Monday, June 21, 2010

The "Well-Adjusted, Model Adoptee"

[For a follow-up post, click here]

Being affected by loss does not require that one first understands loss. That’s comparable to assuming that in order to be affected by a giant cut across my neck, I must first understand all that is happening at the physiological and cellular level. Obviously, I don’t have to understand how and why the cut happened before I start bleeding out and feeling the pain. I immediately begin experiencing its effects.

The same is true for the adoptee that has been cut off from his or her original family and lost his or her own blood. The effects are immediate whether they are obvious or more covert.

This is not to say, however, that understanding does not help one to be more aware of the effects of and hence to better deal with the loss, just as understanding what is happening when a cut occurs helps one to know how to treat the wound.

I use this analogy, because I think parents (and others) often turn to examples of "well-adjusted" or "model adoptees" when they feel uncomfortable with the idea of adoption loss.Well, see that adoptee over there, she's just fine. She doesn't have any "issues."

It's true that there are adoptees that have never acknowledged the loss they have experienced. They appear content and satisfied with not acknowledging the loss. Rather they feel most comfortable with identifying their adoption experience as onlypositive, and any view otherwise is often rejected or even pitied.

But their choice to cope with the loss in their own way—by ignoring it completely—does not therefore discount the loss they have experienced (nor does it discount other adoptees that have chosen to recognize the loss), just as ignoring a cut on my neck does not therefore nullify the wound.

I realize that I may be presumptuous to make such a broad statement, and certainly there are those who will disagree. Yet in my small opinion, they are choosing to ignore the loss. I am not judging this as better or worse—every person must find his or her own way of dealing with adoption loss. But I suppose I am venturing to say that I believe choosing to ignore the loss can be detrimental in the long run, just as choosing to ignore a cut on my neck, and hence the ways to deal with it, will come with consequences.

For example, I could choose to ignore the loss of my friend, Artemis, or to neglect the loss of my husband’s Aunt by simply expressing to others that I’m not affected by it and that I actually never think about it.

If asked whether I ever feel sad about the death of my friend, I could simply smile and say, “Well, of course not. I’ve made new friends since her death. So, I’m grateful.”

If asked if the loss of my husband’s Aunt has been difficult at times, I could respond by saying, “Not at all. I have other Aunts and Uncles, and I’m so grateful for them that I don’t really feel a need to think about her or grieve for her.”

To most human beings, such responses would be received as calloused and even a bit twisted.But that’s basically equivalent to how adoptees are often expected to deal with their profound and pervasive losses.

Simply replace the above scenarios with adoption loss. For instance, if asked whether I ever feel sad about the loss of my biological mother, I could simply smile and say, “Well, of course not. I have a new mom and a new family as a result of losing my biological mother. So, I’m grateful.” Most people hear this and think nothing of the dissonance. They think this is how an adoptee should respond.

But in reality, it doesn’t make any sense logically. Why would someone be grateful for the loss of his or her biological mother, in the same way that you would not expect me to be grateful for the death of my friend?

Yet time and time again, people expect adoptees to respond to their profound losses with gratitude and contentment. Any kind of deviation from a thankful, compliant attitude is often viewed as subversive and negative.

And trying to explain to people why it is not subversive and negative to feel hurt and angry regarding such losses frequently results in blank-eyed stares or patronizing retorts. So many times, I walk away from such a conversation with a sick feeling lodged in my throat that I even attempted to educate someone on the realities of adoption. It’s like putting my heart on a plate for everyone to take a stab at.

Yet, somehow, I find that I can’t not do it.

And I think that makes me my own "well-adjusted, model adoptee." [Insert tongue in cheek followed by a smirk and wink...]

[For a follow-up post, click here]

Note: Please understand that if you are an adoptee who views his or her adoption as only positive, and you disagree with the perspective I have shared in this blog post, I respect and acknowledge your position. I mean no harm or judgment. I recognize that the views expressed here are nothing more than my personal opinion. (Also, just for clarity's sake, I view my own adoption as complex, and hence as being simultaneously positive and negative, not one or the other.)


Mei Ling said...

I think it's because in adoption, in order to have a good side, there must have been a bad side first.

The adoptive mother is a good parent, so the biological one couldn't have been. The adoptive mother loves her child, so the biological one must not have (she gave up her child!). The adoptive mother can afford to give the child all the education and material goods in the world, so the biological mother would have made the child suffer in poverty. And so on.

There is still (likely) the misguided assumption that the adoptive mother "recompensates" for whatever "wound/pain" was inflicted on the adoptee. This is why adoption works - because even though the biological mother could not raise her child, it all worked out because the child was ADOPTED.

See what I mean?

You were relinquished... you had a good family... it all "worked out" for you, right?

I was relinquished... I ended up in a good family... so it all "worked out" in my case, didn't it?

And so on.

"Why would someone be grateful for the loss of his or her biological mother, in the same way that you would not expect me to be grateful for the death of my friend?"

Because people know you don't have conscious memories of your biological mothers, whereas you know your friend and have cherished conscious memories with them.

They believe that since the brain is not able to store neurological memories in the same way as a young child's that the separation of mother & child must not matter all that much...

Von said...

What an excellent post on a part of adoption 'dear' to my heart and obviously yours too.
I never remember the anniversaries of deaths or wish to honour them in the way others do.Not because I don't care but because once something or someone is lost, they and the relationship are gone.I move on and never go back.
I don't subscribe to the good side/bad side of adoption although I follow the line of thinking that may be present for non-adoptees.
Loss is always hard for adoptees,anyone for that matter, but we have the primal wound to start us off in life.
Such a good and interesting post I'll post a link, hope that's ok.

Anonymous said...

I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent. By this reasoning, we would all also suffer primal wounds from the loss of our past life bodies, as many of us recall and others do not - there really is no loss-less state to serve as a reference. But that's just the thought of this non-adoptee adoptive parent at birth.

Von said...

Perhaps Anon we do and perhaps if you had experienced it you would feel it as many adoptees do.

Sandy said...

"I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent."


Perhaps listening to the actual words of adoptees, pondering on them, trying to actually understand the rammifications of being removed from whence you came - would be helpful before forming your rebuttal in your mind of just the right words to dismiss, negate, and deny the words of adoptees speaking about loss?

Per your note you adopted a child or children, should you not recognise that their loss of their entire family allowed for your gain of a family?

That loss of what you personally deem so important, (i.e. family) that you adopted your child or children could also be a be a loss to your child (i.e. that they lost their family)?

That in order to gain a family means the other family lost? It really is that simple - in order for an adoptive family to exist it means the adoptee lost their family first.

And like Melissa stated you cannot simply pretend there is no loss when you actually lose someone or in the case of an adoptee - their entire family and that can never dismissed.

Mila said...

Thanks for your comments. I have some thoughts in response, but they actually will require a whole other post...

Mia_h_n said...

I good post on an important topic. I'm sorry you so often seem to run into people who's unwilling to hear you and respect your experience as an adoptee. This must be so hard. I can really relate to not being able to not say anything and just walk away and let it go. It's personal.

And if I'm interpreting the responses to the anonymous comment right, they seem a bit aggressive, at least to me. I mean, isn't one of the the things we talk about on this one respect for all points of views? Like Melissa said, no judgement.
For instance I saw something about past life, but to each his own. And isn't he/she just expressing the assumption that Mei Ling talks about at the end?
Besides that I don't really expect non-adoptees to understand what it is to be an adoptee - heck, I'm not sure I expect other adoptees to get my story and my feelings and my complexities. The nuances are still personal.

Claudia said...

Thanks for writing this - this is a really helpful way to express something that I've found difficult to talk about with my family and friends.

Mila said...

Anon wrote, "I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent."


Mei-Ling wrote, "Because people know you don't have conscious memories of your biological mothers, whereas you know your friend and have cherished conscious memories with them.

They believe that since the brain is not able to store neurological memories in the same way as a young child's that the separation of mother & child must not matter all that much..."

I will say this much for now (and will follow up in further detail in actual blog post):

Regardless of what you may think of adoptees who are adopted as infants, the FACT IS that I (and many others) am an ADULT now, and as an ADULT, I have found it necessary to grieve and process my losses.

I, as an adult, even though I was adopted as an infant, still find myself experiencing the pain and emotional consequences of losing my origins and being subsequently adopted to a foreign country.

I cannot describe adequately how frustrating and hurtful it is to constantly feel as though I have to justify and validate my grief simply because I was adopted as an infant rather than as an older child.

My main point is that parents and society in general need to cease attempting to qualify the differing and individual responses of the myriad of adoptees as "right" or "wrong, as "valid" or "invalid" and simply accept them as "it just is."

I'm so weary of other people telling me what I am allowed or not allowed to feel or grieve about regarding my own adoption & losses, based on the fact that I was adopted as an infant.

The truth is that I am an ADULT NOW, not an infant, who must deal with the very real and indisputable repercussions and consequences of a life that resulted from being cut off from my Korean origins and subsequently transplanted into a White American society.

The fact that I was an infant when I was adopted in no way invalidates or nullifies the very honest, sincere, and real consequences that I experience on a daily basis as a result of being relinquished and subsequently adopted.

Whether adopted as an infant or as an older child, the fact remains that in both cases, the child has LOST COMPLETELY his or her family and origins.

The age at which these losses occur does not somehow nullify the consequences of the losses. There may be varying degrees and varying responses, but the loss remains loss all the same.

What varies is NOT the loss, but the age, personalities, and circumstances under which the loss takes place. Loss is loss, any way you slice it.

I am a mature, intelligent adult whose experiences and emotions are no less and no more valid because I was adopted as an infant.

They just are. I just am.

And I am who I am, in large part, because I was adopted as an infant from Korea to a White American family.

It's maddening that parents and others so frequently dispute and reject these facts, these truths rather than learning and choosing to accept and acknowledge them.

Mei Ling said...

"I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent"

And this is precisely what I was pointing out. That it must not matter "as much" to an infant as it would an elder adopted child.

It's true an older child would have conscious memories. But I would think it is actually psychologically more dangerous at the infancy level because the infant has JUST spent 9 months being a part of their mother and then subsequently separation, either by "willing/forced" abandonment, legal relinquishment, and the orphanage/group home itself.

I was adopted as an infant and I didn't believe in trauma. I had no conscious memories of the people who birthed me, I had never lived in their household, I did not know them. Blood did not magically restore the memories of the lost years or forge an immediate connection through biology to create the type of familial relationship that my kept siblings have with my parents.

Yet, still, on the day of my CONSCIOUS reunion, which is ingrained into my memories, I broke down like I have never broken down before in my life. It was the most heart-wrenching memory and I had to physically dissociate myself from those conscious memories on the plane back lest I break down again.

And I was adopted as an infant.

It doesn't matter if you are adopted as an infant or an older child. The point is: YOU LOSE YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY.

And then you are told "Well it doesn't really matter because you were an infant."

The irony of that comment is that in an attempt to try and make the adopted person see that really, it isn't all that bad and besides an older child would likely feel the loss more magnified... is that it invalidates the ADULT ADOPTEE once again.

"By this reasoning, we would all also suffer primal wounds from the loss of our past life bodies, as many of us recall and others do not"

There is a difference between being carried for 9 months and being separated after birth and not knowing why, and trying to compare that to a spiritual soul shifting in between different lives!

A previous life has nothing to do with the reality of THIS life when a mother carries a baby and is forced to abandon/surrender.

Mia_h_n said...

Uhh...did I do that?

I hear and understand everything you say. To, hopefully, eliminate any misunderstandings about my stand point I was merely saying that just as you/we have the right to hurt and grieve even though adopted as an infants, doesn't someone else have the right to their point of view? To me the annoyance begins when people translate their lack of understanding into me being in the wrong. Then they can go....away.

Mila said...

Mia, I hope you know that my comment was not directed at you in particular. I was specifically addressing the statements as quoted at the beginning of my comment.

It's true everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint. However, if I disagree with a particular viewpoint, and in particular if that viewpoint attempts to invalidate my very real and honest experiences & emotions, I also am entitled to express that disagreement, albeit respectfully. I believe that's what I do and did. But you may disagree... ;)

The main statement with which I take issue: "I do have a problem seeing the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent."

I take issue with it simply because it perpetuates one of the very detrimental and hurtful misassumptions about the adoptee experience.

To me, the loss experienced by adoptees is not an opinion matter--it's a reality. The degree to which an adoptee chooses to acknowledge or deal with adoption loss is indeed open to variation, but the loss itself is indisputable.

Every person who is adopted has literally and unquestionably LOST his or her family of origin, along with the accompanying culture, language, people, food, and so forth.

To state that one does not view "the infant adopted at birth as having the kind of loss that an older child would have on separation from a biological parent" is basically presuming and prematurely assigning to that infant what he or she should feel and experience.

A parent that assumes that an adoptee will not experience a depth of loss because he or she was adopted as an infant is in danger of confining and restricting the adoptee's experience rather than cultivating an open, accepting environment that allows the adoptee to come into his or her own realizations.

Sure, there will be adoptees who will not experience the loss in the same way as perhaps myself or some of my other adoptee friends, but ultimately, that is not for the parent to determine.

It is for the adoptee to decide.

The Declassified Adoptee said...

Perhaps my eyes are just playing tricks on me but did I really just read anon compare past lives to infant loss and memory? I must confess I found that to be a bit marginalizing.

The fact of the matter is, infants remember. The infant was present at the substitution of mothers. The infant bonded with a mother for 9 months in the womb. When born a baby longs for the spiritual energy, her smell, the specific milk, the heartbeat it has memorized. Skin-to-skin contact and continued closeness after birth with one's Natural Mother is said to regulate everything from blood sugar, to body temperature, to heart rate, to comfort for an infant.

Yet infants destined to adoption are impervious to these basic human needs? Infants given up to adoption are impervious to the stress that occurs when they made the demand to receive the same familiarity they had in the womb and it was not present?

Infancy, age 0-1 is the Ericksonian "Basic Trust vs. Mistrust." Infants need to have their demands and needs met in order to establish trust. An infant does not know it's mother made an "adoption plan." And the lack of cognitive label is a huge part of the problem--not an invalidation of the problem. Since an infant cannot understand why the mother it is asking for is not there, it learns to cope without her. It learns to mistrust. Many adoptees adopted as infants have abandonment, trust, and anxiety issues. To say that we are not entitled to pain because we cannot cognitively remeber the exact details of our surrender is absurd.

What's worse is the social context of loss we live in. We are seperated from Nature and told that if Nuture isn't enough for us then WE are the ones with the problem. WE didn't adapt. WE didn't figure it out.

Does it make everyone else feel better if I claim I'm fine? But wait...whose adoption's best interest supposed to be in any way?

Some people like the book "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Verrier as it explains a lot of this, some people don't. Research and the adoptee experience speaks for itself. There are a lot of adoptees that say they don't feel loss. There are a lot of ethnic and racial minorities out there that say they've never experienced racism. But just because someone claims that they don't have a certain experience doesn't mean it isn't a problem. Loss is a problem in adoption and invalidated loss is an even bigger problem. (and has for the race comparison, racially-biased hate crimes happen by the thousands in the U.S. Just because you personally don't experience something doesn't mean it's not there).

Eastiopians said...

So well written Melissa! I am so grateful for your words. There were many points that you made that will stick with me. I loved the clear example of how it is not normal to just dismiss the loss of a friend or why in the world are adoptees expected to dismiss the loss of their birth family.


Mila said...

Amanda, thank you for your very thoughtful insight.

And Theresa, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Von said...

Just to add my final views..Hitler had a point of view too, it was presumably different from that of most of us.
Having a different point of view on something that is a fact, like loss of attachment in infants, is where things get tricky.Does the sun shine? Are trees green? It is more about 'how was it for you?" Listening, trying to understand and empathise with the feelings and experience and certainly not telling adoptees it isn't so, negating what they have experienced, minimising it unless of course the intention is to disempower.
"recpompensation' is a comfortable fallacy, adoption does not cure all ills although some adopters might like to believe so.

Third Mom said...

I think all this crazy wordplay by APs to justify our actions stems from the fact that deep down somewhere, we know that there WAS another path for us and for our children. Even when we can rationalize our choices, we know that for most of us, our families come down to another family's tragedy, whether from illness or poverty or societal stigma.

It would be a whole lot better for everyone if we could just admit that. Maybe then we could all start focusing on the root causes for adoption instead of spinning all these cycles trying to justify what shouldn't exist in the first place, save in the rarest of situations.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have been so long getting back to this thread. I saw only one post which began to understand what I said, by Mia_h_n. I am talking about the infant experience, not that of the adult who has had time to cultivate different types of perceptions, incorporate other points of view and information, mature in various ways, etc. And yes, I do equate loss of a past-life body as just as REAL to those who remember it, as the experiences of this life. Importantly, these are all experiences of the individual, who alone can testify to the experience. I in no way meant to invalidate the experience of any adoptee, in particular or in general. For now, we are everything to my daughter - anything outside of our family unit is in some sense an intrusion. Around 7 or so, as I understand development, she will start to open her perceptions to a broader reality - she will start to perceive that not everything is as magical as it now seems, that there are parts to the human experience and nature that are "not good" (for lack of more subtle descriptors) that there are differences between people, and many more complexities. At that time, she will have access to her biological parent, for what information that can generate for her - certainly I believe that will be better than no access, and yet I still maintain, there is no loss-less state to serve as a reference - I will not wear the label that my identity is any stronger because I grew up with the people whose DNA created me - it is an assumption too, no less intrusive or perceptive really than the ones expressed about adoptees - but MY experience, and not one I particularly anguish about. That is not to marginalize the experiences of adoptees, just to express the fact that what I intend for my daughter is that she have the discernment fostered by love and supportive exposure to all kinds of experiences, to see what is true for her and to love and believe in herself as a beautiful spirit. What if we were not her "Plan B" but in fact her Plan A - needing some particular "spice" from the bio mom but in fact coming in for the parenting that we provide? Is that so far-fetched? Not for me - but it will be for her to consider, experience, and decide, in time, with our heart-felt companionship. I am only reflecting on our personal situation as I read your post, and am grateful for the opportunity.

Nicole Ostrom said...

In response to Anonymous...

I'm guessing that by past-life body experiences you are referring to Re-incarnationa and similar beliefs. However, I don't believe in a past-life, so I will leave that part out of the discussion.

I agree with the others who say that the adoptee exeriences a sense of loss even though he/she was adopted at birth. I remember times during my childhood when I would become overwhelmed with a sadness for absolutely no logical reason. I also felt that I was different, and had a vague sense that I didn't really belong with my cousins and other family. I know that it is difficult to understand and comprehend. I guess a comparison could be that a woman who has miscarried or had an abortion still feels the loss of her child even though she never saw the child, hear it's voice or saw the child's character and personality. It is a maternal connection which is formed in the womb and doesn't just disappear pureply because of the absence of the biological mother. It is so difficult to explain, but as an adoptee I can fully understand and agree with these emotions.

These emotions which an adoptee often feels and experiences does not last forever. If these are dealt with properly, the impact of these on the adoptee's life will fade as time goes on, but will probably never really disppear completely as new experiences might trigger these emotions and bring them to the surface again... such as when the adoptee gets married or has children.

Having said all this, I also want to encourage you. It is not easy adopting a child and handling the issues that might arise in future for your daughter, but I am sure that your daughter will appreciate everything you do for her and love you deeply. I have met my biological mother and see her regularly. At first my dad was not too happy about me spending time with her, but I guess he was scared that he would then be forgotten about. He has now seen that even though she gave birth to me, nothing will replace him in my life, and he even asks me occassionally how my biological mother is and if I had a good time there when I come back from a visit. He no longer has any insecurity about it.

If I can give you any advice or encouragement... There will be difficult questions which your daughter will ask you, but try to be open and know that she is only curious and trying to deal with her inner-ost emotions. Try to always bear in mind that your daughter will love you for so much more than just being a mother to her... you have taken her in, given her opportunities, loved her, cared for her, guided her and encouraged her. In comprison, her biological mother merely gave birth to her, and then for whatever reason abandoned her by giving her up. Remember that for every emotion your daughter has, there will always be a flips sided emotion to go with it... eg. the loss and grief of being given up by her biological mother, mixed with anger, resentment, disappointment and hurt by the actions of the biological mother. Remember that you are her rescuer and she will always love you and appreciate you for it, even when she doesn't show it; and everytime she doesn't show it, it is only an internal self-protection and that she is scared.

I hope this helps and mostly that it encourages you and takes away any fears...