Monday, March 7, 2011

The New Generations of Adoptees Have It All

Of course the title of this is a little tongue & cheek--well, that is, depending on your personal perspective.

Some read the title and vigorously nod in agreement. Others read the title and feel frustration burning within. And still others react somewhere in between.

Recently, as I was corresponding with a fellow, but much younger adoptee, I realized something that might have been obvious to many of you (but was not initially to me). The upcoming generations of adoptees in some ways face an even greater pressure to submit to the "gratitude gospel of adoption."

What do I mean?

In short--"You newer generations of adoptees have so much more available to you than those who came before you, so really, you shouldn't have any major issues" or "Things are different today--adoptive parents know the realities now. Your parents have it on right this time, so you kids adopted in more recent years won't have the same issues as your predecessors."

I think today's adoptees are often viewed as the benefactors of the perceived progress in the adoption community: culture camps, heightened awareness and knowledge on the part of adoptive parents of the issues adoptees face, more acceptance and openness to the adoptees' origins and original mother and family, etc.

These factors do in fact represent a change in resources and awareness from what was available or understood when I was growing up. But, the presence of these factors does not change what will always be true--being adopted comes with deep lifelong losses and grief. And culture camps for adoptees and education courses for adoptive parents don't change that inherent truth or somehow make the hardships of being an adoptee magically nonexistent.

However, as the perceived benefactors, the newer generations are expected to, well, benefit and hence I think at times are expected to suffer less consequence and trauma. I'm not saying these changes don't benefit adoptees. I am simply stating that they are not a "cure." And their development has the potential to backfire by placing another layer of unrealistic expectation on not only adoptees, but on adoptive parents and original mothers.

The availability of camps or searches, etc. does not inevitably mitigate or counteract the pain and loss that come with being adopted. Yet, I think there can be this perception, this unspoken expectation that the newer generation of adoptees has it all and should be free of the heartache and trouble that can characterize the experience of earlier generations of adoptees like myself.

"We know so much more now than we did before..." This is true.

But what we know needs to be managed in a way that continues to acknowledge and validate adoptees--both earlier and newer generations--not to obligate or consign adoptees to more of the same.

The goal of "progress," in this case, is not the eradication of loss and grief--that's completely unreasonable--but rather a prevalent, sincere acknowledgment and understanding of the loss and grief (and the accompanying suffering and hardship) that reaches so far and so deeply that it it is viewed not as anomaly or neurosis but rather as the norm--not to allow the suffering to overtake us but that it is finally met with the compassion and acceptance that grief and pain long for and need in order to heal...

* * *

John Raible wrote a series of entries that happens to relate to what I discussed above.

13 comments:

Von said...

So very true, a whole new layer of difficulties and gratitude inducing opportunities to work through.For Beemommies too, adjustment will not be easy.
I would like to quote from your last paragraph if I may. Hope all well with you and the family.

Melissa said...

Of course, Von. And we're all exhausted but happy. :) Hope you are well, too.

The Byrd's Nest said...

I would think that loss is loss no matter what you try to do to ease the pain. I wouldn't think that anything could make it better or more comfortable unless the separation never occurred to begin with. But I am just an AP, not an adoptee. I do grieve along with Emma and her grief is really an obvious grief but still...I do not "know" her pain. Although she is much more relaxed now than in the beginning, I would never assume that she is feeling better about her situation because how could she? Emma was 2 when we adopted her and she is now 6, she has never put her feelings into words...ever. The other day she came and crawled in my lap and told me she needed to talk to me about something. She said, "I miss Korea Mom". I asked her what did she miss about it, she said, "I miss my mom and dad" and then she said, "Did I know my dad?" (strange question huh?) I told her that all I knew was that she lived with her mom and her grandmother and I don't think she ever met her dad. She said, "Well, maybe I won't think about it anymore right now". First I was tearful because I was oh so thankful that she was sharing her heart with me and then I just kept crying because I just feel like no matter what I have read from your blog or anywhere else that I have this fear of not being able to help her in the right way. Anyway, that is probably more than you wanted to know...:) Big hugs.

Melissa said...

@ Byrd's Nest: No, not more than I wanted to know...thanks for sharing so honestly and vulnerably.

You shared that your daughter expressed that she missed her Korean mom and dad and then asked "Did I know my dad?" I don't think that's strange at all...even though I was adopted at 6 months old and had no recollection of my Korean parents, I would sob uncontrollably and feel this deep ache and longing for my Korean mother and father...

I would MISS them, even though I could not remember them, and as far as I knew had never even spent a second with them...(although I learned last year that my Omma had actually nursed me and taken care of me for the first 5 days of my life...and that my Appa had searched Korean orphanages for me...)

You wrote: "I have this fear of not being able to help her in the right way."

Don't put so much pressure on yourself...the main thing to get "right" is that perfection is not the goal...the "right" way to help her is to be there no matter what, to be a safe place no matter what she feels, thinks, does, says...

My heart is with you & your family...(Big Tears...)

The Byrd's Nest said...

Thank you Melissa. She did live with her mom and grandmother for 17 months and then lived in an orphanage for one month and two foster families before living with me. In her paperwork, her mom only knew her dad for that "one night" she was so very young. I'm so grateful that she is opening up to me. I would think she would have strong memories in that sweet little head of hers. I pray she does and I pray she can hold on to them. Meeting us at the airport was so traumatic for her, I will never forget that day. She just clung to the Korean student who brought her and she had only known her for 24 hours (we were unable to travel to Korea at that time) and then when the student left, Emma screamed at the top of her lungs for two hours solid and then passed out completely for 3 hours straight. Her heart was completely broken in two.

I read somewhere in a book about demanding children (not for Emma for Lottie...lol) and it talked about the child who had endured so much trauma in the beginning of their life that now as an older child drifts off to a fantasy land always imagining herself as a princess being rescued. Not the ordinary pretending like other children experience. THIS is Emma. It is obvious and has been for a long time that she is in this "imaginary land" quite often. She must be dreaming of being rescued.

A Korean man at language school last year gave me a children's CD with Korean songs. When she listens to it, it seems to really comfort her...I am so thankful I have it. Thank you for encouraging me, this is a path in motherhood I have never gone down although I have been a Mother for 27 years. I am so thankful for friends like you.

Melissa said...

@ Byrd'd Nest...actually, I was a lot like Emma in the sense that I was always in a fantasy land...it concerned my parents at times because I think they feared that I did not know how to separate reality & fantasy...

I was OBSESSED with princesses & unicorns & mermaids...so much so that recently in reconnecting w/an old friend that i knew in 4th & 5th grade, one of the first things she asked me was, "Hey, are you still into unicorns? (this obsession was linked to my love for the animated film, "The Last Unicorn" which was connected to my experience as an adoptee)"

I can laugh about it but looking back, my fantasizing about princesses, unicorns & mermaids had everything to do with my experience as an adoptee...

The Byrd's Nest said...

Hmmmm...those are Emma's favorite things. She sleeps with a unicorn every night. She doesn't even like stuffed animals...only her unicorn.

If she can't be the damsel in distress and be rescued by the prince (meaning Lottie has to always be the prince) then she won't play with her sister:)

a Tonggu Momma said...

I think you highlighted a very significant concern - society and specifically adoptive parents allowing pride to influence our attitudes, thinking that we've actually "fixed" adoption loss by doing everything "right." In truth, we can't erase loss. It will always be there.

And I love what you wrote to Kimberley (The Byrd's Nest). She is one amazing adoptive momma. I take notes from her. And we both take notes from you.

Amanda said...

You're right, there's the same attitude there that everything in adoption is perfect, only now for a different reason.

Back in the closed era, they followed the blank slate theory thinking there'd be no issues because the identity issues made more severe with the closed system we're not understood or recognized. They were too busy "fixing" unwed motherhood with adoption they never thought adoption itself could present a problem.

Now that there's more openness and acknowledgement of loss, people think we've fixed all the problems and that there's yet again, no room for issues.

I agree with you, the denial of issues and problems and entitlement to voice such things in adoption now is probably worse than it was when we were kids. I know I've already heard several times that those of us from adoptions decades ago are irrelevant. So yup, everything's fine now!

*sigh*

Melissa said...

@ Byrd's Nest...wow, I had a stuffed unicorn, too! It was my favorite apart from my one & only blanky ;) which doubled as a princess cape or veil during the day...and my younger brother often was "persuaded" to play "prince & princess" if I agreed to play "war" or "guns" with him...

the meaklims said...

I really appreciated this post Melissa.

No amount of information or literature or we-know-better-nowadays will ever replace the massive loss that an adopted child will face.

There are times that I try to think what it would be like to not know my mother. I can't even fathom that idea in my head, never mind imagine the grief that would come with that reality.

This may or may not make sense, but with all the information and books and blogs out there nowadays, as an adoptive parent, I feel very vulnerable and scared. Scared that I won't do or say the right thing, scared that I won't read my daughters signals correctly, scared that I won't know the right way to help my daughter grieve. And maybe all my daughter will need on some of these occasions all she'll want is to be held and listened to.

With the information available, I just feel like I should be a much better adoptive parent. But it isn't the case, I'm far from perfect.

On the other hand, I do constantly need help from people like you, because you have an experience like my daughters. And I thank you for blogging and helping me see things through your eyes.

Jill

Melissa said...

Jill, thanks for stopping by & taking the time to share your thoughts...and to read yourself to adult adoptee blogs...

You wrote, "And maybe all my daughter will need on some of these occasions all she'll want is to be held and listened to."

In my small opinion, most of the time, that's the most important, comforting, "right" thing you can do...

One of the most reaffirming and validating things a friend has ever done was simply that she sincerely listened and then responded by saying, "I know I don't understand at all what it's like to be an adoptee...I can't imagine how hard it is, but I'm here for you..."

the meaklims said...

Thanks for your response to my ccomment Melissa - I really do appreciate it.

Jill