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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.

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

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.

 

AdoptLit Book Tour Signup: Finding Zoe

You already know this is the place to participate in adoption and infertility-themed virtual book club discussions. But with this latest option — a book released into the world just today — we’re adding in a twist.

Adoption Meets Deaf Community

adoption memoir by brandi rarusYou may think you’ve explored all facets of adoption, but Finding Zoe by Brandi Rarus adds in an additional component that you may not have given much thought. When I took teacher education classes years ago, I chose to write a research paper on deafness as a disability, and was surprised to discover that many deaf people don’t consider deafness a disability. It was helpful to resolve some of my ignorance on the issue.

So with this post I invite you to read Finding Zoe and see if you have any blind spots (so to speak) about either adoption or Deaf Culture that can be filled in with an enlightening memoir.

Appropriately so, actress Marlee Matlin has written the foreword to Finding Zoe. The first part of the book is an engaging primer on deafness, Deaf Culture and various factions and philosophies within it (reminds me of Adoption Culture). Brandi is the perfect person to share this, as a former Miss Deaf America and a bridge between two sometimes-polarized factions in the deaf community.

The latter part is on how daughter Zoe found her way through four other homes before landing with Brandi and her family 8 months after she was born. Zoe, now 10, is the child at the center of a very open adoption. In fact, both her birth parents agreed to be interviewed and the book was released with their permission.

Brandi and her writing partner Gail Harris do an admirable job telling the story from the viewpoints of many of the participants in it. Because of the contentiousness of some of these relationships at some points in time, that was no small feat.

I’m confident you’ll find Finding Zoe — and the upcoming discussion about it — worthwhile.

You are invited to participate in this Virtual Book Tour.

It’s easy and it’s fun.

  1. Sign up today.
  2. Get and read the book.
  3. Be ready to discuss it in December (well before the holidays) with other readers.

Note: You don’t need to have a blog to participate. You can write your post in a space created specifically for blogless readers. Everyone is invited to participate.

The book is available via Amazon in hard cover ($16.72), Kindle ($10), direct from BenBella books ($15.40) and at various other booksellers. I’ll provide the forum here; you just need to provide your own coffee and danishes (or wine and Cheetos, if you’re so inclined).

Author Participation

Author Brandi Rarus will participate in this book tour by responding to reader questions. So if you think of one to ask her while you’re reading the book, capture that thought.

author of finding zoeHow does a Virtual Book Tour work?

It’s easy!

  • October 31: Last day to sign up for the tour. You’ll find the “Book Tour Signup” form below.
  • Read the book between now and mid-November. Reserve it from your library or purchase from your favorite bookseller.
  • November 14: Come up with up 1 or 2 discussion questions to ask of other participants (not Yes-or-No). A question for the author is optional.
  • Shortly thereafter, you’ll receive a list of questions from other participants. From this list you will choose any 3 to answer on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, one will be provided for you.
  • December 2: Posts go up! Links to participant stops on the book tour will be posted here on LavenderLuz.com so you can read, comment and discuss with each other — just like a face-to-face book club, but with less coffee cake and more keystrokes.
  • Please follow this blog and spread the word to interested parties (tweet, share, G+ with the buttons at the bottom of this post).
  • Did I mention you need to sign up?

Fill out this form ↑ .

The Apart at the Seams Book Tour is Here!

Melissa Ford's third novelSeveral book lovers are sharing our thoughts about Melissa Ford’s third novel, Apart at the Seams. Even if you aren’t part of the tour and even if you haven’t read the book, check out what people are saying — you might find that this book is one you want to put on your wishlist.

NEWSFLASH: Apart at the Seams has been chosen for the Kindle Amazon Daily Deal for TOMORROW, September 5.

Via the links below, you’ll hear from book tourists as we answer questions put to each other in our virtual book club. Next we’ll hear from the author herself as Melissa Ford responds to the questions we posed to her about her characters, her sideways sequel, her writing methods, and other juicy tidbits from behind the scenes.

See the master list at the bottom of this post, following my own contribution to this book tour.

My stop on the Apart at the Seams book tour

Melissa is adept at exploring big themes for women who are trying to have it all. She lets us peek in as her characters sort out competing emotions: Self vs partner. Career vs relationship. Ambition vs presence. Excitement vs stability. Creativity vs contentment. These conundrums appear in my own life and are likely to have near-universal resonance.

As a companion novel to Life from Scratch and Measure of Love, this third book in the series takes a sideways narrative with Rachel’ best friend Arianna (you don’t need to have read the prequels for “Apart at the Seams” to work for you). This single mother and aspiring fashion designer has just taken her relationship with Rachel’s brother, Ethan, to the next level. And Arianna gets an incredible opportunity through her fashion house, one that involves hanging out with a Jon Stewart-esque cast on a late-night TV show.

But! Inevitable cracks appear in her relationship as demands are made on her and priorities shift. How can Arianna be both true to herself AND in relationship with a man who has such differing values?

Melissa examines these knotty problems from all angles. As I read, I see so much of myself in her heroines.

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 Three questions from the book group and my responses:

Why didn’t Arianna ever loser her temper and go off on people who were annoying her?  She’s the straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl who gets things done.  As a straightforward, no nonsense, Midwestern girl, my expectation would be that someone would get a serious dressing down…especially considering her stress level.  But maybe Minnesotans are more like Canadians than other Midwesterners?

Maybe geography isn’t the main thing that goes into straightforward-no-nonsenseness.

I first had to gain clarity (a very gradual process) within myself before I could express to others my emotions and preferences. In previous stages I have experimented between the extremes of being aggressive to get what I want (my teen years, during which I was an erratic bulldozer with my parents) to being very passive about it all (early romantic relationships, hierarchical work relationships). I’ve modulated that pendulum in recent years and in most situations I can be appropriately assertive.

But it took trial and error — and time. I think time, rather than place, is what kept Arianna from being as straighforward-no-nonsense outside her head as she was inside her head.

It feels as though Arianna would become irritated with Ethan for not doing things she needed him to do yet she often wouldn’t verbalize clearly what it was she wanted or needed. Why do you think asking for exactly what you need makes you feel so vulnerable?

This goes back to having clarity within, with having healthy boundaries around what is and isn’t reasonable to expect from a person and relationship, and being able to articulate those expectations — asking for what you need. These are traits I continue to develop (there is no there there).

When not quite confident of where one person starts and another begins, and when unsure of a code of behavior, Arianna resorts to what so many women do — being the “good girl.” I have been taming my inner Good Girl for decades. She emerges when I feel out of my element. And when she does, I become a consummate people pleaser, taking care of the other’s needs while seething that my own aren’t being addressed.

I think it is very vulnerable to be authentic — to live without a mask, without a barrier between you and the world (or just the other in a relationship). To do so, you are clear within yourself, you set and patrol boundaries that are respectful to you and the other person, and you have courage to ask for what you want. It’s a very vulnerable state — and paradoxically, a sign of incredible inner strength.

Arianna has several major events that are downplayed by Rachel. How would you have reacted if this had happened to you? Would you have made the effort to repair the friendship?

My first inclination with discord is to look within. Was I the one who didn’t share enough? Am I expecting my friend to read my mind? Are my expectations too high regarding the important people in my life? Do I expect that others will supply for me something that I could very well supply for myself?

After my exercise in introspection, I  take a look at the other person. Did she know what I needed in that moment? Should she have known (and how?)?  Did she deliberately slight me? Is there other evidence that this relationships is waning?

I may decide to speak up to my friend, I might say:”Hey, when that big thing happened to me, I feel as if you weren’t really there for me. What was going on for you?” If my friend has repeatedly not been there for me and I’ve tried to address it multiple times, I may simply let the friendship die. If I myself am in a funk, I would tell myself to “snap out of it! — stop being a victim and move on.”

So yes, I would make an effort to repair a friendship by looking within, by talking it out, and by asking for what I want. But if the person is unresponsive to my overtures, I would not belabor my efforts. I would not close the door forever, but I would not continue my efforts on something that’s just not there at a point in time.

To continue to this book tour, please visit the links below. Comments are much appreciated by the book tourists!

  1. Lori of LavenderLuz.com (see above)
  2. Kim Court
  3. Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
  4. Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
  5. GeoChick
  6. JodiFur
  7. Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
  8. Mina
  9. Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
  10. Tiara
  11. Katherine A of Inconceivable!
  12. Elizabeth of Project Progeny
  13. Judy Miller
  14. Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
  15. APlusEffort
  16. A

Thanks for following along on our book tour, and be sure to come back for Saturday’s batch of posts!