Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Thoughts on Adoption

Hello from the midwest! I'm at a conference this week, which is why I've been so quiet. I have very little free time while I'm traveling, but I do have a laptop with a wireless connection, so here I am for a quick post.

When I first found out that H and I were dealing with IF, my immediate gut reaction was--I can't adopt. Not because I wouldn't love an adopted child, but because that child wouldn't love me. I have known 4 people who are adopted and each of them are very conflicted by it. For some, these feelings have led them to totally reject their adoptive parents. For another friend, the bitterness is only just now healing with the discovery of his biological mother and siblings.

Here are their stories:

1. My best friend's parents could not conceive for many years, so they adopted a boy, let's call him D, from the U.S. in a closed adoption. A few years after D's adoption, the parents suddenly naturally conceived on their own, and went on to have 3 biological kids, which included my best friend, N. Even though the parents and N loved D very much, he was very upset about his adoption. As soon as D turned 18, he left home with no note and never returned. There was much heartache in the family at losing him. Years later, N's parents ran into D accidentally and learned he had a child of his own. They tried to re-establish contact but it did not last. It pains them greatly because they consider D their son as much as their biological kids. They have had to let him go.

2. My sister's best friend, K, was adopted at birth and no one in our circle of friends/neighbors knew about her adoption, including K, until she was in her teens. She looks just like her adopted dad, but learning she was adopted created a huge crater in her life. She left home after college and keeps only loose contact with her adopted parents, the only parents she has ever known. She has cut off contact with my sister and all others who knew her growing up. She has had a lot of issues as a result of the adoption.

3. My husband's best friend, S, knew about his adoption from an early age as he is Colombian and his parents are white Americans. He struggled greatly with his identity in college and contemplated suicide many times, all connected to his feelings of abandonment. He sought therapy but it did not change the desperation he felt to find his biological parents. Luckily he does love his adopted parents and has not abandoned them, but he is just now finding peace in his life after finally finding his biological family. He now treats them all as his parents equally. I know this has caused his adopted parents heartache, but they were supportive in his quest.

4. My husband's half brother T was an "oops" that H's dad did not even know about until running into the mother 18 years later. The mother had married another man shortly after getting pregnant with T, and her husband raised T as his own. T says he always knew in his heart that the man who raised him was not his father, even though there was no reason for him to suspect otherwise. He said they never got along and there was lots of tension. When T met his biological dad, he said he was so relieved. Shortly after this reunion, T's mother and her husband divorced. T keeps no contact with him since learning he is not his biological parent. T still has a lot of family issues stemming from this discovery and has cancelled weddings to separate people 3 different times. He believes his commitment issues are a result of his family "mix up." He wants no children of his own. S and K also want no children of their own.

Having firsthand witnessed the pain that adoption has brought to the adoptive parents and children of people very close to me has made me fear adoption greatly. Yes, I know there are many adoption success stories, but I haven't seen any with my own eyes. I don't know what an adoption "happily ever after" looks like. I only have seen how adoption causes more pain to everyone involved. I don't want to get through the pain of IF only to experience the pain of my adopted child's feelings that I am not their real mother.

So please, those of you out there who can tell me how a successul adoption works, tell me how you dealt with these issues with your children. Were you open from day one about their adoption? Did you keep in touch with biological parents? Did your children need to know their biological parents?

I know I will love a child I adopt. After all, I loved many of the students I taught and treated them as I would treat my own kids. I cannot face the pain of them resenting me though. My goal is to have a family. And that means having a child that will be my child always, whether I conceived them or not. If adoption is going to cause my child pain and psychological issues, then I would rather remain childless, as much as I hate that option.


Jamie said...

This is well written and I can definitely see your point. You have given me a lot more to ponder. I had never really looked at it from quite this perspective.

martin said...

Hi Emmie – I’m about to start my own blog based on my own (and my wife’s) adoption experiences here in the UK. A search for ‘adoption’ threw up your blog and I got hooked (you may have seen my response to one of your earlier posts). I just thought I’d respond to the concerns in your posting – maybe even try to put your mind at rest about a couple of things.

We went through the whole IVF journey and moved on to adoption a few years ago. I can tell you honestly that every concern you express in your post has gone through our minds at some point.

You ask “who can tell me how a successful adoption works”. The simple fact is that no one can tell you that any more than they can tell you how to have a successful marriage or a successful career. Every case is different. Having said that, you have one big advantage in that you’re already well aware that there are issues adopted children need to deal with. That is absolutely essential in adoption – but unfortunately it’s one thing that many adoptive parents don’t engage with as much as they should. If you can keep that frame of mind (social workers we’ve encountered tend to label it as being “child-centred” or “child-focused”) it’ll serve you well.

If there’s any single thing that can make all the difference, I think it’s openness. Until recently in the UK, it was common practice not to tell anyone (including the adopted child) about their biological heritage. Thankfully, common sense has taken over. Best practice now is not only to tell a child about adoption but to actively and positively celebrate it. All children like to feel they’re special in some way – to have some edge to their identity that no one else can boast. To give them ownership of the idea of adoption as part of who they are really can help. It also proves to them that you’re on board with them and ready to help them come to terms with the issues.

Our little girl is only two and a half, but we’ve been talking about her background with her since before she could talk. She understands on a level, albeit very simplistically, to the extent that adoption is already part of her identity, part of her normality, along with playgrounds and friends and potty training and grandparents etc etc. Importantly, she has a lot of friends of her age who are also adopted. It’s early days, and I know there are elements of her birth family history with which she is likely to have difficulty coming to terms – but if we can keep talking about it, not hide it away in the box marked “tricky things we’d rather not think about” we’ll all get through this together.

I’m sure that at some point she will hurt us. It’s what kids do – they get very good, very quickly at pushing all the wrong buttons. We’re already pre-empting the day she screams in teenage rage “you’re not even my real parents”. There’s a good chance it’ll happen. Our job is to try to see through things like that at the time: is she really having issues with her adoption? – or is she just coming to terms with growing up? We’re the adults, so we’re the ones who need to keep a level head and learn to gauge those situations as they happen. It’s a fact that most teenagers in the twenty-first century find themselves hurting their parents, intentionally or not. How things go after that is usually down to how the parents react and has little to do with how much the child loves the parent or vice versa.

One other thing: if things don’t work out for you on your current course, remember to take some time out for yourselves before you get involved with adoption. It’s a world away from IVF (and so much simpler in so many ways). Give yourself a chance to properly draw a line under your IF issues. Take six months out, have some you and H time. Then contact the agencies only when you’re confident that you’re ready.

As a family, we have our own little dysfunctional bits – show me a family (adopted or otherwise) that hasn’t. But I do know this – where I am today is about as close to paradise as I can imagine. Parenthood is frightening. It absolutely should be. But it’s also the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.

Good luck with everything.

luolin said...

Like Jaimie, I hadn't thought about it in this particular way before. I have been reading both adoption blogs and infertility blogs over the past couple of years (and of course sometimes they are both).
Two people who I think write very intelligently and compassionately (and passionately) about open adoptions are Dawn at This Woman's Work http://www.thiswomanswork.com/ and LisaV at Vindauga http://vindauga.typepad.com/vindauga/. These aren't direct responses to the cases you cite, because the children haven't grown up yet. Lisa has written about her adolescent daughter's changing feelings about adoption.

Oh, they both have both biokids and adopted ones.

Are all the examples of adult children who rejected their parents that you know adopted children? I ask because my dad was estranged from his (bio) mother for 15 years or so.

ellie said...

Hi. I see we are cyclesistas together this next round -- and I thought I'd let you know my Dad was adopted. He was told very early on and it was considered normal. He did have contact with his bio parents later in life- but his adopted mom is who he refers to as his mom- and while she was with us- we called her grandma. He has a brother who was adopted by another family- he has no contact with his sibling and does not know where to find him- and has no urge to do so- he is content with what he has. Not really a modern story as it is my dad- but it is a happier story than those you expereinced.

GLouise said...

Wow- that are some pretty sad stories, so I can understand why you are concerned.

I think that is a common fear among adoptive parents...being rejected by their children.

I agree that the "primal wound" is probably greater in some children than in others.

I also think that the openness that is more prevalent today can help offset some of the heartace described in those examples you list.

Adoptions from the 50s-early 80s were typically "closed," and some parents even tried to hide the fact of adoption, which I think is cruel.

I agree with Martin that the attitude toward adoption is much healthier now.

One of my college friends is adopted, very open about it and seems to have a great relationship with her parents, so, like Martin says, each case is different.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It is definitely a complicated and emotional situation.

NikkiNix said...

Okay I couldn't even get tot he end of your post I haaad to tell you about my best friend "The Diva"... her parents are from India (the real india) and they came to Canada after an arranged marriag, both professionals making good $ after 10 years couldn't have a child. They didn't have modernd day medicine like we do and each time they communicated with back home they were reminded of being a disappointment to their family.

They chose to disconnect with the negative comments and tradition and adopt an indian child from North America. After a 2 year wait, my bestest friend The Diva was born... to a 14 year old indian mother from Guyana.

She didn't find out until she was 21 BY ACCIDENT and she too felt betrayed and after the initial shock and hurt and anget she was mature enough to ask a million questions. She determined that her parents never lied to her... her mother NEVER said she was pregnant, she would say "as I waited for you to be born" and things like that ans as The Diva thought about her 'rebuttals' she realized she really had been told the truth. She was even allowed to change her name at age 7 because her family last name was also a bad slang word, so when hyphenated with a historically significant name it became cool. SHe was raised as an only child, as a true Indian girl even thought her nose was bigger, her lips and hips fuller than many others.

She's now married and working on her PhD, she doesn't want to meet her mother until she has a child of her own she says.

Bottom line, she's grateful that my parents saved this 14 year old bio mother from cultural-social scorn, and that they were patient enough to wait for her :) She's had a great life and even when she met her husband, i was the one that prepped him for the BIG SECRET.

I told him that her secret was a positive secret, and only those who truly love her know it, so he will be priviledged when she tells him.. and that she is nervous because this secret in her mind may define her fate, but at the same time, her secret in my opinion is what makes her even more special, and more loved. When he found out her secret ... he cried and thanked her parents by doing a very old indian 'act' that is a symbol of the ultimate respect!!


Go for it!