A Deep Evolutionary, Hormonal Need

A couple of questions were asked of adoptive parents in an all things adoption group I belong to –

Does being an adoptive parent feel the way you thought it would before you adopted ?

Does it fulfill your needs ?

In fairness, the question could be asked of biological/genetic parents as well. So it was that this thoughtful woman attracted my attention with her response –

She says directly that she is not an adoptive parent. She is a grandmother and the mother of 3 adult biological children with some post-divorce estrangement issues. She is the child of narcissistic parents from whom she picked up narcissistic habits that she’s now trying to recognize and eradicate within herself.

She describes herself as “a middle-aged woman coming to terms with my own flaws, strengths, and failures of both commission and omission. The questions shown above are phrased like arrows —bound to pierce anyone who truly is open to them.” She goes on to admit that these are great questions— and horrible questions, too. For sure, necessary— probably for ANY parent, but especially for adoptive parents.

She says honestly, “At each and every stage of motherhood I could have answered Yes and No to the first question. PARENTHOOD overall does not always feel AT ALL the way we think it will, before we experience it. And parenthood itself has plenty of rosy myths associated with it— but obviously NOT the sanctity and saviorism that gilds our culture’s concept of adoption and adoptive parenthood.”

She notes that – “The second question is intended to be an unsettling question— even for biological parents. We’ve got a huge biological imperative to bear children, as a species, so there’s a deep evolutionary, hormonal sense of “need” to procreate for which I don’t think we should be shamed. Many humans get pregnant by accident, or without much thought given to the repercussions of sex.”

Once a living, breathing child exists, that person is NOT AT ALL here to fulfill the parent’s needs. And it doesn’t take very long for that one to be recognized. Even so, we do not always realize that. During the toughest years of parenting, most parents barely have time to breathe, much less analyze the psychological, ethical, and moral framework that their parenting rests upon— and there is always a framework, whether the parent knows it or not.

These penetrating questions are relevant to ALL parents, at any stage of parenting. We all live as the protagonists of our own lives, and thus are prone to centering our stories upon ourselves. Sometimes it’s okay to center yourself in a story. Yet, that is NOT true in terms of your children or perhaps more accurately, they are going to center their own stories on their own lives. This is the great web of interpersonal interconnectivity that binds us all.

So okay, maybe there is no huge profound wisdom in this blog today. Even so, these are really deep questions that are WORTH sitting with, even if they cause some discomfort when thinking about our own answers to them. It is not surprising if they feel hugely uncomfortable when you read them. You may even feel that you have somehow failed as a parent. We are all too self-centered, even when we think we are being self-sacrificing for our children.

You Can Start Over

There is not much a child can do about the circumstances of having been adopted.  When a adoptee matures into adulthood, there is a chance to reframe the experience, to find ways to make the unique experiences that an adoptee goes through – a strength.

There is not a universal agreement that adoption harms the self-esteem of adoptees.  Studies seem to indicate it does not but adoptees will often highlight the ways that it did harm their own self-esteem.  I trust the adoptee’s perception over that of a researcher.

Without a doubt, an adoptee suffers the loss of their natural family connection.  This impacts the development of their identity.  Often, as an adoptee matures they have an understandable interest in their true genetic information.

Compared to a true orphan who cannot regain the physical presence of their original parents, an adoptee will have a sense that out there somewhere are the people who are related to them genetically.  It is like missing a limb that one knows should be there.  There will always be an uncertainty and often a level of grief or anger over a situation the adoptee did not create.  There is often a fear that if the adoptee does not live up to the expectations of the adoptive parents they could be rejected, abandoned or sent back to some place that is not a home.

In every person’s life there are emotionally charged milestones – marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent – when the unique issues of having been adopted are more keenly felt.  In fact, it is often in giving birth to their own children, that an adoptee begins to really want to seek their origin information and if possible, experience a reunion with the people they were taken away from.

It is not possible to undo a life that has always been informed by having been an adopted person.  It is possible to seek a perspective that empowers rather than victimizes the adoptee.  An adoptee can seek to take control over their life and it’s further direction, something most of them lacked (control) in their childhoods.

 

Finding Out One Was Adopted

Above is a segment of my Dad’s original adoption papers.  He was actually adopted twice (his adoptive mother divorced the first husband and remarried, changing my Dad’s name when he was already 8 years old). Upon discovering one of my Hempstead relatives, the first thing she noticed had entirely been missed by my own self, the Salvation Army appeared to “own” him and his mother’s name was nowhere to be found on the document.

I don’t know how old either of my parents were when they learned they were adopted but I believe each was as old as they needed to be told.  I think they always “knew” even before they consciously knew.

There are many ways an adoptee can learn they were adopted.  They might accidentally overhear a conversation.  They might develop a serious illness that requires accurate medical information.  They may discover papers in their adoptive parents’ files after their death or a stranger may come into their life (thanks to DNA testing) and claim to be related.

Most human beings have a need for love and a sense of belonging, also for self-esteem and a recognition of their value.  It seems the almost all emotional wounds need these and some also highlight safety and security and I believe that is true of adoptees as well.

There are so many sad, false beliefs that filter into the heart of an adoptee – something must be wrong with me because my “real” parents gave me away, I don’t belong anywhere, I probably never should have been born, I don’t know who I am and if my “real” parents could abandon me, anyone could.

An adoptee seeking reunion with their original family fears another rejection.  If they were adopted into a family with children already, they may believe they are loved less and many fear they could be taken away from their adoptive family and even fear that it might be the original family recovering them.

Adoptees suffer many side effects of having been adopted.  They may be subject to mood swings, they feel less equal within a family unit, they may be obsessed with the past, struggle with a sense of identity, see how they are different than the adoptive family they are living within, have a hard time saying good-bye, may be always trying to prove their worthiness, may expect to be deceived or engage in risky behavior and may exhibit behaviors indicating a subservience.

That is a lot but it actually is not the end of it – they may experience anxiety or situational depression, they may need to double-check facts for accuracy, they develop various insecurities, they may be cynical and reject the adoptive family.  An adoptee may fantasize about a reunion with their “real” family and actually seek them out.

On the plus side, an adoptee respects honesty and openness.  It may have been emphasized to them that they were chosen, even if they had a hard time accepting that as a positive aspect of having been adopted.  They are adaptable, analytical, appreciative, centered, curious, diplomatic, easygoing, empathetic, happy, private, sentimental, supportive and wise.

They are as complex as any human being could be.