May 11, 2013

For Birth Moms and Adopted Kids

I think I have to post this. It helped me. still does. by Joe Soll

The Respect We Never Got

I’ve looked into your eyes thousands of times and through them into your hearts and I’ve seen the pain and anguish. Alone you have had to endure what no human should ever have to endure. Alone, hiding from the world that exiled you. You who have lost your precious child. Your precious child who is Missing in Adoption and for whose loss you receive no respect. I know your pain for it is pain that we have shared together from the beginning. Exquisite pain because it is ours. At least we have that. Now, as to respect...

Without blaming anyone, I suggest we take a look at the respect we never got. To start with, we need to look at the beginning. The beginning was birth and separation for the mother and child. For the adoptive parents, the beginning was the discovery of being infertile or being unable to bring a child into the family any other way.

It was like a big plane crash in a field. All the mothers and babies lying there crying and the rescuers came and carried them off in different directions. When they got to the Emergency Room, they dusted them off, told them they were fine and sent them on their way. The mothers went home and the babies went to new homes. All were told they were fine. The most sacred relationship in the world has now gone up in smoke. They were told that there wasn’t any accident, no crash, forget about it, just get on with your lives. The new parents of the babies were told the babies were fine and they should treat all the babies as if they were their own. As If. That’s a great little phrase. As If.

As if is sort of like treating my cat as if she is the German Shepherd dog I really wanted. But I get so frustrated. She won’t fetch, she doesn’t bark at the door and she won’t get my slippers. I love her, but I get so angry she doesn’t behave the way I want her to. As if just doesn’t work.

So what really happened to each of those mothers and babies from the plane crash? As I see it, there is no substantial difference between the experience of losing a child to death and losing a child to adoption except if there were a real death of a child shortly after birth, the mother’s family and friends would have gathered around and said to her I am so sorry your baby died. You must be sad, let me comfort you, I know you hurt, let me ease your pain. I know you must be angry, let me help you. There would be a funeral and grieving and acknowledgment of what really happened, and there would be a grave to go to and there would be validation and healing. This mother would be given respect.

Instead, the mother who loses her child to adoption experiences the psychological death of her child. Instead of comfort, she gets told she did a brave and noble, unselfish, loving thing and she must forget about it, go on with her life. No one wants to help her talk about it, acknowledge it, cry about it, or mourn the loss of her child. So the loss becomes almost unresolvable. The grief stays stuck in her body and keeping pain in is destructive. She has to go into a kind of shock to survive, hit the pause button on her life and she goes numb. Life is forever changed. You can’t really live that way, but you can exist. She gets no respect.

If there were a real death of a mother shortly after birth, at some point, the child’s father would tell the child that mommy died and it is so sad that this happened to you and you must hurt, let me comfort you and ease your pain and I know you must be angry, let me help you... and there would be pictures and stories and a grave to visit, and grieving, and eventually the child would find out that mommy didn’t die on purpose. This child would be given respect.

Instead for the child whose mother surrenders her to adoption, the child suffers the psychological death of her mother. But she is told that she is special and chosen and lucky. She is supposed to forget that there was another mother. Make believe this is your only family, make believe that all is well. “As if” it is your own. The message is that it is a good thing your mother is not there for you, is dead for you. You are not allowed to be sad about it, acknowledge the pain, anger or sadness, perhaps even to yourself. You are not allowed to mourn the loss of your own mother. The grief gets stuck in your body and keeping in pain is destructive. (So is keeping in anger and sadness). The child has to go into a kind of shock and go numb. You can’t really live that way, but you can pretend. We adoptees are great pretenders. This child gets no respect.

What would happen if your mother died today and you were told you couldn’t cry, you couldn’t go to the funeral and you had to make believe she never existed. What would happen to you? Take a moment and think about it.

Isn’t that what happened to most people in adoption in some way?

It occurs to me that if we really had respect for the mother and the child we would do all we could to preserve the sanctity of that relationship and not separate them at all. If the mother and child could not possibly stay together, then giving her respect when she lost her child, the mother’s family and friends would have gathered around and said to her, “I am so sorry you couldn’t keep your baby. You must be sad, let me comfort you. I know you hurt, let me ease your pain. I know you must be angry, let me help you.” Then there would be grieving and acknowledgment of what really happened.

If the mother and child could not possibly stay together, then giving the adoptee respect when she lost her mother, the new family would say, “You must be sad you lost your first family, it’s okay to cry about it. I’m sad too, you must hurt. Let me comfort you, you must be angry, let me help you, be with you and hold you.”

If adoptive parents got respect, they would have gotten complete information on their adopted child and the truth about the effects on their child of losing the first family. The adoption agency and others would have acknowledged the sadness of infertility or inability to have a child on one’s own. Their pain and anger would have been acknowledged and they would have been encouraged to grieve the child they couldn’t have on their own.

Ignoring the realities of adoption increases the pain and hurt. How can anyone function well if they’re told that what is true isn’t and what isn’t true is?

For example, what if I lose my leg in an accident right after birth? And they tell me I didn’t lose my leg right after I was born, I was mistaken. But it hurts, mommy, and yet it still feels like something is missing. And I keep stumbling around as if I had only one leg (they wouldn’t lie about that would they?) and I don’t know why I’m having trouble managing as a two-legged person...

Our society doesn’t want to acknowledge what has happened to all of us, to give us respect. Truth be told, I lost more than a leg, I lost my mother. Wait, I got a prosthesis, a new mother, a substitute. Why doesn’t it work just as well? Why does it still hurt? Of course our first mothers lost a baby... but they got no replacement, no substitute.

Respect is truth, no secrets, absolute honesty. We can all deal with the truth.

Have we in adoption had our eyes wide shut? Isn’t it time they were wide open?

Well, how can we give ourselves the respect we never got? By learning to experience our feelings. By learning to make “I” statements about our experience.

By learning to say I feel sad because______, I feel angry because_______, I hurt because_______ (fill in the blank). When we say these things out loud for the first time and get validated for the first time, our feelings become real in a way they can never be if unexpressed. Once our feelings become real, we can start to understand why we feel what we feel and once we understand why we feel what we feel, we can start to change the way our experience affects us today.

We can respect ourselves by expressing our anger at what happened to us. Having anger about something that happened to us and expressing it does not make us angry people. We need to express it. If we don’t talk our anger out, we will surely act it out or act it in, in either case, it is destructive. It is poison and will poison our lives and relationships unless we release it.

We can respect ourselves by expressing our sadness. Feeling sad about something sad that happened does not make us cry babies or wimps. We need to express it. Keeping our pain in is destructive. It is poison and it will poison our lives and our relationships unless we release it.

The only way that I know of to be truly happy is to give ourselves the respect of feeling all of our feelings. If we don’t feel the bad ones, we cannot feel the good ones.

Those around us often try to minimize our losses, our experience. We must not buy into that. We can respect ourselves by acknowledging the true extent of the effects on us of the events at the beginning. If we don’t acknowledge the full extent of our wounds, we cannot heal. Only by acknowledging the truth can we begin to heal from our wounds. If I am in an accident and go to the ER and they don’t examine my wounds, don’t clean the depths of my wounds and get the dirt or poison out, I will get an infection, the wound may heal superficially, but the infection is there nevertheless and I will pay a price. Only when I respect myself and take the risk of opening that wound again and clean it out will I be able to truly heal.

Healing involves a lot of pain, but the alternative... I guess we have all lived it. We need to give ourselves the respect to climb the mountain of pain that leads to healing. The mountain is steep, but climbable. There are many crevices on the way up, but each crevice still puts you closer to the top. We are all here in this adoptive family to help each other, nurture each other, support each other, share with each other and learn from each other on this road to respect and healing.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves, has said that those who have been “abandoned” and face it and work it through can become the strongest people on the face of the earth.

Don’t doubt it for a second. Only the truly brave do this work, come to conferences and support groups and work it through.

The alternative to doing the work — Well, we can continue to bury our heads like an ostrich, but if we do, we will likely get kicked in the behind and not see it coming. Or to put it another way, if we continue to swim in Denial we will likely get bitten by a crocodile.