January 25, 2013

Adoptee Love Hunger

Years ago on a women's retreat, I shared a room with three friends, and one of them was Sherice*,
 with whom I shared a queen-sized bed for the weekend. Sherice has trauma in her background. When she was a small child, her parents abandoned her repeatedly, even in other countries -- leaving her to find her way home. This unfortunately happened many times. She had to learn early on, how to survive.

When we went to sleep the first night of our retreat, something interesting happened. We were both on our own sides of the bed, not touching whatsoever. But, feeling slight movement at the bottom of the bed where my feet were, she softly said, “What are you doing?”

Ugh. I felt a flash of embarrassment. I was about to be found out.

Before I could even answer she said, “Do you rub your feet against the sheets to be able to go to sleep?”

“Yeah, I do it,” I admitted sheepishly, “particularly if Larry’s not with me and I’m in bed by myself. I don’t even consciously realize I do it most times. It’s kind of a soothing mechanism to help me go off to sleep…”

“Oh my gosh!” she sat up in bed and shrieked, “I do the same exact thing!!!”

“Are you serious?” I said.

“Yes!” she said. “I started doing it as a very young child. It soothes me and makes it possible for me to go to sleep.”


Like me, Sherice also struggles with food issues, and has her entire life. 

  Sherice says:

“I developed many eating disorders growing up. I believe it’s because sometimes food is the only thing you can control when your world seems to be out of control. You can’t control who gave you away but you can control what’s put inside you. It doesn’t fill the void, but it releases hormones in your brain that gives comfort temporarily. My doctor told me it’s kind of like a high that removes you from everything else temporarily, but it’s still temporary. You keep doing it. It takes a long time to heal. You have to become conscious of it and tell yourself to stop or ask, “why am I eating this?” and “How do I feel right now and why is it driving me to food? Thank God for counseling. I have lost 80 pounds so far on the journey to wholeness, but it is still a struggle." 

My adoptive mom told me that when they brought me home from the Children’s Home Society, I would eat, and eat, and eat and eat. She said I would never stop even if it was definitely clear I had more than enough. I probably would have eaten ten jars of baby food if she let me. I never closed my mouth or pushed away the spoon like most babies do. She had to just had to portion out how much food was appropriate for a child (and usually gave a little bit more) and say, “okay, that’s enough.” 

Just so there are no misunderstandings, my adoptive parents took proper care of me with feedings and diaper changing and giving lots of appropriate physical touch when I was an infant.   

And yet I seemed to have this insatiable hunger. 

Where did it come from?

I didn’t grow out of it. Today in my forties, if I don’t tell myself, “Deanna, you’ve had enough,” after one or two brownies I will eat an crazy amount of them if I allow myself to...like five. Even though I am not physically hungry at all. It’s not just brownies, it could be mashed potatoes or even something healthy like salad. And it really has little to nothing to do with the food. It’s not about the food, it’s something that comes from an emotional place. Fortunately I have developed enough self control to stop at two, maybe three at the most of whatever I'm wanting.  But that explains why I still have thirty pounds to lose.  

The other day I counted up my personal friends who are adoptive parents and there are at least fifteen of them. I started thinking about the experiences they’ve shared with me over the years in adopting their children. The realization hit me that quite a number of them have said that their children have eating disorders. Some hide food or hoard it. As I was preparing this post, out of curiosity, I  put “Adoptee Eating Disorders” into a search engine and there were at least fifteen articles!    

I believe the struggle is love hunger.

The first days of a child's life are extremely important.  What children experience right after birth affects their development.  This article, How Important Is Physical Contact With Your Infant? states:

“Particularly in the newborn period, [physical contact] it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated—probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”

A mother has a natural instinct to hear her children’s cries in the night. To do whatever it takes to soothe them. To follow their gut.   

When my daughter Savanna Rose was born, the nurses would swaddle her and place her in the small clear sterile box on wheels alongside my bed. She would scream to the top of her lungs.

It wasn’t colic.
She just didn’t want to be alone. 
Babies are like that, you know.
From the moment they take their first breath.
They’ve been inside us for nine months and they don’t want to just come out and be relegated to a box.

If I let Savanna lay there in the box, neither one of us would get any rest with her wailing away. So, I picked her up, put her in the bed with me, and pulled up the side rails of the bed. I would then nurse her and fall asleep with her nestled in the bed with me. 

All was well with the world. At least our world.

“Mrs. Shrodes…Mrs. Shrodes…we’ve told you several times, you can’t do that,” the nurses would say.  “It’s against hospital policy for babies to sleep with their mothers.” 

I've never been the type to birth my babies at home. Or grow my own vegetables, or sew my own  clothes. Or grow my hair down to my waist and wear denim jumpers with little apples embroidered on them.  So I put up with hospital rules when I had my babies.
I got chastised so many times for having her in there with me that I couldn’t wait to get home where we could be together and sleep in peace. 

I almost never let her cry. She was attached to my hip or my breast. 

The way I mothered my own infants led me to wonder, “what did my foster parents do?”

It’s doubtful I was ever attached to them 24/7, and obviously I was never at anyone’s breast. 

Did my foster family hear my cries in the night or did they just assume I’d cry it out? (I’m not a big fan of letting babies cry it out.) I’m not even a fan of letting dogs cry it out. My kids chastise me now for letting Max in my bed when he whines in the middle of the night. All 85 pounds of him… 

How can anyone say no to this face?
Did my foster parents have multiple children they were caring for?

All I know is that decades later I’m still rubbing my feet gently together against the sheets. The only time I don’t is if my feet are entwined with my husband’s. Countless times over the course of our 27-year marriage he has said to me, “why do you hold on so tight to me all night long? I need you to give me just a little bit of space when I sleep…” 

And truth be told, I really don’t want to. 
I want to be all up in his space, all night long. 
I want to hold on and never let go.

Will somebody please hold on to me and never let go?

It’s one of those things I can’t explain but I know it’s somehow linked to my very first days, hungering for touch and hoping someone would answer. 

As we grow and develop ability to understand language and concepts, we realize our first mother and father were not the ones to keep and nurture us. 

We go through a process of coming to grips with that. It is a life-long process.

We try to fill the love hunger gap with lots of things, some healthy and some unhealthy.

It doesn't always manifest with food. Sometimes it comes through other ways of soothing ourselves  or addictions of various kinds.  

The unhealthy ways I’ve tried to fill my love hunger would take a lot more than one blog post.

 Humans need their mothers in such a way that is not even fully explainable. There was immediate recognition, from the second my children exited my womb and were placed my arms.  There was no “getting to know you” time required. We were already connected for nine months. And nothing met their heart cry but me. Yes, they recognized their father, and he also had a unique ability to soothe and comfort unlike a stranger. And yet, there was something different about them being at my breast. 

Not just milk.
Or full tummies.
An emotional connection fulfilled that nothing and no one else could meet.

Infants know.
They know. 

“You can’t prove anything, Deanna. You have nothing to go on here…”

Perhaps you’re right. 
I have nothing to go on but my experience of 47 years. 

I was too young to remember my foster family or the kind of care I received.  For this, we adoptees are constantly penalized -- simply because we were too young to remember the primal wound although it's real.

Healing is a lot slower than I'd like. What's a few flippin' decades?  I became more focused the past 18 months on moving forward in my journey of healing. The first six months I just spent listening and reading, not blogging or contributing. That was very helpful, to just soak. To take in. 

My next level is accomplished through a combination of trusting God at a new level as well as being a part of an adoptee community which is very healing. I am also part of a women's life group at our church called Made to Crave, and that is helping me address the eating disorder in a different light. 

Healing is possible. But we have to put ourselves in position to heal. In my next post, I'm going to talk about getting in position. Be watching for it!

So now that I’ve confessed my foot and food issues, and the fact that I won’t leave my husband alone in bed, don’t worry I’m not going to model my lingerie for you in the next post, or anything, share with me. 

Have you experienced love hunger? 

How did it manifest?

What helped you to move forward?

*not her real name