Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Adoption is LOSS . . .

Today I was directed to an amazing article entitled, "Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know?".  It is something that everyone, whether involved in the world of adoption or not, should read.    It is powerful stuff. 

"Adoption is a trauma that happens to a child. The child is torn away from her biological mother, placed in the arms of strangers and is left with questions, doubts, fears and anxiety with no way to verbalize, express, mourn or contextualize those feelings. Though the common misconception is that a child won’t remember any of it many psychologists believe, with evidence to support, that children remember their birth and the following events, including relinquishment and adoption, up to the age of three."

Even as a fairly clueless foster parent, I refused to have my foster kiddos call me "Mom".  I found it disrespectful to their birth parent and not a good practice for the child when it can to attachment. The foster children in our home either chose to call us by our given names or they could choose Aunt and Uncle.  I did have one girl who asked if she could refer to me a school as her mom because she didn't want to be different.  I totally understood and told her I was okay with that if she chose.  I recall her whispering in my ear, "I know you are not my mom and please don't tell my real mom because it will hurt her."  I knew that day that we were making the right decision.  

As an adoptive parent, I have never felt like I am a saint for bringing my adopted child into my family.  I resent it when people talk about what we did as a miracle.  I hate when people tell us we are special.  I hate when they say that my son is LUCKY to have us.  He isn't LUCKY.  I bet if you asked him he would've rather been LUCKY enough to have a parent who could raise him in his own family.  I bet he would tell you that the abuse he suffered to get to us wasn't LUCKY.   While I understand their sentiments,  I know where their heart is, but it is basically a slap in the face of my son's journey.  His journey is ugly, hard, tragic and filled with grief.  There is nothing LUCKY about it.

 "Research shows that, at birth, a baby is able to recognize her mother’s voice. Within a few days of birth she will recognize familiar faces, voices and smells and be drawn to them. With research showing that babies do have a memory, in contradiction to long held beliefs, it becomes unreasonable to assume that a baby would not remember or recognize (at a visceral and thus almost imprinting level) the loss of her mother upon separation."

I know as a pregnant momma I spent hours talking to my baby.  We are told by doctors to read to our children in utero and play music.  We are told after birth they like to hear our heartbeat because they heard it all the time in the womb.  We are foolish to think that that baby who is removed from their birth mother won't experience trauma that that voice, that sound, that smell, that presence is no longer there. 

I had a friend this week tell me that her family is considering adopting an international teenager.  I hate that my first thought was "No!".  I am sad and ashamed that I cried for her family.  While I support her in her decision I wept that her life (and of course the child's life) will be turned upside down.  I prayed for guidance and I messaged her asking if I could share my heart.  Thankfully she was open to what I had to say.  I explained that if she went into this thinking everything was rainbows and unicorns that she would be extremely disappointed.  That if she went into this thinking that she was going to "save" a child and give them a better life and they would be eternally grateful to come to America she would be sorely mistaken.  I wanted her to go into this with her eyes wide open.  I wanted her to adjust her expectations so they are not dashed and she ends up on the other side battered and bleeding asking me why I didn't tell her it would be this hard. I explained that it could be not quite so terrible, but it wouldn't be easy.  And the "hard" that it is is not the "hard" you have ever experienced.  It changes you in ways you never knew existed.  It cuts and it hurts.  When you finally come to the understanding that you, even through the best of intentions, are a part of the pain that your child is experiencing, it is heartbreaking.  It is life changing.  It takes your breath away.  When you understand that small piece, you understand the pain of attachment issues.

That being said, I will support her in whatever she chooses.  I will be her greatest champion.  I will rejoice if it goes swimmingly.  I will support her and her family in any way I can!  She will make the best choice for her and her family, I just wanted to keep it real from my perspective.

 The article talks about the two different ways that kids react to adoption and the loss is creates.  I can't do the subject any more justice than he did . . .

"Every adopted child, allow me to reiterate, every adopted child falls into one of two categories. She either acts out and is difficult or is quiet, adaptable and compliant. Of course the degree to which each adoptee acts out or becomes compliant is individual.
Some who act out will go to the extreme of running away from home, threatening their adoptive parents, rebel academically and even attempt suicide. A 2001 study shows that of teens in grades 7 through 12, 7.6% of adopted teens had attempted suicide compared with 3% among their non-adopted peers. The compliant child may become a model citizen in school as well at home or she may just kind of fade into the background, trying not to be noticed or cause trouble. Either way they are both reactions to the trauma of being adopted.

The child who acts out, is, in essence, attempting to initiate some form of rejection from parents, teachers, peers and others in order to prove that she is unlovable or she finds herself rejecting these same people prior to being rejected by them. This type of child is obviously troubled and it is easy to identify as needing help. However, parents and therapists often try to counsel the child into acting more appropriately, instilling tough love or even unknowingly furthering the child’s abandonment issues by sending them to boarding school, camp or other such institutions. Rarely do adoptive parents and counselors see this behavior as a reaction to her adoption trauma. They are never truly treating the source of the wound.

For the compliant child the situation can actually be much more devastating. As a compliant child who is either not causing problems or actually well engaged and visibly successful, she is not seen as having any problems at all. Parents see this child as well adjusted to life, including being adopted, and with no outwardly troubling signs of concern, this child is often overlooked and not given any form of counseling or assistance in dealing with life or emotional wounds. It is difficult for anyone to see that the child who is often referred to as, “mature for her age” or “pleasant and articulate,” is actually in equal distress to the child who is acting out. Both are hurting, both are devastated by the trauma of relinquishment and both have no way to articulate, understand, contextualize or grieve the loss they have endured.

These two behavior types present themselves at various ages, though adolescence is the most common time for them to reach their strongest levels. Additionally, some may actually experience both behavior types, switching from one to the other depending on their environment or transition back and forth throughout maturity. Also noteworthy is that no matter the age of adoption, infant through teen, all adoptees essentially suffer from the same issues."

For me, these paragraphs were eyeopening.  While talking to people about our adoption struggles, I have often said something like, "You could be fortunate, your child might escape these issues, they may do well with the loss surrounding adoption." I think the author does a good job of mentioning that even though a child is compliant and seems to adjust well, there are still underlying issues that need to be addressed to help them become a well rounded, productive adult who is happy in their own skin.  Depending on the child, I think this could be done just by parents being open and honest about the issues.  I think individuality it a HUGE part of this.  Every child is different.

As I have progressed in my own journey and dealt with my son's "demons" I have come to see that we are waging a war.  A war with what he believes to be true and what he feels.  It is ugly.  It is hard.  It is something he will never, ever forget.  I can only hope that I am able to help him through it to be who he is meant to be.