Parallel Universes

I only just learned about this book by David Bohl. I have not read it. He is an adoptee. I found an story he tells about being an adoptee and I share from that story today. He talks about the moment he learned shame in connection to his adoption, as well as the confusion and hurt that followed. A hurt that could not and should not be ignored, because ignoring it just fuels the fire of shame…and for him, alcoholism, until he found the origin story that helped him become whole. 

He says, I’ve been two people my entire life. I don’t have a dissociative personality disorder—I’m just a regular guy whose reality is that I am a relinquishee and adoptee, and a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism. In the past my perception was so warped I had to occupy a few Parallel Universes: worlds that collided with each other, but that were also able to contain a person made out of two people. Until I made those worlds connect and interlock, living a split existence almost killed me: I was terrified of confronting my reality; its darkness. 

He shares an old Cherokee fable called “Tale of Two Wolves.” A battle between two ‘wolves’ inside us. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?“ The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.” 

Bohl disagrees. He says, It is possible to free yourself from the bad wolf—such as the evil of trauma—but starving it won’t work. Your darkness is part of you. Even if you manage to starve the wolf, there will still be a skeleton left behind. A skeleton is not closure—there’s no such thing as closure: we only have context and from context comes wisdom. For me, starving the bad wolf would mean I’d ignore my past, my authentic self, which means I’d ignore reality and the fact that I am a human being who had been relinquished and traumatized by it. I would ignore the fact that I was also drinking myself to death.

He shares, When I was six years old, I told two friends that I was adopted. It was never a secret in my family, and it felt normal, although I understood that it made me unique. I’d look at my family members—most of them olive-skinned, dark-haired – and I’d look at myself in the mirror with my freckled face and red hair. But our difference didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me until the day I confessed my adoption to two friends. Their shock was so palatable that I urged them to my house so that my mother would confirm the secret I just shared with them. At first, I thought their shock came from being impressed—as if I told them I could fly—but as my adoptive mother cheerfully explained that it was indeed true, I saw shadows of pity, even revulsion, cross my friends’ faces. In that moment I learned about shame. I needed to hide and never reveal my true self. Revealing true self was dangerous. 

The revelation of my adoption introduced capital-S Shame into my life—a thing so huge it overshadowed everything. The world became a giant microscope and I felt observed, scrutinized because I was different. I felt like a freak. As an adult, he became an alcoholic. He had ignored the fact that he had been relinquished. He didn’t want to know about his origins. For Bohl, once he confronted that reality, he could no longer drink in peace. It was the beginning of his recovery.

His story gives me pause. After my dad (an adoptee) died, my sister and I discovered a “confession” of sorts that he wrote for a religious retreat that he and my mom attended. It was about the time he was arrested for drunk driving and bargained with God to let him escape the worst impacts (loss of family and employment). Then, he admits that he broke his bargain, for the most part though he returned to church with my mom after their children had flown the nest to keep her company and I know from personal experience that he continued to go to church during the 4 months he lived after her death until he joined her there in whatever place the soul goes.

This story touches me not only because I discovered his DWI arrest but also because he never seemed interested in his origins. His adoptive parents were his parents and he wished to know no more than that. More’s the pity. He had a half-sister living only 90 miles from him when he died who could have told him about his mother. His father never knew he had a son. His father died in 1968 but they were so much alike – both loved fishing and the ocean – that they would have been great buddies had they known of one another. Was my father ashamed of having been given up and adopted ? I don’t know, he never expressed any feelings about it with me. When my mom, also an adoptee, wanted to search for her mother, he cautioned her against it, saying she might be opening up a can of worms. So, she confided in me but that is the only indication of my dad’s feelings about his adoption that I ever received.

Back to the interview with Bohl, which takes a heartbreaking turn – he says, I got sober at the age of 45 after a seizure that forced me to dig up the records of my birth—I had to know my medical history. And then there she was: Miss Karen Bender, who died at the age of 56. She was a red-headed coed, a flight attendant, a mother to three daughters and two sons—one, me, relinquished—and, eventually, a half-ghost drinking herself to death in a heap of old blankets in a rented storage. Her lonely heart gave out in a homeless shelter. She died alone, isolated like a sick animal, hiding from the world. Not wanting to bother anyone. No one around to see her final departure. Her shame. 

He ends his story with this – she was a tragic wolf. But instead of starving the memory of her, I dug deeper and it helped me to become a survivor whose heart started to heal once I got context and clarity about where I came from and who I was. And even then, I sometimes still felt like an outsider. Yet I wanted to live the kind of life that didn’t depend on adapting. I understood reality and the two wolves that informed it. I had my own family, I was learning my origins. There was darkness in my past but there was also healing that stemmed from it. There was joy, too, and freedom— I was connecting with people in genuine way; no longer through the haze of shame and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  The Reality that I found triumphs over Shame, its capital S getting smaller and smaller as I now live as a man who is whole. 

David Bohl was adopted at birth by a prosperous family. Throughout his earlier years, he tried to keep up a good front and surpass the expectations of his adoptive parents, as he tried desperately to fit in. Bohl was raised with no religious teachings. David later struggled with traditional recovery fellowships; and so, instead sought out secular supports, where he finally fit in. This support allowed him to learn the stark facts about mental health and addiction, as well as the monumental issues many “reliquishees” need to overcome to find peace and the quality of life they deserve. Today, David is an independent addiction consultant

It’s About Being Divided In Two

Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969
by Dame Barbara Hepworth

At the bottom of this blog, I’ll link the Adoption & Addiction, Remembered Not Recalled video by Paul Sunderland but first, for those who don’t want to watch for almost an hour, I share a few snippets.

The issue of adoption is all about divided attention, it’s all about 2 sets of families. It’s all about the conflicting feelings of wanting to belong, yet fearing belonging. (As the child of two adoptees, I’m certain this has filtered down into my own soul. I have never felt that I added up to be as much as the golden people I surround myself with – whether in social online networking communities or in my writer’s guild up in St Louis – those are just two examples but it probably goes back into my childhood as well.)

Adoption is a pretty weird word because it’s about the only condition that doesn’t really describe what has happened. Talking about adoption is a denial of relinquishment. The relinquishment wounds can be seen as a developmental post-traumatic stress disorder.

The word adoption is a cover-up. When we think about the adoption triangle, we think about the 3 parties in adoption. The adopted child, there are the birth or natural parents and there is the adoptive parent(s). Sunderland’s focus in his lecture is mostly about the adopted child. And as the title of his lecture suggests, his lecture is also about the apparent addition of addiction to that adopted child.

(And I do believe it is in struggling with an abandonment that one is lead into addiction. As an aside, we watched the 2008 Will Smith movie Hancock last night. He is an alcoholic and it seems to me that his alcoholism is due to similar issues of not knowing who one is at the core and feeling abandoned but not knowing by who.)

Back to the Sunderland lecture, he says that when he encounters birth parents in a treatment setting they usually say, “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.”

Adoptees are massively over-represented in treatment. And that leads to a question, Why is that ?

He has met quite a few adoptive parents, particularly as cross-cultural adoptions have been so popular. It is clear that many are feeling like, this is just not what we signed up to do.

Sunderland’s perspective is that there are NO adoptions without trauma. What he is talking about in his lecture is an enormous grief. A baby who has been waiting 9 months to meet somebody that they are not going to meet. It is about a mother who cannot live with having her child because society has told her that she cannot do it. Relinquishment goes against her biology.

And very often, the adoptive parents come into adoption carrying their own enormous grief due to having been unable to have a child of their own, naturally. One of the problems that Sunderland has with the word adoption is that it covers up the adoptive parents own grief.

So often, an adoptee will be told that they were chosen but the reality is that child has entered into a family that does not genetically fit them and given an impossible job description. They are forced to be someone that they can never actually be to fix the wound that the adoptive parents have. Infertility is an enormous disappointment for a couple and adoption tries to cover that up.

For an adoptee, the issue of abandonment is life threatening. There is nothing worse than to be separated from the one person (your mother) who you needed most at the beginning of your life. This is preverbal – it can’t be recalled – however, it IS remembered.

The word adoption tries to suggest that it is going to be a happily ever after situation. The human brain begins working before it is entirely built and experience is what programs the brain. If the beginning is a trauma and separation, then this is the experience that is wiring the neurons in the brain of the infant. For an adoptee there is a constant desire to attach accompanied by the conflicting sense that it isn’t safe to do so. There is no pre-trauma personality in an adoptee because there is no normal to compare this experience to as there would be for other traumatic events (war, car accidents, etc).

Being born prematurely and placed into an incubator is another kind of relinquishment when the infant leaves that containing environment. If a child is placed into foster care, that is also a relinquishment. Each change of foster family is yet another in a series of relinquishments. And second chance adoptions, where an adopted child is given back, is another relinquishment. In some cross-cultural adoptive situations, the child is born into such poverty, they are separated from the mother into an orphanage.

The bonding of an infant with their human mother actually begins 2 months before birth, while in utero, as proven by multiple experiments. Adoptees will often share that they have heard stories that they cried and cried. And I think of the mention of that in my mom’s adoption file via a letter from her adoptive mother to the Tennessee Children’s Home about the train trip upsetting my mom but that the doctor had her settled down now (and I always think – they drugged her, though it is not said directly). And I can understand now that my mom was relinquished twice because her mother took her to Porter Leath Orphanage in desperation for TEMPORARY care while she tried to get on her feet because her lawfully married husband had abandoned her and did not respond to a letter that the Juvenile Court in Memphis had written to him about his obligations.

Sunderland speaks about the stability of a child being dependent on a mother being able to know herself (which certainly was a black hole, actually for both of my parents, that I had until I was well over 60 years old and began to discover my own adoptee parents origin stories). People who are adopted and end up in treatment, often present themselves as fairly well put together.

Sunderland speaks of “love addiction” as needing to have the positive regard of a significant other. Addiction is genetically proposed and environmentally disposed. The hormonal aspects of having been relinquished are similar to living one’s life on red alert. In an adoption, there is a slow loss of self. A belief that they cannot be them self and get along with the people with whom they have been placed. The hormonal aspects affect sleep and stomach issues (and certainly my mom had her share of gastrointestinal issues throughout her entire life). Real difficulties managing moods (I think of my dad’s underlying seething anger that occasionally popped out).

If you think about serotonin, it is a soothing hormone. Addiction is usually an effort to self soothe. Eating sugar is one such effort to self soothe. Both of my parents were seriously diabetic and myself to some extent (though I am trying to manage my own sugar issues without ending up on insulin). Serotonin also manages shame and let’s you know you are okay but if your levels are low, the answer is “I’m not okay.”

Some people are not given up at birth and that was certainly true with both of my parents who spent 6-8 months with their original mothers before being adopted. People who diet and then give up on themselves, often multiple times. The chemicals in the brains of adoptees who have early psychological wounds are very different from other people without this personal background.

Adoptees have a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, always expecting the worst. The original wound of being separated from their mother was a life-threatening one. Shame is an unacknowledged aspect that is the understanding that I am not good enough, the bad baby (I’m unworthy, unlovable, there is something flawed in me) because if I was given up by my mother, I don’t have value. People pleasing arises from this feeling. How do I need to be to be accepted ?

Being extremely self-reliant (if you want something done, do it yourself) is also an outcome. It is interesting to note that both of my parents’ mothers had early abandonment or separation wounds from their own mothers caused by the deaths of their mothers. My dad’s mother had the worst one as her mother died when she was only 3 mos old. When she discovered that she was pregnant by a married man that she was not married to, she simply handled it herself and he never knew. With my mom’s mother, she was in her pre-teens and had to become “mom” to her 4 siblings.

Shame and anxiety are at the root of all addictions. There is an attempt to manage anxiety by managing the externals out there. Addictions are attempts to put anxieties elsewhere and explain the inexplicable. And there is the belief that somehow it is your own fault. Up until about the age of 10, infants and children believe that everything that happens to them, happened because of them.

In life, it’s not so much what happens to you as how secure you were with your early attachments. Roots, the secure base. Without these, one is less resilient. Adaption is a better word for what is done, not adoption. Adoptees end up with two minds. Real difficulties making decisions. The limbic system – fight, flight or freeze – is what kicks in with the catastrophic thinking. It is the part of the brain that developed before the frontal cortex. If you have an attachment wound, you never learned how to become a separate person. Any successful relationship exists in separateness, not in trying to adapt yourself to be accepted by that other person. The erotic exists in the space between the two. The real challenge for an adopted person is to actually BE their own self.

Believing in Colorblindness is a Privilege

Colin Kaepernick with his parents, Teresa Kaepernick, Rick Kaepernick and girlfriend, Nessa Diab

Read the link to Colin’s story at the end of this blog to understand more completely why his photo is here.

Articles that mention adoption always catch my attention. Today, I saw one in the Huffington Post – Like Colin Kaepernick, I Wish My Adoptive Family Had Talked About Race by Melissa Guida-Richards. She was adopted from Colombia in 1993 and her adoptive parents were one of many that believed in the colorblind ideology. Her adoptive parents believed that giving a child a loving home was all that was necessary. 

For most of her life, the family didn’t talk about her race and ethnicity. Actually, she was not aware of her true racial identity until she was 19 and found her adoption paperwork. Her parents had believed that if they raised her as Latina, she would be treated differently than the rest of the family. However, people often questioned her about where she was from ― particularly when her adoptive family wasn’t around. When she was out in public with her white parents, she found that she was included under their umbrella of privilege. But the moment she was out on her own, people treated her differently.

Many BIPOC adoptees eventually learn that the world is divided into how they are perceived with their adoptive families versus when they are alone. And this is especially true in today’s climate where an Asian adoptee shopping for groceries can be attacked, a Black adoptee pulled over by police is potentially in danger, or a Latina adoptee walking in their town is told to go back to their own country. Adoptive families can think that it will never happen to their child, but for most transracial adoptees, it does. It’s just part of the reality of being a person of color.

Transracial adoptees do not have the privilege of believing in colorblindness. It can be fatal for a Black adoptee to “forget” that they are Black. If that adoptee approaches a police officer the same way their white parents do, they could find themselves in danger. When adoptive parents do not properly prepare their transracial adoptee for a racialized world, they are left playing a game of catch-up that they hopefully can win before it costs them their very life.

Current policies disallow considering race when placing children in adoptive homes. This is due to laws like the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), which prevents child welfare agencies that receive federal funding from denying or delaying a child’s placement based on race. MEPA was amended in 1996 to establish that states could be fined for using race in placement decisions. While MEPA also requires agencies to “diligently recruit families that reflect the racial diversity of the children in need of homes,” it does not fine states that fail to do so.

Currently over 70% of adoptive parents are white and over half of adopted children are of a different race than their adoptive parents. One key issue with MEPA was that, while it made it significantly easier for white middle-class adoptive parents to adopt children of other races, it neglected to require anti-racism and transracial adoption education before or after placement.

The adoption industry perpetuates the idea that adoption ends in a beautiful happily ever after. When we think of adoption as an ending, we forget that it has a lasting, constant impact throughout the adopted person’s life, not just their childhood. Race should not be an afterthought in adoption. Adoptees are often pressured to be grateful and simply be happy that they have a family, to forget all of the challenges and trauma they experience.

When you are a person of color, you know how the world sees and treats you, and when your family refuses to be open to simple conversations about ethnicity and race, you start to wonder what’s so negative about acknowledging your identity. It impacts how you see yourself and how you believe your family sees you.

The author found that her adoptive family avoiding conversations of racial differences led to her having feelings of rejection and shame. She struggled to understand how her parents and relatives could love all of her, when they refused to acknowledge a big piece of her identity. Adoptive parents need to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about race. Race may be a construct but its ramifications are very real.

At the beginning of her essay, the author also mentions Kaepernick’s interview in Ebony magazine. Worth the quick read.

It Really Was That Bad

Today’s story –

I was adopted from foster care when I was 12. I was adopted into the same home as one of my biological sisters. Being adopted was the only way I could stay with my younger sister, so I consented. I knew my first family, as I lived with them to the age of ten. Having to leave them, especially my siblings, destroyed me.

Nearly as bad was the family I ended up with. My adoptive mom berated me constantly, and could be very cruel. I was told that my sister and I weren’t wanted, and that’s why my mother kept her other (three younger) kids but gave us up. That we were lucky that she chose us. The day of the adoption she told me that my life now was between her and Jesus.

I have a good relationship with my biological mom and stepdad, and their kids. I love them, and they love me back with a kind of enthusiasm that I never experienced in my adoptive home. Awhile back, my adoptive mom sent me a message, trying to apologize. It was painful, but it made me know for sure that things were as bad as I thought they were.

From the adoptive mom –

A couple of years ago we sat in the livingroom and I made an attempt at making an amends with you. I thought if I had stopped drinking and stayed sober, then the past was the past.

At the beginning, when you moved into our home, I made a feeble attempt at reaching out to you. You cringed and would not trust me, would not call me mom. You already had a mom and I had not even showed I was a safe person. I couldn’t and didn’t listen to your silent pain.

I know I verbally and emotionally abused you. You went to therapy but it didn’t work and I was glad because I did not want my neglect to be exposed. I knew I was guilty for causing the demons that haunted you.

At the height of your anorexia, you were hospitalized and yet I was jealous of you. I know I was insane. It was my own mental illness more than the alcoholism.

I just wanted to tell you that I am so ashamed of not giving you the childhood you deserved. It was my loss, I never really got to know you. I take none of the credit for your strength.

Busting The Myth

It’s painful to realize you have been lied to by the adoption agency you turned to in a moment of desperation. Even my own self, in leaving my daughter with her paternal grandmother for temporary care, that turned into her dad raising her and then a remarriage for him to a woman with a daughter (they then had a daughter together), could be perceived as abandonment as well. I have admitted to my daughter that there are similarities in her experience growing up with that which adoptees experience in being separated from their natural mother. At the time, I thought one parent as good as the other (even though I didn’t intend for her dad to get her). I really intended to recover her but it did not work out that way and to this day I struggle with what I did in ignorance.

In my all things adoption group, one woman writes – and then when your baby is *one week old* and you come out of the fog of the agency telling you it’s the right, selfless thing to do and realize what a terrible, life altering decision you just made – it’s too late and you have to spend the next several years in court and hope your family can lend you around $100,000 for legal fees to get your baby back from the wonderful, brave, selfless adoptive parents that have your kid.

Another wrote – this comes off extremely harsh and unproductive to me because these women do not understand the ramifications of the decisions they’ve made. And that is true for me as well. I was 22 years old at the time I left my daughter with her paternal grandmother. Life altering indeed !!

Someone else said – bottom line is regardless of intentions, the infant brain perceives it as abandonment. I’m fiercely defensive of my momma; I believe that the despicable social mores of the Baby Scoop Era and sheer desperation drove her to surrender me. My baby self was damaged either way. That’s what I believe this graphic is trying to convey.

And I agree. Sheer desperation has caused at least 3 of the 4 adoptions that are part of my childhood family (both of my parents and then each of my sisters gave up a baby). One of my sisters simply thought it the most natural thing in the world – I believe – because our parents were adoptees. Unbelievably, my mom who struggled most with having been adopted, coerced my other sister into doing it.

One noted – Just once, why not talk about how the fathers were nowhere around and went unscathed in everything. To blame a mother who was . . .

In my own parents’ case – first, for my mom, her mother was married but he more or less (whether intentionally or not) abandoned her 4 mos pregnant. After she had given birth, she brought my mom back from Virginia (where she had been sent by her own father out of shame) to Memphis. She tried to reach my mom’s father but got no response. Though there was a major flood occurring on the Mississippi River at the time (1937) and he was in Arkansas where his mother lived and his daughters were. He was WPA fighting the flood there in Arkansas. His granddaughter (who I have met) does not believe he was the kind of man to leave a wife and infant stranded. Georgia Tann got ahold of my mom and exploited my grandmother to obtain a baby to sell. My mom was 7 months old when her adoptive mother picked her up but she did spend some of that time in what was believed to be temporary care at Porter-Leath Orphanage. That was my grandmother’s fatal mistake because the superintendent there alerted Georgia Tann to my mom’s existence.

In my dad’s case, the father was a married man and an un-naturalized immigrant. I don’t believe he ever knew. My paternal grandmother had a hard life. Her own mother died when she was only 3 mos old (the original abandonment if you will). She was a self-reliant woman. I don’t believe either of my grandmothers intended to abandon their children. After giving birth in Ocean Beach, near San Diego California in a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers, my grandmother then applied to work for them and was transferred to El Paso Texas. I believe they pressured her to relinquish my dad. He was with her for 8 months.

Finally, here is one person’s experience with being adopted – Abandonment is exactly right. And it directly leads to abandonment and attachment issues later. Even with therapy and understanding what happened and learning coping strategies, I still feel this horrible gnawing black hole inside of me when I feel like someone might leave me. And it can get triggered by such inconsequential things. The worst part is that it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, especially before learning how to lessen the effects on others, because the behaviors I’ve done out of desperation drove the people I was scared of losing away. And sometimes that’s felt deliberate, like it won’t hurt as bad if it was my idea and I left them instead of them leaving me. It hurts just as bad.

White Tears, Brown Scars

I promised myself that I would not buy any more books this year. However, this book was mentioned in my all things adoption group as merging racial inequality and adoption. My two passions, so how could I resist ?

A reviewer admits – “I am always a bit weary of how I am received when I talk about race in feminist spaces. I fear that I might be “causing a division in the sisterhood” as journalist Ruby Hamad describes in her debut book, White Tears/Brown Scars. I am afraid of being divisive; for calling things out when most people prefer to sweep snarks or discriminations under the veneer of polite conversation. When I bring attention to a remark, I don’t do it to mark a line between me and white women (if I did, I’d be separating myself from 90% of my friends). I loved Hamad’s book for its unapologetic rigor and sharp threading of racial history in both the United States and Australia. Since its release last week, commentators have called it ‘incisive’, ‘courageous’, ‘a work of depth and scholarship,’ and ‘well researched and informative’.” 

Still from the review linked above – Racial trauma is a term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that people of color experience after exposure to particularly stressful experiences of racism. Similar to survivors of other types of trauma (e.g., sexual assault survivors), people of color may frequently experience fear and hyper-vigilance, self-blame, confusion, memory difficulty, shame, and guilt after experiencing racism.

The woman who posted this in my all things adoption group said – This author touches on orphan trains and adoption throughout history and connects it all back to white feminism & saviorism. It’s a tough read, but worth it.

I’ll write more after I have had a chance to read this one on my Kindle.

False Narratives

Recently the post of a new mother who just gave birth a few days ago and is giving up her child for adoption asked what items from his birth she should keep. She received over 700 comments, mostly from adoptees and birth mothers, urging her frantically to back out and keep and raise her child. The responses spoke eloquently of the reasons why. I thought this one excellent –

Obviously none of us could possibly understand to the full extent your situation or circumstances which led you to this decision, and I don’t doubt for one second that is consumed you entirely the past 9 months. Knowing that you only have just one more day before making probably the most difficult and life changing decision of anyone’s life, I’m sure you’d want to consider absolutely everything, especially if there was anything new which you hadn’t considered before.

Most of the people in this group are either fellow birth mothers or adoptees, so more than anyone else they understand exactly what you and your baby are going through, and will go through.

Knowing the main reasons why women choose adoption being financial and/or relationship instability, we’re all just here to let you know that if those are factors in your decision, there absolutely is support available so that you don’t feel as if you have to make this decision. No one should be coerced or forced into making a decision under the guise of being “best for your baby.”

If finances are an issue, there’s lots of support out there; not only from this group, but government programs, and there are so many church programs and charities. There are so many people here who can help you find whatever services you need because we’ve needed, and used those services ourselves.

We just want to make sure that you know the reality, that it’s actually far more important to have your birth mother in your life rather than having two parents who are non-biological. So if a lack of a father figure is affecting your decision, just please don’t be fooled into believing this false narrative that it’s more important to live in a two parent household, because that’s simply not true.

I’m sorry if you’re feeling guilt tripped, I truly don’t believe that was anyone’s intention.

We all just want to show you that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to make this decision if you don’t want to. We just want you to know that all those typical reasons that society tells us is why women should choose adoption, every single one of those reasons is complete b***sh*t in the real world. But so many people still believe the lies and the false narrative, so that’s exactly why this group is here, to show everyone there’s another way.

One more adds something important – Our mothers’ decisions caused preverbal, pre-personality developmental trauma that we have lived with for decades. It isn’t rainbows and butterflies. Adoption does not guarantee a better life, just a different one. Adoptees are overrepresented in mental health care. We are four times as likely to try to kill ourselves. This is our life, you are about to choose for your son. That is why we are speaking up.

You can find this group – Adoption:Facing Realities – at Facebook. There is a 2 week read only rule because the perspective is rather different from most adoption oriented groups. The comments of adoptees are given priority. Anyone in the triad (birth mother, adoptee or adoptive parent) is welcome but you should be warned that the rainbows and butterflies fantasy narrative of the adoption world is not what you will find there. However, you will find honesty, detailed personal experiences and a belief in family preservation. The group also includes former foster care youths now grown and transitioned to the adult world.

Preventing Adoptee Suicides

I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.

Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.

You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.

There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.

Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.

If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.

So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.

4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”

One adoptee describes their own experience this way –

“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”

Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.

Another adoptee notes –

“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”

It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.

If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.

No Choice

There are so many ways adoptees experience a life that they had no choice in. Beginning with their adoption, especially if they were too young to have a say, which the majority are consummated when the child is too young to be given a say.

There are also situations where a mother gave up one or more children when she was young. She then subsequently remarried and had more children in that stable union. So it was in a story I was reading today.

The adoptee in this story had a no-contact failed reunion and was re-rejected in her attempt by her birth mother. The two children relinquished found each other in adulthood. While the father who knew about the surrendered children had died, their children had not been told about these half-siblings.

This adoptee became aware of her genetic, biological family thanks to DNA matching. The extended family she discovered have proven to be lovely, considerate, sensitive and good people. However, the subsequent children who were birthed by this woman’s original mother, who are all adults and have known about these two other children for a couple of years now, don’t acknowledge them or treat them as anything other than shameful embarrassments and inconveniences, a response modeled by their mother.

The mother contracted cancer and subsequently died of the complications. Before she died, she sent this woman a birthday card, accompanied by a handwritten letter expressly stating that she should not to come to her mother’s funeral. It was hurtful for her to say that she “only wanted people who loved her there.”

She never gave these two relinquished children a chance to love her and piling on their wounds, rejected them again as adults. In fact, they didn’t even know she was dying. When this woman died, none of her subsequent children told them anything about the arrangements. So neither of these two attended her funeral but at the last minute did send a wreath. They hoped to be at the least mentioned at her funeral, or in her eulogy or at her cremation but the purposeful silence continued.

Finally, the day after her funeral, her oldest son set up a What’sApp group with him, her brother and this woman and so, there was a video call. He was very matter of fact and explained about her death. He asked if they had any questions. Mostly the call was simply made to justify how he was carrying out their mother’s wishes. These wishes were extensive – excluding them from knowing anything about her deterioration, prognosis, hospitalization, palliative care, imminent death nor were they to be told about her dying or the funeral arrangements. This son admitted that he did think she was wrong to demand that,

This story takes place in Ireland and they have a “month’s memory mass.” Her name will be called out in her church as a mark of respect at her recent passing. It’s a tradition for family to attend at this mass that takes place four weeks after the passing of a loved one. She writes that her brother has to work but her husband will be there to be supportive. She says – “I have as much right to be there as any of them. Being banned from her funeral doesn’t mean I can’t go to this mass in her church. I need to be there to show they haven’t broken me and to have some closure. I also feel it would be a show of defiance to them for ostracizing us so blatantly.”

I totally agree with her and support this decision !!

Regardless of Why

Coming on the heels of yesterday’s blog, I encountered this article in The Guardian – My brother has two new children – and it’s making me sad. When you want to be a parent and can’t, this is a loss to be mourned, says Philippa Perry.

A woman writes – My partner is older than me and has a grown-up son. He is not keen to have more children, so I feel I’ve missed the boat. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame in my response (to my siblings having children). It is causing problems within my family because my older brother has stopped communicating with me. I’m unsure how to relate to these new children and also to my brother now. It’s constantly nagging on my mind. I feel like a terrible person and very alone.

Ms Perry replies – Reading between the lines, I wonder if there isn’t a whole lot of loss here to process. We think about mourning when we lose someone close to us: when we lose a parent or a friend everyone around us expects us to be sad or angry or confused, in denial or simply deadened for a while – wherever the journey of mourning takes us – and even if it is a hard journey, we know that unless we allow ourselves to mourn, we won’t recover our equilibrium. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has usefully charted this complex journey, and her thinking is instructive. Above all, we learn from her that the only way beyond loss is through it. When you want to be a parent and, for whatever reason, you can’t be, this is a loss and like all losses needs to be mourned.

This point is made frequently in my all things adoption group. The need to mourn infertility, rather than papering over it with adopted children.

The advice columnist goes on to note – It’s much harder, isn’t it, when the loss we experience is situational rather than personal? Often nobody notices or names it, and there is no expectation that we may have work to do. Instead of finding loving support for the process of grieving, we can lock ourselves in a silent, agonizing world in which we feel increasingly isolated.

Whether it is choice or circumstance that has led to you not having a child, you’re clearly sensing that as a loss, and I wonder whether now that those who are close to you seem to be abounding in new children, it is easier to cut off, or feel jealous, or over-rationalise, rather than having your feelings. Gaps are tough – and they’re real, at least to us. Reality is often disappointing.

You do not say why your brother isn’t speaking to you. Echoes of some long-distant childhood rivalry playing out, maybe? Or has something happened to create awkwardness. You’ll know – but I’m wondering what part you not engaging with your sadness and loss may be contributing to this awkwardness? After all, when the task of processing loss doesn’t happen in us, we find other ways of dealing with our feelings: projecting disappointment and envy on to others, rather than owning it ourselves. This makes us unhappy and creates avoidable friction with others. And, no, I don’t think you are a terrible person – just a person in pain with nowhere to place it.

Then there’s what you describe as your own loving relationship. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, nor whether there was a chance to consider having a child, but what is now encroaching is this sense of a gap. What, I wonder, would happen if you were to name it – not in terms of any “right” to have had a child, nor in terms of “blame” that the two of you aren’t having one, but simply in terms of the sense of loss and sadness it is creating in you? It’s not that he has to fix it by having a child with you, but not speaking about it may stop you keeping your relationship as “loving” as it can be. If you are not being heard and understood by him it may deny you the support you need to move forward – speaking simply about it may open up whole new ways of being fulfilled together. We might feel that if we own the disappointment and name the gaps, our feelings will become more intense and unmanageable, but more often the opposite is true. To talk about your loss will begin to process those feelings and will be, I think, the first steps to healing all of this. I don’t want you to carry that “chasm of sadness” on your own. But even in the most loving of partnerships we cannot be everything we need for each other and if your partner is more of a problem-solver – no one wants to hear the “well-you-should…” in response to their pain – you may try for extra listening and understanding from a therapist.

When you can own, then contain, your sadness I am hoping you will be able to relate to these new nephews and nieces in your life, not as reminders of what you are missing out on, but as new people to have rewarding, lifelong relationships with.