I have always been attracted to adoptees. I have dated a couple of them. They have become some of my good friends, clients and co-workers. They have been adopted into my family and adopted out of my family. While I, myself, am not an adoptee, I do relate to the sense of abandonment they must feel at a very visceral level and to that sense of not being wanted and therefore, feeling defective somehow. Nancy Verrier, an adoptive mother and author, calls this condition the "primal wound."
From the time I was a small child, I heard the story told to me about the day of my birth. I was told that I was expected to be a boy and that it was a major disappointment that I was another girl as my parents already had three girls. My little brother was born 11 months later and I was told that my father was so happy that he was passing out cigars to everyone. My earliest memories are of being an infant and being alone in a room, exploring my parents' bedroom. My mother likely suffered from post-partum depression. She started having children at age 15 and only had a 3rd grade education. I remember being neglected. This may explain my avoidant attachment style with women. For someone with this attachment style, there is a sense that you are on your own and cannot trust others to be there for you. My grandmother and aunts helped to take care of us after my parents divorced when I was only 5 years old. But by then, my attachment style was in place.
I felt more loved by my father and I also know that he bullied me and would delight in scaring me when I was little. Though I have no memory of this, I have heard that he did so from my mother and my aunt. It may explain my anxious/ambivalent attachment style with men. I felt more loved, valued and paid attention to by my father when I was in the presence of my brother. I feel that both of my parents came to love me more later in life. I have since come to the conclusion that I must be a very lovable person if they could grow to love me at all. Prior to this epiphany, I had felt unlovable, something that many adoptees feel.
To try to understand myself better, I started reading and researching books and articles about the emotional issues that adoptees might deal with. Before starting this process, my ideas about adoptees were based on the movie Annie where Daddy Warbucks saves Annie from a life of ruin with his money and charm and all ends happily. I believed as most people believe: that adoption is something to be celebrated and a win for everybody involved: the orphaned infant or child, the adoptive couple who may suffer from infertility and the birth mother or birth parents who cannot or will not take care of their own child.
Since reading books like Journey to the Adopted Self by writer, adoptee and adoption-reform advocate Betty Jean Lifton, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier and several online articles on the subject, I have since learned that there is a grieving process for all parties involved in adoption. And most importantly, I learned that the adoptee does have a sense of that early abandonment at a feeling level and that this abandonment is the first trauma in a series of traumas that they will likely suffer throughout their lives.
I wasn't too surprised to learn that adoptees often feel a sense of not belonging due to being cut off from their biological roots, especially in the closed adoption system where they aren't allowed to search for their birth parents until they are 18 years old. I too have always felt like I was different from everybody else. This is partly due to how I was not welcomed into the world, partly because my personality type is that of an individualist and partly because I am bi-racial. Nowadays, it is more common for a child to be biracial or multi-racial, but when I was a child, I only knew of me and my siblings being biracial.
From my research, I learned that adoptees are 5x more likely to attempt suicide than their non-adopted peers. This may be an attempt to actualize something which is already felt to have happened on some level. David Winnicott, a Brittish pediatrician and psychoanalyst, believes that a simple acknowledgement that a part of the adoptee "died" in infancy may prevent an actual suicide attempt. Betty Jean Lifton says, "the adoptee does not literally die, but lack of recognition by one's birth mother feels like a death threat - the threat of annihilation - which the adoptee must muster all her psychic forces to survive."
I learned that the fear of abandonment never goes away. I learned that they are asked to see their abandonment as their birth mother loving them enough to give them up. Therefore, they equate love with abandonment. They are typically denied their own reality or sense of self by their adoptive families, therapists, any professional involved in the closed adoption system and the community at large. They typically have identity issues as a result. Though they suffer from fears of abandonment at a very visceral level, they may also fear engulfment by their adoptive parents and family.
In Nancy Verrier's book The Primal Wound, the author states, "It is difficult to change our thinking about adoption from that of a wonderful, altruistic event to that of a traumatic, terrifying experience for the child." It is still generally believed that an infant cannot remember the separation from their birth mother but science now shows that an infant can pick out their birth mother's face without ever having seen her before based on the 40 weeks of gestational bonding that occurs.
Adoptees are over-represented in the mental health care system, especially as children, for a reason. The number of health and mental health issues they suffer from never gets attributed to that unresolved grief and all the identity issues that go hand-in-hand with being abandoned and "rejected" as an infant. Most mental health professionals, including myself, are not knowledgeable about what Betty Jean Lifton calls Accumulative Adoption Trauma, a syndrome most adoptees suffer with that it is not yet recognized in the DSM 5 which is the current way that most mental health professionals diagnose individuals seeking out therapy for emotional, mental and relational issues.
I learned about a phenomenon called Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA) which is a situation where a sexual attraction develops between the adoptee and any member of their birth family upon reuniting. This can be especially strong for people who confuse sex with love. In the worst situations, the GSA is consummated which of course becomes very problematic for all parties involved in the long run. One of the best online articles I read about adoption is called Adoptees, Why Are You So Angry? You can read the full article at https://adopteeinrecovery.com/2015/01/07/adoptees-why-are-you-so-angry/
Here is one of the excerpts from that article:I’m angry because I’m in my 50s and still not allowed access to my own birth certificate – even though I found all of my family member’s years ago. I’m angry that there is still a lack of support for family preservation in favor of adoption. I’m angry that having more money allows certain adopters to pull wanted children away from their families. I’m angry that so many childless people that claim to care about children really only want to get themselves a baby and not actually help older children in foster care or even just vulnerable families in their own community. I’m angry that whenever adoptees attempt to speak their truth and call for changes in the system they are silenced, called “ungrateful” and “angry” and told they just had a “bad experience.” I’m angry that the industry is pulling in thousands of dollars at the expense of vulnerable children. I will continue to be “angry” in order to try to affect change for today’s children and those yet unborn.
After obtaining all this knowledge about all the suffering that adoptees go through in life, I came to have more compassion for them and more understanding of myself. After all, some of the issues that adoptees cope with are similar to those of children of divorce, children who grow up in alcoholic families, or children with any sort of developmental trauma. But at least the later have access to their roots. At least, I know who my mother was on some level.
I decided to write a poem to encapsulate everything I felt after gaining all this knowledge. It is what these child-like parts of ourselves maybe needed to hear from our birth mothers. It is called I Love You, My Baby.
I Love You, My Baby
Climb into my armswide open with loveStay as long as you wantall nuzzled up Hear my words wanderall the way to your heartwhen I say, "I love you, my baby,and this is the part of me that never wanted to give you up." Feel my kiss upon your cheekFeel the warmth I have in my bodyLet it pour into all the lost yearsand if you feel safe enough, release your tears Please know that I'll be hereas long as you likeand answer all your questionsHard and soft alike I'll be open and honesteven if it hurts us bothand within this embraceyou can be the first to let go...