Adoption Fragility

Today’s story –

I am an adoptive parent and I will admit I have to stop myself sometimes and realize my thoughts or fears are out of fragility. My adopted son (age 6) is “star of the week” at school this week and is choosing his pictures to share with his classmates. He has chosen pictures of both biological siblings and mom, and those of us he lives with. My fragility I am afraid is coming into play because I don’t want him to be hurt by the questions others may ask. Any insight on how to help him navigate his peers in this situation? I don’t want to hold back on him sharing what he wants to share, it is his story to tell. I also don’t want him hurt.

One response was – You are assuming he will be hurt. Maybe he will, but his status as an adoptee is for life, so he has to deal with that. I’d let it happen organically and address anything that may occur, after, if he wants to. Don’t make it a big deal. Let him lead and just be aware the days after for any signs.

Similarly, Let him lead here and don’t interfere. The reactions of others is something he now gets to deal with for as long as he lives. Your role is to prepare him to answer the questions in a manner that he is comfy with.

And wise – Stop trying to stop him hurting. STOP, STOP, STOP. Just let him be. Get a grip on your emotions. YOU cannot stand that he is hurt. He will be hurt he is human.

And this recognition – none of us – whether you are a biological parent or adoptive parent – want our children to “hurt”. Sharing his truth, with you in support of his sharing (because it IS his truth), is how you provide as stable a reality as possible for him. Could it be that you do not want the “hurt”? The reality that others will know the whole truth regarding your son and his place in your life? When everyone in family’s loves and supports a child, it is a beautiful thing. Let him shine – it sounds like he has a great group of “family” cheering him on.

One often sees warnings for adoptive parents not to share a child’s adoptive status with others because it leads to bullying and people treating them differently. There’s *absolutely* a difference between an adoptive parent sharing this info and a child sharing it of their own volition. She might be trying to figure out how to make sure her child doesn’t inadvertently open themselves up for poor treatment from others, while still making sure they’re able to share their truth in a way that is comfortable to them.

Some more good advice – let him know that he can share what he wants to. Then give him words in case someone asks something he doesn’t want to share..like “hmm I don’t remember that” or “I’m not sure.”

And this honest recognition that many of us know – Kids are mean. I’d just be prepared for the fact that they could be very cruel to him. Kids used to tell me that I was adopted because my “real family” hated me, or they they’d thrown me away. It might go well or he might be in a lot of pain afterwards. I was just as cruel back, lots of “any morons can have kids” etc. It wasn’t a super productive response – so 0 out of 10 – I do not recommend him going that route.

Also, the times they are a’changing – Talk about what he feels comfortable sharing in a calm environment before he’s in the spotlight. Let him practice. Pretend you’re a classmate, so that he gets to practice his answer when someone says, “if that’s your mom, who is this?” But also know that at 6, kids may not even care. Lots of kids come from blended families or have same-gender parents, so it might not even be on a 6 year old’s radar to ask. People are in so many diverse family situations nowadays. My friend who teaches elementary school says they refer to “your adult(s)” rather than parents.

Reality – Honestly just let them ask questions and him answer. Kids are better at this than you would think. What gets bad is when adults bring shame into the situation. If you act like questions shouldn’t be asked or the answers are bad then that’s what will bring shame into it. 

And regarding transracial adoption (hinted at in the graphic above) – My girls are 17 and 19. I am white they are Black and adopted. They feared telling their story but also got really tired of kids asking why their mother was white. When my younger one was in 2nd grade she told her story. She did not have any pictures of her true family because we don’t know who they were. She came home beaming. The kids asked very tough questions and she was unflinching. She then grew up with these kids no longer wondering why her mother is white. It was behind her. IF there is no shame in being their mother, there is no shame in them being able to tell their story.

And all adoptees are not the same – Ohh, this is a hard one. I hated when kids used to ask questions. It would make me so uncomfortable. (still does haha). I would just gently remind him that he doesn’t have to answer any questions he doesn’t want to answer and that he only has to give out the details he feels like sharing! And this is true – most questions come from pure curiosity rather than mean intent.

Having an idea of what to say can help – I always told my daughter that it’s her choice what she wants to share and her choice whether or not she wants to answer questions about it, but to be prepared that people WILL ask questions. I gave her some phrases to use if she didn’t want to answer certain things such as ‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’. I had to explain to her that most people don’t understand adoption much less open adoption and they will ask invasive questions even though it may come from an innocent place. I think preparing kids for other people’s reactions is important.

It commonly happens in school these days that children are asked to do family trees which can feel awkward to an adoptee. Here’s how one family dealt with that – In kindergarten my class did family trees, and I didn’t know who my first family was. My mom helped me with practice answering questions about adoption and we made up a song about adoption to help my classmates understand. There were 3 other kids adopted in my class so my mom came in and our entire class learned about adoption, I sang my song, classmates asked me questions and mom answered the ones I deferred to her. I loved sharing my story and it made me feel comfortable and not as “different” after. I’d let your kids know it’s also okay if they don’t want to share either.

It’s okay to be cautious. Just be careful not to place your anxieties on your kid. Have a conversation about how they are feeling. Ask for them to “perform” for you since you can’t be there. Ask them how they feel about adoption, what’s something they are excited to share, if they have any questions. But mostly express that you’re excited for them to show off their WHOLE family.

The Fog

In adoptee centric communities, one quickly learns about “the fog”. This is the feel good narrative that adoption agencies and adoptive parents “feed” their adopted child. Many adoptees never come out of the fog. Most do not come out until maturity, maybe when they give birth to a biological child genetically related to them and begin searching the adoption related literature, a prominent one is The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. This is the preverbal, subconscious trauma experienced by a baby when they are taken from the mother who gestated them and then gave birth. It matters not a lot whether this separation occurs immediately after birth or months later. My parents were 6 mos and 8 mos old at the time they were separated from their mothers – so preverbal. The trauma is real and has ongoing effects.

So, I was attracted to an article in The Guardian titled Brain fog: how trauma, uncertainty and isolation have affected our minds and memory in the Health & wellbeing section by Moya Sarner. A feeling of brain fog has become more common as a result of the collective trauma of the COVID pandemic. It is described as a feeling of being unable to concentrate. There’s this sense of debilitation or of losing ordinary facility with everyday life.

It could be helpful for an adoptee to understand that this feeling isn’t unusual or weird. There isn’t something wrong with you. It’s a completely normal reaction to a seriously traumatic experience. This can affect you ability to problem-solve, your capacity to be creative in the face of life’s challenges. There can be a lot of different factors that taken together and interacting with each other, can cause these impairments, attentional deficits and other processing difficulties. Humans have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.

For an adoptee, it is life changes such has giving birth that can begin the process of waking up from the fog. The adoptive parents dying, so freeing the adopted child from a need to remain loyal to the people who cared and nurtured them growing up that may kindle a need for their own personal truth. Who were the people that gave them life ? Are they still living ? What is the background story ? Are there other genetic relations ? What can they learn about their familial medical history ? What is their cultural identity ? Waking up to the reality of who the adopted person actually is.

Brain fog is a common experience but it’s very complex. It is the cognitive equivalent of feeling emotionally distressed; it’s almost the way the brain expresses sadness, beyond the emotion. One needs to think about the mind, the brain, the immune and the hormonal systems to understand the various mental and physical processes that might underlie this consequence of stress.  

When our mind appraises a situation as stressful, our brain immediately transmits the message to our immune and endocrine systems. These systems respond in exactly the same way they did in early humans – with what may feel like an irrational fear.  The heart beats faster so we can run away, inflammation is initiated by the immune system and the hormone cortisol is released. A dose of cortisol will lower a person’s attention, concentration and memory for their immediate environment. 

An experience of the fog is one of the most disturbing aspects of the unconscious. Recognizing the fog is our body and our brain telling us something, a signal – an alarm bell. We should stop and ask ourselves, why am I feeling this way ? What is the trigger ? What is the source ?  The idea is that we have a force inside us that is propelling us towards life. What has been hidden from us is now pushing us into a discovery. To make connections with our familial tribe and seek to expand the meaning of our very own life with the truth. 

The mental weight of our unknowns becomes harder to drag around. We have – at some moment in our lifetime – a will to know something about ourselves and our lives, even when that knowledge is profoundly painful. Paradoxically, there is also a powerful will not to know, a wish to defend against this awareness so that we can continue to live cosseted by lies. An adoptee might chose to live in the misty, murky fog rather than to face, to suffer, the painful truth and horror of their origin situation because the truth of the experience of how and why they were separated from their natural mother is too hard to bear.

We all experience grief, times in our lives where we feel like we can’t function at all. If you find yourself here, may it be mercifully temporary and may you recover from the shocks of reality and move forward, feeling a new wholeness in an expanded identity of yourself.

Every Single Day

Today’s true adoptee story . . . .

Today, my sister flies up to Philadelphia to meet her biological dad and half-siblings for the first time. I am SO excited and happy for her. At the same time, I am sad and jealous.

My biological mom has zero desire to meet me or get to know me. My biological dad claims he had no idea I existed and that it’s impossible for him to have a daughter. He got really mad when my half-brothers brought it up to him.

I am okay with my adoption most days, but today, I am angry.

I hate that there were so many secrets. I hate that I was a secret. I hate that I might never know the truth about my birth and adoption. I hate that no one in my biological family wants to get to know me or meet me.

I hate that I can’t tell my kids who they look like on my family side. I hate that I don’t feel like I belong in my adopted family or my biological family. I hate that everyone thinks it’s so wonderful that I was adopted.

I hate that my adoption was closed. I hate that I am not allowed to have a copy of my own birth certificate. I hate that everyone says that DNA doesn’t matter and love is the only thing that makes a family.

I hate that I have abandonment issues, and I fear that everyone I meet will eventually leave me or be taken away from me.

I hate that my biological mom kept my brothers and not me.

I hate that I am expected to be grateful. I hate that everyone thinks my biological mom did this amazing selfless thing by essentially abandoning me.

Most of all, I hate that I subconsciously think about the fact that I am adopted every single day of my life.

When Circumstances Change

Expectant mothers considering a surrender of their not yet born child to adoption who end up in my all things adoption group are often counseled “don’t choose a permanent solution to what is actually a temporary situation.” Case in point, in today’s story.

So a woman had a baby when she was 19 years old. She surrendered him to adoption because she felt that she could not support herself and so by extension, could not support a child either.

5 years have passed and the original mother recently graduated from college. Throughout his young life, the adoptive mother has allowed the boy and his original mother to have contact with one another.

In a definitely misguided perspective, the adoptive mother encouraged her adoptive son to think of his original mother as a cousin or a friend. The complication here is this is a kinship adoption. The original mom is the adoptive mom’s cousin. 

Well, his original mother can now support herself. At the moment, she wants MORE contact with her son and for him to stay with her a few nights a week.

The adoptive mother is a stay at home mom and she claims her concern is that his original mother would utilize day care for him and only spend time with him at night.

The original mother and adoptive mother are now at opposite ends – the adoptive mother claims that if the original mother loved him so much, she would not have given him up 5 years ago.

The original mother claims it is cruel of the adoptive mother to refuse her request for a few nights a week with her son.

When the original mother brought up her financial struggles at the time the boy was born, the adoptive mother came back with “You don’t get to abandon your child and then decide you want him back 5 years later. I am his mother now.”

The original mother believes, given time, the two of them will bond with one another again and he will begin to think of her as his mother also. It has been proven that children are able to comprehend of more than one woman as being equally both of his mothers.

Now, the adoptive mother has threatened the original mother saying – “If you continue trying to steal him from me, I will stop letting you see him at all.” The reality is – the original mother can not legally undo a finalized adoption – so it is not possible for her to physically steal the child back from the adoptive mother.

One can certainly agree with the concern about putting him in daycare but this “stealing” language is very destructive. No one “owns” their own biological child, much less someone else’s child who one has adopted. He should be allowed to bond with his mom as often as he wants. The child should set any boundaries regarding the rebuilding of a disrupted mother child relationship.

There really has to be another way to satisfy both women. The original mother could pick her son up for the evening and drop him back off with the adoptive mother before work. Rigidity often prevents viable solutions to sticky issues from being considered. Always, the child’s best interests and well-being should be what governs decisions.

The truth is, the original mother did not abandon her child but was doing her best to do what was best for her baby at the time. Unfortunately, whether conscious of it or not, every adoptee has an abandonment wound. Because their original mother did leave them. Pure and simple. Understanding adult complications is not possible until a person is mature and living the realities of life’s hardships themselves.

The honest truth is that visits for the original mother and her child will promote a connection that is critical for the child after having been relinquished. Seeing that no harm comes of it would ease the mind of the adoptive parent. This is a situation in which a professional therapist acting as an intermediary might head off some horrific results. The child will grow up eventually and will know the truth. Better to keep things harmonious during his childhood.

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.

Always Connected

Birth moms never lose their connection, even when the baby has been adopted.

The perspective of many adoptive moms is that they have paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their own baby – the birth mom never mattered in their own calculations.

Inside their savior minds, the baby is now theirs. Adoptive moms tend to make everything about themselves including the adoption. When this graphic appeared in an adoption group, the adoptive moms criticized it as being disrespectful of them. It is also the truth – about every baby ever born of a mother (which all of them are at this time in our civilization – thankfully, we are not Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – yet.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World written in 1932 there is a scene at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre’s Embryo Store, where embryos gestate ectogenetically under dim, red light: “The sultry darkness . . . was visible and crimson, like the darkness of closed eyes on a summer’s afternoon. The bulging flanks of row on receding row and tier above tier of bottles glinted with innumerable rubies, and among the rubies moved the dim red spectres of men and women with purple eyes and all the symptoms of lupus. The hum and rattle of machinery faintly stirred the air.”

Embryos need to develop, a process that for each is best carried on under dim light. But the representations of embryo culture in Brave New World extend the comparison, for they reveal a heavy dependence on a variety of visualization technologies, from microscopy to cinematography. Thus the tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre features “the yellow barrels of the microscopes” lit by the winter sun; the Director’s description of how fertilized ova are transferred, in their embryonic culture solution, “onto the specially warmed slides of the microscopes,” where they are “inspected for abnormalities”; and a description of how x-rays are then used to trigger the process of embryo budding, or “bokanovskification,” which produces up to 96 identical embryos.

Thankfully, we continue to develop inside our mother’s wombs. One can only wonder what human beings devoid of that human connection during development as a fetus would be like but one thing is certain – in such a “brave new world” no mother would have to relinquish her infant to a stranger and any couple who wanted to adopt would have a ready supply but I for one am not willing to go to that world. I hope we never do.

One adoptive mom (bless her clear sighted heart for knowing this much) wrote – I just don’t understand what is so difficult of a concept for adoptive parents to grasp that a human being can love more than one person. Why is it such a big threat for a child to know and love their freaking parents! And how in the hell could this saying be disrespectful? It is TRUE. And just because they(we) are now raising the child does not deem them(us) worthy of more love or any kind of additional respect!

What Gives Me The Right ?

This is a tricky issue that I have encountered here on this blog. What gives me the right to talk about issues related to adoption or foster care ? Am I an adoptee ? No. Have I spent time in foster care ? No. I do have a connection to adoption – Yes, I do. Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters have given up a baby to adoption – but these are not the reasons I have become passionate about the subjects I write about in this blog. I am almost 67 yrs old and honestly, until about 3 years ago, I was in what is called “the fog,” not seeing anything to be concerned about when it comes to adoption. And I needed enlightenment and educating.

So I joined a group where the voices (thoughts) of adoptees and former foster youth are “privileged,” meaning given the most deference. However, in the group are adoptive parents, foster carers, hopeful adoptive parents and oddballs like me. And so, I have read and read and read there. I have bought books to inform me from the perspective of adoptees and former foster youth. And I get it and now I care about family preservation. I know that most parents actually DO want to raise their own children and those children want to be raised by their natural parents. Most of the time, children are removed from their parents over issues of poverty or solvable problems. Many an unwed woman who finds herself pregnant ends up convinced and coerced to surrender her baby – often to her lifelong regret. That happened to both of my natural grandmothers.

So the issue came up in my all things adoption group today. The woman identified herself as being a hopeful adoptive parent when she was younger. currently a teacher and someone who would like to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) when her own kids are a bit older. She admitted that she no other links to adoption. Her question was – Should I stay out of discussions of adoption ? Or should I share opinions that I’ve gained from listening to the members of this group ? When I see posts in other groups or have conversations in real life, I’d like to amplify the voices of adoptees and former foster youth, but I’m wondering if that’s not welcome. She noted in closing – Obviously, you can speak for yourselves on posts like these, but I know it is with emotional labor and at the risk of being gaslighted and all of that.

Someone who tried to speak up was told that she needed a reality check because some adoptees value life and don’t dwell in the past, and that the only trauma is for birth parents who are found years later and have privacy violated. And this is old misinformed thinking. It is the adoption agency line as to why adoptions should be closed and kept secret and it has been proven to be abundantly false by many adoptees who have had successful reunions with their natural parents. Yes, some of these fail or are awkward or come at an inopportune time in a mature adult’s life, especially if they are now married with children from that current spouse. It happens and it is painful and heartbreaking when it does but fear of rejection (which honestly happened to some degree when the child was given up and they know this) is no reason to prevent the effort.

One adoptee shared her own experience – Most first mothers want to be found. Mine was terrified of it but I think she’s glad I found her.

Another one encouraged the effort – Preach it…..pffffftttt on those who fuss ….. remind them that they can not speak for anyone but themselves. The truth will ruffle feathers. That’s ok. I personally don’t mind a dialog about differing view points….but many adoption focused groups don’t want that and delete/block a naysayer.

The one who originally posted the question shared – the adoptive parent I was communicating with felt comfortable speaking on behalf of the child’s birth mother. It bothered me. To which someone else noted – Remind her that it is okay to share her own story but NOT the child’s story! Then it is further revealed –  She also brought up racism her daughter has experienced, so it’s a trans-racial adoption on top of everything. And clear that they are living in a very white neighborhood.

And so, in this particular case, it had become clear that the adoptive mother is wrapped up in some heavy adoption issues. Someone like that becomes so enmeshed, their only recourse is to carry on with adoption speak and in favor of what they created…..a big case of, pretend. That last word is an adoptee’s perspective on what adoption is – someone who pretends to be the parent who birthed you or that they have somehow saved you from a fate worse than death – called saviorism when it is trans-racial adoption.

So, this is partly why I write this blog. To spread some light in the darkness that has been adoption practice for decades as well as share my own personal stories, illustrating one or the other with one or the other. Yes, it has become a cause (family preservation) that I am admittedly passionate about.

A Lie Or Pretend

Someone in my all things adoption group wrote – I think it’s important to recognize that adoption for all parties is literally living a lie or playing pretend. I know my mom who was adopted felt this. She had her DNA tested at Ancestry and was in the middle of creating family trees when it really hit her. Both my mom and my dad were adopted and she realized none of it was real. I now know who the real grandparents are and I do intend to complete each of my parents’ family trees, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

One woman responded – When people get so hung up on I’m real and start lecturing their kid on it I want to laugh. They look like the fool…yeah you’re real but you aren’t “the mother”. Yeah I’m the mother but I’m not raising my kid. Reality, people.

Another woman shared – It is both at different times, yes. It’s also filled with excuses and justifications for the truth. Why can’t we JUST be real about it. Addressing that I really wasn’t “chosen” by my adoptive parents didn’t send me in a tailspin. I was next on the list that fit their criteria. That’s just fact. Could have easily been some other blonde, blue-eyed toddler they ended up raising. I don’t see why anyone would think that’s hurtful. Do adoptive parents really think we don’t know we were given away and them being our parents is a crapshoot? It’s kind of obvious, yet they go through all kinds of gyrations to fluff up the simple facts.

People act like adoptees are oblivious or incapable of handling the truth. Adoptees crave the truth, it’s all they ever want. Honesty. That’s it. Of course, adoptees already know the truth and adoptive parents just need to acknowledge what the adoptee already knows.

Acknowledge and validate. The two most important things to remember.

Someone else needed to add more complex context.

There are children being raised by extended relatives or adopted after a Termination of Parental Rights (assuming good reason). Do you tell these children they are living a lie? Or do you tell them that this is not the first choice, but it is what we have and we can try to make it work. Denying the trauma is living a lie, but I don’t think the family formed afterwards necessarily is. I don’t think every family formed outside of biological relationships is living a lie or pretending.

And sadly, not every family is good for the children born into it. Here’s one such story – I was raised by a very narcissistic mother and a very hands off father except when my mother manipulated him into abusing my brother and I (including putting me in foster care for being suicidal and self harming). I don’t feel towards them the way a child should parents. I lost the woman I actually considered a mom at 12. I personally feel like being a parent is more than giving birth and doing the bare necessities for a child. My parents may have given me everything I could have needed and let me play sports and go to camps, but they severely neglected my emotionally and mentally. I found my family elsewhere in other people. Them not being blood doesn’t invalidate my experience. I personally don’t agree with infant adoption or foster to adopt, but some people who give birth, really should just not be parents.

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

There is a Chinese proverb that states that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name. The term ”adoption” does not do this but rather disguises a series of complex, developmental traumas that begin with relinquishment and continues on, sometimes through challenging episodes of care, to the adaptions necessary to attach to the adoptive family. The legacy of this trauma for the relinquished child is a conflict between wanting to connect and fearing connection. This is often experienced as a hyper vigilance that has an enormous impact on relationships and functioning which can disrupt the ability to be present, with feelings that one is both “too much” and “not enough”.

It is hard to imagine a more devastating wound than a child being separated from its mother at the beginning of life. Trauma is an event that overwhelms ordinary human responses to life and as early separation is a relational trauma it manifests later in life as problems in significant relationships and, more often than not, in attempts at self-regulation through chemical and process addictions.

The impact of trauma on functioning is both physical and psychological: heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline raise anxiety levels leading to difficulties with concentration, while lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, making feelings of shame harder to manage. The trauma victim becomes reactive rather than reflective and experiences disabling feelings around issues of belonging and abandonment. A hunger for attachment means that the capacity for intimacy is compromised by intense and contradictory feelings of need and fear. In relationships there is a belief that they cannot be accepted for who they are and the sufferer is left literally in two minds; at best indecisive and at worst questioning their sanity.

Unlike the computer, the human brain starts working before building is finished. There are 100 billion neurons at birth waiting to make connections based on instructions from life experience. In the first years of life explicit memory systems have yet to be established and the adoption wound is stored, like other early attachment wounds, in implicit memory systems. The unconscious remembers the relinquishment as devastating and makes a mental note to avoid any similar experience at all costs. The conscious mind cannot recall the experience and so has no defense against the old lie that what cannot be recalled cannot have impact. Furthermore, because adoptees have no pre-trauma personality that they can refer to, they develop a false, core belief that their post-traumatic coping behavior, along with the associated shame and anxiety, is in fact their personality.

It is important to understand too that politics and the establishment play, and have played, an enormous part in the psychological wounds of relinquishment and adoption. Traditionally the world of adoption has referred to “the adoption triad” comprising the adopted child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents. However, this term is also misleading and disguises the fourth party in the adoption quartet: The establishment and the adoption business.

The establishment has legislated the assigning of a new identity and the erasing of the birth identity so that it is often not legally recognized. It is as if the adoptive family owns the adopted child. This is a particular issue for trans racial adoptees many of whom, as well as experiencing disconnect between racial self-identification and the racialization of the receiving country, would struggle to obtain a passport from their, or their birth parents, country of birth. Needless to say this has associations with the historic relationships between colonizer and the colonized.

The business of adoption and the industry that facilitates relinquishment and placement comprises state organizations and religious organizations as well as “kidnappers” and “baby finders”. The impact of some of these practices is being revealed.

It is clear that many adoptees have been struggling with a sophisticated, developmental trauma that has been hidden from them and those around them. In many cases it involves a series of traumatic experiences involving attachment changes that are experienced as life threatening. This trauma is hidden from consciousness both by the brain that remembers but cannot recall the events, but also by society that views adoptees as “chosen” and “fortunate”. If mental health is dependent on a commitment to reality, then it is vital that we call these traumas by their proper name. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that change and recovery begin with acknowledgement and continue with the taking of personal responsibility for solutions. Victims don’t recover but those who dare to take uncomfortable, therapeutic actions certainly can.

Inspired by a blog written by Paul Sunderland titled “Relinquishment and Adoption: Understanding the Impact of an Early Psychological Wound”.

Shifting the Narrative

Listening to my favorite weekly inspirational broadcast of the Agape service lead by the Rev Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith, he shared the story of a troubled young man who had been adopted. He had been a difficult child and acted out until . . .

One day, he shifted the narrative of his life from being given away to being given an opportunity. Just that slight shift in perspective made all the difference.

Many adoptees struggle with the sense they were abandoned and rejected. They respond to those feelings generally in one of two ways – by becoming people pleasers or by becoming defiant. An adoptee cannot change the reality that they were adopted.

I was contemplating after some long discussions about the situation of my nephew. Not everyone can see things from my spiritual perspective. However, I came to the realization for him, that he was definitely NOT a mistake. Yes, my sister did something foolish and she compounded her error by not accepting responsibility and facing the truth. I can forgive her because I do know what an awkward situation the whole thing was.

However, it is my belief that my nephew CHOSE to come into this world knowing full well the unique circumstances he was entering through. Certainly, my hearts knows there has been some damage done – to him, to his natural father who was denied an opportunity to have a say in the outcome – but he is a quality young man. My heart believes he will be just fine.

There may be many journeys for him ahead in realizing his full potential but the journey I have taken in the last 24 hours, shifted the narrative for me – regarding my sister and regarding my nephew. I gave generously of my time to that discussion but I am the one who benefited by the effort.

The definition of opportunity is a set of circumstances that make it possible to do something.