Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Round Table: Holiday Season Adoption Triggers, Part 1

Happy December, welcome to the Round Table!

"Holiday season adoption triggers" ... those wholly illogical, emotional, out-of-the-blue reactions we adoptees (may or may not) have to events that others might consider perfectly normal.

Here at Lost Daughters, our personal experiences with search and reunion vary, we come from different geographic areas, and work in an assortment professions. In sharing our varied stories, we reaffirm that we are not alone. Drawing connections to others’ experiences, we can understand our own, let go, and perhaps find peace. Here's the prompt:

Did you have any growing up? Do you have new issues as an adult, handling extended (reunited) family members? What about triggers related to your children? How do you deal? Feel free to mention coping mechanisms, too ...

The only problem is, once the Sisters get rolling on a topic, we always have a lot to say! For the sake of “easy digestion,” I’ve divided Adoption Triggers into two parts:
  1. Childhood memories & birth stories, and
  2. The Adoptee Paradox: Fitting in, and at the same time, not fitting in
We may not have the same triggers, but the feelings and the psychological effects are eerily similar. Without further ado, here’s Part 1:

Childhood Memories & Birth Stories

LauraDuring Christmas season growing up, my adoptive parents always made a big deal with a huge tree, tons of decorations, ornaments, the works. We did Church Bazaars, we did the live nativity and pageant, we crafted, we baked, we wrapped presents, we caroled. You name it, we did it.

Christmas night, I was inevitably devastated. Christmas was OVER. Even though Mom never took down the tree until Valentine's Day or so, I would cry inconsolably at the foot of the tree. This depression began around age 10.
Come to find out as an adult, holidays are often hard on adoptees. Adopted children think about family celebrations, the unknown, their natural families; but they can't put the grief into words. This sense of loss makes complete sense to me. I always wondered about my birth mom, and that unidentified grief stuck with me, only to be exacerbated during holidays.
Fast forward to adulthood, and here's how I deal: I stretch out Christmas for several days: Christian Christmas Eve and Day, Serbian Orthodox Christmas. (I married a non-religious Serbian man, and I live in Belgrade.) Also, Serbs celebrate the New Year with gifts. Then you have the Orthodox calendar's New Year’s Eve ten days later.

All of this celebrating helps me keep the "let-down sadness" in check. Added bonus: the gifts get spread out, so my little kids can actually enjoy them.

What are your thoughts, experiences, and traditions?
Jenn - The hardest adoption trigger this time of year is the fact that I didn't come home with my adoptive parents until January. My first Christmas was spent in a foster home. My "first Christmas" holiday ornaments on our Christmas tree are from the wrong year. We don't have any pictures of me as a newborn with Christmas decorations. Thanksgiving is hard like that too.

Now that I know my natural family, I spend more time thinking about them during the holidays. This year will be the first year I know my sisters. I already have their gifts and we're trying to find a time to get together, but we'll have to come up with new traditions for the three of us. It's a challenge, but I keep reminding myself that we are figuring it out as we go along and nothing needs to be set in stone.
We have time now to make the holidays what we want them to be.
Jaesun - For me it's birthdays, knowing your exact birth date and time of birth is something I realize I will never know. Most people just take this for granted, but for me, now knowing the circumstances of my birth means I'll never get to know that. I have an estimated birth, meaning my official birthday could be one day later or one day earlier.
And my parents made a big deal out of birthdays, Christmas, and even Easter while I was a child. Easter and Christmas is not as difficult as the birthday, but yeah, Christmas is kind of hard as well. Because I know my parents made the decision to separate me from my family. That kind of hurts, and I'm always reminded of it. But I know why they did it
Amanda Woolston - When we talk about childhood issues in adoption, we run the risk of being written off as, "Oh, you had a bad experience, that's why you think and feel the way that you do." It's easy to see someone's negative experiences, especially when they're specifically pulling those negatives out of the overall context of their childhood to talk about them, as how their entire childhood was. The fact of the matter is, I had a typical childhood with typical holiday issues with the very a-typical variable of being adopted thrown in.

In other words, I experienced what I think many kids do--not feeling understood, needing to self-discover, and not feeling like I quite fit in. My foundation in this world, my home and adoptive family, was a loving and positive environment. But at family gatherings, I was the only one who was not biologically related. And they all looked so much alike. I carried the paradox "I can adapt and fit in anywhere" and "I actually fit in nowhere" everywhere with me.

What I am approaching in what I am saying here is that what I struggled with most during the holidays is not fundamentally that I am adopted. My worst holiday memory is from when I was bullied. But it comes back to the theme of just not fitting in. Ever. And adoption was a part of that.

Laura - Amanda, you raise a really good point. Even though I was the one who suggested this, I acknowledge that it's a fraught topic. I, too, had a lovely middle class upbringing. I wasn't abused, I didn't lack for food or shelter.
Adoptive parents, adoptees who don't feel the need to search, or non-adoptees reading my "complaints" might say, "Well what should have your mom done when she saw you crying by the tree? Maybe it really was that you're sensitive, and a prima donna, maybe it's not that you were crying because you were adopted. What should they have done, not celebrated at all?"
I mean, I get it. But simply understanding the various possible reactions and issues related to being adopted would have helped. I did the: I'll be perfect so I won't be given away. My (adopted) brother did the, I'll rebel and reject you first, but he now has a great relationship with our mom. He has no need to search, according to him.
Adoptee experiences do run the gamut, but if I'd been told, for example, this sadness you feel is normal, why don't we think about something fun that we'll do on the 26th, or ... I know you get sad, but I saved one more present for you and your brother so you have something to open tomorrow. I think it would have gone a long way to helping me learn how to process, how to deal with my sadness. And it's true; it may be entirely unrelated to my adoption. My depression/bipolar may be biological; in which case perhaps having known this was part of my medical history could have helped while my parents were trying to raise me.
Amanda - Oh, Laura, I didn't mean for my response to come off as a critique of your prompt. Just that it's part of my overall response to your prompt.
Laura - Amanda, no worries, I realized your intentions as I read your response. I think your point is good, and it helps to dispel misunderstandings. One more thing to add: My first mom and I reunited in person, and spent a week together. At the end of the “vacation,” we were both on the verge of tears thinking about separating again. She said, “Laura, let’s make a plan for when we’ll get together next. That way, we don’t have to be sad.” Made a world of difference.
Perhaps this is what biology can do?

“Adoptee Scrooge”

Julie - This time of year has always been difficult for me as an adoptee. Even more so since reuniting with my natural parents and learning more about my narrative. My birthday is in January. My natural mother spent the Christmas before I was born in the Catholic maternity home. I'm assuming that members of our family did not visit her. My heart aches thinking about the two of us in that maternity home at Christmas. She must have felt so alone and scared.
The weeks between Christmas and my birthday are sad ones for me when I think about what she and I went through. I now cope with it by acknowledging that is okay to have these feelings of sadness. It is okay to feel an ache in my heart for all that my mother, father and I lost and went through during this time of year. My husband is amazing in that he understands that I need to express these feelings in order to focus on the present moment and also enjoy the holidays with our children. I'm not a total Adoptee Scrooge. I just have my moments.
Thanks, everyone!  

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Check back on Friday, December 7 for Part 2 of Holiday Season Adoption Triggers, in which we'll talk about fitting in with our adoptive family, and yet knowing that we don't quite fit in.
Round table compiled by Laura Dennis, image from freedigital