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.