Sometimes it is hard for adoptee to find appropriate support. The most obvious venues may cause more harm than good. A therapist not familiar with adoptee issues can try to treat the symptoms but not the core issues. The first hit on a Google search for adoptee support is often adoption.com, which only allows positive adoption stories. This is even more isolating for an adoptee struggling and in need of help.
I attended a 5-hour Catholic Charities triad support. About 18 people showed up, most were adoptees, about 4 were first mothers, 3 family members supporting an adoptee or first mother.
The people there were very welcoming and compassionate. Having done it alone for so many years, there is nothing quite like being in a room of adoptees that have something so fundamental in common. We were removed from our first mother and did not grow up knowing any biological family.
I went in with an open mind. Talking about adoption to non-adopted people generally makes them uncomfortable. Having over a dozen people who want to talk about it seemed like a good idea. Catholic Charities sponsoring the event made me a little wary. My experience with adoption.com taught me that not all claims of support are actually supportive. Since there are so few of us, I decided to take the opportunity to meet more adoptees. It was not exactly my cup of tea, but at least it was tea? In retrospect it felt more like Kool-Aid. The first thing the moderated did was to pass out a quote having to do with “she loved you so much, she gave you away”. This language is problematic for the adopted child who might who might then associate love with abandonment. Even as a young child, I knew it had more to do with inconvenience and shame than being abandon because I was loved so much. It may have been meant to make first mother feel as though they did the right thing and were justified in relinquishing their babies. The hand out was from the moderator and not the adoptees and I was interested in hearing form adoptees and first mothers.
Each person had a chance to speak. It was odd how adoptees generally prefaced what they were about to say by stating how lucky and grateful they were, like it was part of the culture of the group. They seemed to be trying to pacify everyone else in the triad and not allowed to express their own pain, or any complex emotion having to do with adoption. In their pain and confusion often ended up crying. Adoptees were reminded to understand where the first mothers are coming from and the grief of being infertile but seemed to be encouraged to pretend everything was OK. It felt like we were treated like children, not allowed to show our true feelings and always trying to please others.
I went close to last and said, “I’ve been in reunion for a couple years, but the most surprising thing I’ve learned was how being adopted has affected me.”
People looking uncomfortably around the room.
I did not eve say weather it affected me in a good way or bad. Most people seemed to be bracing themselves. It is like no one has heard of such a think and certainly not dared to speak it out loud. I continued, “The book the Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier described many of my behaviors growing up and now still. It helped me so much knowing I was not alone.” The woman next to me started to say she’d like to read it and someone from across the table interrupted her saying, “I read that and I don’t believe it” in a nasty tone, and that was it. I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me, but the hostile reaction was surprising. I sat there for 5 hours trying to be supportive and keep and open mind and that felt like the rejection that I was seeking support for.
It keeps reminding me of this study about children growing up where there is social unrest who have more resilience because they had a clear understanding of the situation. Their parents and teachers told them the trauma they were experiencing shouldn’t be happening. When the children study could participate in social change, they were said to have, “high levels of self-esteem and a deep sense of purpose and control”.
If the trauma is not acknowledged, it is hard to begin healing. Instead, this adoptee community tells them adoption is wonderful and we should be grateful. Not being able to acknowledge that adoption had any affect on my life caused prolonged unnecessary suffering. I felt bad for all these adoptees that came for support, but couldn’t even entertain the notion that any of us were at all affected by adoption. If they were truly fine with their adoptions, they wouldn’t be giving up a Saturday once a month sitting through a 5 hour long meeting.
One person touched on her narcissistic cruel adoptive mother and was met with the same silence. She was the only person that didn’t start with how grateful she was. Not wanting to upset the first mothers in the group by hearing that an adoptee didn’t have a better life, seemed to be the status quo. Being removed from the woman that gave birth to you caused trauma so no matter how great your adoptive parents. We deserve healing; we are not helpless, voiceless children anymore.
I was adopted over 70 years ago. If this event is affecting me today (and it still has that power) then it must be that I have carried something forward from that time. The event itself was over in a relatively short time.
The point is that today, I am not the victim of someone else’s action that happened so long ago. Today, I am affected by my own deeply rooted beliefs, which I formed back then. Neither my natural-parents nor my adoptive-parents drive my dysfunction. I do.
That is not to say that they didn’t cause the event. Certainly they did and they will always be responsible for that. It would be nice if they and society in general had some compassion for what it is like for adoptees but that seems to be in short supply. The very word adoption hides the issue. The issue is not being taken in by another family; it is being relinquished by our first family.
My favorite saying is “Mind is cause, experience is effect.” Unfortunately this is true for adoptees, too.
Paul Sunderland, has a very good youtube talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3pX4C-mtiI ). He talks about adoptees having PTSD. When we have a life threatening event our brain can be rewired. This seems to be especially true for the Limbic System of the brain. It controls our fight, flee, or freeze response. It tries to keep us safe. Since it supports our very survival, it responds quickly and forcefully. The part of our brain that does reasoning and logic is the cerebellum. It takes awhile to analyze, so is not nearly as fast to respond. Our initial response is driven by the limbic system.
When we experienced separation from our mothers it was traumatic. We had no sense of self separate from her. We felt ripped apart and from this trauma we formed a set of beliefs. I suspect that we hold these beliefs in our limbic brain.
1 Before we had a concept of self and other, we were ripped apart.
2 Because of 1 we are afraid to trust.
3 Because of 2 we don’t let others be close to us.
4 Because of 3 we are on our own – if we are lucky we find a therapist or spouse that helps us see ourselves. Sometime we let other adoptees see us and that can help, too.
5 Our trauma occurred preverbal, so the beliefs formed are hard to get at.
I have uncovered a few of the beliefs that I formed with my adoption trauma.
A “Feelings hurt. Don’t”
I shut down my feelings for about 50 years. Recently I heard an interview with Bessel Van der Kolk, who is an expert on trauma. One of the things he said is that trauma often causes a disassociation between body and mind. This felt so validating. I have no memory of trauma, so it is easy for me to minimize the effect it has had on me.
B “I am a mistake.”
Toxic shame – not that I made a mistake – I am the mistake.
C “If you see me then you will throw me away.”
Why I have always been reluctant to let people get close.
D “I am not lovable.”
This affects my ability to feel loved. I am handicapped. I may be loved and suspect I am, but it is hard to let it in. This is devastating.
I feel sure there are other beliefs of the same ilk floating around in my subconscious. Even those that I am aware of are still there in a weakened state.
The problem of discovering these beliefs is that they were written in a language without words and the translation does not come easily.
So, as I see it, what drives my continuing dysfunction is me and my beliefs..
A study of WWII vets showed that the memory response over time of vets who had PTSD and those who did not was significantly different. Those who did not have PTSD moderated their memories over the years. Those with PTSD kept their vivid memory descriptions constant.
We search and search for something to make us whole, or at least stop the pain. We want to fit in somewhere. For some finding our birth families may help, but it seems to me that I don’t really fit there either. There always seems to be a hole, something is missing, we are somehow incomplete. This may be our PTSD frozen memory of being one with our mother. A place we can never go back to.
The adoption community has lost a shining star with the passing of our beloved sister and friend, Jeni Flock. I am so deeply saddened and grieved by this, as are all the people who knew and loved her. She was not only an adoptee rights advocate, but an advocate for human rights, for helping the homeless, for gay rights, and for dignity for all people. She was full of energy and vitality and always had a story to tell, and could always bring a smile to my face. She was just one of those “crazy” people who, no matter what struggles she was facing, put everybody else first. She loved her dog Gracie and her friends and all her big extended family and was just such a shining light in this world.
She will be so sadly missed, so very very sadly missed.
It was just such a shock to hear of her sudden passing – I still don’t know what the cause was, though those of you who knew her, knew of her many health struggles, but I only hope now she is getting the much needed rest and peaces she deserves. Jeni, wherever you are, I hope you are in some place of blissful happiness, and I hope there’s some good booze there, because dammit hooker, you deserve it. Grassy ass.
Love you girl.
I’m sure most everyone is aware of the recent attempt the legislature in Arizona made to legally discriminate against the LGBT community (or anyone, really, if you sit down and think about it) with it’s ridiculous bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to anyone based on religious beliefs. Of course it was aimed at the LGBT community but it was worded in a way that it could have singled out anyone that a particular business owner found objectionable…Jewish persons, single mothers, people with too many tattoos, you name it. Find a reason to “offend” and it pretty much gave free license to discriminate indiscriminately.
Luckily, their governor had the good sense to veto said bill – but this isn’t the only way in which Arizona discriminates against its citizens. Oh no, not by a long shot.
One of our forum members, Mominaz, was doing some research for her own personal search/reunion purposes and dug up this little gem in the Arizona state laws:
An adoptive parent who has not informed an adoptee that the adoptee was adopted may file an affidavit so stating with the court where the adoption took place. The affidavit may be withdrawn at any time by the adoptive parent. If an affidavit is a part of the court record, the confidential intermediary shall not make contact with the adoptee unless the adoptive parent withdraws the affidavit and grants permission in writing or the adoptee has filed an affidavit stating that the adoptee knows about the adoption and wishes to make contact with the birth parent.
Yes, you just read what you think you read. Basically, in Arizona, an adoptive parent can legally lie to their adoptee and keep their adoption a secret, indefinitely (meaning, well into adulthood, there is no age limit specified here) and even if the adoptee is a 50 year old adult, if said adoptee’s adoptive mommy and daddy haven’t told them they are adopted, any confidential intermediary who may be working for another individual (such as the birth parent or birth sibling) may NOT make contact with the adoptee because the adoptive parents have not TOLD them they are adopted.
Legalized lies, folks, right there in black and white. So unless adoptive mommy and daddy have given their permission, even up until said adoptee is a 90 year old great-grandparent on their death bed, the lie is written into law and cannot be exposed without express adoptive parent permission. Talk about treating the adoptee like a piece of property? Or a piece of less-than-human chattel that does not have…what’s the word I am looking for here…oh that’s it, RIGHTS? Yeah. Funny little word, funny little thing we adoptees lose in the process.
But it gets better folks, because when Mominaz brought this up I wanted to read this law myself. And not only does Arizona give adoptive mommy and daddy the right to keep their little adoptling in the dark until death, it also gives the bio-mommy and daddy the express written permission to keep their little bastard a secret. This is the first I’ve ever actually seen it written into law, folks, and this is really, really sad.
A birth parent who has not informed the parent’s biological offspring of the existence of the adoptee may file an affidavit so stating with the court where the adoption took place. The affidavit may be withdrawn at any time by the birth parent. If an affidavit is a part of the court record, the confidential intermediary shall not make contact with the biological sibling unless the birth parent withdraws the affidavit and grants permission in writing or the biological sibling has filed an affidavit stating that the biological sibling knows about the adoptee and wishes to make contact with the adoptee.
So basically, Arizona also gives bio parents the legal right to keep their skeletons in the closet to their other offspring should their little bastard come a’knockin’.
What, exactly, is Arizona so afraid of? Funny how they feel the need to legally keep us away from our biological siblings when they’ve made it impossible to find out we are adopted in the first place. If our adopters don’t even have to tell us we are adopted, and nobody can spill the beans even well into adulthood, it seems like overkill to put these legal protections onto our biological siblings – who, by the way, could very well be well into adulthood themselves, because if you’ll notice, there are no age restrictions on that one, either.
Oh, Arizona, you bastion of human rights suppression. LGBTs, it’s not just you – they hate bastards, too.
So many times on the forum we see new members joining up, overcome by the same issue – that dang adoptee guilt. What is it that makes us feel this way? I know society has a huge hand in this, making it seem as though discovering our roots and contacting family members is somehow akin to cheating on our lovers. Even in the most supportive and open of relationships in the adoptive home, adoptees can feel conflicted and shameful when it comes to that all important decision to seek out their biological roots – yet it is a drive that is natural and even necessary if we are to be whole, healthy human beings. Why do so many people engage in genealogy? Why have so many people spent their lives dedicated to the practice of archaeology? Of discovering the past, unearthing who we are as a species? We as humans have a need to understand our roots – and this does not stop simply because we were adopted into a loving home.
So, for the adoptee who may be reading this and wanting to search, or who may have searched and found and is feeling a whole boatload of guilt, just remember – there is nothing to feel guilty about. You, after all, did not choose to be adopted, you did not choose to lose this part of your life and have it hidden away from you; you did not sign any confidentiality agreements nor did you make any promises or agreements that you would remain forever in the shadows. You were a baby, an infant, or perhaps a young child, but no matter what, you were the one without a choice, and the adults making choices for you knew full well that this very thing could and probably would happen one day. If they say they thought otherwise, well, I’m sorry to say it, but, they are living in a land of delusion.
No, dear fellow adoptee, you are perfectly entitled to want to know where and who you came from. I know that there are going to be road blocks, and people telling you things to make you feel like you shouldn’t, but in the end, they don’t truly know or understand the depth of loss an adoptee feels. You aren’t doing anything wrong; and you are an adult who doesn’t need protecting. People try to infantalize you and present all sorts of horror stories and terrible possible outcomes (she may be a drug addict! He may be a rapist!) But honestly, you’ve probably already considered all these and more, and more honestly, those scenarios are most likely left for the Hollywood big screen. Yes, the outcome may not be pleasant; but, at least you KNOW, and can begin the process of healing; the truth can be dealt with, but we can never find closure from fantasies and dreams.
If it’s guilt from your own adoptive parents you are facing – well, that one is tough, but let me reassure you, this is their own fear and insecurity talking, and nothing that you are doing wrong. I’ve seen this over and over on the forum and it makes me want to scream. No child should have to see to the emotional well-being of their parents, but all too often, in the world of adoption, that is exactly what happens. It’s not healthy and it’s not normal. But try to recognize this if your parents are laying on the guilt trips and using emotional blackmail to try to stop you from reuniting – it is emotional abuse, to put it bluntly, and it is not right. Any decent parent would want their child to be happy, and whole, and healthy – and for an adoptee, sometimes that means finding the people who created them. If an adoptive parent tries to stand in the way of that, well, then they are not being very good parents. They are using their child as an emotional crutch to assuage their own feelings of security and self-worth as parents. And this is not ok.
Just rememeber – your desire to search and reunite is perfectly normal, natural, and innately human. People are naturally wired to be with their own kind and we as a people have a desire to understand our history; so it’s only natural that an adoptee would want to know our very own history; to fill in that Chapter One of our own life story. Nobody but us knows how it feels to look in the mirror and wonder, where did we get our nose, our eyes, our funny eyebrows? Nobody else understands how it is to be in a room full of people and still feel completely alone. Nobody else but us knows the frustration of searching every single face on the street, looking for one that is familiar…
I received an email today from a very concerned adoptive parent, wanting to join the forum so that she could hopefully help her adopted son to deal with his issues surrounding his adoption. She was obviously very worried about him and loves him very much, and felt so bad for her, and for him, and for this whole situation. I kind of led her away from joining the forum herself and instead encouraged her to point him in our direction, but left her with a few tips that I also thought I would share here in hopes that any adoptive parents in a similar situation might gain some insight from.
Now, I’m coming at this from the angle of the adoptee being a grown adult – there are so many nuances to helping children deal with the issues at different ages and whether or not the adoption is open or closed and they have had contact with their biological families – I’m talking a grown adoptee from a closed adoption who has had no contact or information about their family of origin, because this is the situation that I was in and the only one that I can speak from.
But I think first and foremost, you need to let them know it’s ok to talk about it. Don’t bet them over the head about it, but just mentioning that if they want to bring it up, you’ll be there to listen and talk about it is a big first step. And then YOU have to be able to do that without getting defensive or jealous or laying down the guilt trips. And don’t wait around for your adoptee to bring it up, because chances are we never will; we are too afraid to hurt you and so will sacrifice our own well being and happiness in order to make sure you are ok.
Next, don’t infantalize us. I know you will always see your child as your baby but let your grown adoptee make decisions and make mistakes and learn from them and just be grown up human beings. And don’t go joining adoptee websites to try to pathologize your own adopted child. I know you’re trying to help, but if there’s a group for adoptees, point your adoptee in that direction instead. Let go.
If you think your adopted child wants to take that next step and search for biological family, stand back and stay out of the way. Offer support, but do NOT do it for them. (Unless you already have some information, which you should give to them asap). We had no control over anything that happened to us – this is the one thing that we do have some control over, and this is something that is highly personal and is about us and only us – this is not about you, so butt out. If your adoptee wants you involved, they will fill you in, but if they don’t, stay out of it. I know you’re curious and probably want to meet the people who created and look like your child, but believe me, your adoptee will appreciate you SO MUCH more if you can just stay OUT of it and give them time and space and let them bring you into things when they feel ready. This is not a reflection of you or your relationship or their love for you – this is a process of healing for your adoptee and something that most adoptees report needing to feel whole and complete, to “fill in the missing pieces” after a lifetime of not knowing who and where they came from. Remember – this is NOT ABOUT YOU.
And, just, don’t push it. You see your adopted child struggling, and they tell you nothing’s wrong, but you know something is – remember, this is difficult territory for us and a lot of the time WE don’t even know what is wrong because all our lives we have been told how “lucky” and “special” we are and how adoption is “wonderful” and “beautiful.” The messages about adoption are all these pretty pretty things yet all we feel inside is loneliness and hurt and anger. Talk about a mind-fuck! We often feel isolated and strange, like, why am I feeling this way, when I should be feeling so grateful and happy? We don’t usually know any other adoptees so we have no other people to relate to with our feelings. Everyone else in our lives are so happy and love us and are so happy we came into their lives. For international adoptees, this can be compounded by issues with race and identity. It’s hard living with people who look nothing like you, have interests and talents that are nothing like yours. You feel like freak, a wierdo, because you just don’t relate to anyone in your household. It is very, very stressful and it really does set you on edge every moment of every day.
You need to have dialogue with your adoptee, open, honest, without getting defensive, without the flowery adoption words or without the cautionary tales of where we could have ended up had we not been adopted. You need to let them open up about their feelings and just be there to listen without judgment, without offering any platitudes. A simple, “I’m sorry” will go a long way. Nobody allows us to grieve our losses – if we had lost our families of origin due to a horrific fire or plane crash, people would be more sympathetic to that loss; but because we lost them to adoption, suddenly our losses are beautiful and we should be grateful. It’s truly a twisted, twisted thing.
Communication is a good start; open, honest, non-judgmental communication. From there, let the adoptee decide, but let the adoptee lead. Learn to let go, let them steer their own course, and just be there to listen should they need it. And, when the time is right, they will bring you closer.
I’d like to make a plug for a new site (and a beautiful one, at that!) designed for the Latino adoptee community. Thank you to Jacqueline for bringing this to my attention! Please go check out her amazing page at http://ojosonline.org/ And spread the word!!
The crew over at Pound Pup Legacy are once again taking nominations for their annual Demons of Adoption award. It’s time to cast your vote! This is the seventh year they have been giving this dubious award, and I urge you to make your voice heard.
I know who I voted for – but I don’t want to sway anybody’s choice one way or the other.
Here’s the link, go cast your vote for your, er, favorite adoption bad guy!
Just please, for the love of God, stop.
I know that you think you love Veronica and you think you are entitled to be her parents. You probably even think she loves you too and remembers you from the short time she was with you from infancy.
But as an adopted person, I want to implore you, to please, just take a moment, and listen to what I have to say.
This entire case has become such a circus. From those of us watching on the sidelines, and I admit nobody really knows the intimate details as you and the Browns, but honestly, do you really think that taking a little girl from a family who loves and wants her is going to turn out well for anyone? Just try, try for HER sake, to put yourselves in her shoes. For one moment, close your eyes, imagine that you are your 4 year old selves, and you are in your home with your loving parents, you are happy and safe and loved, and somebody is threatening to take you away from that. How would you feel? How would that make YOU feel? Would you want to leave your parents, your family, to go live with someone you may or may not have strong memories of, at that tender age?
I am speaking as an adoptee here, and I want to tell you, that being an adoptee is hard. It is no fun growing up in a family that is not your own. You yearn daily for that biological connection – to look like someone, to act like someone, and you really do wonder, daily, why you were given away. In Veronica’s case it will be in her face daily because she will never, ever be able to escape the stories and the news media. She will know what happened to her, and she will know that you willfully took her from a father and a family who loved her and wanted her. How do you suppose that will make her feel? How do you think she will really, honestly feel about that? Have you thought about that at all through any of this? Have you?
I can tell you how she will feel. She won’t thank you, she won’t be grateful, she won’t love you for it. She will hate you, she will resent you every moment of her life until she is old enough to leave your home and never look back.
If I were her? If you were my parents and I knew that you and done this in order to adopt me? I would be gone the moment I could get away.
What do you think she will will think of the documentary you are allowing Troy Dunn to make of all of this? What do you think she will think of the media circus being filmed around what will be the most painful parts of her young life? How will you explain to her that you purposefully invited this man into your lives, and by extension, hers, to expose to the world what you feel is your daughter as she goes through the most vulnerable and painful transition of leaving behind a father, grandparents, and sister whom she does love, and has to see them being maligned and slandered and even threatened with jail? Sure, your supporters may love this grandstanding, but how about Veronica? After all, these are her family, and she loves them. You hurt them, you hurt her. I hope you realize that. And all this media circus you are creating will live on, on the internet, for a very, very long time. She will know what you did.
I just hope you realize that in your quest to gain a child you are going to drive that child away. You need to step back and look at the whole picture. Put yourselves in her little pink shoes. Set aside your own desires and needs for once and think of what’s right for her. Be a real parent, and do what’s right for Veronica. No child should be adopted if it’s not absolutely necessary, and in her case, it’s absolutely not necessary. She loves her dad, she loves her family, so leave her where she is. Find peace with that and know that she’s happy, and be content with it. A true parent would want what’s best for their child – and this IS what’s best for her.
A concerned adoptee