Category Archives: Adoptee

Adoption Therapy: On Blank Slate Babies & Being Open

There’s a new book out and I think it’s so valuable for adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and adoption therapists that I’m going to share with you here an excerpt from it.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues

When Editor Laura Dennis asked me to read the manuscript for Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues, I jumped at the chance. And was blown away with new ideas and insights that might be helpful in my parenting journey.

When Laura asked me to write the foreword to Adoption Therapy, I aspired to do it justice. Below is my attempt, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Foreword

It’s with both trepidation and humility that I compose the foreword to Adoption Therapy. You hold in your hand an extraordinary and incisive collection of writings about adoption and therapy, composed by many who have walked the long walk of facing trauma and healing from it. A majority of these contributors—and the editor herself—are adult adoptees.

Now if there’s one thing adoptive parents are known for in adoption circles, it is for doing more than their share of the talking. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the moneyed ones in the adoption “triad.” Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the “winners” in adoption scenarios — they end up with their dreams answered while birth parents and adoptees suffer wounds that society doesn’t recognize. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the ones with the voice, with influence to mold adoption law and policy to their benefit.

And adoptive parents have been accused of speaking about adoption issues when perhaps they should be listening [case in point].

Hence my trepidation.

This notion of listening is why I encourage adoptive parents like me—and others curious about the possible effects of adoption—to pick up this book and read it thoroughly. We should be listening. We should give a temporary rest to our own thoughts and feelings and suppositions about adoption and create within us an open space to simply listen.

The Importance of Being Open

Being open to hearing a new point of view—maybe even a scary point of view—is an expansive state. Being open works best if one has healthy boundaries and appropriate permeability between self and not-self. It requires a healthy ego, one that doesn’t need to “win” to survive, one that recognizes its inherent value and accords others the same recognition. Being open means you have less of a need to defend your truth than you have curiosity to hear another’s.

openness in adoption

Being open, however, does not mean there is no discernment. After creating space to hear others’ truths, and after listening and trying to understand a different perspective, it’s still all right to discern whether another person’s truth fits into your own—or not. And even if you decide “not,” it may be prudent to tuck away that perspective for a later time when your own evolving circumstances may cause you to look at the perspective again and anew.

As you turn these pages, I invite you to be open to the gifts and insights within, and to allow the possibility that not all chapters will look like gifts. Anything that strikes you strongly (and dare I say that could be every single powerful chapter?) is resonating for you, either positively or negatively charged, and indicates there is something there for you to look at—within you and from your own experiences.

Understanding Neonatal Trauma

As you read and understand, you’ll find gems like these quotes that will help you better understand the experience of having been adopted:

  • “To be conceived without being intended, to be carried in the womb of a stressed mother facing a crisis pregnancy, leave lifelong traces that persist without an understanding of their origins.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “Adoptive families tend to seek help from a counselor three times more frequently than other families.” — From Chapter 2: Red Flags that a Potential Therapist Could Do More Harm than Good
  • “I felt like I was living under the terms and conditions of a contract I never signed.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “Start early teaching kids that feelings are like clouds moving through. No feeling is your last feeling. Feelings are not permanent.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “Our lives are a dance between knowing who we are as separate beings and knowing ourselves as parts of the whole.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • On connecting with Nature: “Ida Rolf said that if you can’t get it from your mother, get it from the Mother—the earth.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “But moving on is much different from healing.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “One classic example of ‘parentification’ would be an adoptive parent who constantly implores reassurance from the child that he/she is the ‘real’ parent.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees
  • On adoptee resilience: “We succeed not so much because of that original loss but in spite of it.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “What these therapy modalities have in common is the goal of resolving past trauma at the level of the body/mind connection.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees

Parents who adopted internationally may have been under the impression that a child would be nothing but grateful to the people who rescued him or her from abandonment or life in an orphanage. Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these “lucky” ones to land in a loving home. It would be a good thing!

As a mom via domestic adoption, that last quoted passage struck me because once upon a time, people adopting newborns thought we’d bring into our homes a Blank Slate Baby. Because they were infants, these brand new humans would come to us with no problem that our love couldn’t resolve. The babies didn’t have words yet, so clearly they wouldn’t have memories of their placement (which first involved a separation in order to make a new connection). Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these little babies to go from a chaotic and unstable place into a family that longed for them. As with international adoption, it would be a good thing!

But I’ve come to know by listening to adoptees that infants DO know. Young children DO know. They may not know in their brains, because it’s unclear how we encode events that happen before we can do the encoding through words and thoughts.

But their bodies know. Their body/minds know. The body/minds of infants and young children who were placed for adoption experienced chemical and hormonal changes, responding with unique and complex emotions that got encoded and stored. Evidence shows that the body/mind houses every experience we’ve ever had, even those that are preverbal. What we are hearing from brain scientists, therapists and adoptees themselves is that the memories of the trauma of a chaotic pregnancy and/or separation from source resides in the body/minds of adopted people.

What About Resilience?

So why might one adoptee turn out even-keeled and unflappable while another is deemed a hot mess? If the “primal wound” is real, why isn’t every single adoptee in therapy all the time?

We find the answer in the wisdom of Forrest Gump: Humans — like life itself — are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Because of the infinite number of influences that go into making a person into who she is, because of the complexity of the interactions among those infinite influences from pre-birth on—because of the enormity of it all we can’t identify any one thing that causes someone to be unflappable or a hot mess or anywhere in between.

Will your child be resilient? Who knows? It takes a lifetime to fully unwrap this metaphorical chocolate. Resilience and all other traits will emerge on their own timetables, being coaxed out or pruned based on life experiences and other factors. As your loved one’s nature reveals itself to you, you can best respond by being open to who she is and attuning to her moment by moment.

Attunement and the Adoptee

The longer I do this parenting gig, the more I hear from parenting experts about incorporating attunement. Attuned relationships mean we are in harmony with the other. Being attuned means we are willing and able to go into discord with our loved one, even when doing so is unpleasant and frightening. To be able to do this, it’s helpful to understand how others have handled such inner discord and come out on the other side.

I desire to be an attuned parent, yet I’m finding though the journey is even more difficult than any other I’ve experienced. I bet anyone who loves an adopted person would like to be able to walk alongside her loved one and help bear the load of whatever he or she is going through. To do this we hold the intention to continually tune in with him, with her.

And to do this we must first hold the intention to tune in with ourselves.

As You Turn the Pages

I ask you to open yourself to information and perspectives that may strike you as helpful, as scary, as possible solutions, as clues to a puzzle you’re trying to figure out. I ask that you begin by preparing within you an open space to really listen to people who have walked this path—before you begin the process of discernment. I suggest that you monitor your own reactions to each chapter, and ask yourself probing questions at any time you notice a strong reaction (why did that trigger me?). I recommend that even if you discard the gist of a chapter today, that you remain open to reevaluating it another day.

May we all strive to open, to listen and to attune when it comes to adoption issues and the people who are faced with them.

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cover for Adoption Therapy anthologyAdoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon and other booksellers. Like the other contributors, I donated my work and have no financial stake in the success of this anthology.

Contributors to Adoption Therapy: Marcy Axness, PhD, Karen Belanger, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, Laura Dennis, Lisa Floyd, Rebecca Hawkes, Jody Haywood*, Lori Holden, MA, Mila C Knonomos, Krist Lado, Lesli Maul, LCSW, Brooke Randolph, LMHC, Suzanne Brita Schecker, EdD, LMHC, Raja Selvam, PhD, Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen*, Deanna Doss Shrodes, Corie Skolnick, MS, LMFT

* Guest posters to my recent #flipthescript series.

 

#flipthescript 4: Someone Profited From My Adoption But It Wasn’t Me

As we close out November — National Adoption Awareness Month — I’ve turned this space over to adoptees, sharing a small portion of the highly successful #flipthescript movement. I  can see that many, MANY of you are reading. But few of you are commenting, so I can’t quite tell how these posts are being received. I hope it’s with the spirit intended — to be helpful to all involved in adoption by adding in the less-often heard voice of the adopted person.

Some believe information is power and some believe ignorance is bliss. I suppose if you fall in the camp of the former, you’ve taken these last few #flipthescript posts  for what they are — cautionary tales of how adoptions can feel to the adopted person (the guest posters have not generalized their experiences to all adopted people). And if you fall into the camp of the latter, you may feel provoked by these posts, worried that you’re participating in a social institution that’s not as glowy as you’d previously thought.

I think  it’s healthy  to periodically examine what we “know” to be true. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, when we know better we do better. A good reason to be open to alternative or uncomfortable points of view.

As you’ll see from today’s guest poster, it’s important for adoptees who have felt silenced for decades to raise their voices and be heard, if only to take back their one story.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

Today’s #flipthescripter is JoAnne Bennett. JoAnne has spent the last 21 years trying to piece together an adoption journey that has too many twists and turns to count. Her blessings, on the other hand, include having raised three wonderful now-adult daughters alongside her supportive husband of almost 40 years. You can find her at her blog, Stories By JoAnne Bennett.

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adoptee joanne bennett during national adoption awarness monthI struggle to give myself permission to say out loud that I am angry. It’s not because I am supposed to be nice, or that I always try to find the good in everything. The truth is that this painful story is about my beginnings, and it’s messed up and wrong. Until now, all that once-little-girl in me could do was cry. Over the years, though, mad has replaced sad, and I no longer want to feel invisible and insignificant as an adoptee. I’m flipping the script.

Now that all the players in my under-the-table adoption placement are dead, I feel safe to say without fear of some kind of backlash, I’ve had to pay dearly for the losses; the roles each of you played underhandedly in my bogus adoption for whatever inexplicable reason that is still murky but was obviously criminal.

Whenever I share with others my disturbing story about my not-so-above-board adoption involving a dishonest judge and a conniving delivery doctor (and most likely other players as well) often I hear the words, “Someone profited from your adoption.”

Defensively, I say, “Well, it certainly was not me!” My adopting parents were in the process of adopting another newborn only two months older than me. His adoption appears not quite as sketchy as mine, but both of us had waivers typed slightly different and signed by the judge after-the-fact (fishy), curiously stating that it was not necessary to check the adoptive home we were being placed in.

The reason given for this legal short cut? Both my non-biological brother and I were supposed to be separately related by blood to someone in our adoptive family.

That is far from the truth.

People I’ve spoken with in the courts of this jurisdiction later said they have never seen anything like these two waivers, filed in the 1950s. My file is empty except for this mysterious waiver, according to the State of Nevada.

Many who hear my story think, Oh, my, this must have been a desperate young couple, not able to conceive a baby, for professionals to put their careers on the line to get them a baby at any cost.

Again, that was far from the truth. My adoptive parents already had a biological son and, in fact, were not emotionally fit to raise any children. I’ve always wondered, Did the judge and delivery doctor know what was the deep dark secret that would have prevented these adopters from parenting me had they obeyed the law?

Disappointingly, another professional did know that secret.

Years ago, I spoke with my childhood pediatrician and he said, almost proudly “I knew your adoptive father was an alcoholic. I had absolutely nothing to do with your adoption!”

But he didn’t stop it, even knowing the truth, that my adoptive father had a serious drinking problem and rage issues. The last time I saw my adoptive father was when I was 6. The police were taking him away on one dark, scary night for domestic violence fueled by his alcoholism. It was a terrifying night for a little girl who already felt sad and confused by the constant turmoil in our family. My verbally and emotionally abusive adoptive mother suffered from serious mental health issues, too.

In recent years, when I was searching for my birth father, I sent letters to many of the old-timers who still lived in the small mining town where I was conceived. I enclosed my phone number saying it was okay to call collect if they might have some information about his identity. I heard back from some of the kindest individuals; only one bitter woman called me collect.

She started our phone conversation by saying, “Now I know what that money your mother borrowed was for and she never repaid me!” Her insinuation was that she’d been the one who paid the hospital bills from my birth, which was downright insulting but probably not far from the truth. My birth mother was married to a man other than my birth father and already had three older children. She was in a bind in more ways than one.

When I hear sirens even today, sometimes for a quick second it triggers that dark, scary night when I was 6 and my abusive alcoholic adoptive father was taken away forever.

I am not about a pity-party for myself, but rather I want to be a voice for changing mind-sets. I believe there are many people still wearing blinders, much like my childhood pediatrician. As a society, who are we trying to fool, and why won’t we look behind the veils of secrecy? With adoption being a lucrative multi-billion dollar business, I am sure it wouldn’t be far from the truth to suggest there are many individuals and agencies still profiting off adoption.

The doctor who delivered me decided after he retired he would talk with me on the phone. Of course, he was evasive in answering any of my questions, no matter how non-threateningly I tried to present them. It’s what he said at the end of our brief conversation that left me speechless with anger. This man, who had played a major role in putting me in harm’s way as a newborn for his own personal gain, had the gall to ask me, “Have you had a good life?”

I can’t tell you how many times we adoptees have heard that being adopted is supposed to be a magic cure for being conceived in less-than-perfect circumstances. My hope is that even those who have no connection to adoption will start thinking about the consequences of people in power making decisions for the defenseless. Please understand that what happened to me still can and does happen now.

Flip the script and listen to us adoptees – the ones whose voices have been silenced by the powerful for decades. It’s time we are heard.

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JoAnne’s passions are writing and making a difference in young people’s lives.  She contributed a chapter to the new book Dear Wonderful You, written by adult adoptees for adopted and fostered youth,  and she’s proud  to have an essay in an upcoming anthology, The Adoptee Survival Guide.  Painfully transparent through her words, as an author her heartfelt desire is to reach others whose voices have been silenced by abuse and adoption issues.

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Thank you, dear readers, for opening yourself to these stories, for completing the #flipthescript circuit simply by listening.

Other post in this series:

#flipthescript 3: Who is Best Placed to Talk about the Experience of Adoption?

See my last two #flipthescript posts for background on the phenomenon of the groundswell of adoptee voices emerging above the din during  National Adoption Awareness Month.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

As we close out November, I’m turning this space over to adoptees. You may not agree with everything that is said in these #flipthescript posts. You may even find parts of these posts hard to read. But I believe there is value in listening, in being willing to see a viewpoint different from your own.

transracial adoptee lucy sheenToday’s #flipthescripter is Lucy Sheen. Made in Hong Kong and exported to the UK as a transracial adoptee, Lucy (nee
周麗端, Chau Lai-Tuenis) a dyslexic actor, published writer, filmmaker, trainer and transracial adoptee advocate.  She blogs and  loves Dim sum, Yorkshire puddings and tea.

Though Lucy speaks as a transracial adoptee, her experiences may be applicable, as well, to any transfamilied adoptee (which accounts for a vast majority of adoptees).

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What does Adoption Week in the UK mean to me, a transracial adoptee? Frankly, until this year, very little. For starters it’s just a week – wow, an entire week, we really pushed the boat out on this one didn’t we (read with a hint of sarcasm).

Across the pond our US cousins devote an entire month. “Ah, well,” I hear you say, “the US is a bigger country so it’s only natural they would devote more time.”

Big or small, adoption deserves more than just a paltry week or a month. It’s like asking me as a British East Asian to join in celebrations to mark the end of the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). Or as a British East Asian Artist to support the odious and hideous theatre and media practice of Yellowface.

As an adoptee I’ve always felt (until this year) that I was being asked to join and celebrate a series of decisions and an extreme intervention that culturally, linguistically and racially displaced me. An act that stripped me of my true identity, that imprisoned me into a society and culture that made it abundantly clear they were not interested me or people who looked like me. The decisions surrounding my transracial adoption have had a life-long effect. The true legacy of adoption is the gift that keeps on giving. Its bequest goes far beyond the initial court orders. It is not something that can be camouflaged (for long). And it is not something that many in society want to hear about.

So what’s changed?

#flipthescript – that’s what has changed. The positive power of social media has taken hold, empowered, connected and united adoptees the world over to stand up and have their say.

After all who is best placed to talk of the experience of adoption?
An academic, a theorist, a psychologist, a therapist, a childcare expert, a social worker?

Or would it make more common sense to tap into the knowledge, experience and unique insight that an adult adoptee has?

For me it’s a no-brainer, but here in the UK, unless you’re a trained social worker it’s very difficult to get onto such platforms or into the institutions and organisations that would benefit from hearing directly from the horse’s mouth. Of course there are always ways of getting around such administrative stumbling blocks and dead ends, but then the will has to be there, doesn’t it? Said institutions, organisations and not-for-profits have to value the words and experience of the adult adoptee. In my humble opinion not  enough organisations even think about the adoptee beyond the childhood years. Then there are those adoptees for whom, I think the pain and trauma of actually accepting and taking on board what adoption truly means instead  “wage war” with the adoptees who speak out.

So this year seeing the hashtag #flipthescript on twitter, facebook, google+, attached to videos, pictures and blogs was uplifting. I leave you with the film that Bryan Tucker made for the book Dear Wonderful You . . .

Each and every one of the authors is testament that as adoptees, they #flipthescript each day, every time they write, they speak, they breathe.

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Lucy Sheen contributed a chapter to the first volume of Adoption Therapy. I highly recommend this book to adoptive parents, psychotherapists, and adoption professionals (and I wrote the foreword to it).

Other post in this series: