Saturday, May 15, 2010

Adoptee = Paradox(?)

Adoptees experience a complex mix of seemingly opposing emotions that may appear irreconcilable. Adoptees may express thoughts that appear contradictory or incompatible.

The truth is that adoptees can think and feel things that at first exposure may seem antithetical to one another. But fear not. As has been said before, that is the paradox of the adoptee experience.

As I continue to make my own attempts at managing and expressing my personal experiences as an adoptee, I have nonetheless upset my American family at times by the things I have shared.

At one point I posted a statement that went something like this: “Whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky.”

I wrote a post trying to clarify what I meant and what I did not mean by this statement. An excerpt from the pertaining post states:

"It’s not that my family didn’t love me enough. It’s not that I don’t love my family. When I express anger or hurt, it’s not because of what they have or have not done. It’s because of the loss and grief that I feel over what happened beyond anyone’s control.

But when I say something like, 'Whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky,' it offends my family because they think I’m saying something about them. For the record, then, I am not saying anything about my family. I am grateful for them, and I love them.

The thing is that some wounds run so deeply and so pervasively, that they may never quite heal. And I need to feel safe enough and have freedom enough to feel the pain and the emotion that comes from feeling that loss and grief."

My point is that adoptees may express emotions, as the title indicates, in ways that often seem paradoxical. In the same breath, I can utter that I am grateful for the family that adopted me while simultaneously wishing that it had not been necessary for me to be adopted.

Contradictory? Perhaps at first glance. But ultimately, no.

I can say things like, "whatever punk decided that being adopted is a happy story with happy endings makes me want to vomit and kick a hole in the sky," while at the same time saying things like, "As far as I'm concerned I adore my parents and always will."

I am not contradicting myself.

It could be comparable to a young widow whose husband unfortunately died prematurely. She remarries and goes on to share a very full, meaningful life with her second husband. Does she therefore come to the conclusion that she is happy that her first husband died? Of course not. Does the fact that she still feels grief over the loss of her first husband mean that she does not love her second? Is she contradicting herself?

No. The truth is that it is complex. The truth is that there are certain circumstances and relationships that we must face that require more flexible and less legalistic thinking and understanding. What may appear to be incongruous thoughts and emotions are simply the different lines and numbers used to compose and arrive at the same shapes and solutions.

What adoptees need is not to be forced into one corner or curve of a single shape or into one equation or formula of a single solution, but rather to be permitted to explore all the angles and edges, all the components and calculations that characterize life as an adoptee.



19 comments:

Raina said...

Yes. I understand this so completely.

Gayla said...

The widow analogy is a perfect one.

I get it.

Von said...

Complex life as an adoptee, but at least we get to have insights into things others don't..is that a privilege or something entirely other?

The Richerts said...

Well said!! I get it! And yes, perfect analogy.

Melissa said...

I'm glad the analogy helps. It helps me to have analogies that are more well-recognized to help remind me that I'm not crazy for the things I feel!

Von, in reference to your comment:

"Complex life as an adoptee, but at least we get to have insights into things others don't..is that a privilege or something entirely other?"

You may have meant this to be a rhetorical question, but my initial response is "I don't know." But my second response is "something entirely other."

Mei Ling said...

"It’s because of the loss and grief that I feel over what happened beyond anyone’s control."

In the minds of many, your adoptive parents' love "failed" if they didn't love you "enough" so that you wouldn't feel any of this to begin with.

You know, that popular adoption phrase "Love will conquer all"?

Funny enough, that phrase never seems to apply to the biological parents.

Melissa said...

Mei-Ling, you wrote, "You know, that popular adoption phrase "Love will conquer all"? Funny enough, that phrase never seems to apply to the biological parents."

Noteworthy point.

sume said...

"What adoptees need is not to be forced into one corner or curve of a single shape or into one equation or formula of a single solution, but rather to be permitted to explore all the angles and edges, all the components and calculations that characterize life as an adoptee."

Well said! I like your analogy which simply shows that our experiences and how we deal with them though somewhat different are more universal than one might think.

Melissa said...

Thanks, Sume, for stopping by, and taking the time to comment. (I appreciate your blog by the way.) Within complexity there seems always to be common threads somehow...

Debbie said...

Melissa - I recently started reading your blog. I commend you for wrestling with the issues and feelings you have and for being so brave in sharing with others. My husband and I are 31 and have been trying to conceive for almost 3 years through fruitless IVF attempts. We are considering adoption and the information you share is so helpful in understanding the dynamics and emotions involved in adoption. Should we decide to proceed with adoption, I know I will be much better prepared on what to do and not to do by reading the information you have shared. I just wanted to thank you so very much!!

Melissa said...

Mei-Ling,
I am curious what you mean by "You know, that popular adoption phrase "Love will conquer all"? Funny enough, that phrase never seems to apply to the biological parents."

Please know I am not coming at you critically, just trying to understand...really! :-)
Melissa S

Melissa said...

Debbie, first of all, my heart is with you. [My husband and I have had no luck with conceiving either...and I turn 35 in less than a month...]

Second of all, thank you for stopping by and thank you for taking the time to read adult adoptee blogs! I am always so refreshed when I encounter prospective adoptive parents who include adult adoptees in their research and education regarding adoption. Please feel free to contact me at any point if you have further questions...konoyoomo@gmail.com

* * *

Melissa S.--I know you were asking Mei-Ling, but since this is my personal blog, I thought I could chime in also ;)

At least from my perspective, in adoption, first of all, the biological parents are often neglected all together, or at least are certainly underserved and treated with very little consideration (generally speaking, they fade into a nebulous background...)

Secondly, I know the phrase, "Love conquers all" is not necessarily true, in a very practical sense, when it comes to adoption. For example, no matter how much love my parents gave and continue to give to me, it does not take away the pain, loss, and grief I experience as a result of being relinquished and subsequently adopted.

Love is absolutely needed, but it is not the "cure." For me personally, life as an adoptee is somewhat comparable to dealing with a chronic wound. There are ways to deal with it and treat it, but nothing "cures" it...

With that said, the whole "Love conquers all" is often used to refer to the common preconception that all the adoptive parents need to raise an adoptee successfully is love-- the love of the adoptive parents will conquer all the issues faced by the adoptee.

But for some reason, this same thinking is rarely applied to the biological parents. Rarely do people view biological parents with this viewpoint. If truly "love conquers all" then the biological parents should be able to to keep and raise their biological children, because "love conquers all," rather than relinquishing them to be adopted by a stranger, and in international adoption, a stranger who is also a foreigner.

For adoptive parents, it is a popular and well-accepted idea to teach that "love conquers all." Yet with biological parents, the popular and well-accepted idea is that "they loved you so much they gave you away"...?! Say what?

Although well-intentioned, these ideas are completely contradictory. Which one is it? Love that conquers all or love that gives away one's own child.

It seems quite ironic and contradictory that for adoptive parents love is sufficient, but for biological parents love is not...

I know that's not what people mean. But that's what it implicitly and covertly communicates.

Furthermore, again, although love is necessary, it will not "conquer" an adoptee's complex emotional experience of profound loss and grief. The idea should never be to "conquer" it all. The grief and loss are simply an inevitable part of an adoptee's identity--hence it is not the enemy to be conquered but rather a deep and raw wound in need of caution, sensitivity, and so forth.

I don't know that I'm explaining myself very well. And Mei-Ling may very likely have meant something a bit different. I hope she'll share her thoughts also. I value very much her perspective and insight.

But anyhow, those are my initial thoughts...

Raina said...

I can't answer for Mei-Ling, but I had an immediate interpretation of her statement. If love conquers all for adoptive parents, then AP's who love their children can get through any circumstance. Big or small. So why can't biological parents also overcome anything - including poverty, social pressures, special needs, all the "typical" reasons for surrendering - if they love their biological children? Why not support those biological families where they are, so they can let their "love conquer all"? No, the solution too often seems to be that money conquers all. At least from my perspective.

Melissa said...

There we go. Perfect, Raina. That's what I was trying to say, but you stated it much more concisely and much more clearly than I did. Thank you!

Mei Ling said...

"the love of the adoptive parents will conquer all the issues faced by the adoptee." <- Melissa (the adoptee) pretty much nailed it, even further eloquently expanded on by Raina.

But also, what I would like to add is that phrase "love conquers all" is meant to imply that if an adoptee dares to voice any flaws, mistakes, criticisms or any pain/grief resulting from the adoption, then the adoptive parents didn't "love hard enough."

There are a lot of misconceptions that if the adoptive parents just. love. hard. enough. that any pain on the adoptee's end is due to not being raised properly - which can really put the pressure on the adoptive parent. So when the adult adoptee says "this hurt me" or expresses something that makes people uncomfortable, the knee-jerk reflex is to say: Well, what went wrong? Didn't your parents love you enough?

Or: They loved you so much that words cannot possibly express it. Why isn't that enough for you?

Yet, while love is supposed to be enough, why can't that be true for the biological parents? This is where the whole "love means sacrificing your child" vs. "love means you would have never left your child" arguments come in.

Love is supposed to conquer all if the adoptive parents "love hard enough." But for some reason this never ever applies to the biological parents.

Jessica said...

I learn so much from you ladies. You are so incredibly insightful. I too am an adoptive parent in waiting. This theme runs through so much of what I have read and I understand it so much more from your blogs. Learning to accept this paradox and allowing our child to understand it themselves will (I hope) be so helpful to them as they grow and find themselves. Thank you for helping the next generation of AP's (perhaps as a additional, positive, byproduct of addressing these issues yourselves?).

Melissa said...

Thanks, Jessica, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. And thank you for taking the time to read adult adoptee blogs. I definitely wish that I had known then (that is, when I was growing up) what I know now. (But I guess better later than never, but even better would have been sooner than later...)

LeeSun said...

Hi Melissa, I really feel for you ... The whole 'well-meaning' attitude that you keep encountering, of "you're adopted? oh you should be so grateful" is just so ridiculous, and it must be so frustrating that you have to explain why it's ridiculous. As you said in one of your posts, it's a matter of educating people who have that attitude, and combatting their ignorance.

I wonder if people would start understanding how ridiculous the 'you must be so grateful' statement is, if all adoptees started going around with the attitude and exclamation, "Oh wow, you're not adopted? You must be so grateful to your parents for keeping you!" everytime they met somebody not adopted. I'm not recommending that adoptees start doing that, ha ha.

Inequality and people's inability to see or admit when they buy into inequality just amazes me, that's all.

Melissa said...

LeeSun, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You know, I have had that same thought before, but of course, I've never actually acted on it. Maybe I should. *smilewink*

By the way, I LOVE your music. Fantastic voice and uniquely lovely sound.