As with most everything in life, adoption has positive and negative elements. None of us wants to acknowledge the negative, painful side–that is, loss. But the truth is, the very act of adoption is built upon loss. For the birth parents, the loss of their biological offspring, the relationship that could have been, a very part of themselves. For the adoptive parents…, the loss of giving birth to the child they call their own, the child whose face will never mirror theirs. And for the adopted child, the loss of the birth parents, the earliest experience of belonging and acceptance. To deny adoption loss is to deny the emotional reality of everyone involved. An adoptee’s wounds are hardly ever talked about. They are the proverbial elephant in the living room. Dr. David M. Brodzinsky and Dr. Marshall D. Schecter, a psychologist and psychiatrist specializing in adoption, say in their insightful book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, that loss for the adoptee is “unlike other losses we have come to expect in a lifetime, such as death and divorce. Adoption is more pervasive, less socially recognized, and more profound.” Grief is the natural response to loss, and those touched by adoption must be given permission to revisit emotionally the place of loss, feel the pain, scream the anger, cry the tears, and then allow themselves to be loved by others. If left unresolved, this grief can and often does sabotage the strongest of families and the deepest potential within the adopted child. It can undermine the most sincere parental commitment and force adoptees to suffer in private, choosing either rebellion or conformity as a mode of relating. Since adoption loss is somewhat difficult to understand, I will use the gardening technique of grafting to illustrate not only adoption loss but a variety of adoption dynamics. A Lesson from Nature A grafted tree. Magnificent to behold. One of a kind. Contrary to nature. Luxurious leaves and intricate roots. Loaded with horticultural challenges for a gardener, but ultimately yielding a tree with unparalleled beauty. The adopted child. Magnificent to behold. One of a kind. Biological features often contrary to yours. Intricate roots that need to be healed. Loaded with behavioral challenges for parents, but ultimately yielding a life of unparalleled beauty. How do you react to the above? Some might be saying, “Yes! A thousand times, yes! This describes our child. She is one of a kind and we are so glad she is ours.” Others may be saying, “You’d better believe our adopted child presents us with challenges! He can peel wallpaper off a wall at the speed of a shining bullet, make holes in the drywall of his room, be verbally and physically rebellious, tear up anything in his room, and then collapse in a pool of tears.” Wherever you are in the spectrum of possible reactions, believe me, you are not alone!
There’s a certain, undefinable sadness that hovers over the heart of an adoptee that is aging….at least this one. Memories of loss paint a melancholy, forboding, lifeless, un-iniviting landscape.
But today of all days, we should be thankful!
It’s Thanksgiving, after all.
Mixed feelings are running rampant inside of me!
Anybody out there identify?
I bet a few of my fellow adoptees can.
I thought those feelings were only for kids and teens? Surely not for sixty somethings.
As I perused a picture book of our six grandkids, I laughed out loud…amidst the mixed feelings.
Then, something quite miraculous happened.
Remember the landscape I described earlier?
It began to change. Bright colors appeared. Vibrant, filled with life and light.
Yes, as an adoptee, I do experience loss, yes adoption is a life long journey (darn), but I also experience life….lots of it.
For that life in so many forms, I am thankful today.
Have a wonderful day….and go ahead, eat too much! I’m going to!
Love to each and every one of you!
Write and tell me if you have mixed feelings so I won’t feel like the only weirdo on the planet? Form is below:-)
Our living room floor was scattered with tidbits of paper, scratched-out notes from my first conversation with birth relatives, photos of generations past, a handwritten will of my birth grandmother, the first card I received from my birth mother, the newspaper clipping with the hand carved ship my grandfather made for Henry Ford back in the day. (Yes, THAT Henry Ford!)
What I have hoarded is every single thing pertaining to my adoption.
These things have all remained in a big plastic container, reserved for the day that I would write our family story for our children and grandchildren.
I think this behavior is called hoarding, right?
Did you know that hoarding is called a mental illness? If that’s the case, I’m mental! Maybe a little OCD, too!
Last weekend I sorted my hoards and got the papers into four piles. Death, marriage, and birth certificates, adoptive family, birth family, and my family.
There were volumes of correspondence to the hospital where I was born, always with the accompanying letter that they couldn’t release information. There were multiple copies of my original birth certificate. Don’t want to lose that! Better to have multiple copies than none.
I remember speaking once to an audience and passing around the ONLY photo I had of my birth mother. I literally felt sick when I thought it had disappeared.
Here’s what the folks at Mayo Clinic describe as symptoms of hoarding (tongue in cheek):
–Difficulty organizing items
–Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow possessions
–Limited or no social interactions
People who hoard typically save items because they believe these items will be needed or have value in the future. A person also may hoard items that he or she feels have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times, for example, or representing beloved people or pets. People who hoard may report feeling safer when surrounded by the things they save.
Hmmmm. That confirms my hunch. I’m an adoptee hoarder. However, there is a beautiful, positive side to all of this for many adoptees. We have very active minds, we remember details, we never forget a face, we are optimum learners in life, and we are treasure hunters.
Can anyone relate to this? Do you keep adoption information about your child or parents in a special place? How many plastic bins do you have that are filled to overflowing with details about adoption?
I’d love to hear how you deal with the hoarder in you!
Have a great week!