Adoptees. We’re allegedly 16% of America’s estimated 500 serial killers whilst we represent only 2-3% of the population1. We’re also the heroes of pop culture from Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, to Superman and Luke Skywalker. We’re overrepresented in mental health settings, often at two-and-a-half to six times the rate of non-adopted children2. Why can we fly so high and fall so hard?
Most of the analysis disregards the truths about adoption, swept under the carpet along with our origins by a society who prefers to ignore them. So it’s time for adoptees to step up and tell the world those truths. None of the ‘a mom is a mom, it doesn’t matter who gave birth’ shit. Because it does matter. The truth matters.
1. There is not one ‘real’ mother.
Real is one of those words that denotes authenticity. Superiority. Only one according to King Solomon, can be the ‘real mother’. And I know you want to be the only ‘real’ mother. You may be a great caregiver. I know you changed my nappies and stayed up countless nights with me, attended the parent-teacher evenings and all that good stuff. I know you ‘mother’ me – often to the best of your ability and always with the resources within you.
But the relegation of my first real mother to the function of incubator by using the terms ‘birth or biological mother’ objectifies her, and diminishes her role and her importance in my heritage. She is also my ‘real’ mother plain and simple… I bonded with her before I was born during my very formation, she is and forever will be a part of me and I of her. And you – adopter – you are my parent. Maybe you are my ‘real mother’ too. After all, it’s just a label. Two women played a part in making me who I am. My mother doesn’t parent me. You do. Does this mean that either one of you is less important than the other? No.
Without my mother I would not be alive. Without you I would not survive to see adulthood. I would not be able to survive without either of you. Don’t think that I cannot appreciate life and our relationship. I can… if we both acknowledge the truth. You and I have a unique bond without you pretending it’s something that it can never be and trying to force others to do the same. Otherwise all we are taught is that lying is the best way to handle life – as if living under an assumed name wasn’t already enough to teach us that.
2. No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
In my childhood daydreams, I was the daughter of a nobleman and a beggar girl, the ugly duckling who turned out to be a swan or even a lost princess. Surely my fairy godmother would soon rescue me. When you are ignorant of your parentage such fantasies are beautiful to dwell upon. Even though my adoptive mother wasn’t an evil queen, nor my father an abusive woodcutter, the fairy tales I read kept me dreaming. One day I would be reunited with my natural family and ascend my true power. Power that had been taken from me when I was adopted.
It is the sad truth that all adoptions start out of loss no matter how you try to frame it. I may be your gift. I may be your chosen one although the reality is that usually you were chosen to be my parents by a team of so-called experts….whilst for you, any child would do. And saying otherwise is a lie. But I am a child who’s lost her mother without her conscious knowledge or consent. I have learnt by my formative experiences that my consent is not important. It has unsurprisingly left me far more open to abusive situations later on in life.
That I dream of my reunion with my natural parents has little to do with your ability to parent me, although it may be enhanced by it. If you tell me that happy children do not find their natural parents, you invalidate my very natural need to repair the bond that was once broken. You might use manipulation and indirect blackmail to stay my hand by putting me into the position of telling you that I do not appreciate your parenting and if so, I will learn by your example. I will also use manipulation and emotional blackmail. You might force me to commit sacrilege by contradicting the universally acknowledged ideal of motherhood. Because you know full well that I will hesitate from further rejection and keep me bound to you by fear. Fear leads to pain. Pain leads to destruction. Is that what you want?
3. I am not the answer to your prayers.
…even if you think I am. You may have had hopes and fantasies about your natural child and when you realized you couldn’t have one, they were transferred to me. This is normal, but when those hopes and dreams turn into expectations it creates a box that I feel I must fill or risk rejection a second time. If you objectify me, you deny me my humanity and create a permanent sense of failure3.
For that reason, I would ask you to ditch your hopes and dreams and look at who I really am. Whilst hopes and dreams may be resisted more easily by your biological child, an adopted child will subconsciously perceive that she must match up to the child you could have had and end up second best. We are after all, more often than not, your second option and worse told to feel happy about this. Grieve your unborn child and don’t fill that hole with us. Because whilst we won’t fit, we will still kill ourselves trying.
4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn’t needed.
When I grew up and found my natural parents, there was of course no gold crown waiting for me. Just a realization that I was the rather ordinary product of a tawdry affair where responsibility for my presence was passed off to a childless married couple desperate for a child of ‘their own’. I was a possession. My mother had become pregnant, victim of the wiles of a married and – as it turned out – immoral man. Not only was I not special, I was worse than others… born a bastard child, a second class citizen denied her birthright and a reject. And yet my reunion with my mother, a wonderful woman, was by all accounts successful even though it initially left me empty inside. My reunion with my father was an unmitigated disaster colored by [his] genetic sexual attraction.
Does this mean I should never have found them?
Until 19, I was effectively in limbo living the life of someone I didn’t even know. Meeting my mother and father didn’t teach me who I was, it taught me that I had the ability to choose who I was, for myself. But without that realization, I would have been forever stuck a victim of my circumstance not able to assume responsibility for my life or my actions. Feeling that you are a victim of life doesn’t lead to anything good; so let us pursue our own journey and help us recover from the trauma – in part – by finding our natural parents. The outcome of the reunion could be good or bad… but in either way it will help shape how we manage our future and maybe give us the wings we need to fly. If we don’t have that reunion, the realisation might never come and we will try to create meaning in our lives by pushing the boundaries. Sometimes quietly. Most times not.
5. I have no idea who I am. This can be good. But first it could be very, very bad.
Adoptees have gone through a trauma and a loss of their mother4. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are conscious of it. Losing a baby is like an amputee having a phantom leg… for the mother. It should be there. It hurts that it is not. But it’s not debilitating. If the mother is the amputee, the adopted child is like the phantom leg. Cut adrift, the connections which are supposed to be there, that the brain expects to be there… gone. We look like the other children, but we operate under different schematics because our brains have undergone stress at a formative stage.
For a time after birth until the age of around 2-3, the child is not fully aware of its own independence. Until the natural development and physiological separation of the child from the mother at this point, any enforced separation like adoption will result in a different kind of growth pattern. We are, like all children, naturally equipped with the resources to survive. We find the workarounds. But we do so differently, with strangers instead of with the people the brain is hardwired to expect.
We are not taught how to deal with this. We are told that our adoption is good, that our new caregiver for everything that matters, is our mother. But we know instinctively she isn’t even before our cognitive brain kicks in. We have a fear of rejection which the mind has created as a survival mechanism from its first experience. We cannot trust those around us… so the best way of surviving is to trust no one. We are insecure, and are more likely to suffer low self esteem because we were already discarded as not worthy. It doesn’t matter what you say. In most cases we will not be able to understand this until we are much much older and by then it is often too late.
Your adopted child will be more susceptible to bullying or to bully, more likely to become a rebel (after the initial attempt to be the perfect child), and in later life if this trauma remains unacknowledged and untreated, more susceptible to addiction, abuse and self-harm.
If your child gets through this, (s)he will start to realize that the ability to define themselves and create their own meaning free of lineage and free of definition is one of the most stunning gifts in this world. We like the superheroes, are truly able to follow our call to adventure. But not before the shit has hit the fan, leaving everyone wondering what is ‘wrong’ with us.
The answer is nothing. We’re following our own blue print designed to protect us in the best way it knows how. But it may not fit with your ideas. You may have to adapt them to help us counteract those parts with prove to be at odds with the healthiest way of living. If you do, then thank you. But you may also try and ignore, disparage or otherwise suppress what is widely researched and supported by the brightest minds working in clinical psychology and neuroscience.
And if you do, the question is not what is wrong with us, but why you put your own need to be parents before the needs of the child that you once said you loved… as if they were your very own.