Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Un-Angry Adoptee and Adoption Guilt

~ By Barbara J McArtney

I was relinquished at birth to a local agency and adopted at 6 weeks of age. I was told by my Parents that my birth Parents "gave me up" because they were unmarried college students. My Parents adopted following the death of their second born son and simultaneous loss of my Mother's fertility. I am also a Mother of seven including two internationally adopted children with some special needs. When I was a child, I always thought I would adopt someday.

Being adopted was not especially traumatic for me though I think I sensed I was somehow 'different' in some indefinable way. I also had the uncanny knack as a child of being able to recognize an unseen quality in others that signaled to me that they too were adopted. As I grow older and observe the issues in my own adopted children I recognize more of the impact of adoption upon myself however subtle.

I experienced the typical hurtful comments as a child from others such as "How sad that you don't have REAL Parents" and "They can't love you like a REAL child". These comments made me angry as much as sad as I didn't know how to make them understand that these WERE my REAL Parents. My Parents loved me completely and just as much as my biologically born brother. I didn't doubt that then or now.

When the time was ripe, I tossed "You're not even my REAL Parents" at them just to turn the knife a little and sadly, it did hurt them just as I intended as a snotty, rebellious teen. Such comments roll off my back with my own kids who tried it once or twice. I informed them that I was very absolutely their Mother forever, like it or not, and felt free to punish them as such. Having missed the mark, they haven't tried it since.

I've wondered about my biological roots: Who did I look like? Who did I act like? Would they have kept me if they had been older? But I can honestly say I didn't brood about it. Though I had my given birth name and a city of origin, I never searched beyond signing up with a registry. It has always been something "I will get to when I have time". And I'm 51 now!! Am I avoiding it? I have had my Parents blessing, even encouragement to do so since I become an adult. Sometimes I worry it might be a bad idea given my internationally adopted kids may not have the option. We are the "adopted people" in the family - our own little sub-group. We even say so of our abandoned dog we acquired. We share this identity which makes it comfortable and normal.

I watched the experience of others who relinquished children for adoption and the emotions they felt and the aftermath of it. I considered the pain my Mother in particular probably felt. Was she pressured? I don't know if she regrets it. I don't know if she wants to meet me. Even if she does, she may not be trying much harder than I, since she has not signed up with the state registry. She may be dead by now. Am I wrong not to try harder? Would I be forcing myself into the life of a now elderly person who may view that portion of her life as history she would prefer to forget? Would I be giving her a wonderful gift to tell her it all turned out all right for me? Or would that be rubbing salt in the wound? Part of me feels I should try before it is too late. I owe it to both of us. The other part……doesn't seem to get around to it.

My Father died last month. We were very close and he was especially close to my two youngest and adopted children. Ironically, he was always uncomfortable about my adoption and that bothered me. He viewed it as a very private and highly sensitive matter- a source of shame? Both he and my Mother always seemed to think that I spoke too freely and too often of adoption with my kids. My youngest is mildly handicapped and my Dad's single minded devotion got him to accomplish things no one thought were possible. His death is a huge loss for my one son especially. Does he have another Grandpa out there? Am I wrong to deny my son that opportunity? What wounds might it open for a man in his 70s? What wounds might it heal? Is it selfish and shallow to consider looking for another Grandpa now when his "real" Grandfather is gone? In 1956, a young man wouldn't/couldn't raise a baby on his own. If my Mother and her family decided to "put the baby up for adoption" that would have been that. How does he feel 51 years later? Is it respecting their initial choice to sever this relationship for me to search? Would this just be opening Pandora's Box I honestly don't know.

I've been informed by some I'm in denial about how I feel about my adoption. Apparently, I'm deeply wounded whether I know it or not. I disagree and resent being told that. I wouldn't tell another adoptee that their adoption shouldn't be a big deal for them or they are not in genuine pain over it. Every situation is different. Is there a primal wound in me? I doubt it's possible for a child to be separated from her Mother without psychological consequences. But I don't personally find that wound to be devastating. I was fortunate to have landed in such a great life given my initial loss. Not everyone is so lucky.

There is a wide variation in the adoptive experience. Being adopted at 6 weeks from an institution is not the same as being adopted at age 10 after having lived with Your First Family for a long time. Such circumstances bring a whole range of painful issues that can interfere with bonding and attachment and the adjustment of Parents and child. This sort of adoption can be devastating and leave a child traumatized and angry.

I don't view adoption from the perspective of what is right or fair. Life isn't fair. To suffer trauma following birth whether it is separation from Parents via adoption or months in an incubator or being sick in a hospital for months as a child or living through the death of one or more parents or loved ones is not a singular event. It is human history. Loss is part of life and no one gets through unscathed. Early loss is tragic for a child but it happens. The longer the loss continues, the more damage and hurt. Our job as adults is to help our children grieve, heal and accept. The job of the child is to cope and move into the life they have, not the one they might have had. Hopefully, their life is a good one with good Parents.

Adoption is definitely a positive aspect of a largely negative event. I personally acknowledge but don't dwell on the loss sustained by my birth family. I speak to my children of the sadness that must have been there for their birth families, a difficult choice they had to make because of their unfortunate circumstances.

I obviously don't speak for those families. I know I offend some by using the term "Birth Family". A part of me resists the new preference that they be respected by the use of language that calls them simply "Parents" or "First Parents" or "Original Parents". I think it creates confusion to say "Parents" for both biological and adoptive Parents except in contexts where it is obvious which is intended. I additionally think it is demanding a status equal to adoptive Parents who do the parenting. I just can't call them my "First Family", because in my personal experience, they were never that. I mean no disrespect in this denial. I don't mean to be insensitive. I just don't feel like it's my truth. My Birthmother gave birth and left me. My Birth Father gave sperm and left her. I stayed for 6 weeks in an infant home until my Adoptive Parents came and have been there through thick and thin since. I feel phony and like I'm caving into pressure to be politically correct to call them my "First Family". For others, it may be totall a perfect description. But I feel the circumstances must dictate the use of the adjective describing what sort of Parent one is. From my perspective, being a Parent is Parenting a child. Giving birth after 9 months without the act of parenting is being a Birth Parent. Had they raised me for a while it would be different.

There are some who would argue that adoption is an alien and unnatural act that should not exist at all. That any Mother who gives birth is entitled to be called "Mother". In some cultures adoption is deemed incomprehensible as the biological bond is considered so primal and absolute that nothing can ever sever it. But that isn't my culture or my truth. Some say adoption is merely a legal fiction. But I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it is no fiction. My Parents ARE MY PARENTS and always will be.

Is it fair, I can "move on" so easily, when perhaps my Birth Family can not? As adults at the time our relationship was severed, their wound may have been far greater than mine. But I am not responsible for what happened. I am simply the result. On my own behalf, I do not mourn. And on their behalf, I will not. I am grateful for my life and their choice and have both respect and compassion for their loss--- but I don't feel it's mine.

Adoption is all about losses and it is important that Adoptive Families educate themselves about the other side of the process. Respect, compassion and acknowledgement of the gravity of the loss of a child are essential. It isn't all teddy bears and hugs for everyone. With adoption, someone out there is without their child even if they made that choice voluntarily. Having lost a child to illness, I feel there is no greater loss. Many Adoptive Parents have themselves come to adoption following the painful loss of fertility, pregnancies and children. We are biologically programmed to love, protect and nurture our children at least until they reach adulthood. Any interruption of that process is unbearably painful regardless of the reason. And it is probably fair to say that very, very few of those who relinquish children do so because they WANT to. Most probably feel they have little choice. But part of adoption, ultimately, part of ALL losses, is moving on past them and adjusting to what is. Using language that enhances their role in adoption doesn't change their painful reality. I wonder if viewing oneself as a Parent rather than a Birth Parent makes the loss even more poignant. I don't know.

I think we owe it to all concerned to acknowledge Birth Parents with respect and sensitivity. But I am uncomfortable elevating them to a role they haven't played in my life or in the lives of most adoptees out of political correctness. I won't pretend to mourn the loss of Parents I don't know or love. I won't pretend they are my Parents by virtue of "blood". I can't pretend my adoption wasn't a wonderful thing for me even if it caused pain for another. We don't hold back in the celebration of the birth or adoption of a child because there was a prior loss of a child or pregnancy. It is still positive.

Adoptive Parents are immensely fortunate to adopt. It is an amazing and joyous experience for them. Acknowledging the loss of another Parent need not diminish their joy. In my opinion, they are perfectly entitled to celebrate this wonderful creation of a family without any sense of guilt. And so too are adoptees, without apology and without regret if that is the way they feel.

5 comments:

Debbie said...

Great post!

While I am not adopted myself, I also adopted my child after loss of a biological child and loss of my fertility, so this really resonated with me. Thanks!

Dawn & Joe DeLorenzo said...

What a beautiful post Barbara! Thank you for sharing.

Hugs,
Dawn

Donna said...

I really appreciate your perspective on this. Thank you for sharing.

Donna

Campbell said...

Oh wow, this post has been something I've been looking for. It's a great relief to see some like-minded thoughts online.

Thank you for writing this.

choose joy said...

Very interesting. So much of what you wrote resonates with me. I was adopted from an orphanage when I was a year old. My parents went on to adopt many more children. I was told when I was young that being happy with my adoption was the result of not being able to process my feelings. That once I married and had children the anger would surface (unless of course I continued to "deny" it). Well, at 40 I'm pretty sure I've reached adulthood and processed my feelings and that the adoptions of our four children have only solidified the beauty that adoption can create in a family. Of course there is loss. I've dealt with that. Done. Over. Beauty rises from the ashes does it not? Thanks for this post, Jennifer