Adoption: Its a Bumpy Ride

In yesterday’s news it was all abuzzin’ about Englishwoman Julie Jarman giving back her adopted daughter Zahina. Ms. Jarman, a single mom, evidently wanted to adopt another child so that her daughter would have a sister and she felt that it was the right thing to do. She chose an older child feeling that the transistion would be good for all. The whole story is here at this link
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1922840/posts so I won’t delve in to the whole interview. But read it because it is quite revealing of the psychological wounds that a child who is abandoned goes through. I saw myself in little Zahina throughout the interview.

The issue with the sad story of giving this little Zahina back was that she didn’t quite fit the fairy tale that Ms. Jarman had spun in her head. I beleive that Jarmen wanted not only a playmate for her other natural born child but to also be able to say “Look at me! Aren’t I just selfless to adopt a poor neglected child?” But was she prepared for the psychological issues that this child brought to the table? Absolutely not. We adopted children are a jumble of psychological issues and if they are not addressed and compassionately understood at a young age, the myriad of self-worth and sense of not belonging stay rooted in our lives for many years. And if not addressed properly, can linger with us forever.

Too many times we hear stories of young girls getting pregnant,single Moms adopting children, unfertile couples longing for a child and picking one out and the common thread in many of these tales is that they want someone to love them, fit into societal expectations of a family, maybe cement their longing for self worth and what is more perfect than a child’s unfettered love. And in many cases, when a natural child is born to them, the adoptive child unconciously gets pushed out.

I still to this day do not quite understand the motives behind my own adoption. I came to the stark realization at a very early age (5 years) that a) I was different and singled out due to my adoptive status, b) I never felt a sense of belonging in my family c) for years I thought I myself could be given back if I just did not work out. My sense of living on borrowed family time was securely validated when I just recently read my adoptive Mother’s Who’s Who in America where she was described as being the mother of her “adopted” son James, her “adopted” daughter Judy and her son Joseph. There in black and white, in a very respected “Aren’t I the greatest” publication was the final blow in my already fragile psyche.

Believe me I understand little Zahina longing to find her birth mother. Her writings of living with the “evil” adopted family was a cry for help. But did Ms Jarman react correctly – absolutely not! Instead of sitting down with this little girl and saying I understand your feelings of abandonment, your confusion at being different, your lashing out with your childlike behaviour , your dreams of your real mommy coming to find you, this Adoptive Mother couldn’t understand why this child was not grateful to her. I myself had the “sainted” nuns at St. Michael’s tell me I should be grateful for my adoption. That was great fodder for gossip with my peers for years to come. Believe me the nun-zoids did me no favor.

The pit that adoptive families fall into at an alarming rate is that they assume that this child that they graciously saved from imaginative and real evils should be forever grateful that they chose to adopt them. Throw a couple of direct bloodline siblings into the mix and things can get quite painful for the adopted child. Never expect gratitude from a child. We can’t give it. Our minds are full of the why was I not wanted nightmares.

Now before you get all huffy and say that you know a family that adopted a child and things are great, stop kidding yourself. For every one “success” story, there are ten more families that just don’t get the fact that even though they may love this adopted child, the child has very painful and almost always hidden feelings of abandonment, isolation and daily worries that they too can be given back.

And there is the “You Are Different” syndrome. In biographies of the stars or people in the public eye who have expanded their families by adoption, the word “adopted” is always before the word daughter or son. Most people know someone who adopted a child and nine times out of ten, the heading “adopted” is addresssed to that child. I begrudgingly joke that I have a big letter”A” on my forehead and when I hear some say my adopted so and so, I want to smack them. In my family, we lived with labels of hierarchy, my adopted brother, my foster sisters and of course the “real” child. I grew up feeling radically different and never being able to claim a bloodline or familial history. My sister Grace and I joke that we have real, bought and borrowed kids in our family. Sad statement but these are our true feelings. The label adopted or in her case foster will always be with us.

A friend of mine was proudly telling me that her daughter adopted a little girl. Congratulating the new grandma with the expected oohs and aahs, I got serious with her. Being the party crasher, I asked her to never label her granddaughter as adopted. To caution her daughter, that when the inevitable questions of where did I come from arise to always tell the truth and to let the child know that if she wanted to find her birth mother some day that she would help her. To never spin a fairy tale that God chose their family to be her family and all the other fairy tale nonsense that people spin into their adopted children’s heads. And for God’s Sake do not treat this child differently than natural born siblings.

Believe me by the time the child is asking questions, she wants real answers. One strong warning is to NEVER in public decribe the child as adopted. And to be prepared that one day out of the blue that child may feel grief that at one time someone gave them away. When this happens, the adoptive parent needs to know that even though they shower this child with love adoptees have issues with abandonment. To be able to correctly deal with this is to cement that Yes they are loved and here is the story kiddoo.

I wish I could find little Zahina and tell her I know what she is feeling. But that will never happen. This poor kid, not only is grieving that her real mommy is not up to snuff but now her adoptive mommy doesn’t want her. Yikes, what psychological torture that kid is going through.

I think that my point in this rambling diatribe is that if parents want to adopt, they need to be prepared that things might not work out they way they fantasied in their heads, that there may need to be extra effort put in so the child can truly feel secure and if it looks like it is not working out, instead of giving them back, work harder.

There is an incredible article that deals with the issues that adoptees face. Dr. Marshall Schechter describes in this article many issues that surround adoptees. You can entire article at Not Alone – Adoption : Feelings of Abandonment, Interest in Genetic Information. This should be required reading for all prospective adopting parents. If Ms. Jarman had read it, maybe Zahina would not be going through the pain she is now.

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10 Responses

  1. another eye opener from you Jude…

    I’ve realized that adoption isn’t really that easy… especially not on the child once the child finds out… I’ve seen that happen, so I don’t have any false notions about that…

    I think the reason the number of adoptions has shot up so suddenly is because (as you said), “Oh look at me.. i’m so selfless”… but you forgot to add a “Like Angelina Jolie”… because as stupid as that sounds, that happens to be a major contributing factor… people just give up too easily on everything nowadays… marriages, children, jobs, the government…

    but the fight is where half the love originates… people should remember that… the fight, together, is the sealant in your bond…

  2. Brat your sentence “the fight is where the love originates” is key. Ms. Jolie has opened up the borders to multi-cultural adoptions but listen to her closely, I have yet to hear her say the label this is my adopted son Maddox, adopted daughter Zahara, my adopted son Pax and my daughter Shiloh. Only the media glaringly points out the familial differences in her blended family and for refusal to separate the kids by birthright, I admire her.But on the other hand look at Madge (Madonna) she held a press conference about her adoption of David. A clear cut case of the “look at mes”.

    Adopted kids no matter how amazing the parents are (and there are a few) they do have questions, insecurities, and some fears. My girlfriend C is the only one I have EVER met that her parents and siblings do not ever compartmentalize the adoptees from the natural born. She is very very lucky.

    When I commenced my search for my birth mother 10 years ago, I received letters from all over this country, spoke to many fellow adoptees on the phone and the common thread was there. Who am I? Why did my Mother not want me?

  3. Jude: It’s funny how we keep finding new common ground.

    My dad and his sister were adopted children. My father, born to a Dutch mother in Canada who’s father was an Irish National in the English army and who abandoned his fiance’, was put up for adoption at the age of seven months. He never bonded with his adoptive parents, even though they adored him and loved him to no end. My Dad always felt as if his adopted mother was some evil witch who had stolen him from his real mother. So I totally get the abandonmet issues as I delt with them from my dad. They are imprinted even at such a young age.

    I guess it’s bit ironic though, that when you compare straight or single adoptive parents to gay/lesbian adoptive parents, it’s as if the majority of gay/lesbian adoptive parents are well aware of the psychological grab-bag that comes with their potential son/daughter. It’s as if they’re more prepaired for the onslaught of rocky roads to follow.

    I can only assume it’s because gay/lesbian adoptive parents have already been down their own set of rocky roads just being gay/lesbian that prepares them a bit more for what might be in store with any child they raise.

    Granted, I was blessed with a natural child of my own. I know all too well the issues that came along for the ride with my Dad and how he and his adoptive mother never seemed to be on the same page on any issue. It’s as if they were reading from two completely different editions of life. My Dad always saw my grandmother as some evil witch, while my loving gradmother adored her adopted son as if he was her natural child and never understood the anger. All she ever wanted to do was instill a notion that he was loved and safe but somehow it never seemed to stick.
    When my Grandmother died several years ago, my Dad enacted a total break from his adopted sister. Saying the only link they had was their adopted Mother and now that she’s dead he felt there was no more need to stay in touch with her for any reason. (My aunt was adopted as well)

    Oddly, I’m the ONLY member of my Dad’s family who still stays in contact with my Aunt (besides her children)

    So, those scars run deep and sometimes never seem to heal.

  4. I excluded the gay/lesbian adoptive parents intentionally. But it does need to be said that this slice of parenting life DOES know the rocky road ahead and I am very sure that they have prepared themselves.

    Your Dad obviously has gone through some major pain that was probably addressed as well as it could during that era. But remember, back when your Dad and myself included were adopted, adoption was either announced on a frequent basis as if to inspire gratitude from the child or give emotional kudos to the parent themselves or hidden away as some big secret or in some cases shame.

    Your grandmother showed love to her child but in those days it was advised and strongly encouraged to not discuss the urge for the child to search for the birth family. I was told myself from Catholic Charities to give up my search and be grateful that I had a family that wanted me. It is very important that the dream to find a birth family is validated and for a parent to help in his child’s quest for identity is met more times than not with fear that this adoptive parent will be replaced.

    I am a huge supporter of open adoptions. The child can then establish his identity any time he or she wants to.

    Your Father pulling away from his sister is natural. I understand his pain and can come to my own conclusions of why he feels this way. Show him this blog and its link to “Your are Not Alone” at the bottom. Don’t force just print it and send it on. Let him come to terms with his issues on his own time frame.

  5. Hey Jude!
    I totally agree with your comments and their sentiment. I appreciaste the candid advice of someone who has been there. I have a little experience with a related subject, and that is raising children I acquired through marriage. After the fact, I would say it was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I had the best of intentions going in. I loved the two boys, but after we were married, I wasn’t just a nice guy anymore. Now I was the parent. Going from some guy that comes around and plays with the kids to a person who is responsible for them, dsciplines them, intends to be a loving father to them, all changes the relationship, and it doesn’t always go smooth. As I look back on it, I wish I could have taken a course or something to help me do a better job, but as you can guess, there was no such thing. I didn’t do a perfect job, but I did do the best I knew how, and I will be the first to admit that I did not do a perfect job. More importantly I got to witness first hand the feelings they had of being a second class citizen when I had children of my own. I felt like I had been fair, but it did not change their perception. There was resentment that their real father essentially abandoned them, and there was nothing I could do but be there for them, and I could not remove the resentment. I had trouble with the two boys, and a lot less trouble with the two that were my biological kids. I think that raising kids that are not your biological kids is very tricky. It takes a lot of love, understanding, patience, fairness, and caring. Good topic, nice job!

  6. Ok Judy –
    Normally I stay out of this type of conversation, because, as you said, I find myself one of the lucky ‘non labeled’ adopted children. In my family (I am one of 2 adopted and 2 biological children), there is no separation, no invisible ‘line’ to cross between ‘adopted’ and ‘real’. The lines have surfaced, from time to time, as I have struggled with a longing to find my biological mother, to have a ‘real’ person to identify myself with. As I have grown older, I find that heredity or environment make no difference. My brothers and sister act like me, talk like me, and in fact, even look somewhat like me. We share a common bond of family and deep long-lasting memories of childhood. We hang tight, we roll together, and we love each other unconditionally.
    I am NOT amazed when Angelina Jolie refuses to label her children, as I grew up in a similar family. My mother cringes to hear one of us say we are adopted, to her it makes no difference. There has never ever been a difference in what they would do for us, what they would give us, or how they loved us.
    In turn, in parenting my own children, I refuse to label them. You, of all people, know that I did not seek another child to ‘validate’ myself or ‘what a good person I am’. I considered. I weighed options. I tried to support other options. But Brat’s statement “The fight is where love originates” is the sealant in the bond. I have fought, I have cried many tears, of joy, of sorrow, of frustration. I have cried for many losses, all around, I have cried for misunderstanding, for mistrust, and over outright lies. I have celebrated the gains of a healthy happy, extended family unit. The precariousness of my position did not topple into separation. We have been welcomed and embraced as part of a larger family unit, one that I hope we are all benefitting from.
    All of my children are children of my heart, first and foremost. I love them all equally and want what is best for each one of them. Why? Because I am the mommy. I could never label my children differently. “These are my daughters, these are my sons”. That’s the only answer.

  7. Miss C

    You are the one that I was talking about. Labeling the child is hurtful at the very least – you do not do that. I think you know when I say how grateful I am to people like yourself whose love has no bounds, no labels and no assignment of hierachy in your family. You are one of the lucky and in turn ALL your children are blessed.

  8. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  9. Now before you get all huffy and say that you know a family that adopted a child and things are great, stop kidding yourself.

    God, thank you. I always want to say, how do you really know? Are you with them 24/7? Does the adopted person share with you every single thing they feel? Of course not.

  10. It took me until I was 39 years old before I figured out that I had what some shrinks call Adoptee Abandonment Syndrome. I have had many relationships that “I” ended and could not figure out why. Well, “leave em before they leave me”.

    Welcome Ungrateful! I love your site and there really needs to be more education on the part of the adopting parent to help them realize that it takes a lot more than love to see them through.

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