Certainly, my mom yearned to find her original mother and I believe that both of my original grandmothers wished to find their children (both of my parents were adoptees), surrendered to adoption, once again in their lifetimes. It did not happen. All of these 6 people died without ever finding one another again.
No more the sound of her familiar heartbeat that lulled me to sleep and that my own synchronized with. Instead, a cacophony of strange voices and hospital sounds startles my newborn senses. Unfamiliar arms lower me into an isolette. I am alone and don’t know where I begin or end. Someone props something on a pillow beside me and touches my lips with a rubber nipple. Substitutionary sustenance. I drink. I sleep.
Then, one day, I’m dressed and wrapped and put into the arms of someone who smells of something other than this strange and lonely place. She is gentle and holds me so close I can feel her heartbeat. Days and weeks pass. I drink and sleep and grow used to her and learn to relax when she holds me while I drink from a rubber nipple until I’m milk drunk and fall asleep in her arms. But I don’t stop wondering.
Where is she?
On another day, after I’ve grown accustomed to the cuddling and playing and the belly laughs she draws from me, she is no longer there when I wake up. Instead, I look up into the soft misty eyes of another woman. The smile on her round face looks like love. She caresses my cheek and holds me so close I can hear her heartbeat. This happened with the other one too. I wonder where she is and how long this one will stay. There’s another face beside hers—a man—looking down at me and smiling too. But still, the bigger question remains:
Where is she?
A half-century later I kneel at her grave and place my hands flat on the ground. Oh, here she is. But, by now I’m too late.
And this was me too – at least at the graves of my maternal, biological, genetic relatives. Too late too meet any of them in person. Hopefully, my words as I sat down at their graves and uttered my words were heard by them in whatever that place is that they have gone. Someday, may I also visit my paternal relatives graves.
I have known quite a few people who were not entirely happy with the family of their birth but those of us who have been touched by adoption lost the family of our birth. Some of us find our way back. Today’s blog is inspired by a story in Severance Magazine written by Kristen Steinhilber titled My Biology Matters. It Did All Along.
She writes – “It took me more than three decades of fairytale-oriented platitudes and assumptions thrown like bombs my way about adoption to piece together one very relevant thread: everyone who told me that biology doesn’t matter—including both sides of my own adoptive family—had intact bloodlines and genetic histories. And that what they were really saying, whether they meant to or not, was that my biology doesn’t matter.”
I encountered something like this as well. When I was first learning about my original families (both of my parents were adopted), I was attending a writer’s conference in St Louis when one of our members questioned me – If the adoptive family was good, why does it matter? As we talked, it slowly dawned on her that if she wanted to know, it would have been a fairly easy thing for her to learn as much as she wanted to know from her older family members. Not so for adoptees.
She goes on to write – “. . . withholding and secrecy—are encouraged in the world of adoption when it comes to the biology of adoptees. In fact, withholding and secrecy are legally enforced through sealed birth records. So when I found out, I assumed this was normal, understandable, or even maybe for my own good. My adoptive mother may have even believed that herself.” And adds, “since I’d always been told that adoption was such a gift, I didn’t feel I had the right to it. I pushed my own feelings away and suppressed what was in my gut.”
Even my adoptee mom, after being denied her adoption file and being told her mother was already dead, tried to put a good face on it all as she abandoned trying to do a family tree at Ancestry using the adoptive family details saying “it wasn’t real” and I understand that but needed to say at that point “because I was adopted, glad I was.” Though I doubt she really meant that, what else could she say at that point ?
She describes her experience of reunion – “I had a beautiful reunion with them for years and ‘fit’ naturally. Not in the same way that they fit with each other; that’s simply not possible when you miss out on all those years.” This has been my experience in having genetic biological relations reunions – I can feel these are really, truly the people who I am related to and at the same time I can’t make up for all of the years they were living their lives and I wasn’t in them. It affects my feelings towards the adoptive family I grew up with. I’m like my mom in very real ways – they aren’t real anymore, though at one time they were. The love remains for the good people they all were and are, yet they are also “strangers”, not actually related to me in reality.
I understand it when she says, “The spiritual and psychological isolation of having two families but not belonging to either has ripped me from limb to limb . . .” That’s the painful part of it all. While I do now feel more “complete” and know my ethnic and familial roots, I don’t actually belong to either family group in any real way. It is actually very sad and only now do I allow myself to feel this, brought almost to tears by the truth of it. It is the sense of not belonging that plagues many adoptees and now I understand passes down the family line to their children as well.
She talks about the massive number of adoptees who stand in solidarity for adoption reform. At least, I am one of those now as well.
We teach our children to keep themselves safe from strangers.
Why do we as a society think it’s better to give a child away to strangers than to offer emotional, financial, and logistical support to the child’s first families in order to allow them to parent? Why is it seen as a good thing to permanently separate a child from their first family (in the absence of abuse)? What’s with the racist, classist belief that adoptive parents are more likely to raise healthy happy children, when all statistical evidence from studies on abuse in adoptive homes contradicts it?
There is a reason adoptees represent a larger percentage of people needing mental health treatment or committing suicide. There is a higher incidence of cancer, gut, and other diseases caused by toxic levels of years of cortisol. Birth moms, due to separation from their babies, tend to die 20 years sooner than mothers who remain with their children.
Complex Traumatic Stress – an over activated fight flight body response.
That child taken from its mother will try to save that child but has no power to help that child. That child is born with a “mom-operating system”. This never shuts down (cue adoptee reunions, if you doubt this).
Allowing complete strangers to raise a child is dangerous to that child.
So why is adoption promoted and not family preservation ? Because there is a ton of money to be made in selling children (which is what adoption actually is in most cases) but no money, only expense coming out of tax dollars, in keeping a family together.
Adoption is trauma. There’s no way around it. Even if you were to be the most incredible adoptive parent in the entire world, the trauma and hurt isn’t negated. Society needs to try to understand why the mom feels she can’t parent her child and give that mom the support she needs. You can love a child without taking them away from their parents.
This is true in infant adoptions, where altering birth certificates is standard procedure. The procedure may be different with a teen who has been in the foster care system for years and without being coerced, asks to be adopted. However, even then legal guardianship is still the best case procedure.
The truth about adoption trauma may be hard to accept because most people have been spoon fed what society wants us to believe about adoption. the difference between a viewpoint (for profit adoption narrative) and lived experiences (adoptees) can cause cognitive dissonance.
So to say, “…adopting a child can be a good option…” is actually an admission that adoption isn’t always good, and actually for anyone involved. Surprisingly, adoptive parents do not often have the happily ever after experience they bought into. So their “lived” experience as well because the traumatized child is more difficult to parent than a biological, genetic child – and most parents would admit that isn’t always easy either. Add in that layer of adoption and it is exponentially harder (check it out with some trauma informed therapist who works on adoption issues).
While it is true that some adoptees will tell you that they had good outcomes, I’ve read significantly more horror stories than happy outcomes… That is because I spend time in a space where it is safe for an adoptee to honestly express their own truth. Yes, there are cases where the biological family could have been as much (or even more) of a nightmare as an abusive adoptive family. The answer is to try and treat the issues in the biological, genetic family – addiction, poverty, poor parenting role models, etc.
And on the issue of mother/child separations – this story is indicative.
My grandmother started caring for me full time the day after I was born. I didn’t really spend time with my parents until I was 3-4 years old. I feel the trauma from that and its not even close to what someone who has been adopted must feel….I just remember feeling so strongly that all I wanted was to be with my mom when I was little. My grandmother is an amazing woman but its not the same. I still experience extreme anxiety and went through really bad PPD after I gave birth bceause I couldn’t understand why my mom couldn’t be there for me when I was that little. Anyway, my story isn’t really important I’m only trying to illustrate how deep the trauma goes when you’re separated as a child from your birth parents.
Just for good measure – what is the mainstream narrative ?
1) first is the idea that biological parents are incapable of parenting and don’t deserve to parent their own children, 2) that those saviors, the grace of willing adopters stepping forward, have prevented an abortion, or abuse, or neglect, or abandonment, and of course 3) that anyone who adopts will simply provide a “Better Life” and a “Forever Family” for these poor unwanted souls. These things are not the truth for the majority of people who end up adopted. These are the myths of the adoption industry.
Regardless of varying lived experiences – every single adoptee has experienced a traumatic loss: the separation from their mother.
And wrapping up – What is missing?
Better mental health services, care and protection for pregnant women, support for families and their communities could really improve many families’ situations. In many cases, it could do more that – actually enable them to parent adequately by most average standards.
No person should have their true identity and family erased for the rest of their life, simply in order to be cared for in a safe, loving, secure home during their childhood.
Adoption, at its core, is a legal construct that transfers ownership of a person. This is done by cancelling the adopted persons birth certificate and issuing a new one, falsely stating the adoptive parents (not actually related ie strangers) are the biological parents, and replacing the adoptee’s name and identity with a new false one.
If this sounds way to close to slavery, you are not mistaken.
The legal construct forces legal recognition and legitimacy of biological falsification for the adopted person’s lifetime, and that of all their descendants, and erases all legal ties and rights to their own family (parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins etc). All without the adopted person’s consent. Ask me, I know, I’m one of those descendants.
Moving a child to a “loving stable home” is not best if the adoptive parents seek to erase the birth parents 100% and “love the child AS IF it is their own.” (Say this sentence… “I’m going to love this a cat AS IF it is a dog.”) This will convey the idea.
It’s ridiculous isn’t it? “as if” is the Adoptive Parent theme song. Adoptive parents think they can buy an infant, and nurture it into becoming something it’s not— but this belief only causes more trauma to the child. The bottom line is this – it is ALWAYS unsafe for a child to be their authentic self in an adoptive home. The love received is conditional but the child must pretend to be something they are not in order to keep that love flowing.
I don’t really want to be redundant – there will be another blog tomorrow and the next day . . . in the meantime, my family history attracted to me this video (yep, adoption would appear to have been a “family tradition” in my own family of birth – but it also appears that our children may have broken the cycle with their own children – thankfully !!).
Regarding a kinship guardian placement vs temporary foster carer ?
An adoption community acquaintance writes –
I’m supposed to take custody of a relative’s baby tomorrow (hopefully.) The caseworker is coming back out tomorrow to see things are in order for him. He’s been in a foster carer’s home for 5 days and they are already claiming he’s bonded to them and begging the caseworker to keep him. Now I’m scared the caseworker is going to come up with an excuse why he needs to stay with them vs coming to me. Selfish, selfish, selfish.
His mom is on track to start overnights in December with reunification in January. Of course, whatever stuff I have for him, will go with him, when he goes home. He was previously with dad’s mom and she lost custody because she allowed dad to have him unsupervised.
Fostering is about reunification, not adoption.
One responder wrote – THIS is a huge problem for the foster care programs. Does the state/program/whatever get money when an adoption occurs????
Another one noted – 5 days is a transition time, no way to bond enough in that time frame. He is not bonded. He is surviving. He’s clinging to a bit of kindness in the midst of chaos. At five days in, he’s likely still confused every time he wakes up and opens his eyes! When there is family that should always be the only choice. If he can be so “bonded” after 5 days with strangers, imagine how much more bonded he’ll be after five days with FAMILY.
And this advice – Let them know that with you, baby will still be able to spend time with safe relatives, which they wouldn’t be able to do in foster care. (Safe is the key word they will be looking for. They will prefer foster care, if they think kinship will allow “unsafe” interactions.)
And finally, this from experience, a woman writes –
Bonding happens faster with family. My instant “bond” with my daughter was due to her losing her mother and attaching herself to me. She is related to my husband by blood… their connection was unspoken and immediate. Ours was initially her needing me, and later it grew into something deeper. They are confusing bonding with a desperate need for human connection… they could have been anyone and the baby would cling to them after being separated. You might have a true bond that is immediate rather than earned. (I have seen this with my own eyes! My relationship with her is now a true bond and we are very close, but her connection to my husband was just a given.