Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Round Table: Emerging from the Fog

Today's Round Table discussion begins with a quote from one of the Lost Daughter sisters, Julie J:
I think the adoptees who say they have no pain or loss from adoption are simply not in touch with it, or not ready to deal with it yet. We hear so much about the "fog." Basically, that's what it is. Some use it as a coping mechanism. Some honestly have no clue adoption issues will catch up with them someday. Then one day it does hit them hard. We see those adoptees over on our support forum frequently. They usually start off with some version of "I never thought adoption was an issue for me until..." It may be after the birth of their own children, or it may be after the death of one of their adoptive parents, or it may be some other event that brings adoption issues back to the forefront of their consciousness.
Discussion prompt: Did you have one of those moments when adoption issues snuck up on you and "hit you hard"? What can you tell us about that moment and how it changed you?

Rebecca Hawkes: I thought I had absolutely NO issues with adoption until the day when it suddenly became very clear that I did. I was alone in my apartment -- mid-20s -- and had a total mental collapse ... puddle of tears on the floor, repeating the phrase "she doesn't even know who I am" over and over again. I didn't take immediate action in terms of searching for my biological family or dealing with the underlying issues of loss, but my long, gradual process of awakening began on that day.

Michelle: Similar situation for me. I was sitting at my kitchen table, alone in the house, and started sobbing over it. In my head I was saying "I want my mom." The sounds coming out of my mouth were nothing I had ever heard coming from myself before. They were sounds of pure agony. I was shocked.

Rebecca Hawkes: Yes, exactly, it was a grief like no other!

Julie Stromberg: Glad I wasn't the only one. When I finally decided to search at age 27, it was inspired by the fact that hubby and I were ready to start our own family. I went to the library and picked up Birthright by Jean Strauss and read it one sitting. A few days later, my husband came home to find sitting on the floor in the corner of our bedroom crying and crying and crying. This wave of "Who the hell am I?!? I have no freaking idea where I came from!!!! Why did they not want me?!?!?" hit me like a ton of bricks. It is so overwhelming and raw. The fog lifted and has never come back. After that moment, there was no way that I was not going to search.

Rebecca Hawkes: There was a book involved in my "moment," too. I was reading the novel Marya: A Life by Joyce Carol Oates. It doesn’t deal with a formal adoption, but the main character’s father is dead and her mother has abandoned her. The ending of the book snuck past my defenses and touched on an adoptee nerve. Suddenly I had thrown the book across the room and was on the floor in tears.

Deanna Shrodes: I struggled inside through the years growing up but didn't feel a comfort level to express it. As far as the element of surprise and things hitting me hard, pregnancy for the first time was huge. Birth was another huge awakening. With each birth, it got stronger. (I was pregnant four times -- one miscarriage, 3 births.) Going through the process of having my children was absolutely overwhelming concerning adoption and with my second son's pregnancy and birth, I was in search and reunion which intensified things.

During that time although I had two babies, I struggled with workaholism and perfectionism. I worked insane hours to not only numb the pain, but to try to avoid quiet time where I had to face issues. I wanted to be exhausted and drop into bed, with little time to think. Many times it still wouldn't work and thoughts would come and I would cry myself to sleep. I remember one day I was doing the dishes. I was standing at the sink and a thought about my relinquishment/rejection came into my mind. I collapsed at the sink, just sobbing. I fell to the floor and all I could do was wail in prayer, just begging God to help me. I was grateful my husband was on an errand and the kids were napping. I tried so hard all my life to hold it together, for everyone else.

Susan Perry: Adoption issues came to the forefront for me when my first daughter was born, and then later, when I suffered a serious medical crisis. For years, I behaved as if adoption were no issue at all for me -- I think as a young person I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that adoption had had no effect on me whatsoever. When my daughter Kate was born, I thought very consciously to myself: Wow! How could my original mother have ever forgotten about this? And where is she now? I didn't act on those feelings at that time, because I wasn't strong enough to counteract all of the societal constraints that discouraged searching. For me, the medical crisis was the last straw. I wasn't accepted for a trial study because I had no access to family health history and decided at that moment that I would no longer put up with such discriminatory treatment. Because I was uneducated about search issues, I made the mistake of going to my adoption agency first. There, I encountered more blatant discrimination, and that experience launched me right into the adoption reform movement.

Rebecca Hawkes: This is shaping up to be a very illuminating and important post. I think I understand why some adoptees are reluctant to "go there," because, seriously, once it hits you, it really rocks your world. I think there's also a lot of relief when it happens though, because we were expending so much energy holding it all together and convincing ourselves we were fine, even if we didn't realize we were doing so.

Michelle: Oh gosh, yes Rebecca. That is the truth. I told my adoptive mom not long ago that I think part of the reason many adoptees don't search is they are doing their best to do what was expected of them -- to be who they were told to be through the legalities of adoption -- and that's all they have the mental and emotional strength and energy to do. It takes a lot of work to keep that up and to keep the feelings at bay. Whew! I resisted everything that threatened to bring them to the surface, even really, really recently. It's work to hold yourself together like that, but it's freedom when you don't have to anymore.

Even after my mini-breakdown, it still took me many years to de-fog. I think I'm still processing. I started talking about adoption when we were in the adoption process ourselves. I went to an online forum daily -- beginning over 10 years ago. As I talked about adoption, more feelings came up, but it took a lot of time. For many of those years, I thought I was just benignly talking about adoption. Heck, I thought I was truly educating people on what a great option it was. I had no idea that I was drawn to that forum daily because I actually had a lot of my own stuff to work through.

I look back at the things I used to write, and they are nearly a complete turn around from what I say today. I've said before that the grief of first mothers is what finally undid me. The thought that my own mother might actually be SAD instead of simply "going on with her life" cut me to the quick. Had I not had the opportunity for authentic interaction with those moms, I really don't know where I'd be today in terms of understanding my own loss and emotions. Even after printing out the forms to apply for my identifying information (which I ended up being denied initially), they sat on my desk for seven years before I finally sent them in. Sending for my information required not only courage, but also meant that I had to be willing to let go of my "fantasy mother," which was incredibly difficult since it was all I had of her.

I'm still drawn to talk about adoption daily. I'm still working through my own stuff. Sometimes I just can't believe this is actually my life -- that my mother was hidden away in a maternity home and I was separated from her and from my father at birth. That they've missed me and thought about me all these years, and now were together again. I mean, really?? It's hard to take it all in.

Susan Perry: I'm a little different from some here in that I don't have an ongoing reunion. My original mother did not want continuing contact, so our interaction consisted of a letter exchange and a phone call. Even so, for me, knowing the truth is so much more empowering than knowing nothing. I am 62 now, so obviously, my original mother relinquished in a different era, when openness was not encouraged at all. I really bear no ill will toward any one party in my adoption -- but I bear a lot of ill will toward my adoption agency, which continues to facilitate closed adoptions even today, and which will not advocate for the rights of adopted adults. Adopted people are not commodities to be traded. Why is this concept so difficult for some people to understand?

Karen Pickell I was always very aware, even as a child, of being adopted, but even so I learned to be the pleaser and to hide my true feelings about many things. Life seemed to be going along pretty well until my late twenties, when I became so sick I had to take a leave of absence from my job. I was diagnosed with a chronic disease that is aggravated by stress—basically, my body broke down trying to maintain a career I hated while dealing with unhealthy romantic relationships. Everything in my life was wrong. In taking stock of the path I was on, I realized that underneath these surface causes was the deeper issue of not knowing who I really was or who I wanted to be, and that my feeling of not having an identity went back to not knowing where I came from because of being adopted.

Even once I recognized this about myself, I still couldn’t talk about it with anyone, not even with the psychologist I was seeing at the time to help me deal with all the stress. I did begin to make changes to better reflect the life I wanted to live, but my real breakthrough came after my first child was born. Suddenly, it became imperative for me to be open and honest about being an adopted person, to be able to tell my son about myself. It became urgent for me to find my birth mother—something that had been on my mind since I was fourteen. Now I know both of my birth parents, most of my ancestry, and a good amount of family medical history. I just could not allow my children to grow up having the same black hole about where their family came from that I did. I did not want them to have to write N/A on medical history questionnaires the way I did.

Reconnecting with my birth family has not instantly made me a whole person, with all questions answered and a fully-formed identity intact. In fact, it has created new questions for me, but with each answer I discover another facet of myself that had been buried under all my efforts to fit in where I didn't belong. The writing that I’m doing here at Lost Daughters as well as in my graduate program is another stage of my journey, as is my new outspokenness about adoptee rights. I’m still uncovering all of my pieces.

Nikki: For me, it wasn't one particular moment when the grief hit me like a ton of bricks, but rather a whole series of moments over the past 3 years since finding my original family. I always thought I was "fine" and relatively unaffected by being adopted; which truly astonishes me now that I am able to see myself through a much clearer lens. When I was 25 and pregnant with my first child, I happened to be in the town in which my adoption took place. I can remember driving by the agency, and wondering what would happen if I went inside. Would they give me information? What kind of information? Would it be okay for me to do that? NO! I couldn't. So I put it out of my mind. It wasn't until 14 years later that I worked up the courage to apply for my original birth certificate, and then contact my mother. That's when the grief and realization of all that was lost began to sink in. That's when my fog began to lift and tears began to flow. Three years of emotional ups and downs that I wouldn't trade for anything, because knowing is so much better than not knowing.

Lynn Grubb: The biggest moment for me was when our daughter came home from the hospital and I watched her first mother walk away from her and never come back. It finally sunk in for me, "that happened to me!' I grieved for quite some time at the age of 39.

Laura Dennis: I've had ah-ha moments throughout my life, in which I could see through the adoption fog; which was actually air -- I didn’t know it was possible to breathe anything else.

As others have said, we're never not adopted, and it's definitely an ongoing process for me to disentangle what’s a post-adoption-issue, what’s a formerly-repressed-Catholic-girl-issue, what's a "Laura’s basically a perfectionist by nature"-issue. (The "issue" list goes on.)

I can look back and realize that while my adoptive parents taught me to think for myself, they simply didn't know that adoption has a downside for a child (actually, it has many downsides, but I digress).
Here's an example of seeing through the fog ... At age 10, I accused my parents of buying me, like a slave. I was pretty adamant. They didn't really have an answer, except that they paid for my medical expenses. Society didn't -- and still doesn't -- have an answer for that. (I believe my 10-year-old self will end up on the side of history and recognize that it's wrong to pay for a child.)

Even so, my parents never criticized me for coming to the conclusions that I did. What I'm trying to say is that I saw through the adoption fog, but as a child was at a loss to do much about it.

Today, I'm still trying to get the adoption fog to disperse fully, but it's an ongoing, sometimes difficult process.

Deanna Shrodes: Looking back, I don't have regret about not expressing my struggles as a child, as strange as that may sound. With the hindsight that comes as an adult, I realize my expressing it might have made it worse. It is doubtful that my parents would have ever taken me to a psychologist specializing in adoption issues. I believe they would have tried to help. I don't believe they would have done nothing, however I do think their solution would have been to take me to meet with our pastor. This would have been the worst thing ever, as none of the pastors I had growing up were professionals with expertise in post-adoption issues and would have undoubtedly given me the "adoption kool-aid." I made the mistake myself as an adult of going to counselors who didn't understand post-adoption issues and gave me the kool-aid which only made things worse, for years. I lived with my post-adoption issues repressed for a very long time, (most of my life) just dealing with them inside my own head, in my own world, trying to make sense of it.

For more of Deanna's thoughts on this topic, please read her post today at Adoptee Restoration:
"I'm An Adoptee And I Don't Have Issues!" A Closer Look...