Vulnerable, Disappointed, Exposed

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So, it’s been several months since I’ve written. I would like to say it’s because most days being adopted has no impact on my life whatsoever, and I don’t even think about it. But, that would not be true. I mean, yeah, some days being adopted means nothing more than I have lots of parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, etc. But that’s not why I haven’t written. I haven’t written because…

It all started in mid summer. My (adoptive) dad had a heart attack and needed to have stents placed in a couple of arteries. That was…weird. My dad has been really healthy for my entire life, so it was odd to see him in a hospital bed with wires and machines and all. But I didn’t realize how vulnerable it made me feel until I contacted my (natural) dad to give him an update and he said that he’d been really sick too. My (natural) dad has Type 1 Diabetes, so not feeling well is part of the daily routine most of the time, but this was different, and I knew it. Both dads are…mortal. Not good. Not good. After a few weeks of feeling out of sorts over the whole thing, both dads began recovering and I felt less vulnerable. But then this happened…

Over the course of a few weeks of mindless television watching, I heard the following phrase (or an equivalent) at least three times – “I would be okay with adopting kids, but I want the first one to be from us….” And there it is! The disappointing reminder that the “chosen” narrative isn’t quite as nice and neat as we all want to think in the world of adoption. I have thought (and thought) about the right way to explain this, and all I can conjure is a grade school narrative. At times, adoption feels to me like being chosen last on the playground only to end up on the winning team. I mean, it’s cool I get to be on the winning team, but it still stinks not to be picked first. And while I was blessed with a wonderful family in my adoption experience, I still wasn’t picked first – by either of my families, in fact – so it still sucks when I’m reminded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m cool with the fact that an individual knows he/she wants to have biological children before adopting. I am even more cool with the fact that they will acknowledge it and not try to act like having biological children doesn’t matter to them. And it’s my fault I over-think everything about my experience. But it still stinks. And I was going to write about it  a couple of months ago, until…

I often read old posts before I begin a new one. Helps me see if I’m covering new ground or re-hashing old material. So, when I began to write about being “chosen,” I read a bit and began feeling exposed, I guess. I’m sure that those of you who read this blog, but don’t know me, have no idea how hard it is for me to write anything about thoughts/feelings of a personal nature. It’s like torture. I guard ME with fierce intensity. So, coming off of feeling vulnerable and disappointed, exposed was just too much. So, I’ve been quiet. Hiding behind the wall I’ve built over time. And not just on here. I’ve withdrawn in other aspects of my life because that’s what I do when I feel exposed.

But I began this blog for a reason. And that reason was to share my thoughts as an adoptee in hopes that others can see things in a new way. And I can’t do that if I refuse to write. So, here I am…having felt vulnerable, disappointed, and exposed. And now you know. And it pains me to have told you, but I hope someone can read this and say, “Yeah, I’ve felt that too” and maybe that commonality will make them feel better.

 

 

Adoption, Reunion, and Forgiveness

Forty years into my life as an adoptee and three years into my life as an adoptee reunited with natural family, I have come to an interesting revelation. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the concept of forgiveness. Yes, I’ve experienced wrongs against me, and I’ve addressed those matters with people, and I’ve said “I fogive you” and I think I have forgiven them, but I’ve never had to forgive something really big in my life. Until now. 

Here’s the thing about being adopted. Your story always begins with someone (in my case, two someones) giving you up. We use a ton of fancy words for it and provide lots of affirming explanations for why it happened, but the fact is your beginning is an end. And endings are painful, even if they are for the best. And for me, the pain was real. Often unspoken. Frequently ignored. Rarely understood. Always stuffed down. But real. Because no matter how much I believed that my natural parents loved me and did the best they could for me in allowing me to be raised by other people, I still felt abandoned. Not worth choosing. Not worth fighting for. Hurt. And those feelings don’t go away easily. Depsite the fact that my natural mom gave up her whole life in FL and moved to WV to build a relationship with me. And despite the fact that my natural dad has opened his heart/mind to a relationship with me. And despite the fact they both tell me and show me that they love me. The hurt fades, but it doesn’t disappear. 

So, now I think I understand a little more about forgiveness. Because some days, I look at my mom (and my dad) and still feel the pain of a child relinquished. I still feel the hurt (though not as strongly) that has marked an internal struggle for my entire life. And I think how easy it could be to write her (and my dad) off as the source of all that hurt. But then I look in her eyes (and his too) and see the person who lives with the pain of having hurt me and I think about the relationship we have already forged, and the hope of that relationship growing. And I think forgiveness is the only way that I can get out of my own way to enjoy relationships with people that God gave me as family and has blessed me with an opportunity to make that mean more than just sharing genetics. 

Becky

Thoughts from the Darkness

It’s 3:35 a.m. in Memphis, TN, and sleep eludes me. Perhaps I’m just excited about watching my alma mater take the football field later today. Maybe it’s my husband’s snoring. Or it could be spending a couple of days in my birthplace has me (unusually) reflective. Whatever the cause, it is readily apparent I won’t be sleeping much tonight, so I’ll write about some thoughts I’ve had over the past few months.

It all started when an adoption blogger I follow wrote about her repressed anger at her natural parents. She and her natural family had already reunited when she sought counseling for her adoption-related issues and it was during those sessions that she discovered how angry she was at her natural family. To her credit, and that of her natural family, they stuck with one another during the process of working through those emotions, and remain in relationship.

After reading that post, I began to wonder if I’m angry at my natural mom and dad and just haven’t addressed those emotions. I’ve reflected on this question for several months, and here’s my take on the matter.

I’ve often joked that anger is my emotion of choice. But there’s much truth in that statement. In my opinion, anger is much easier to address than hurt, disappointment, and a large range of other emotions. My anger, in particular, is easy to deal with most of the time. It burns white-hot for a few seconds and then disappears. Because it’s an emotion of choice, I can summon anger at any moment – and I’m sure to those who have seen my anger expressed – it may seem to appear out of nowhere. I suspect those who have seen my anger also associate it with my ability to be cold and calculating – as those two tendencies often appear shortly after my anger has been expressed.

I think for many people, anger is a last resort emotion. I think those people are disappointed, hurt, etc. and then they get to the point that anger is the only emotion left, and that’s when they express it. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I almost always get angry first (which may or may not be noticeable to the person at whom my anger is directed), and if I can address it myself by reasoning through the situation, that’s where the issue ends. All those other emotions are messy, and I don’t like to deal with them, so I choose not to do so. Unless I’m pushed. And that’s where things get messy.

If someone continues to do things that bother me, I can’t continue to reason through that fact in my own mind with anger as my filter because I begin to wonder if their actions are somehow a reflection on me. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe they don’t really care about me like they say they do. Maybe they don’t care about me at all. And that’s when I actually begin to process those other emotions. When that happens, my survival and control tendencies work overtime. In exasperation and desperation, I begin to pull back and that’s actually when I become cold and calculating. It’s not an act of anger, but an act of pain and my unwillingness to experience that over again at the hands of the same person.

I think that is one of the reasons it took me so long to finish the process of finding my natural family. I wasn’t angry at them, but I didn’t want to risk being rejected. Before I finally made the decision to search for them, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if they didn’t want a relationship with me, and I decided I could just be angry, but I think there would have been a lot more to it than that simple emotion. Thankfully, I never had to find out because both of my natural parents were willing to have a relationship with me. And lots and lots of other natural family members were as well.

So, do I have repressed anger at my natural parents? No, I don’t. How could I? They did the only reasonable thing they could do under the circumstances (see how easily anger can be resolved through reason?). But I do have repressed hurt that gets repaired each day as I build a relationship with them. And I think that’s complicated and messy and, sometimes, exhausting, but I guess it’s the way it has to work and I believe it’s worth it.

Time to get some sleep,
Becky

Why I’m a Control Freak

I’m on vacation this week in Hilton Head, SC. It takes the solitude of a place like Hilton Head to open me up to write this blog post. I’ve been thinking about it for several months, but I just haven’t been able to muster the peace or courage or insanity or whatever it is that I’ve needed to write. Until now.

When I started first grade, I cried every day when my dad dropped me off at school. I don’t mean the tearful goodbye of a little kid who’s going to miss her parents for a few hours. I mean the screaming, holding onto his leg type of crying of a little kid who’s desperately afraid she wouldn’t see him again.

By that point, I already knew I was adopted and that knowledge messed with my world. Before you lash out about telling children too young, I want you to know I forced my parents into the conversation with questions they couldn’t answer without being open about my adoption, and they did a great job of explaining the whole thing. Adoption was and is part of my reality, and my parents felt it was important to acknowledge that fact and I am thankful they did.

It’s difficult for a little kid going to school for the first time not to have irrational fears. But mine were different; they weren’t completely irrational because they were built in some reality. For all the right reasons, my natural parents chose not to raise me. I was told that fact from the first time my parents told me about my adoption.

But when you’re a kid, that means other people can decide not to raise you too, and when I went to school each morning, I was afraid that’s the decision my parents would make while I was at school. I envisioned them just deciding not to pick me up. So I would be “that kid” who sits on the school bench, waiting for someone who is late to get them, but my situation would be different because my someone just wouldn’t be coming at all.

My parents always came, but I still believed it would be possible for them to decide not to and in my head that could happen at any time. All that seems silly now, as an adult, after I’ve heard my natural parents talk about their respective decisions, and witnessed the agony of the decision for my natural mom, who still can’t talk about the whole process without getting emotional.

But who I am at 38 is shaped by who I was at 5, and I like to be in control because it ensures that I will never be “that kid” – physically or emotionally. I protect that part of me with every fiber of my being. I see that 5 year old every time I think about whether I can trust someone. I see that 5 year old every time I consider whether I should reveal my heart to friends and even family. I see that 5 year old every time I think about letting someone else have any semblance of control in my life. I see that 5 year old and I think it’s my responsibility to protect her.

I’ve lived 38 good years on this earth. I have a few close friends, and they are the best I could ever ask for in my life. I have married a wonderful guy, who I love deeply and who loves me despite my weaknesses. I have families (adopted and natural) that I love with all of my heart and who love me.

But I hold part of myself back – even from my friends, and my husband, and my families. And I think they know it. And I think they respect it. And I think they hope one day I won’t. And I think they will love me even if I do. And I think it’s something I want to change. And I think it’s something I may never be able to change. But I’m trying. And I think that’s worth something.

The Primal Wound – Bonding with a Different Mom

Please bear with me by reading 4 quotes from “The Primal Wound” as they are important to what I intend to write tonight.

“An infant or child can certainly attach to another caregiver, but the quality of that attachment may be different from that with the first mother, and bonding may be difficult or, as many adoptees have told me, impossible.” (The Primal Wound, page 19)

“An adoptive mother may be at a disadvantage in coping with the affective behavior of her child, for she doesn’t understand the form or depth of his grief or the limitations placed upon her as his mother. The infant has missed something which cannot be replaced even by the most motivated of adoptive mothers.” (The Primal Wound, page 20)

“It has been shown that regardless of the intellectual reasons a child has been given for his relinquishment, there are often feelings of betrayal, anger, resentment and sadness, which are projected onto the available mother-figure.” (The Primal Wound, page 56)

“Sometimes there is a sense of responsibility toward the unborn natural child of the adoptive parents. Dorothy says that she always tried, but never quite ‘lived up to my mother’s expectations of what her own daughter would have been like.'” (The Primal Wound, page 65)

I love my mom – my adoptive one. She has been a great mom and caregiver. She never made my feel “adopted” because she treated me just like she treats my brother, who is her natural child. But I have never bonded with her at the level that I see most mothers and daughters bond (or even at the level of bonding that I see between her and my brother), and it has been a source of concern for me for a long time.

Mom has said (to me and others) that I “took out” on her what my “birth mom did” – meaning that I treated her poorly because of my adoption. I have consistently bristled when I’ve heard this for several reasons. First, I didn’t feel that I treated her poorly – I had the same growing pains that most kids do, but I never intentionally did anything to be disrespectful to her. Second, I thought that what my natural mom did was a good thing (and had been told it was), so I found it difficult to understand how I could be taking anything out on my adoptive mom when the whole adoption process was supposed to be good. Third, I couldn’t understand how what I was doing was any different from my brother, so how could I be acting out based on my adoption when he’s not adopted?

Now, I think I understand. My mom knew something didn’t feel right. She had a natural child. She knew what that bonding felt like. She’d have to know, right? Moms just know that stuff. But I suspect I felt different to her – not because of her, but because of me. Well, really because of the separation from my natural mom and the reaction I would have had to it as a baby. But, you get the point. Something was different, and she knew it.

I knew it too, but I didn’t understand it. I thought it was because we are so different and because moms bond more with sons and dads bond more with daughters. But I’m sure those are explanations I created in my head to deal with an issue that made no sense to me. And, despite bristling against the suggestion that I was somehow mistreating my mom, I admit I have felt bad about this matter most of my life. While I never tried to live up to the image I had in my head of what her natural daughter would be like, I wished my mom could have had a natural daughter who would be more like her. And, yet, was hurt when I saw that natural bonding play out in genetically stamped relationships with my brother’s daughters – hurt not because they had it, but because I didn’t.

I love my mom – strongly and deeply. But I know we are not as bonded as we could have been. And, in fact, I have to ask myself if I ever truly bond with anyone in the manner that most people bond. But that is another post for another day. Today, I finally get why things have been a challenge for my mom and me – I get it and I let the frustration of it go, so that I can just love my mom the way I love. I think that will be enough.

The Primal Wound – Abandonment

A friend (who is an adoptive parent) recently suggested I read “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Newton Verrier. I have read numerous books about adoption, but most focused on search and reunion processes because I began reading as I was seriously considering my search (again) a couple of years ago. While Verrier’s book includes information about search and reunion, the core of the book is about the impact abandonment has on babies. I marked significant passages in the book and will likely write several posts about my reactions to those passages. I have not spoken much about the “wound” that I experienced as an adoptee, but I hope doing so now will give me peace in the matter and serve as a reminder to all adoptees that someone understands. Here goes…

The adoption process – a beautiful, loving experience – always begins with an abandonment. Those are not the exact words in Verrier’s book, but that’s how I interpreted what I read. Abandonment. It’s a word we don’t like to throw around much in relationship to adoption, which is why my adoptive parents took great pains to explain to me that only a mom who loved me so much could actually give me to another family. Turns out, they were right. My natural mom made her decision because she believed I would be better off with a two-parent family. But the abandonment occurred nonetheless.

As a kid, I intellectually acknowledged this loving natural mom who gifted me to my family, but emotionally I couldn’t help but process the feelings of it too – I was abandoned. Period. At times, I was so concerned about being abandoned again that I was basically paralyzed. I cried every day of first grade because I was afraid my parents wouldn’t pick me up from school. Literally cried. And made myself sick because I was so worked up. I waited anxiously every single day for a car I recognized because that was another day I would have a family. My adoptive parents never gave me any legitimate reason to question whether they would be there, but I questioned it anyway and likely drove them crazy trying to find solutions to my angst.

Verrier explores the power of the abandonment from an interesting perspective – it’s based on the bond a baby feels to her mother. A bond that is deep and strong regardless of whether the baby ever saw the mother or was held by the mother. The 40-week pregnancy experience is the source of the bond and allows the baby to know its mother’s smell, voice, touch, and, interestingly, allows it to pick out it mother’s face from a gallery of photos within minutes after birth (see page 5 referencing work by Dr. David Chamberlain). I wouldn’t have understood this idea prior to reuniting with my natural mom, but I get it. I get it because there is something about her voice that is soothing and washes peace over me – and it happened the very first time we spoke. We both wonder if it’s because of the countless hours she spoke to me while she was pregnant.

In my experience, abandonment is real. And it doesn’t go away. I still have abandonment anxieties that are played out in my every day life. For example, I have very few friends. That is driven, in part, by the fact that I am an introvert, but a piece of it is because I don’t allow myself to engage with people I don’t trust to keep me in their lives for a long, long time. Another example is in relationships. I have sabotaged several dating relationships because I was going to be the one doing the leaving. I knew it at the time, though I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I didn’t feel like I had other good choices. Now, I am married to a great guy who, even in our toughest times, has never talked about giving up, but I have talked about throwing in the towel several times so that if he says “yes” it was really my idea. Intellectually, the whole thing is bizarre. If abandonment is so bad, why would I be willing to do it to someone else? But that’s just the thing. Abandonment isn’t about intellect. It’s about emotion. Emotion that comes from a child, a baby even. And that isn’t logical. And it’s all about self-preservation.

If you are the loved one of an adoptee who is dealing with these issues, please be patient with him/her. And if you are an adoptee and are experiencing these feelings, please know that other people have experienced them too. The wound is legitimate. And it’s okay to talk about it.