Category Archives: Adoptee

The Opening of Adoption: The Early Years

I was delighted that Peach brought this film to my attention: The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis. It’s a documentary from 1990 by Michael Branton and Elizabeth Snider and narrated by Michael Reagan, son-via-adoption of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.

I’m share below 12 highlights that impressed me (bolding is mine), and I urge that you devote 50 minutes to watching it to find the parts that impact you. Those who are currently dedicated to eradicating shame and secrecy in adoption are building on the work of these pioneers in openness. Here is an instructive look back from where we’ve come. Some has changed, and some has remained the same.

Bonus: Throughout we get to see some fabulous 1980s-1990s hairstyles and fashions in both men and women, and be reminded what some old-style computers looked like. Flashbacks galore!

1. The documentary starts  with a clip from a 1950 film called Three Secrets.

“A plane crashes in California and a 5-year-old boy survives. Little else is known except the child is an orphan.

Susan Chase believes the boy could be hers. Before she was wed to lawyer Bill Chase, she was involved with a Marine during the war, and became suicidal later, putting their child up for adoption. Bill has never been told Susan’s secret.”  — Wikipedia.

Two other women have reasons to believe the boy may be the one they gave birth to and relinquished.

We are in the maternity ward where a woman is counseling her daughter, Susan, to place her newborn son for adoption:

Woman: Don’t cheat your son, Susan. Think of the moment when he finds out [you weren’t married].

Susan: But giving him away. My own flesh and blood. It’s wrong, unnatural.

Woman: Living with an illegitimate child will be wrong and unnatural, too, only it will last the rest of your life. This will be over in a few months! It’s right and natural for every child to be brought up in a normal home.

Okey dokey. People really did believe that a child-ectomy was no different than an appendectomy, and that you’d get over both with equal ease.

2. Kathleen Silber, a name many may recognize from her advice in Adoptive Families magazine and from her books Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption, comes in at 6:50, sharing the social worker’s perspective, historically speaking.

There was definitely an element of playing God. Agencies really felt like we knew what was in people’s best interest. And there were some fallacies in that. There were things we didn’t know at that time…Some social workers really got to like that power and control.

Agencies are all guilty of telling lies…we left out information…like alcoholism or other problems. We tended to only mention the positives and leave out the negatives. This was partially because we believed at the time that everything was environment, that it really didn’t matter if there were some of these problems in the background.

3. Another social worker (and author), Reuben Pannor, divulges the two big lies (about 9:10):

I would say to [adoptive] parents, “this is your child now” — which gave encouragement to denial, which in turn gave encouragement to the development of many serious problems for everyone That was the #1 lie.

The other biggest lie was to say to adoptive families: “We will guarantee you of anonymity and secrecy. Once you have completed your adoption, birth parents will not trouble you any more because records will be sealed and locked away and you will never hear from them again.”

4. Segueing back to Three Secrets, a scene in which a file is pulled from a file cabinet. It’s marked with the date of Susan’s baby’s birth.

“We placed four children on September 15.” says a matronly bureaucrat to a cohort. “But no one’s going to see those records. Not even ourselves.”

She places the unseen files into a bank vault and spins the dial (10:00).

5. At 16:15 we hear from Betty Jean Lifton, author of the influential Journey of the Adopted Self.

Even though a child is told they’re adopted, an adopted child soon learns that the adoptive parents don’t want to hear any questions about it. You’re supposed to play their game of “as if” — which is pretending that they’re really your mother and father. And in one sense they are, but they are your adoptive mother and father.

6. An adoptee explains how a person can have mixed feelings about adoption (18:35):

One minute you can feel great because your parents love you so much and the next minute you can feel terrible because your birth parents abandoned you.

7. Reuben Pannor says later (19:10):

We have a disproportionate number of adoptees in these facilities [mental health, correctional]. And this is precisely why we are now attempting to change the system, to unlocked sealed records, to move into a system that we think is much healthier — psychologically sound, emotionally sound — and that is an open system in adoption.

8. We are shown how adoptees decide to search and how the news of a search affects their adoptive parents. We see how adoptees connected with each other, how birth parents joined together, and how search angels worked to manifest connections of a different sort — all pre-Internet.

We see a birth mother and a birth father tell us how their decisions to relinquish felt in retrospect, and how small, ordinary moments can bring up the loss anew, despite the efforts to dissociate from a painful time in their lives.

9. Back to Three Secrets. Susan signs away her motherhood, with her mother and the bureaucrat overseeing (35:45). Oh, my (the filmmakers use dialog well here).

10. We learn of research that during the final stages of pregnancy women develop a heightened maternal preoccupation, which continues after the birth of the child. At 38:15 the narrator tells us that it’s also during this time that the child develops a sense of separate self.

Annette Baran, another adoption opener and author, reveals that “Most adoptees and birth parents suffered from a lack of the final stage of this heightened maternal preoccupation process. When the child is taken away at birth, neither one of them are able to complete the process. They become emotional amputees.

11.  We see examples of infantilizing adult adoptees starting around 43:45.

12. Kate Burke, then-president of the American Adoption Congress, talks about specifically who was tending the locks on keeping things closed and secret. Who were these Elites that made and enforced the rules for others? She adds, “We’re not afraid of each other. So you don’t have to be afraid for us” (47:35).

12.  On the effects of search and reunion a few adoptees share: It makes you feel complete. I’m happier. I know myself better. When I reunited with my birth family, I got closer to my adoptive family (50:30).

The documentary ends with a plea for the public to begin to help change public policy (51:00). The fight continues as we head into 2014, for 41 states still have bureaucrats and Elites guarding vital records (inaccessible to those whom they are vital to) via metaphorical locks and bank vaults.

If you take the time to watch, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about  The Right to Know: America’s Adoption Crisis.

Have you heard about re-homing adopted children?

Did you know that you can give your child to a stranger without alerting anyone but a notary public? Did you know that people actually do give away children without notifying anyone but a notary public?

shatteredMegan Twohey of Reuters investigated under-the-radar child trafficking (which is technically not trafficking because no money changes hands) and NBC News shares its findings this week about Yahoo and Facebook groups that help “re-home” adopted children. According to Reuter’s analysis of the Yahoo bulletin board group Adopting-from-Disruption, at least 70 percent of the 261 children mentioned on this board — about a child a week over 5 years — were advertised as foreign-born.

The revelations are heartbreaking…

Lori Holden in The Huffington PostThe rest of my article is over on The Huffington Post.  Click to keep reading ======>

 

(I’d prefer to have your comments over there, but am leaving them open here in case that works better for you.)

Image courtesy of Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Q&A: Adopted Reality, where adoption and mental illness meet

The word “bipolar” has called my attention twice in recent years. The first was during the time Roger and I  were waiting to adopt our second child (“Meaghan’s Baby“), and the second was this past winter when I read Laura Dennis’ memoir, Adopted Reality. Knowing her story makes me wonder how accurate were the ideas I had about bipolar disorder all those years ago.

I again present my friend Laura, a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. Laura is a busy busy person. Besides revising her first book, writing at her own blog, Expat (Adoptee) Mommy, and at Lost Daughters, she has also been compiling and editing the soon-to-be-released book, Adoption Reunion Conclusions (to which I am a contributor), which will be available later this year.

Laura has generously answered a bunch of questions about being an adoptee, about mental illness, about writing. Read on, and see information at the bottom about a giveaway of her book.

Laura Dennis, author

You know now that your parents meant well when they told you “Your birth mother loved you enough to give you up. And now we love you.” How did that well-intentioned phrase come across to a small child, and what effects did it have?

The subtext was apparent from an early age: Yes, my adoptive parents love me, but they, too, could give me up. And so I resigned myself to be the perfect adoptee, the one who “has no issues with being adopted.” I was overcompensating to make 100% sure I was loveable.

The second edition of your memoir is about to be released. What changes have you made?

Adopted Reality by Laura DennisThe second edition of Adopted Reality includes more insights about my recovery. It’s funny, Lori. I am still processing, even as I outline, write and publish. I thought I was “over” my breakdown; normal enough to write a book about it, even.

The reality is that in the first edition I glossed over the gory details of my recovery. It’s hard to think about, even 10+ years later. It’s hard to remember being out of the mental hospital and not completely sane, barely functioning and yet completely determined to prove my lucidity.

Sense of Self

In various parts of your book, you show how disconnected you were from your body. You could go with little food or sleep for long periods. You didn’t miss a dance performance despite the pain of putting on your costume over second degree burns. When your birth mother asked you, at first meeting, what you felt like eating, you couldn’t grasp that concept of feeling like something. What causes may be at the root of this non-bodiment you experienced?

Wow. I love this question. And it especially resonates with me because I know how deeply you yourself have connected your physicality with your emotional and psychological well-being. So I’m going to get a little philosophical here …

Disembodiment or feelings of “non-bodiment,” are often connected in psychological terms with disassociation. Disassociating, or detaching from real-life experiences can be a coping mechanism. On one hand it allowed me to “dance through” excruciating pain, set it aside and detach from it.

But that’s the rub with denial and disassociation, and coping mechanisms in general, isn’t it? Unless you recognize them as such, they tend to come back to bite you. Later, in my delusional state (which I did not realize I was delusional–likely the biggest problem), I took this non-bodiment much, much further. I believed I was bionic — not human after all. In that state, I was inadvertently led to self-harm. I was so detached; I didn’t even feel physical pain, and I wasn’t aware that I’d hurt myself.

Freud and Jung would have a field day with this — connecting my divided sense-of-self with my tendency towards dissociation. In fact, I talk more about the root causes of my breakdown, and specifically this feeling of disembodiment in the second edition.

In many ways, the coping mechanism of “non-bodiment” went into overdrive. Accompanying the guilt I had over searching and having this amazing reunion, I felt I wasn’t grateful enough to my adoptive parents. My divided sense-of-self — adoptive vs. biological person — combined with the not eating and not sleeping. It was a perfect storm, leading my mind to kind of collapse in on itself and enter a paranoid delusion.

Recovery and post-adoption issues

Have there been any adoption issues that have impacted your marriage or the way you parent your children?

I wrote about my recovery in Adopted Reality, but the memoir pretty much ends in the year 2003. In the ensuing ten years, I’ve done a lot and maintained my sanity. The funny thing is, throughout the therapy I received following my bipolar episode, no one … no one asked me about having been adopted. Potentially unaddressed post-adoption issues did not come into play.

Having said that, I’m still working through my post-adoption issues. That’s not to say that every adoptee goes through the same things. It’s just that so many seemingly mild “issues” were not examined in my childhood and young adulthood. It compounded, and now, sorting it all out is an arduous task.

So, to answer your question, yes, my post-adoption issues do impact my marriage and my children. Attachment, fear of rejection, those are big ones in my marriage. Projecting my own fears onto my non-adopted children … these are things I’m still sorting out. I actually wrote about how I recently explained my adoptedness to my five-year-old.

Laura Dennis was adopted in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, and learned how to be a (sane) person in California. A professionally trained dancer, Laura also worked as sales director for a biotech startup. With two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, Serbia. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, a Memoir, available on Amazon. She currently blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. Connect with her on twitter @LauraDennisCA, or email laura@adoptedrealitymemoir.com.

~~~~~

Laura is giving away an ebook of Adopted Reality to a random commenter. Leave a comment by May 9, 2013 and make sure I’m able to reach you. The winner will be announced here and Laura will attempt to contact that person by May 12.