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Mothering as an adoptee

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thank you for coming to mothering to share your insights. MDC helped introduce me to attachment parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and natural birth. It gave me wonderful guidance on a journey that was alien and triggering for me.


I lost my mother at birth and was raised by strangers, like many adoptees i grew up in a family which looked, smelled, acted and thought differently from me. I was told my mother "loved me so much she gave me away."  I guess i took that too literally and so a wall grew around my heart to spare me the pain of love, since love = loss. As a child i didn't have the words for the pain and no one recognized that an infant would mourn and grieve the loss of her mother.


Fortunately i met my amazing husband and with him - for the first time ever - i wanted a family. It was a long journey, with many miscarriages until my decision to home birth was accepted and respected. My cellular memory was terrified of birthing in a hospital where strangers would be able to steal my baby. 


Now i deal with the many quirks of being an adoptee-parenting, many of them I am able to put into proper perspective in relation to healing from abandonment/adoption. However there is an area I struggle and I don't understand it's source. I am uncomfortable playing with my child. I did the baby - toddler age pretty well, but now age 4.5 is vexing me. Another adoptee/mom has told me she too struggles. I didn't think I would have that problem because i always enjoyed children and was fun and creative around them. With my own - flesh and blood - I feel kind of frozen. Most of the time I'd rather do anything than confront the challenge of being present with his sweet little soul. Intellectually I know this is unacceptable so I force myself to play. However I need words to figure out what is happening emotionally and why.


post #2 of 7

I'm really sorry that you feel that way about your adoption. The mentality and how we deal with and think about adoption has changed so much than in the past decades. My husband is adopted, but from his explaination, generally had good feelings about the situation, and a natural curiosity about his birth family, and his adoptive family got what info they could for him that was legally available at the time. His adopted brother on the other hand, has no interest in his bio fam at all, so I know others feel differently.

My husband found his birth parents and has a wonderful relationship with his birth mom, and a casual ok one with his birth dad (he lives out of state) and a pretty good relationship with all the half siblings he found. He has found in them many aspects of 'nature' and genetics over nurture, it's pretty quirky sometimes, but he has come to understand why he is himself in a better way by meeting them. But he still loves his adoptive family too, and is thrilled his son can have so many 'families'


From the way you talk about it, it sounds like you definately have some unresolved issues you need to address with your self. Counciling might be helpful. Searching for bio relatives might be too. And there may be positive or negative outcomes from that. (My husband's story is not without it's snags, the adoption agency initially found his birth dad where he was serving a prison sentance) You need to choose your own path and find peace with your self and situation, so you and your child can have the most fulfilling relationship possible.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

How does this "ask the expert" section work? I was hoping to direct my topic to Marcy Axness, and possibly receive relevant supportive comments along the way.


flightgoddess - i find your reply kind of condescending, dismissive and off topic. I've quoted some examples of what I found offensive and everything you shared about your hubby seemed off topic to me.  I believe it is pretty well established that men and women grow to handle the trauma of adoption differently and among individuals there is a huge spectrum of feelings as well. Congrats, it sounds like you may have married "a well-adjusted adoptee."

I'm really sorry that you feel that way about your adoption. 


The mentality and how we deal with and think about adoption has changed so much than in the past decades.  



From the way you talk about it, it sounds like you definately have some unresolved issues you need to address with your self. Counciling might be helpful. Searching for bio relatives might be too.


post #4 of 7

I'm not sure how this "ask the experts" forum works either or if its appropriate to post here.


But I would like to say, I'm glad that someone has started a conversation about what it's like to be an adoptee & a parent, and I'd like the opportunity to join that conversation. I am also an adoptee and I feel that my mothering journey has been profoundly shaped by my experience of adoption. I have definitely experienced some challenges along the way, and it would be great if there were a place to share with others who can relate.


I'm also curious to hear Marcy Axness's perspectives.


post #5 of 7

Sorry for the delay, but I'm here, everyone--hi! (Getting up to speed on the new expert forum format has been a fits & starts proposition.) Moonbeem, as an adopted person (forget "expert" for a moment) I have often said "Motherhood brought me to my knees." I had been through many years of various kinds of therapy, but not only had NONE of my therapists explored the adoption piece (??!), nothing had prepared me for this. Many years ago (when my children were still fairly young) I wrote about it in an article you can read at http://www.quantumparenting.com/articles/12/. In it I wrote:


The experience of mothering relentlessly chipped away at the artificial self I had presented to the world—and myself—for 30 years. Mothering broke me open. My stolid fortresses of defense and control, my “Thing’s are perfect, I’m handling everything fine” persona that had thwarted a few earnest attempts at therapy over the years finally began to shred under the pumice of my son’s raw, baby neediness, his control-shattering toddler defiance, and the terrifying demands of intimacy that children innocently exact.


The famed child psychologist Erik Erikson used to say that when we spend a lot of time with a child of a particular age, our own unresolved/unexplored issues (typically unmet needs) from that age tend to surface. I wrote in that article about how I was super-great at everything... except "just BEing" with my son! That's when the restlessness would roil inside me and up I'd have to pop--to check on something-or-other, make a phone, call, etc. I finally called my previous therapist, who told me, "You never grieved. Find ways to cry." Turns out it wasn't quite that black-and-white or straightforward, and my son's birth had begun a rich journey of healing, self-discovery, and growth that has been, well, sort of epic.


You mentioned the word "alien" near the top of your post, Moonbeem, and I just wanted to mention that a favorite qualitative study I often quote when teaching about adoption dynamics interviewed many adopted adolescents and found that some of common terms they used to describe themselves/their feelings... and the common themes of experience were:

“…alien… rootless… flotsam… in limbo…”

* A sense of homelessness

* Being different, not belonging, having “fallen out of everydayness”

*   Profound estrangement from generally taken-for-granted realities such as the security of parental relationships


As an adoptee who grew up thinking it was "neat" to be adopted (after all, everyone else had to take what they go, but they got to CHOOSE me--or so the well-meaning slogan went), and was one of the statistically roughly 80% of "good adoptees" (who don't act out, get into trouble, etc.), I have to admit when I read these descriptions they struck a familiar chord deep within me. And having this live in me certainly informed ALL my relationships, but certainly those with my children, in which I was "their all" and also--a la Erikson--their very close presence was teasing up old visceral, primal feelings I had no context for. It's a little crazy-making!!


While inside I struggled, outside I strained to present a status-quo face. I wore J. Crew, cooked nutritious meals, went to Mommy & Me, clenched my teeth, and tried to keep it together. I was living what Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls “the grinning depression.” So for awhile I thought that my real healing began on Ian’s first 4th of July, when, after nursing him and tucking him in for his morning nap, I drove up to a scenic overlook and screamed from my Saab at the panorama of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and the carefree beach communities, “I HATE BEING A MOTHER!!!!” I had been psychically pummeled into letting go of the desperate facade that all was okay.


I had also slipped back into the anesthetic numbness of my infancy and childhood. I felt like Meryl Streep’s character in “Postcards From the Edge”, when she tells Gene Hackman, “I know I have the perfect life, I just can’t feel my life.” I had a wonderful husband, a beautiful son, a lovely home, great friends…but I somehow couldn’t connect with the experience of all that. I couldn’t inhabit it, feel it against my soul. I was skimming over the surface of life, for fear of the menacing undertow beneath. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy. My history was repeating itself, and I had enough consciousness to realize that this wasn’t how I wanted to live out my life.


I could go on for ages, believe me (I have even written a fictional memoir--only about .5% is fictional--about an adopted woman coming to terms with the relational demands of motherhood--Upon Waking), but Moonbeem and CI Mama--and anyone else who would care to join in--I would welcome hearing more about your own experiences on this adventure. A forum is so great for that, because that's exactly what it is--a forum! There are many threads that make up this particular tapestry--including the pre- and perinatal psychology piece, whereby we do now know that yes, a newborn separated from her mother DOES suffer the trauma of loss in myriad ways that trace through body, mind and spirit; the fact that ANY parent can be blindsided by the old, body-borne history of their life & love that is so ripe to be reawakened (and healed, hopefully) through the practice of parenting--at least when we're striving to practice that important principle of PRESENCE; the kind of "suffering in secret" aspect of being a woman who is struggling with motherhood, which is supposed to come so naturally--and an adopted woman at that, which carries a whole other dimension of secrecy and silence. (Because, Flightgoddess, while what you say about attitudes about adoption having changed so much is certainly true to an extent, it still remains freighted with all manner of cultural loading, odd assumptions and projections. I was just a few days ago at my pal Adam Pertman's book party for his revised edition of Adoption Nation, and he is the first to agree with that assessment.)


Please forgive me if it takes me a bit of time to figure out how all this works. (I thought I'd receive an email when someone had posted a question to me; I only saw these postings when I was checking the link to this forum on my own website!!)


I look forward to a rich discussion and sharing...


post #6 of 7

Thank you for your long & thoughtful reply. I've read it several times, digested it, and am finally taking time to respond. So much of what you've said resonates with me.


Although I've always felt that "someday" I wanted to be a mom, it took me a long time to actually get there. Granted, my 20s were largely consume with coming out as a lesbian and then supporting my mother through a long battle with cancer and then grieving her death. Losing her brought up so much of my adoption baggage (I'm losing a mother...again!!!) and becoming a mother myself was the last thing I was ready to do. I did tons of therapy. Tons.


My 30s were this great turn-around...I got my life together, moved to a community I loved, married my partner, got a masters degree, found meaningful work in my field, and projected the image of "adult", or so I hoped. Trying to conceive disrupted that fiction. I started when I was 36, and I was determined not to go off the deep end in my quest to get pregnant. My partner & I were doing AI, and I told myself "4 tries and if it doesn't work, I'll move on."


HA! From our 1st round of inseminating, it was a completely crazy roller coaster ride. All the work I'd done in therapy went out the window. I had the most bizarre physical symptoms...I repeatedly threw my back out, I had fainting spells, things that have never happened before or since. It was like my mind could not govern my body...and my body had some profound, primordial resistance to the whole concept of getting pregnant. My partner & I went into couples therapy because she couldn't deal with my tumult. I couldn't deal with it either! It was a rough time. I ended up getting pregnant after 15 months & 7 rounds of AI.


Pregnancy was a blissful respite from the turbulence, or so it seemed at the time. Now I think that I just bundled up my fear and tucked it away in a remote place because I didn't have the energy to deal with it. I felt great while I was pregnant, though I did gain a LOT of weight, probably more than was strictly necessary.


Labor & delivery totally undid me. My 33-hour labor never followed a normal pattern. Again I had a very strong sense of disconnect between my mind/spirit, which really wanted to have a natural birth, and my body, which stalled, resisted, defied me. I feel like I had to give birth through a web of karmic gunk, and I just wasn't up for the task. I gave up and had a c-section.


Recovery was brutal. DD never slept well, and sleep deprivation, combined with a difficult recovery, just opened the trap door to my secret cave of craziness. I could not keep the bats in my belfry. I did not feel like myself, I felt crazy. I felt like a damaged, weak, and ugly human being. And it wasn't like I'd become that...it was a feeling that I'd really been it all along, but I couldn't hide it any more. I recognized that feeling as my "adoption baggage" feeling, but none of the tools that I'd learned through adulthood & years of therapy were of any use. I felt completely raw, exposed. Sleep deprivation & caring for an infant just took all my coping mechanisms away.


I think that's the hardest part of my adoption baggage. It's just so out of the reach of my grown up self. It's so hard to address because it's just raw pain. It's like I will forever have a terrified infant in me, who can never be comforted by words. It was very, very humbling to realize that I cannot "fix" that part of myself, I cannot make it better.


Parenting my daughter has been an amazing journey, and I'm happy to report that I'm in a much better place now, largely due to better sleep, plus the passage of time has helped me work through the worst parts of labor & c-section. In spite of all of these challenges, I have found myself able to truly enjoy my daughter, and I'm fiercely protective of her. The bond happened for us, early and strongly. That has been humbling as well...the realization that my damage isn't as big as my resilience.


I'm aware that it would be easy for me to turn my whole parenting journey into a big drama about my pain and my healing. What works best is for me to keep being curious about my daughter and her path. And to remind myself, over & over, that she has her story and I have mine. They overlap, but I'm not 100% responsible for her destiny.


Wow, that was a lot of type. I didn't know I had so much to say!



post #7 of 7

Ah, yes, that would make a great log-line for my life: I didn't know I had so much to say till I started saying it! Thank you for YOUR thoughtful sharing. What an extraordinary story... and journey you have been on. It is indeed an ever-unfolding adventure, and your last paragraph expresses such wisdom, about continuing to abide in the curiosity... the wonder... as each of your destinies unspools.

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