March 20, 2013

Adoptees: Why Didn't You Say Something Sooner?

As a kid, I collected words like some collected crayons. 

Photo Credit: _IBelieve_, Creative Commons

My adoptive mother has recounted the story several times of when I was a preschooler and used the word indubitably as I was speaking, and in the correct context!  Placed in accelerated reading and writing from the time I started school, I engaged in both, every day of my life from my earliest recollection. Performing recitations for special occasions, I was unafraid to give a speech, or sing a song. I remember the first time I did so, at four years old, for the entire church.  

Why mention this? It’s not to bring up my since birth Wonder Womanish tendencies.

Photo Credit: Sparetomato, Creative Commons

I was a verbose child with an excellent grasp of vocabulary and communicated like a boss. And, good as I was at that, I could not articulate my struggle with post-adoption issues.

Even a child who possesses excellent communication skills may not identify their issues nor share their feelings in this regard. 

A criticism I  hear of adult adoptees who reveal their truth is, “Why are they sharing this at 42 years old? Why now? Why did they say nothing when they were growing up? It never bothered them, and then all of a sudden, something that happened when they were a baby is a big deal...”

How do you know it never bothered them?

Consider this:

We couldn’t identify what we were feeling.

This past week I was talking with one of the adoptees at our church. They shared with me that they were affected by post-adoption issues all their life -- they just didn’t know what to call it. We laughed at the thought of being youngsters again and telling our parents,  "I’m hurting from a primal wound and could really use your help...” or “I’m having identity issues. Could you find a therapist?” 

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan, Creative Commons


Seriously. This is a no-brainer folks.

Not only were we incapable of communicating it, but the mental health field has evolved to understanding these issues. Back when I was born in the 1960’s some of these terms were not even used. A lot people still don't know what they are today. I have used phrases like, "primal wound" or "post adoption issues" or "coming out of the fog" and some people say, "What are you talking about?"

The world is still waking up to the reality of what takes place with relinquishment and adoption. I don't blame my adoptive parents for not getting me help for post adoption issues because they didn't know. And furthermore they were just doing what they were told to do! I remember my adoptive mother saying that when she and my father adopted me, they were instructed to bring me home and raise me as they would a child by birth -- that I would require no special treatment. Years later I asked a therapist about this. They told me it was indeed what was believed by psychologists and agencies and what all adoptive parents were told to do back then.

So is it really any surprise that we didn’t talk about these things earlier? 
The world didn't understand nor speak of it. 

Photo Credit: _0_, Creative Commons

Just because adoptees didn’t speak of it doesn’t mean we didn’t feel it. 
We just didn't know what "it" was.

Then, many of us adoptees came out of the fog and into our truth. We realized what we were grappling with and had to decide…"can I safely share this?" My therapist told me to not share with anyone at first unless I was absolutely certain they would understand and be supportive, because it would cause further pain and just give me something new to heal from. And I didn't need that while in recovery.

 A plethora of adult adoptees I personally know would rather hang out with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt sit in a tub of snakes than speak up about how they really feel. I know because a lot of them email me privately and say, “Please keep writing, Deanna. You're saying so many things that I feel. I’m still too scared to come out, but I know I will one day when I get brave enough...” 

Most of us come into our truth when we are grown. This is one reason it would be laughable if it weren't so sad when adoptive parents dogmatically proclaim their children are free from issues, or won't ever have them again.  It's hard not to get sand all over you when these kind of AP's come around, since their heads live buried there.)  They say things like, "I've asked her if it bothers her that she is adopted, and she says no. She loves it!" and point to this as evidence.  Many adult adoptees are  aware through personal experience of why this may not be indicative of a child's true feelings, as well as the fact that feelings can change as we become adults and have greater understanding of complex issues. (That topic is worthy of a post of it's own.)

As adults, we long to claim our voice. 
Some of us do. 

If we say we want to be the first to speak to the issues now, maybe it’s because we had to wait so long.

If we sound a bit on edge, maybe it’s because there are decades of pent-up frustration. 

If we seem a bit passionate now, maybe it’s because we were powerless then.

But not anymore.

As my friend Rebecca Hawkes often says, “We don’t speak as one voice, but we are forming a chorus.”