-being, and aggressive in obtaining diagnoses and related treatment for them. In other words, the very qualities that make adoptive parents stand out—their resources, their proactivity—also prompt them to seek out expert care at the earliest sign of trouble.

With parents this dedicated, why do adopted children seem to struggle so much?   One theory might be based in knowledge about attachment – a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving.  Mother/child separations cannot help but be part of the problem.

 

 

Privacy Issues

The sad truth is sexual abuse is way too common in society and it has always been so.  That’s not to say we can’t all work to make things better and one of the ways we can make things better is to face the truth that it happens with an open heart and an understanding mind.

There are children removed from their natural parents when abuse is revealed.  Some of these children end up adopted.  Often if there are several siblings, they end up in a variety of homes.

Sometimes, enlightened adoptive parents become aware of how to reach these siblings who do not live in the home of the child they adopted.

A question sometimes arises, how to explain the cause of removal to the child they are parenting in an age-appropriate way.  A complicating factor could be the perspectives and desires of other adoptive or foster care or extended family (as in where the natural parents have divorced and remarried another person) when they do not want to reveal what any person deserves to know.

I wish adults never foisted their sexual impulses on children.  The reality is that it happens.  The question is how to reduce the incidence by the revelations of truth.  It may never be possible to end these horrendous acting outs on the part of some men but we can definitely make them less comfortable doing so.

Telling The Story

If at any age your child asks you about their adoption and they want to know why –
they deserve the absolute truth. It should be age appropriate.

At a very young age, “Mommy couldn’t take care of you.”, may be enough.

Kids know when their parents don’t want them. They don’t need to be told; they’ve felt it from the beginning. Babies can feel rejection in the womb and it affects their attachments.

The majority of adoptees feel unwanted – whether it is a one time thing, or episodic, or lifelong – the question is how accurate is that perception ?

A parent should not evade an adoptee’s question but they should be sensitive and gentle in their response.

Not answering with the real reason when they ask, can lead them to feel like they aren’t good enough to be told the truth. Or that what they want doesn’t matter. Or that they aren’t smart enough to understand it. Or that they ought to just be happy with whatever answer they are given. And that they should stop bringing it up because the parent doesn’t want to talk about it.

A competent, caring, informed Adoptive Parent can manage to put the child’s feelings first and provide an answer that meets that child where they are developmentally, emotionally and intellectually.

But never lie. There are many subliminal messages that get sent to adoptees.  Children often see themselves as the problem. The Adoptive Parent may not really know the whole truth. It may be very complex.

My dad’s original mother had a love affair with a married man. My dad was with his mother for some months after birth. Even so, she may have come to feel that adoption was her only solution to what may have been primarily a financial problem in the 1930s.

My mom’s story was complex. Her mother didn’t intend to lose her. She was exploited by a woman who was stealing and selling babies. My grandparents were married when my mom was conceived. It is not possible to know the whole story now about why they were separated. They are both dead and the descendants don’t seem to know the details accurately enough to convey them.

Parents should know that their children are incredibly resilient. Whatever the adoptees story is, they deserve to have their history told to them honestly.