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Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

Yesterday was a good day. My husband got out of work early and I got to spend the afternoon with him. We had the chance to talk about some of the feelings I've been having, including the stuff I mentioned in the previous post that I hadn't told him yet. I explained how much I needed to feel as if he is really hearing me, hearing my concerns and my feelings. I think he is starting to understand how hard it is for me to open up about this stuff, even to him. I don't like that it's hard to open up to him. I'm not used to that feeling with him. There is nothing I can't tell my husband – nothing. For over 6 years, he has been my best friend, my closest confidant. I don't like ANYTHING that comes between us.

We went to Borders to pick up the copy of Journey to the Adopted Self I had ordered. While there, I also picked up Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew Aside from The Primal Wound, these are the three I see recommended most often.

After shopping, we went to dinner. As we were sitting there, I glanced through the table of contents for Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew and then asked my husband to look at it. I think the title of the book should be changed to "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Those Close To Them Knew." That would have been more accurate.

I want to go through the list they provided and explore my own feelings about these points. This is definitely an exercise more for me than for anyone else, but I encourage all adoptees to consider this list in terms of their own feelings as well. I don't believe that the journey to self has much to do with finding my birth family. I believe it has much more to do with finding the "real" or "authentic" me that I've been repressing most of my life.

So here is the list, and my own reaction to these statements. Please remember that this list is Copyright 1999 by the author, Sherrie Eldridge! While the comments are my own, the original list is her unique creation.

1. "I suffered a profound loss before I was adopted. You are not responsible."
2. "I need to be taught that I have special needs arising from adoption loss, of which I need not be ashamed."
3. "If I don't grieve my loss, my ability to receive love from you and others will be hindered."
4. "My unresolved grief may surface in anger towards you."
5. "I need your help in grieving my loss. Teach me how to get in touch with my feelings about my adoption and then validate them."
6. "Just because I don't talk about my birth family doesn't mean I don't think about them."
7. "I want you to take the initiative in opening conversations about my birth family."
8. "I need to know the truth about my conception, birth, and family history, no matter how painful the details may be."
9. "I am afraid I was 'given away' by my birth mother because I was a bad baby. I need you to help me dump my toxic shame."
10. "I am afraid you will abandon me."
11. "I may appear more 'whole' than I actually am. I need your help to uncover the parts of myself that I keep hidden so I can integrate all the elements of my identity."
12. "I need to gain a sense of personal power."
13. "Please don't say I look or act just like you. I need you to acknowledge and celebrate our differences."
14. "Let me be my own person… but don't let me cut myself off from you."
15. "Please respect my privacy regarding my adoption. Don't tell other people without my consent."
16. "Birthdays may be difficult for me."
17. "Not knowing my full medical history can be distressing at times."
18. "I am afraid I will be too much for you to handle."
19. "When I act out my fears in obnoxious ways, please hang in there with me and respond wisely."
20. "Even if I decide to search for my birth family, I will always want you to be my parents."

1. "I suffered a profound loss before I was adopted. You are not responsible."
I'm still working on how much I believe about the concept of a "primal wound" experienced by adoptees when we are relinquished. On the one hand, I consider the fact that we hug and kiss and love on our babies because as parents, we believe that even if they don't consciously remember our loving actions, on some level, they are needed and recognized by our child. So it stands to reason that while a child may not consciously remember the birth mother, on some level, there is a connection made. Then it is severed. What follow up is given to the child to deal with the severing of that connection? None, to my knowledge, at least not in my own experience. But I do agree that my adoptive parents are not to blame for this disconnect. I don't even really blame them for not helping me work through it. I honestly don't think they knew any better. We've come a long way in our understanding about children and adopted children in the last 35 years.

2. "I need to be taught that I have special needs arising from adoption loss, of which I need not be ashamed."
For me, the focus in this sentence is on the second half – "of which I need not be ashamed." I'm only recently recognizing how much shame I feel about my feelings. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of having "special needs." I'm uncomfortable with anything that says I have to be a victim of anything, or that there is anything beyond my control. I think we are learning that there are certain issues we can watch for in adopted children and IF they arise, ways in which we can deal with them. I guess that so long "after the fact," I sort of feel as if there's not much that can be done about this one anymore.

3. "If I don't grieve my loss, my ability to receive love from you and others will be hindered."
Well, I don't know if I needed to grieve a loss or not. I do know that my ability to receive love has been hindered. I really have no way of knowing how much of that resulted from my adoption and how much resulted from the dysfunction of my family. I just know that I have a much harder time BEING loved than I do loving someone else. It makes it hard for me to process casual physical affection, too. My husband will want to cuddle me to demonstrate his love for me, but I can only stand so much of that. But there are a million other ways in which he expresses his love for me that I readily accept. We have a ritual when one of us is leaving for work or shopping or whatever. I'm writing this the way we say it – it's like a litany rather than separate sentences:
It starts with a kiss, and sometimes he kisses my forehead or nose (which always makes me feel warm all over) and then, "I love you I love you too Be careful I will be you be careful too I will be Hurry home I'll hurry home"

I need to hear this or I feel like I've missed something drastically important. Even if I'm asleep when he leaves for work we do this – I literally say my part in my sleep, as does he. I can't express how important this ritual is to me. In 6 years, this has not become "rote" like one might think. It is an important exchange of love for both of us, and one I am not only completely comfortable with but one which is a deep reassurance. It is one of my favorite ways of receiving love from him and probably the one that makes me feel most loved.

So I can receive love, but it has to be on my terms. It has to be in certain ways, and the ones I am most comfortable with are the ones which become almost ritualistic. We have other rituals like this as well, some vocal, some physical, but they are the ones that give me the most security and are the least threatening.

4. "My unresolved grief may surface in anger towards you."

My unresolved "everything" may surface in anger towards you. I get snappish and bitchy. I think it is a combination of factors, not just my adoption.

5. "I need your help in grieving my loss. Teach me how to get in touch with my feelings about my adoption and then validate them."

That's what I'm trying to learn now. Unfortunately, I think I'm so far gone that I'm unconvinced that anyone else can help me get in touch with those feelings. I think it is something I have to do on my own. I actually resent when someone else tries to manuver me into getting in touch with my feelings. I have to be allowed to do this at my own pace. With that said, I think if I totally left it up to just me, I'd probably never deal with it. Another reason I probably should get into therapy – it's less threatening to have a therapist tugging me through this than someone in whom I have an emotional investment.

6. "Just because I don't talk about my birth family doesn't mean I don't think about them."

DING DING DING!!! WE HAVE A WINNER!
Need I say more?

I may not be talking about them, but I'm definitely thinking about them. Especially now.

7. "I want you to take the initiative in opening conversations about my birth family."

Yes and no. I want you to show an interest in my journey. I want you to ask me how I'm doing. I want you to demonstrate that this journey is important to you, too. I want you to demonstrate that you have a vested interest in this as well because you have a vested interest in me, and this is part of who I am.

8. "I need to know the truth about my conception, birth, and family history, no matter how painful the details may be."

Yes. Absolutely. I may be afraid of the truth, but I need to know it. I can't deal with it if I don't know what it is – all I'm left with are a whole lot of suppositions and worst-case scenarios. The "not knowing" is the worst.

9. "I am afraid I was 'given away' by my birth mother because I was a bad baby. I need you to help me dump my toxic shame."

Why shouldn't I feel this way? My adoptive parents only reinforced the idea that I was "bad." Yet when I ask myself "do I think there was any chance I was 'given away' for being a bad baby," my immediate reaction is "No, that's silly." I think the toxic shame I need to dump has more to do with the toxic messages they imparted than with any lingering feelings over my placement.

10. "I am afraid you will abandon me."

Another one of those ideas my adoptive parents reinforced. We were disposable. You don't throw a child out at 17. You especially don't throw out an adoptee. How many instances of feeling "thrown away" can a child's psyche handle? And despite claims to the contrary, a 17 year old is still a child. I don't think I stopped being a child and gained the emotional stability of adulthood until well into my 20's.

11. "I may appear more 'whole' than I actually am. I need your help to uncover the parts of myself that I keep hidden so I can integrate all the elements of my identity."

This one hits home. I need you to know that I wear a mask all the time. That mask makes me appear confident, in-control, on top of things. I am none of those things, I'm just very good at making my mask appear to be the real me. I'm afraid to uncover what is under that mask. I don't know how you can help me to do that, I don't know if you can help me at all, but I need you to know that what you are seeing is a mask.

12. "I need to gain a sense of personal power."

There is a reason I'm a control freak. I know it can be annoying. I know some of the seemingly meaningless ways in which I seem to need to control things can test your patience, but it is the only way I know how to feel like I have any sense of power or control.

13. "Please don't say I look or act just like you. I need you to acknowledge and celebrate our differences."

I remember my adoptive mother telling me that the agency tried to match up people with a similar heritage, but it was more based on surface looks than on any actual match of ancestry. I can remember family members saying "you have the _______ family ears" or "the _______ family nose." No, no I did not. I had my nose, and my ears, and you haven't got a clue where they came from. In addition, I needed them to acknowledge the pull I felt towards certain cultural influences – ones I later discovered ARE part of my heritage. But they couldn't support that, and instead tried to force their own cultural influences down my throat, sometimes literally. Making me eat a food because "Our family has eaten this for 1,000 years" is not an effective argument for convincing me that I should like the foods you like. Ignoring the fact that certain foods made me physically ill didn't help either. At least now I know that I have a physical causation for this – I do not process the enzymes the same way you do. But to explore that would have meant acknowleding our differences. And they couldn't do that.

14. "Let me be my own person… but don't let me cut myself off from you."

I wasn't allowed to be my own person, and I was allowed to cut myself off from them.

However, what happens now is a bit different. I will not only fight to be my own person but I also react very harshly to anyone who tries to keep me tied to them. I MUST have my space. I MUST be allowed to walk away, without restriction, for as long as I need to or else I will run away. It's nothing personal and it really has nothing to do with you. But if I feel trapped or cornered, my 'fight or flight' kicks in. To 'fight' means acting like my adoptive father acted and I won't allow myself to do that. So my only alternative is 'flight.' I've run my entire life rather than stay and cause the kind of damage he did. Perhaps some day I can change this but I'm not there yet. Give me my space when I need it. HEAR me when I say "I need to be left alone." If you push, I'll bolt.

15. "Please respect my privacy regarding my adoption. Don't tell other people without my consent."

This never bothered me. It still doesn't. But since I'm inconsistent with my feelings, know that this could change at a moment's notice.

16. "Birthdays may be difficult for me."

I've never felt that my birthday was "mine." Actually, I wonder if the date on my birth certificate is correct, sometimes. Our anniversary is close to my birthday – that's a much more important day to me.

17. "Not knowing my full medical history can be distressing at times."

I hate it when the doctor asks, "Any family history of…" and I have to answer, "I don't know." I hate that I can't answer those questions for my children, either.

18. "I am afraid I will be too much for you to handle."

Another one that was reinforced. Another one I fear. I worry that I will become such a burden that everyone around me will want me gone.

19. "When I act out my fears in obnoxious ways, please hang in there with me and respond wisely."

I don't have much hope of anyone hanging in there, but I must admit my husband has gone a long way towards healing this one. He sticks with me, loves me, through thick and thin.

20. "Even if I decide to search for my birth family, I will always want you to be my parents."

Actually I decided long before I started this journey that I did not want them to be my parents any more. They did little to deserve the title "parents."

I'll write more about these if additional insights come up. But this is where I'm at today.

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January 13, 2006 - Posted by | Adoption Rants, Adoption Void

1 Comment »

  1. This book was amazing! I read it just before Christmas, and it reallly made me think a LOT about adoption and the impact it has had on who I am. I hope you will find it as enlightening as I did.

    Comment by everyscarisabridge | January 20, 2006 | Reply


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