The Unspoken Raw Realities All Adopted Kids Experience

What Adoptive Parents Need to Know In Order to Hear Their Child's Cry Print

Mothering an adopted/foster child might be the greatest challenge you’ll ever face, or should I say the greatest dance you’ll ever dance? 

Dances are always preceded by dreams. Mom dreams. Big dreams. If your child will be a newborn, you might wrap him in a blanket and glide around the floor, cuddling him to the max. If your child is school-aged upon arriving,  you envision the fun of teaching her the steps of the Charleston. Or if he’s a teen, you may look forward to the grandest of waltzes, with your rhythmic footsteps following one another.

Now, imagine the arena of adoption as a dance floor. You’re already there, ready to dance. You’ve pre-determined what your first dance step will be–love. Fierce love, like that of a mama bear,  that saturates the unloved regions of your child’s heart, no matter the personal cost. 

So, the dance begins the moment you see the face of your soon-to-be child, possibly on a computer screen for an international adoption, through your front door when his  only possession upon arrival is a black garbage bag, or when you are in the delivery room with the first mom.

As a mom, you have everything in order and then your child enters your presence– you are on the dance floor together for the first time. You’re expectations are sky high. This is going to be such a life-defining moment for both.

I’m sure that’s how my adoptive mom (Retha) envisioned my homecoming at ten days of age.  When my grandmother carried me into their home, she got an unexpected response–I arched my back and cried bloody murder. In the only way my newborn angry self could communicate, I said, “I’m hurting so incredibly bad. Don’t touch me, or I’ll die.”

Mom couldn’t hear my cry, for she believed that my arching back and screams meant that I was rejecting her and declaring her an unfit mom.

In addition, she was feeling totally intimidated about mothering a needy five pound infant who already was labeled “failure to thrive.” How could she even give this tiny thing a bath? What if she dropped her? 

Without a doubt, Retha wanted to be the best mom possible, but back in the day, no one knew that parenting an adopted child depends on two variables–the adoptee’s level of pre-adoption trauma and the mom’s ability to be emotionally present for nurturing.

Both variables were sky high for our mom/child dance. I came to her in an extremely traumatized state. My first mother was raped and even though she desired an abortion, she carried me to birth. As an unborn baby, that had an effect on my development. 

And Retha was already weighed down by infertility. Townspeople already knew that she and Mike couldn’t conceive a child, so she hid her badge of shame beneath her heart. 

These variables–trauma and emotional availability– are different than variables for parenting a biological child. The requirement for parenting a bio child also requires a healthy mom, but the child usually has not been traumatized. Of course, there are always exceptions.

When I say that parenting an adopted child is different than parenting a bio child, it may be tempting to think that I’m launching into a negative narrative about adoption. Far from it. What I’m setting the stage for enhancing your ability to truly hear the cry print of your child and to be so emotionally present that nothing throws your confidence while nurturing.

So, reflecting back on my relationship with mom, her dance step was fear and mine was anger. I believe Retha translated my behavior as, “I knew I couldn’t do this. I don’t have what it takes to be her mother.”

Anger is the last thing I would choose today as my part in the dance,  and the last thing Retha wouldn’t have chosen was fearfulness and inadequacy. We both would choose that ultra-loving relationship, where no words are needed, where we can gaze into one another’s eyes and know we’re loved. Where we can savor close hugs and gut-busting laughs.

And, we would work hard to get that intimacy. Truth telling. Healthy boundaries. Individual needs.  This is what all moms, but especially those who parent through adoption, must make as their goal.

Yes, parenting an adopted child may  be the most challenging aspect of your life, but I am confident that you want to apply the truth about these variables to your parenting. 

In order to do this, I’m going to reveal the raw realities of your child’s cry print. I speak as one adopted person and not for all. Please keep this in mind throughout the book. My goal is to make you aware of the possibilities of how your child might react to the dynamics of adoption.

Remember that this isn’t a rant against adoption, but instead an indepth look at what your child is experiencing inwardly, whether or not you witness it outwardly. 

Now, let’s get back to the idea of parenting being like a dance. The first thing that comes to mind is where the dance occurs, and of course, it’s the dance floor. 

When I was a child, one of our neighbors lived in a stately brick house and the third floor was a huge wooden dance floor. As only a child could, I envisioned what it might be like to glide across it with the boy of my dreams.

All Things Familiar Disappear on the New Dance Floor

For an adopted child, the dance floor is the first mother’s womb, for there the unborn child gains a sense of belonging, a sensation of safety in the warm sack of water, and a sense of rhythm from the mother’s beating heart.

These dance floor elements are what every child expects after birth–a continuation and amplification of the same life-defining dynamics she experienced prior to birth.

However, if the dance floor changes through adoption, the child loses everything familiar for there is no heartbeat, no warm sack, no rhythmic heartbeat, no first mother on the dance floor.

The dance floor for foster kids can change in the blink of an eye, with one placement after another. Who can even keep track? Their dance floors pass by quickly, like a movie reel.

When all that’s familiar disappears, the adoptee goes into an extreme state of shock because this is critical trauma. 

Try putting yourself in the child’s shoes for a moment.  Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a smoke alarm. You push off the covers and run through the dark to find the stop switch. 

And, even when you do turn it off, your heart is still racing, you’re short of breath, and sweating profusely. 

Now. let’s apply this to your adopted child. When all that’s familiar disappears, a smoke alarm blares into his brain. “Your first mother is gone. You might never see her again. You may die without her.”

The disconcerting part for the adopted child is that no one turned the alarm off, and the child can’t do it for himself when young. In fact, most parents aren’t told about the smoke alarm and how they can teach their child to turn it off through regulation. 

That’s your calling, moms. Because the smoke alarm is still blaring, you must pull the covers of pain back, run through the darkness of the unknown, and turn the shock alarm off with truth, which can set your child free from his painful past. 

Yes, this information is intimidating, but think about how much more alarming it would be for your child and family if you never know about this raw reality of the smoke alarm.

You must not only see this raw reality, but accept it as the dance floor dynamics you’ll have with your child. 

There’s another raw reality that occurs at adoption, which we’ll call “Disappointing Dance Steps.”

The First Mother’s First Step Was Away, not Toward

Now, envision your child fumbling through the darkened dance floor to find her missing first mother. If she could only see her face, all would be well. The pain of relinquishment would disappear. It will be a wonderful dance, like in the movies.

She searches and searches, but can’t find the missing mother and realizes that the first mother’s step wasn’t toward her, but away from her. How disappointing. How debilitating. 

This unexpected and unwanted dance step results in the deeper-than-death loss for the adopted child.  Eventually, the maturing adult adoptee believes that recovery is impossible. 

This disappointing dance step is what author Nancy Verrier addresses in her best-seller, THE PRIMAL WOUND. Many adoptees carry her book, like a Bible, for she validates this profound wound and helps adoptees feel heard and visible.

Verrier made a great contribution to the world of adoption by providing adoptee validation. However, she doesn’t provide the next steps adoptees need to heal. The result is that adoptees are stuck in anger and parents are hurting and discouraged.

The reason Verrier doesn’t offer hope that hurting adoptees and weary moms can overcome a painful past is that there wasn’t any evidence of it when she penned the book. That will change right now as I share my story of healing and hope. 

There Can Be Healing from the Primal Wound

What was going on inside my head and heart? The people in my relationships hadn’t changed, but my attitude and perspective about them definitely had. Where were these warm thoughts coming from? Why was I remembering mom’s best-in-town apple pie, her gentle hands smoothing oil on my asthmatic chest, or for affectionate caring for Dinny Dinwit, my tiger kitty?

Maybe I was experiencing a brain change? After all, you hear in adoption circles about how the brain is damaged by trauma, and yet can heal. So I rummaged through all my books about the brain..in vain. 

Then, I wondered if I was cracking up. Maybe I was hallucinating?  I’ve been known to do that when clinically depressed, but the hubs assured me I was fine.

One day I thought about my late mom’s wedding rings. A rather bizarre thought, right? It was bizarre for two reasons. First, mom died nearly 30 years ago and second, we had a tumultuous relationship during the growing-up years. All I remembered over my seven decades of life was negative and painful.

For 53 years, I’d unintentionally carried them from geographical move to geographical move, from California to Canada. To me, they were worthless pieces of junk that should’ve been tossed decades ago. 

Moments later, I rushed to my jewelry drawer, like a gold digger. And, there they were–one prominent band and a delicate eternity band, all lacking the diamonds that originally graced them. 

Then, my mind flooded with new thoughts. What was it like on the evening Mom and Dad were engaged?  Did Dad get down on his knee to propose? And, was she the blushing, soon-to-be bride, dreaming of a house, children, and happiness forever?  I slipped the tarnished rings onto my finger and ran to husband Bob’s office, like a kid.

Just a month ago, while eating at our favorite restaurant, Bob pulled out a small box with the same rings that had been totally refurbished into glistening silver and diamonds.  

This experience with mom’s rings convinced me that healing my painful past is not something that can only happen in heaven, but it can occur also in everyday life on planet earth. I have never felt happier or more whole than I do today, and I’m so thankful.

I wanted to share my message of healing and hope with you because it is new in the world of adoption. Yes, Nancy Verrier gave us the gift of validation of the seminal wound, but there’s so much more.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Now, I’m going to share one more raw reality with you and I warn you ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult to read. If you can take a break right now, get yourself a cup of tea, or take a hot bath so you can digest the information in a state of strength, that would be good. Remember also that I love you.

The Adoptive Mom Isn’t Who Adoptee Expects, or Wants

Moms, remember what your adopted child is expecting as far as their designated dance partner. They’re expecting the first mother, like any child does. We all tend to believe the old axim, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

But providentially, guess who shows up. You. And, she didn’t expect you and doesn’t want you. Not that there’s anything wrong with you. That’s not the issue. The issue is that she wants her first mother to dance with her.

In addition, she doesn’t know who you are because you’re a mere stranger in her world. You look strange, smell strange, and speak strange. 

As dance partners, you are at odds with one another. You lead and she pushes you away. You offer ferocious love and she steps on your toes and runs off the dance floor. 

To your child, you are a loving stranger and you don’t have the rhythm she was wired for in the womb. Her mantra often is, “You don’t get it.”  You keep stepping on her toes and she finds you distant and awkward in your dance style.

Loss Is Inherent for Every Adopted Child 

I hope by now you’ll agree with the premise that loss is inherent for every adopted child, even if they seem fine. Every. Child. No exceptions. There is not one adopted child that hasn’t suffered the seminal loss of the first mother.

Some children act out their pain and some bury it in a deep cavern in their hearts, only becoming aware of it when conditions are conducive for healing. 

Here’s something to put this into perspective for you and your child:

When a tree is struck by lightning,

if it survives,

its growth is altered.

A knot may form where the lightning hit.

The growth on one side of the tree may be more vigorous

than on another side,

The shape of the tree may change.

An interesting twist or curious split has replaced what might

have otherwise been a straight line.

The tree flourishes;

it bears fruit,

provides shade,

becomes a home to birds and squirrels.

It is not the same tree it would have been had there not

been a lightning storm,

but some say it is more interesting this way.

Few can even remember the event

that changed its shape forever.

So, let’s discuss the variable that involves you, moms, in the adoption dance.

Moms and Adopted Kids Can See the Impossible As Possible

Does your child’s healing sound impossible? Does it sound impossible that you can be that nurturing mom who can turn off the smoke alarm? 

Trust me. I never had an inkling that healing from my painful past was a possibility, that newly-conscious memories could stand alongside the painful, or that true healing meant seeing both positive and painful memories without being upset. 

What seemed impossible for a lifetime now looms as possible. When I think about this new reality, I’m reminded of my husband, Bob, who was invited by friends to climb a 14ner in Colorado. 

 In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means climbing a huge mountain. That would be an awesome goal for any guy, but Bob was 74.

Our two adult daughters and I were freaking out. After all, what if something awful happened? What if he didn’t have enough energy or stamina? What if he had a heart attack half way up? 

The only consolation was that his climbing buddies included a physician, a pastor, and a professional trainer.

Prior to the climb, Bob wasn’t sure if he’d be able to reach the top but he trained like crazy and bought specific gear and shoes for mountain climbing. 

Needless to say, the climb wasn’t easy and the way down the mountain was more difficult than the ascension. That’s where his younger friends come in– they walked behind him in case he lost his balance.  There’s a photo of them at the summit. Their euphoric faces say a thousand words.

Are you ready to decide whether or not you’ll climb a 14ner?  The mountain of impossibilities? The mountain trail that will lead you to hope that your adopted child can not only survive, but thrive?

This mountain that challenges every ounce of energy you can muster? The mountain that totally changes your perspective for the better? 

I would love being your sherpa for the climb, for I’ve found the best paths leading up the mountain. Because I know the way to the summit, I can be the one who helps you stay on the path, encouraging you when overwhelmed. 

Rest assured that as we climb I’ll be sharing powerful principles which aren’t from books or university advanced degrees. Instead, they’ve been pounded out on the anvil of my own adoptee heart. 

I promise you won’t be sorry to come. No, it won’t be an easy climb, but your hard work will surely pay off in the long run. It’s my joy to be on the journey with you.

Action Step for Moms: Put On Your Yellow Rain Slicker 

Even when you see and accept all the truths stated above, this doesn’t stop your child from flinging hurtful, rejecting remarks at you. Remarks like:

  • You’re not my real mom.
  • I hate you.
  • You never “get it.”
  • Go away.

Someone introduced a practical tool to me about how you can cope while rejecting words are flung.

Envision yourself wearing a yellow rain slicker that protects your from the rains of painful words. Just imagine how peaceful you could be if the words fall off you, like raindrops.

In addition, I have opened a new FB page titled “When Your Adopted Child Rejects Your Love.” It is based on the yellow rain slicker concept.

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This post is copyrighted October 20, 2019, By Sherrie Eldridge.

 

Honoring First Parents Opens The Hearts of Adopted Children

Will My Adoptive Parents Honor My First Parents?

The majority of parents don’t understand the parallels between their attitudes toward the first parents and their child’s receptivity to receive unconditional love. That’s why it’s vitally important to understand what I’ll call “the first parent factor.”

Let’s begin by getting some historical perspective on adoption and how relationships between adoptive parents and first parents evolved. Jayne Schooler, adoption expert and author gives us some historical context in Searching for a Past: The Adopted Adult’s Unique Process of Finding Identity.(p. 40) “In recent decades, adoption has served two addition functions—to meet the needs of couples whose dreams of a family were shattered by infertility and to provide a solution for birth parents who found themselves facing an unintended and untimely pregnancy. What emerged from the latter two functions of adoption during the middle decades of this century was an idealistic picture, one which characterized a perfect solution to a societal problem…What this ‘perfect solution’ created were myths that were safeguarded throughout the world of adoption.”

“Years ago,” according to Sharon Kaplan-Roszia, “myths were perpetuated through the adoption community. One myth taught those whose lives were touched by adoption that the most healthy attitude for all members of the adoption triad was to make a clean break. That meant no looking back—for anyone, forever.”

Closed Adoptions—Put the Past Behind and Pretend

A closed adoption, even though prevalent in the 1940—is still desirable by some today. In this arrangement, there is no contact whatsoever between the birth parents and adopters. Instead, there is an intermediary that facilitates the adoption, whether it be foreign government officials, local or national adoption agencies, or private attorneys and physicians. In the case of international adoptions, scanty, if any, information is given to the adopters by orphanage workers, not from mal intent, but because there is no information available. As Richard Fischer, adoptive dad and publisher of Adoptive Families Today, said, “All these kids come with one thing—a certificate of abandonment.” For those of us born domestically, we can get an amended birth certificate, but the only information we are given is “non-identifying information,” which means age of parents at birth, their occupation, place of birth, whether there were siblings. All other information is “whited out” on the original certificate, which then becomes officially sealed and legally unavailable to the adopted person. Even if an adoptee from a closed adoption is successful in securing the original birth certificate, there is still the matter of secrecy. For example, my birth mother put the name of her husband as father on my birth certificate, when he wasn’t the father. In the 1940’s, the blank for the father had to be filled in, so she must have put his name, to keep the name of my birth father a secret, which she still carries until this day.

When I speak to audiences, they are usually unaware that the majority of adoptees in this country, no matter what their ages, have sealed birth certificates, except in a growing number of States. They are appalled, as this is a basic right of every citizen.

Semi-Closed Adoptions–First Parent Connection Is Maintained from a Distance

This type of adoption is quite popular today. There is direct contact between the adopters and the birth family, with the adopters determining the parameters and boundaries. The parents may meet the birth parents at the birth or dedication ceremony, but after that, there is usually no physical contact. However, there still is openness and communication through gifts and cards. The subject of the birth family is usually not off limits, at least it shouldn’t be. Our granddaughter has always had a photo of her birth mother is her bedroom and she has a book made for her by her birth mother, telling her her favorite colors, activities, etc. One time my daughter went to her bedroom, only to find her older sister in the crib with her, reading her the book from her birth mother.

Open Adoptions—Adoptive Parents and First Parents Become Blended Family

These adoptions are becoming more prevalent today and involve and on-going, direct relationship between the adoptive family, the adopted child, and the first parents.

 When people ask me if I am in favor of open adoptions, I tell them three things. I know I am out of the mainstream of professionals in my opinion, but I look at it as an adopted person. I do believe that it can be wonderful, especially after reading the thoughts of James Gritter in the Spirit of Open Adoption. 

I do believe, however, that it takes four incredibly mature individuals (birth and adoptive parents) to pull it off, and that, with counseling and coaching from a qualified open adoption practitioner.

It is not the panacea for adoption, however, as many would like to believe. It doesn’t change the fact that the first parents have abdicated parental responsibilities, which is a loss for both them and the child. In addition, it doesn’t mean that the child isn’t going to have issues surrounding adoption. No, he won’t have to search for his first mother’s face in a crowd, but he will have to come to terms with why he has a “blended family.” 

From an adopted person’s perspective, it can put undue pressure on the child and rob him of the innocence of childhood. There is a seven-year-old adopted girl who was at a family gathering with both birth and adoptive family. Members of the extended adoptive family hadn’t yet met the birth relatives. The child, in an attempt to introduce the first aunt to the adoptive aunt, stopped short and asked what the word “first aunt” meant.

Even in a biological family, it is difficult for young children to understand how the two families merge to make a bigger family. Not long ago, our seven-year-old grandson asked me how I knew his other grandma.

Along the subject of enjoying one’s childhood, I am reminded of something our eight-year-old grandson said to me recently. When I told him that I couldn’t be in the sun because of health reasons, he declared that was the reason he didn’t want to get old! Then, he went on to say repeatedly, “I just LOVE being a kid.”

I know that’s what you want for your kids, too—to LOVE being a kid, to enjoy childhood to the fullest. That’s why I would like you to think deeply about this subject and what is best for your child and family. Take my perspective with a grain of salt, ask for wisdom about it from on high, and listen to other professionals before making the decision about what type of adoption you will pursue.

PARENTAL PERSPECTIVES ON BIRTH PARENTS

In this day and age, you were probably prepared well enough by your agency to realize that your child may want to search for his first parents someday.  Randolf Severson, author and therapist, describes the struggle within that you may encounter over the years: “Adoptive parents—some with joy and some with anguish—are awakening to the fact that roots, however twisted, are as vital to the leafing of a tree as is the gentle nurturing of the sun and rain.”  You may feel prepared for every question that may be posed in the years to come, but how will you really react when and if the time comes? 

Yet, in spite of this new awareness among adoptive parents, resistance to the subject still surprises me during talks with parents of adopted children. Let’s look at some of the reasons and perhaps your resistance level will go down. 

I’m Okay—I’m Prepared

Even the most mature and prepared parents find the first parent topic difficult. When a child announces it is time to search for the birth parents. You may have read all the books, prepared yourself in every way possible, yet when the time comes, you are reminded of your frailty and humanity in a big way.  Doris said, “When my daughter announced….we felt like we had been hit in the gut with a sledgehammer.” 

For nearly five years, a friend and I volunteered at Indiana University Hospital, to visit all new patients on a weekly basis. We visited patients from the top to the first floors, never knowing what to expect when we walked into a room. I’ve visited patients receiving bone marrow transplants, those receiving chemotherapy, and those that are one step from death.

Therefore, with this experience under my belt, when my elderly father’s physician called and told me to come quick, he was dying, I remember walking into the hospital and telling myself that I would be able to be “cool and calm” because of my prior experience. I still remember nearing his room in ICU. My knees started quivering and my hands were sweating profusely. Even though I was prepared in every way, when it became personal, I realized my humanity once again. We can do everything possible to prepare ourselves, but then we also must be gentle and forgiving with ourselves as well.

They’re Losers!

This is a difficult hurdle for parents to jump because they want to protect their child from further hurt. However, parents, it’s important to remember that there is a primal, DNA tie to those first parents that no abuse or neglect can sever.  A story is told of a toddler who was put in a hot, oiled frying pan by her mother. When he visited the child in the pediatric ICU, the mother came to visit. The child’s first reaction was to hold out her arms to the mother and cry “mama!”

I’m the “Real” Parent!

Traversing that narrow line between honoring the role of the first parent and the irresponsible behavior can be tricky. One mother describes her experience: “We have a closed adoption.  My husband and I have never met our daughter’s first parents.  She came into our home as a nine-month-old baby from foster care seven years ago.  I don’t understand her first parents’ choices – drugs, no prenatal care, a handful of visits, and ultimately leaving town without signing a single document.  It took us an additional nine months to adopt her because of their lack of communication with social services.     

Where Do They Get the Right to Be Called Parents?

My husband and I were faced with our feelings about her first parents just this week.  Our 2nd grade daughter was chosen to be “Star of the Week” at school.  A poster was to be made with pictures of her family and hobbies that interested her.  As Grace and I were cutting out the stars the teacher had printed, she said, “Mom, can I put a picture of my first parents on the poster?”  

I responded with, “Oh, honey, that’s private.”  Immediately my heart told me that was not right. We’ve always been open with her in how she came into our family and I didn’t want her to feel that her adoption story was a secret or something she should be ashamed about. And besides, the kids in her class had been asking her who her “real” parents were because she is Filipino and we are Caucasian.  So, I asked her some questions to see how comfortable she was in answering them.  

After thinking about it, she said she’d changed her mind, only to come back to me a couple of hours later saying that she really wanted their picture on the poster. My heart was in turmoil.  How did her birthparents earn the right to be on the poster?  Are they family?  

The answer came to me as my husband and I shared our feelings later that night.  First, their picture should be on there because that’s what Grace wanted.  Second, they are family.  If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have the joy of parenting our daughter.  And third, if by sharing the picture with her class helps our daughter’s growth process, it was worth putting aside our feelings.  

Through all the emotions my husband and I went through over a picture, what will it be like when she wants to meet them some day?  One step at a time.”

They’re a Non-Issue—We Adopted Internationally!

Many, not all, who choose international adoption are motivated by “the first parent factor.” If we adopt from abroad, there will be no history. There will be no first parents who change their minds after the adoption is finalized and come to get our child in the middle of the night, like little Jessica DeBoer.

One parent who adopted internationally says, “I was very glad in the beginning, that the likelihood of a parent ever contacting me was remote. That feeling started to dissipate in China, and I recall feeling overwhelmed with emotion as the plane lifted off the tarmac in Beijing, holding my daughter to the window, and telling her to say goodbye to China. Oh, goodbye to your birth country, your heritage, your first family, your ancestors, your language, your culture, the only place where you will ever feel in the majority—say goodbye to it all, because I wanted a daughter, and I could adopt you, so I did. Now, I realize it is NOT all about me, and it IS about my daughter. I would give anything to be able to fill that black hole of nothingness that is inside my daughter, where her first family should be. All I can do as her parent is to help her to bear the pain of the unknown, and deal with it in a way that will allow her to live a happy and productive life. I pray that I will be able to do this.”

What If She Runs Off with Them and Forgets Me?

During nine years of leading all-adoptee support groups, I have never seen an adopted person, no matter his or her age, search, reunite with the birth parents, and then say “ta, ta” to their mom and dad and run off with the first parents. They all return with a deepened appreciation and love for their parents.

What’s the Deal? Didn’t I Do A Good Enough Job?

An adult adoptee said, “My mama didn’t like me to ask much about my first mom. She couldn’t understand why I wanted to know about her. My daddy has always been much more accepting and open. When I was reunited with members of my first family, my mom fell to pieces and said it was because ‘she wasn’t a good enough mom and God was punishing her.’ I just want to belong.”

COACH SHERRIE’S INVITATION

Parents, we’ve looked at some of the possible perspectives parents have about first parents. We’ve certainly seen our humanity! 

The Key for Communicating Unconditional Love to Your Child

I’d like to share another perspective with you that I believe will revolutionize your relationship with your child—choosing to openly show honor to your child’s first parents, no matter what their behavior or history. You choose to honor their role.

Why? Because your child is a part of them! Your child had her first conversation with her first mother during the last trimester in the pregnancy. Your child’s first home was her first mother’s womb. The DNA that helped determine your child’s personality and looks came from her first father.

To deny these wondrous facts is to say to your child that part of her is unspeakable, so bad, so unworthy, that we can’t talk about it.

The defining principle is: When you honor your child’s birth family, you honor your child. If you don’t honor her birth parents, she will secretly or unconsciously conclude that there is something terrible about her. In other words, you will be fostering shame, which I know is the last thing you desire. You want your child to feel unconditionally loved!

Here are some suggestions to get you started with honoring statements, which should begin from day one:

  • I am so glad your first mother and father gave you to us to love.
  • Your first parents must be wonderful people to have had such an awesome baby.
  • How I love your first parents for sharing you with us.
  • Your first mother and father must be incredible people!

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How To Enter the World of Your Adopted Child

I Avoid Telling My Adopted Child the Truth about His Background

Imagine yourself boarding a jet to a foreign country. Anticipation is high as you place your bags in the upper compartment, listening to chatting.

Upon arrival, the heat is stifling and the people pushy.  You meander the streets in search of an appealing restaurant and when the waitress brings the menu and water, you can’t read it–it’s a foreign language and she can’t speak English.

All of a sudden, a situation you thought was going to be wonderful has produced feelings of isolation and loneliness. No matter how hard you try, you are not able to make a “connection” with anyone or anything in this foreign country.

This illustration can be compared to how adoptees and foster kids feel when they lose their first (2nd, 3rd, 4th) family.  I’m aware it’s difficult for adoptive parents when I say that this is how adoptees feel when they arrive at your home.  We don’t know you, even though you are loving strangers. You don’t smell, feel, sound, or look like our first moms. Even though this is tough to read, it is an essential step for connecting with your adopted child, no matter his/her age.

Many who adopt newborns believe that “babies don’t remember.” Oh, yes we do. Our first mom’s womb was our first home. We felt the warmth of her body, the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, and we even knew if we were wanted or not. It is in the womb that the emotional landscape for the baby is put in place as a reflection of the mom’s emotions. (Check out THE SECRET LIFE OF THE UNBORN CHILD, by Dr. Thomas Verny).

So, the dilemma is: How can you enter this other world of the adopted child, teen, or adult. Here are a few pointers for entrance to the infant, child, teen, and adult adoptee hearts:

  1. Acknowledge the reality of adoption loss from day one.Newborn: On the way home from the hospital, “I know you must feel very sad and I am sad with you for not having your first mom. I want you to always know that I will never leave you or forsake you.”Older child: I tell you, friends, I have been with some social workers who have their “client kids” with them at an event. These workers gloss over the child’s loss callously. At one event, I talked with the teen who had just been transferred to yet another placement.
    “This must be so painful for you.”
  2. Honor the first parents, no matter how painful the backstory.

Just having found the paternal side of my first family, I know first-hand what it means to come from a painful history. My first father was a very broken man, now deceased, but leaving six children from six marriages in the wake.

I am fairly convinced that my adoptive parents knew the back story, but it was never shared. I’m convinced, also, that the hospital where I was born knew the back story, for after multiple attempts to get my newborn hospital records, even after a court order to release, I was denied access.

Now, even if my parents knew the truth, would it be appropriate for them to share it with little Sherrie, the Sherrie who sat on the green couch with French knots with them and heard what was age appropriate.

My answer is, “no!” Ask an adoption-certified therapist about the correct age.

However, at the age-appropriate time, tell your child the truth, for it is truth that sets us free. Free from unexplainable anxiety, free from a painful past, free from non-existent self worth.

So, if I were my adoptive parents (and remember that I grew up in the closed adoption system…so give them grace as I do), I would have said something like this:

Your first mom and dad must be fine people because they birthed you. But, they are very broken people who have made a lot of choices that weren’t healthy. ” Emphasize that “you” and your life weren’t one of those unhealthy choices.

Now, something important here. Please don’t explain adoption to a child, teen, or adult adoptee by saying, “Your first mom loved you sooooo much that she gave you to us.”

The adoptee response would likely be, “Well, if that’s what love is, I don’t want anything to do with it and you’re love.”

So, parents, you have every right to enter your child’s world,  but it must be entered with finesse. I know you’ll do great.

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Why Choose Adoption Over Abortion?

I Can't Believe I'm Pregnant. Maybe I Should Abort My Baby

Just like the young woman in this photo, many face the decision about whether to choose adoption or abortion. If this would help someone you love, feel free to share.

  1. Any two people can make love, but only God can create a life.
  2. No matter what the circumstances surrounding the conception, the baby growing inside you belongs to God and was created by him for his purposes.
  3. God loves you and has a special plan for your life as well as your baby’s.
  4. Choosing abortion will result in endless grieving for the child you might have had. Parental loss of a child is particularly devastating grief. Motherhood does not end with abortion.
  5. You will likely spend a lot of energy keeping the abortion secret in the future, and will experience guilt, anger, unconscious fear of sex, tenseness and uneasiness around children and depression.
  6. This child is part of you. Choosing abortion instead of adoption will not only kill your baby, but also a vital part of you.
  7. You will place your very life at risk through the abortion procedure.
  8. You will jeopardize your ability to conceive again.
  9. You will long to hold the child for the rest of your life and will wonder what he/she may have looked like when you see another’s child at the same age yours would have been. You will have lost not only an infant, but also a preschooler, a teenager, a young adult and your grandchildren.
  10. You will secretly wonder what your child would have grown up to be.
  11. The child you are carrying, like all of us, deserves a right to have a chance at life.
  12. The institution of adoption has changed dramatically in the last few decades. There is now such a thing as open adoption, where an arrangement can be negotiated between both sets of parents (birth and adoptive) for the welfare of your child. You can choose the birth parents for your baby.
  13. You can have a vital impact on the life of your child. If you choose adoption instead of abortion, he/she may need and want you to be an integral part of his/her life.
  14. If you choose adoption instead of abortion, you will ultimately see that you have touched by adoption for a purpose and that your son or daughter will be grateful to you for sacrificially carrying him/her for the first nine months of life.

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What Adoptees Must Consider Before Searching for Birth Family

Two roads diverged in a wood. And I took the one less traveled. And that has made all the difference—Robert Frost

We’re at a fork in the road now and there’s a sign pointing in two directions. One part says “Familiar” and the other, “Unknown.” 

The path called “Familiar” looks appealing because it’s broad, smooth, and well-traveled. The other road, “Unknown,” is narrow, infested with crabgrass and dandelions, and appears long unused. Ahead is a forest of trees that looks impenetrable. 

The road called “Familiar” represents the opinions and feelings of others about what we should say or do in regard to the option of searching for and reuniting with our birth families. “Unknown” is the path that leads straight into our hearts and speaks to us with a still, small voice. 

What road will each one of us take? Will we take the familiar road by listening only to the voices of others, possibly ending up with a heart full of bitterness and what-might-have-beens? Or will we take the road of Robert Frost, the narrow one, and be true to that still, small voice that says, “This is the way; walk in it”?1 

I am a strong advocate for searching, for I believe that through the searching, we will grow, no matter the outcome. Some of us might not be able to make a literal search, but we can search in other ways in order to connect with our past. For instance, Susan was left on the steps of an orphanage in Romania with only a diaper to her name. She can’t obtain any history, but she could still do some searching by visiting her birth land and seeing the orphanage she lived in. Or she could make a “life book,” filled with images of her native land. 

There comes a time for many when we know we want to search. Every time we dream about the possibility, we are pumped! We have gone too far down the adoption road to turn back. What is the driving force behind all that adrenaline? 

Our Quest for Truth

  • Truth about what is written on our sealed adoption certificates and hospital records.
  • Truth about how adoption has impacted our lives.
  • Truth about our “other” parents and family out there somewhere.
  • Truth about how our adoptive parents really feel about a possible reunion.
  • Truth about what life is all about.
  • Truth about what Truth really is. 

Bob Blanchard says, “It really doesn’t matter if the outcome of your search is good or not—it’s just important to know the truth.” We have this burning desire to know because truth brings freedom. 

  • Freedom from the adoption baggage we have carried around for years.
  •  Freedom from the paralysis of not being able to be ourselves and know it’s okay.
  • Freedom from shallow living and compromise. 

Even though we have this wonderful promise of growth and freedom that results from discovering truth, it’s scary to embark on the narrow road and, as a result, our search may wax and wane as the years go by. But that’s okay. 

Laurie says that her search flickered on and off like a light bulb, but beneath the flickering was a steady desire to know truth. “It took me a long time to decide to go ahead and begin searching,” says Ron Hilliard. “I had actually begun the process about five years earlier only to decide not to proceed. At that point I think I was mostly afraid of what I would find, and especially afraid that if I did find my birth mother, she would not want to have anything to do with me.” 

Paula Oliver remembers being excited, scared, hopeful, and wary all at the same time. “Mostly I felt like I was on a treasure hunt.” 

The Risks of Searching 

Why does the narrow path often feel so scary? Because those ominous woods that lay ahead on our path may be filled with either life-giving redemption or heart-wrenching rejection. Therefore, we must count the cost before we begin to determine if we are willing to expose ourselves to such risk. 

DISILLUSIONMENT 

The illusion of many is that if we search and find the long-lost relative and ultimately have a glorious reunion, all adoption-related issues will disappear.

Oops… there’s that adoptee fantasy again! Many adoptees in support groups chuckle when another member returns fresh from reunion. 

“Do you still feel adopted?” we all ask. 

The answer is always yes, accompanied by a red face! 

Feelings of being adopted don’t go away! Nor should they! Adoption doesn’t define us, but it is an event that has impacted us greatly.  We were wired for adoption.

REJECTION FROM A BIRTH PARENT 

Another risk of reuniting is rejection from a birth parent., which is common.

“Fear? You betcha!” says Connie Dawson. “When adoptees consider searching (getting what they need), they are faced with huge risks.” 

Connie’s fear was that if her birth family (her birth mother was dead) “rejected” her, and by contacting them she might put her relationship with her adoptive parents at risk, then she would have no one to belong to. She would be nowhere. “I would have seen to my own exile. This is the same fearful space I faced when my birth mother ‘sent me away’ and felt that every connection I had was severed. I was like any animal who is s born, who is helpless, and whose mother walks off.” 

Lorraine says that her birth father refuses all responsibility and that opening herself up to a reunion with him would be a crisis waiting to happen. She wouldn’t be able to withstand the heartache and rejection. 

FEAR OF NOT BEING ABLE TO HANDLE THE EMOTIONS. 

Another risk we must face is that overwhelming emotion may occur. 

Penny Callan Partridge says, “Many of us don’t want to risk having strong feelings, or particular feelings, stirred up. Ultimately, we are probably choosing between one set of feelings and another: the feelings that go along with not knowing versus the feelings that may be stirred up if we choose to try to learn more. But none of these fears is enough to stop the majority of us. The need to know about ourselves, to know our own stories, is just too great.” 

ADOPTIVE PARENTS MAY FEEL HURT. 

The most pressing concern for Jody Moreen when she contemplated searching was that she would alienate her adoptive parents. Though she had an open, honest, and loving relationship with her adoptive mother, the whole story of her birth and adoption was not a topic ever brought up for discussion. She had always been a very pleasing and compliant child and desired her parents’ approval. Therefore, it was difficult for her to give herself permission as an adult in her thirties to search for the missing pieces of her past. She didn’t know how her adoptive parents would interpret her search and was concerned about hurting them in any way. 

It took Renee Mills nine months to finally tell her adoptive mother that she had been matched with her birth mom through the International Soundex Reunion Registry. She was terrified of hurting her. She was flying to Florida to meet her birth mom and didn’t want to lie to her adoptive mom about her destination.

Renee asked her adoptive mother to sit down because she had something very important to tell her. It was then that she began showing pictures of her birth family sent to her by her birth mother. Tears flowed, but at last it was all out in the open.

Sometimes she senses her mom getting defensive when she talks about her birth mother, but her mom has encouraged their relationship. Renee’s birth mother and adoptive mom have now met each other and both express appreciation for the role the other plays in Renee’s life. 

The Rewards of Searching 

Obviously, searching entails some significant risks, and each of us must make our own decision. It’s our choice to make, no one else’s. 

But now on to the good part of searching —the rewards! 

FEELING OF COMPLETENESS. 

“I am complete,” says Kasey Hamner. “I know who I am and what I want in life. No more secrets and lies. No more wondering where I got my funny-looking knees or if depression is part of my family history. Knowledge is power, in my opinion.” 

Phyllis-Anne Munro has gained a much greater sense of wholeness. For years she never believed she could be or deserved to be a mother. After meeting her birth father, for the first time she felt she could parent. “I feel a much greater sense of who I am. What a gift!” 

Richard Curtis says that if growth is accomplished through truth and knowledge, then since beginning his search and reunion process, eight years of healing have occurred in his life. The results, he says, are a sense of peace, serenity, and an understanding of where he fits in the universe. 

“Understanding my adoption experience,” Richard says, “has allowed me to bring authenticity to my relationships with family, friends, and others in my life. I no longer hide my thoughts and feelings—the veil of secrecy has been lifted. People now get the real Richard since I’ve uncovered my past, understand how precious the present is, and perhaps have an idea of where I’m going and who’s going with me in the future. Perhaps these are the blessings I can also offer to others.” 

SELF-CONFIDENCE. 

“I think that searching was more about finding myself than it was about finding my birth family,” says Ron Hilliard. “The process of finding my birth family led to the realization that ‘this is who I am.’ A whole part of me was discovered, and I have found that the process of finding my true identity is still going on. I ‘found my voice’—I now speak out of a real authenticity because I have a clearer sense of who I am.” 

For Kenny Tucker, meeting both his birth parents was life changing. “I am more secure in who I am. I feel I can accomplish anything since I waded through the fears of rejection to the other side. I am humbled by the magnitude of it all.” 

Laurie’s search has helped her to accept her beginnings. Before searching she had so much anger about not knowing her past. She found a tombstone at the end of her search for her birth mother but has been able to glean information about her from relatives. As a result, she is better able to accept herself. 

A PAINFUL PAST FADES. 

Issie came to the conclusion that she couldn’t help the circumstances of her childhood, but that she could still create her own life. She was placed with parents who were dirt poor and tried to poison her mind about her birth parents from day one. “White trash,” they called them. 

Mentally ill. No morals when it came to sex. Issie doesn’t know who her father is even though her adoptive parents know and could tell her if they were the least bit loving. 

Issie used to be terrified of rejection, but no longer. Why? Because she made a life-transforming choice to say good-bye to the lies and abuse of the past and determine instead to be all God created her to be. She is a beautiful woman of faith who loves God and doesn’t have one ounce of bitterness in her heart. She believes that those who are rejected not only by birth parents but by adoptive parents are very special to God—the object of his tender love and care. She is a blessing to others who read her writing on various websites.  

INCREASED ABILITY TO LOVE AND BE LOVED 

After Frieda Moore talked with her birth mother, she finally felt like she belonged in her adoptive family. She says the love and acceptance were there all along, but she couldn’t receive or give love the way she longed to until she completed her search and reunion. She was finally able to be vulnerable enough to love and let others love her. 

DEEPENED LOVE FOR ADOPTIVE PARENTS 

When Jody Moreen found her birth family, both parents were deceased, but she had three living sisters. Not long after a successful reunion with the sisters, her adoptive parents met them and everyone was warm and welcoming. 

Jody says, “The most precious gift my adoptive mother has ever given me was when, unbeknown to me, she bought a bouquet of flowers and suggested we drive to the cemetery to visit my birth mother’s grave. We walked silently to the unmarked grave and I wept as my mother gently laid the flowers down at the site. Never in this world have I felt closer to my mother. To think that she would honor my birth mother like this has forever deepened my love for her.” 

HOW TO BEGIN

What is needed is an objective look at the whole idea of search and reunion, and a list such as this will help accomplish that purpose. 

  • Define in your own words what it means to be true to yourself. Then go back as far in life as you can remember and list the major decisions you have made. Put a “T” after the ones in which you were true to yourself and your own growth process; put an “X” after the ones in which you weren’t true to yourself. Perhaps you were being a compliant adoptee? Or, perhaps you were scared?

Whatever the case, fellow adoptee, I hope this post helps you consider your next steps, both emotionally and physically, about whether or not to pursue searching.

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