Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our First Union

We seek love, because of that very first union we had with another person – our mother.  Of course, at birth, it was necessary for us to separate physically from her, in order to grow and develop further.  Even after birth, and more importantly still, if we are totally separated from her – taken away from her and given to a complete stranger (as in adoption) to raise us – very deep within us, we know her still.

In the womb, we heard her voice, experienced her emotions, tasted the foods she preferred flavoring the amniotic fluid that cushioned us from the blows of a harsh world.  We were ever intimately connected to all the interior sounds, her heartbeat and other organs functioning.  They say a pregnant woman is a totally different gender from the typical male/female divide.

Though we celebrate our mother’s love in May, the month of February is full of constant reminders of the importance of love.  We send Valentine’s to other people, even children do this as they celebrate the day in school and church.  We remember to tell people we love them.

Yesterday was my own mother’s birthday.  I lost her to death in 2015.  The years fly by so quickly.  Most years on her birthday, I called her up on the telephone and we would talk for a very long time.  During a difficult time in my life, I remember going into the darkened kitchen to cry alone in my deep despair.  Suddenly, she was there.  Her maternal sense knew I needed comforting.

My mom was taken away from her mother after a brief visit.  Her desperate mother was struggling to find a way to support the two of them.  The father (she was married) inexplicably did not answer when her cry of distress through the Juvenile Court in Memphis was issued.  I like to believe he didn’t get the message in time to prevent my mom from being taken from her own mother by exploitation and unbearable pressure (surrender your child or be declared unfit by my good friend the Juvenile Court judge said Georgia Tann, the master baby thief, to my grandmother).

Separating a child from their original mother causes deep wounds.  I grieve that our country cruelly does this to migrant children.  It is an abomination.  Truly.