Adoption: A Scar That Never Heals?

29 04 2018

 By Timothy D. Naegele[1]

A child is a sacred being, and God’s precious gift to the world.[2]  Each is unique and blessed, with God’s imprimatur in his or her original fingerprints and DNA.  The flip side of an abortion is adoption—hopefully by one or more loving adoptive parents.  Rather than take a life, adoption provides a means by which that life continues and is nourished and often cherished by those persons who adopt.[3]

This has been true of a relative of mine and his wife, who desperately wanted to adopt because cancer treatments had prevented one from ever conceiving again.[4]  Another relative was forced by her father to give up her baby, which had been born out of wedlock.  A third relative—whom I love deeply—fell in love with someone who had been adopted at birth; and he seems never to have reconciled his quest for knowledge of his birth parents with the love provided by his adoptive parents . . . or by my relative.

The adoptee’s mother has sheltered the teenager from the hurt and chaos that his birth parents might bring to their family, which is understandable.  In the process, however, the young man seems less than “whole,” and this has influenced his relationship with my wonderful and very loving relative.  Al-Anon teaches loved ones and families of alcoholics and drug addicts that they cannot “fix” or change such behavior, and that they must take care of themselves first and foremost.  This is sound and timeless advice, yet there must be a way to heal the “hole” in the young man’s heart and help him, so that he is healthy and truly happy in the years to come and for the rest of his life.

One woman who was adopted at birth has written:

I’ve spent my life having dreams about meeting [my biological parents] only to wake up and feel farther away from that dream. They live in a cloud, somewhere in my imagination, somewhere over the rainbow, they carry a sense of home that I have never known.

At times, I am convinced that I am looking at my biological mother in the face of a stranger on a subway, or in a restaurant, and when a pleasant person who resembles me smiles at me for no reason, the fantasies begin to do their dance. It is common, and it comes from a child’s imagination. The child in me who wants answers, and the adult who has questions.

. . .

Not knowing who your parents are is a strange life, though you adapt of course. You have other parents, other people you consider family. Love is stronger than blood for sure, but still, still, you can’t help wondering.[5]

Obviously, undergirding these issues, are often unfathomable mental health dimensions.  As one mental health professional has written:

Children may feel grief over the loss of a relationship with their birthparents and the loss of the cultural and family connections that would have existed with those parents.

This feeling of loss may be especially intense in closed or semi-open adoptions where little or no information or contact is available with birthparents. Such grief feelings may be triggered at many different times throughout the child’s life including when they first learn of their adoption, during the turbulent teen years, upon the death of other family members, or even as when becoming a spouse or parent.

There can also be significant concerns about feeling abandoned and “abandonable,” and “not good enough,” coupled with specific hurt feelings over the birthmother’s choice to “reject[] the child” to “give me away” or “not wanting me enough.” Such hurtful and vulnerable feelings may be compounded should the child learn that the birthmother later had other children that she chose to raise herself.[6]

Perhaps the issues are summarized best by one adoptee who has written later in life that “we don’t belong anywhere in particular.”[7]  Another stated: “I realized . . . that I had never really felt connected to anyone.  Maybe because my heritage was missing.  I didn’t know where I came from.  No real sense of belonging to anyone.”[8]  Yet, this woman added:

Thanks to the internet, I found ALL of my birth family. I now have a wonderful relationship with them. I have five half-siblings; uncles, aunts, and many cousins; and lots of family reunions. My sons have a new set of grandparents who have taken over loving them where Mom and Dad had to leave off. And I know where I got my nose, blonde hair, and love of dancing.

It’s amazing what hugging your birth family can do—it gives you a sense of connection.[9]

Such happy endings do not happen to everyone who searches though.[10]

adoption

 

© 2018, Timothy D. Naegele


[1]  Timothy D. Naegele was counsel to the United States Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and chief of staff to Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass). He and his firm, Timothy D. Naegele & Associates, specialize in Banking and Financial Institutions Law, Internet Law, Litigation and other matters (see www.naegele.com and http://www.naegele.com/documents/TimothyD.NaegeleResume.pdf). He has an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as two law degrees from the School of Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley, and from Georgetown University. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal (see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commendation_Medal#Joint_Service). Mr. Naegele is an Independent politically; and he is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in Finance and Business. He has written extensively over the years (see, e.g., www.naegele.com/whats_new.html#articles), and can be contacted directly at tdnaegele.associates@gmail.com

[2]  See, e.g., https://naegeleblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/what-and-where-is-god/#comment-13158 (“The Judiciary And Doctors In The UK Killed Little Charlie Gard And Now Alfie Evans”)

[3]  See https://naegeleblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/abortions-and-autos-kill-more-in-america-than-guns/ (“Abortions And Autos Kill More In America Than Guns”)

[4]  See https://naegeleblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/problems-with-foreign-adoptions/ (“Problems With Foreign Adoptions”)

[5]  See https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-cope-with-not-knowing-who-your-biological-parents-are

Another woman who was adopted at birth, and is also an adoptive mother, has written:

People tend to be curious about their family of origin story, whether or not they are adopted.  Look at the tremendous interest in Ancestry.com.  That’s not all fueled by adoptees, I promise you.  It’s natural to wonder how much of who we are is from our biology (nature) and how much is from our upbringing (nurture). That wondering applies to all of us; adoptees just know there is an additional layer to consider.

I’ve always been annoyed by the Hallmark TV version of adoption: the idea that we cannot be our real selves until we connect with our biological families.  If that connection completes you, great.  But don’t count on it.  That said, there is no shame in wanting to know your origin story and wanting to access your birth family’s (and therefore your own) medical history.  Do so with care though, because you are digging into the emotional past too.

Adoptions today are more likely to be open, at least to the extent that information and names are shared, if not to the extent that a relationship is maintained.  That openness can help answer many questions that an adoptee might wonder about, heading off the [] need to attend to answering the unknowns.

Being different in any way can set us up for loneliness and self doubt.  We’re all a little different, right?  We can choose whether that difference gives us a launch pad or a stumbling block.

See https://www.quora.com/Are-adopted-kids-really-obsessed-with-their-birth-parents-even-well-into-adulthood

[6]  See Kathryn Patricelli, MA, “Long-Term Issues For The Adopted Child,” https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/long-term-issues-for-the-adopted-child/

[7]  See Stephen J Betchen D.S.W., “Why Adoptees Need To Find Their Biological Parents,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/magnetic-partners/201104/why-adoptees-need-find-their-biological-parents

The author added:

Some of us who were adopted in “closed states” (or states that don’t allow for the free exchange of even the most vital information such as a health history) have a lingering fear that we might drop dead at any moment. I just love filling out the medical history questionnaire at a new doctor’s office; the one that asks what diseases your parents suffered from. How about the question: What age was your father when he died? How should I know? The great state of so and so…won’t tell me. Not knowing one’s medical history is especially annoying to those of us adoptees who have biological children. What am I passing on? Will I be around for the weddings?

. . .

Bio mom and I continued our telephone relationship for the next several years, but sadly enough, it just plain wore out. I got tired of playing in a fixed pursuer-distancer dance and so I did what a lot of adopted kids might do in a situation like this—I disappeared.  I took my medical history and a few more tidbits and I faded with a new appreciation for my adopted parents.  They weren’t perfect, but neither was I.  As for bio mom, I hope she lives forever.  She wasn’t a bad sort, and my kids could sure use the good genes.

[8]  See https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/the-sense-of-belonging-to-someone/497834/ (“The Sense of Belonging to Someone”) (“Whenever I thought about having birth parents, it was like putting my mind in a deep, dark, vast space—nothing existed.  My constant thought was, ‘I wonder if someone out there looks like me, and is similar to me’”—”Mom knew she couldn’t handle me finding my birth parents while she was alive.  She wanted me to, but after she was gone.  She did it in such a sweet way. I love her for this”)

[9]  See id. 

[10]  See, e.g., Lisa Lutz, “I Found My Biological Parents, and Wish I Hadn’t,” https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/magazine/i-found-my-biological-parents-and-wish-i-hadnt.html (“If I’d been given the choice of meeting my biological parents or getting a nice dossier on them, I would have chosen the latter”—”When I finally had time to take it all in, I felt like the result of a mishandled science experiment.  I wondered what might have happened to me if I had been raised by my genetic parents.  It seems unlikely that I would have ended up with the degree of ambition that I did, one that surpasses my modest genetic gifts.  I was never that smart or talented, but I was scrappy and dogged, and I believed I was owed something.  That seems ridiculous now.  Family is the luck of the draw, and so is how you turn out”)


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