Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I take it personally

[Originally written on 4.19.2010]

This past weekend, I visited with an adoptive parent group and a group of mentors about my adoption experience. I was very refreshed by their openness and their willingness to listen. It is uplifting and consoling to know that their are people out there who want to get it, who are willing to open their minds and hearts to take the time to educate themselves. High five.

When I encounter parents and others who are so willing to make efforts to learn and to understand, it also makes me question why there still remain so many parents and people in general who refuse to do the same. It's comparable to, say, the well-known fact that driving while drunk is incredibly hazardous and potentially fatal not only for the drunk driver but for those on the road with him or her--but people, against their better judgement, still choose to drive drunk anyway. Despite the statistics, people make the choice every day to get in a car while intoxicated. They choose to ignore the very real and known facts and consequences of doing so.

We're all human, and we've all made poor decisions, even when presented with sound knowledge that such a decision might result in harmful or detrimental consequences to ourselves and those around us. Yet the idea is that we hopefully learn enough from such mistakes to begin to humble ourselves in order to listen, even when we'd rather not, because we know that someone else might have wisdom that we do not.

I know I can sound like a broken record, but I repeat myself hoping that those who might doubt the insight that adult adoptees offer will eventually begin to listen.

I think part of the reason I have such a hard time when I encounter adoptive parents who do not acknowledge the losses of being adopted and all the grief and pain that inherently accompany such losses is that I take it personally.

It’s not easy, you know, putting your heart out there. Discussing the difficulties I have encountered as an adoptee is not necessarily what I’d describe as a fun and heart-warming experience, especially when I encounter folks who seem to consider my experience an anomalous or unfair representation of the adoptee experience.

I take it personally, because it’s as though their refusal to acknowledge the reality of the trauma their child has experienced is a refusal to acknowledge the truth of the experience of all the adult adoptees that have been brave enough and vulnerable enough to shed light upon the otherwise neglected hardships of being adopted.

It’s almost as though these people are calling me, and my fellow adoptees, liars.

With the abundance of adult adoptee blogs not to mention the myriad of resources available that educate and address the losses and unique issues faced by adoptees, I find it almost insulting and certainly patronizing when adoptive parents choose to turn a blind eye and believe their own ideas over what is actually true.

And it’s not as though I didn’t once think like some of these adoptive parents or the general public. If you had spoken with my fifteen year old self, or even a few years later had a conversation with my twenty-five year old self, you would have walked away thinking that I had no desire whatsoever to know my biological parents, and even more so that being adopted had caused me no harm or issue.

Despite what you may think, I did not always think the way that I do now. And the way I think now is not because I’m an apple that went rotten.

So, what happened? Why has my mindset changed over the years?

Er, well, first of all, I grew up—literally. This means my brain metamorphosed and developed dramatically, and hence my capacity to understand and process complex human thought and emotion eventually developed with it.

As I have mentioned before, the capacity of a ten-year old versus a thirty-year old to process the implications of his or her adoption are literally developmentally and physiologically different.

Although the capacity increases with each year of development, the maturity to process it all takes years to develop.

I matured.

I allowed myself to think what had seemed unthinkable to me before. I allowed myself to feel what I had once believed was untouchable.

The other thing that happened is that I began reading research, studies, books, adult adoptee blogs that helped me realize that I was not crazy for feeling and thinking these things. Reading the books and blogs did not somehow change my mind, but rather helped me to understand what I was already feeling.

I didn’t conjure these thoughts and emotions up from some imaginary place. They were always within me, but buried and latent like a dormant volcano.

It’s true each adoptee responds to his or her adoption in his or her own way. Certainly, we are not cookies made from a cookie cutter. But there are basic truths that characterize the adoptee experience—and one of those crucial, fundamental truths is the truth of loss, and all the grief and pain that comes along with it.

Why is that so hard for parents and family, friends and strangers to acknowledge this?


Kim said...

Our adoption agency required several classes. One of the classes discussed loss. It talked about us imagining being forced to leave everyone we knew and going to a place with all new senses, language, smells, sights, food. I wish that more agencies talked about the loss that their child would experience and that more adoptive parents would realize that it's not something that their child will only mourn when they are newly adopted.

Barbara said...

I don't think that it is at all odd that you have had changes in your feelings toward your adoption as you have gotten older. Trauma slows (or sometimes stops) emotional development. APs should be extremely careful about trying to be in tune with the emotional age of their child. We already see huge differences in the way we need to support and help our (almost) three year old. Her needs are vastly different than those of our bio kids at the same age. We are very thankful that she seems well attached to us. But we have no expectations that abandonment and adoption will not be a part of who she is all of her life.
I am thankful for the insightful things that you share here. They have stretched me and caused me to ponder many issues. I continue to be an adoption advocate (both domestic and international) but I also realize that we need to advocate just as fervently for an end to policies and politics that give way to first family disruption.
It pained me to read here a few weeks ago that a woman who was yearning for a family might not adopt. I hope she provides a loving home for a child that would not have one any other way. AND, I hope she and her new family advocate and find ways to end the reasons that children end up separated from their first families.
For me its got to be both. Every first family deserves the resources to keep and raise their children. Every already relinquished child deserves a family.

Reena said...

I agree with what Barbara wrote-- significant experiences in life and our feelings about them change as a person matures, has new experiences and perspectives.

I think (or at least like to think) one reason why some APs refuse to believe or have a hard time coming to terms with the reality of their child's trauma is because no parent wants their child to feel pain.
We all know the life is full of pain (all kinds) and we want to protect our children from it.

The truth is we really cannot protect our children from all kinds of pain, whether it be due to adoption, racism, sex, etc. The best we can do is prepare our children to deal with life and be supportive. Unfortunately, some APs don't realize the damage they can cause by not acknowledging the grief our children will feel toward all they have lost.

Then you get the people who think that if an adoptee feels grief about all they have lost-- that this means that they do not love the life they do have (albeit some do not). The two feelings are NOT mutually exclusive and I really do not understand why some people think that they are mutually exclusive.

An said...

I would take it personally too. It's YOUR experiences and it's offensive when people dismiss them. (It's like when I talk about racism with a non-minority. "You're just being too sensitive! It doesn't exist anymore.")

Our adoption agency also required us to take a class discussing loss. Maybe they didn't emphasize it enough, or maybe it didn't sink in, because I still see some of those APs (who used the same agency) not getting it. To be honest, I didn't either, until I started reading adoptee blogs.

So, thank you for this blog! It has been one of the most helpful for me.

Andrea said...

I wish my agency had done a better job educating us about loss, attachment and all the other things that are important to our children and to us. I value your opinion greatly. I don't understand why anyone would be dismissive of your feelings. No you don't speak for all adoptees but that doesn't mean your feelings aren't those of many.

Holly said...

I have changed and learned so much since we adopted our girls, and it started here with you and your courage and transparency in sharing your story and your heart. I continue to listen and learn and hope that what I learn will make a difference. Thank you.

il panettiere... said...

It astonishes me that people don't recognize the immense loss that occurs with adoption. It has always been such a part of my heart, my mind, my soul- in such a deep way that I figured everyone else thought the same as me. I have many friends who ask simple questions- when I respond in a way that encourages discussion about loss, they switch off. You said it well- it almost seems like they think we are lying. It makes me want to stop talking.

If you can, continue to put yourself, your story, your loss, your heart out there for those of us who do listen. Who want to stretch and grow and offer the best they can for their children.

I, for one, think you're amazing and I am so grateful for your words.

Anonymous said...


I do not understand why non adoptees have the opinion to know what adoptees are feeling. I remember that my grandmother spoke a lot about the second world war, but I have never thought that I know something about the war. Even that I have learned a lot of the war in my class.

When someone speaks about how you should play tennis you would not able to play tennis until you have try to play it. But how you could be an adoptee if you are not? So be grateful when we speaks open about our situation. So, be pleasant and try to understand our situation.

We start to think about our roots in an older age due to the fact that we have to fight as child against racism and discrimination. Along of this problem we try to full fill the expectation of our new family and of cours to handle the regular life.

You are so right when you say other adoptees have not the same problem. A father told me that his daughter made suicide due to the fact that she couldn"t handle the adoptee stuff. He told me that he does not really listen at her.

If you are really interested in your adoptee, than listen and try to understand your child.

Mila said...

@ Barbara, I would add that "Every already relinquished child deserves..." an opportunity for efficient tracking services of living relatives, and then domestic adoption within the local community rather than before being adopted out to another country.

The Richerts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara said...

@ Mila......Yes, I agree. I believe that is close to the case in Ethiopia. Family members are required to make an appearance in court prior to adoption. There is a long way to go in China and other places.....