Tag Archives: therapy

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.

~~~~~

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.

 

How to Survive Mother’s Day if You’ve Experienced Adoption or Infertility

Flickr - Whiternoise - Dead flowers, Pére Lachaise CemeteryNot everyone gets warm Hallmarky feelings about Mother’s Day. While the maternally privileged (like me, currently both having a mom and being a mom) buy cards and flowers and/or receive cards and flowers, others dread this time of year.

Many of these Mother’s Day dreaders are connected through the experience of adoption, some also through infertility. Who are some of these outliers?

  • Women experiencing infertility
  • Women who are waiting to adopt or who have adopted
  • Women who placed a baby for adoption
  • People who were placed for adoption

Though the situations are different, healthy strategies for getting through mid-May with one’s sanity intact are similar (as excerpted from the book I wrote with my daughter’s birth mom, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption).

mother's day can hurt, infertility, adoption

3 Tips to Surviving Mother’s Day

1. Find balance. You don’t want to dwell on your pain or discomfort with the holiday, but neither do you want to deny it’s there, because denial gives it power. When emotions arise, acknowledge them — maybe even aloud (“OK. I’m feeling really angry that other people are celebrating what I lack”) — and release. You may have to do this more than once (ha, once would be too easy!). Maybe a dozen or a hundred or a thousand times between now and Monday, May 12.

2. Stay present and in your physical body. When we grieve our wounds, we are in the past in our emotional body. When we worry or are fearful, we are in the future in our mental body. So find something to do that keeps you in your body and present, like physical or creative activities or just plain stillness.

  • Move. In the remaining days leading up to Mother’s Day, plan to walk, run, hike, dance, mountain bike, swim, rock climb, do martial arts or yoga or another activity. Physical movement prevents emotional stagnation.
  • Create. Supplement all that movement with creativity. Write, compose, paint, draw, choreograph, mix a song, rap, blow glass, make pottery, or plant and tend a garden. Creating allows your energy and emotions to flow and not get stuck.
  • Find stillness. Meditate, do tai chi, or simply find focus in whatever you are doing — walking, cycling, washing dishes. Practice finding this place of presence, of uni-tasking and being where you are, of calming the chatter of your mind.

3. Connect with others. Find a tribe of people who have walked or are walking a similar path.

  • Infertility and Adopting: Melissa at Stirrup Queens tends a ginormous blogroll sorted by neighborhood (such as assisted reproductive technology, third-party reproduction, adoption, living child-free). Creating A Family is also a rich resource, both its site and its Facebook community. And Keiko Zoll from The Infertility Voice has compiled a helpful list of infertility support organizations.
  • Birth/First parents: Birth Mom Buds and Concerned United Birthparents are two of many online support group options. For in-person gatherings near you, do an Internet search of “birth parent support” plus your zip code.
  • Adoptees: Adult Adoptees Advocating for Change, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, and Adoption.com offer resource sections for adoptees. You may also conduct an Internet search for “adoptee support” plus your zip code to find face-to-face meetings near you.
  • Everyone: If you don’t find an in-person support group to suit your needs, why not start one?

More Tips from the Trenches

Let’s hear from experts, those who have been there, done that and survived infertility and adoption.

Tips for Women Longing to be a Mother

  • Keiko Zoll of The Infertility Voice reveals 3 tips on the RESOLVE New England website.
  • Cristy of Searching for Our Silver Lining shares her survival guide.
  • Melissa Ford of Stirrup Queens offers her advice and encouragement.

Tips for Women Waiting to Adopt and Adoptive Moms

  • Creating a Family lists 42 things you can do while waiting — any of them during the month of May.
  • Brandy, a Colorado adoptive mom, says, “Don’t let anyone steal your hope, joy or excitement. If it would make you feel good to receive a Mother’s Day card, drop a not-so-subtle hint to someone who would arrange for that.” Sarah, another mom via adoption, offers, “Avoid people who don’t understand or who make you uncomfortable. On holidays, be selfish and indulge in what you need, and not what others expect of you.”
  • If Mother’s Day is difficult because you feel guilty or sad about your child’s first mom (or even if you don’t), says Rebecca Gruenspan, “reach out to her and thank her. Let her know her child is doing well. Give her some peace of mind.” Being kind and respectful makes you feel good, too.
  • Michelle, adoptive mom of teens,advises that you expand your view from the short-term BECOMING a mom to the long-haul BEing a mom. Read a book about adoptive parenting. Ahem.

Tips for Birth/First Moms

  • Chanel Young, birth mom in Texas, says, “Be honest with yourself about how you are really feeling and dealing and if the situation permits be honest with the other mother. I am very lucky to have such an open and understanding couple, I don’t really know how I would deal with this if they weren’t as inclusive of me or if it had been closed rather than open.”
  • Ames Markel, who is an adoptee as well as first mom to a 13 year-old son, says, “It’s OK to cry! Mother’s Day is hard. Let yourself grieve, but always remember that your decisions were made from pure love. And love is a wonderful gift any mother can give her child.”

Tips from the Trenches for Adopted People

Last but perhaps most, for the children-who-become-adults at the center of adoptions…

  • Author Laura Dennis counsels adoptees (and first parents) to allow themselves to heal, especially if they are in limbo about reunion. “For anyone who may have emotional triggers about Mother’s Day, my advice is super simple, but not at ALL easy: Even if you are hurting, you can HEAL. You are not powerless. You can work on your own pain, your own hurt, to make yourself the most whole, ready, emotionally open, and secret-free person you can be, no matter what comes.”
  • Deanna Doss Shrodes, pastor and writer at Adoptee Restoration, says, “For adoptees who do have children and find this holiday hard to navigate with first mother or adoptive mother issues, I recommend shifting the focus to celebrating your own life as a mom.”
  • Cultivate kindness from within, says writer and adoptee JoAnne Bennett. “Feeling bitterness from the losses [of my birth mother and adoptive mother] has not been an option for me, but rather the ‘hard parts’ have strengthened my belief that being a caring and sensitive human being with a genuine love for one another is what is most important.”

If you’ve endured infertility or adoption, what coping strategies have worked for you around Mother’s Day?

Flower image by Joshua Veitch-Michaelis (Pére Lachaise Cemetery) via Wikimedia Commons 2.0.
Life preserver image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

All of me

I wait in the clearing for them to join me. It is my celebration, after all.

The sun is shining, bathing the lea in a warm glow. There is an entire meadow of soft greenery for us to dig our toes into. Nothing sharp, nothing dangerous, nothing to mar our time together. There is just the slightest breeze. The sky is the most pleasant timeless blue imaginable.

The first to arrive is a girl about 8 years old. Her skin has a sage tint, the downshot of difficulties in breathing. She brings me worms, leftover from when she gathered a bunch for her sister’s birthday. For some reason she thought worms would make a good gift. She is a bundle of fears, although she is well-fed and well-loved. I just want to hold her while she breathes. I want to breathe for her.

Soon, the 17-year old comes upon us, all arms and legs and attitude. She is skittish, like a colt, just waiting to be hurt. It’s because Doug, her boyfriend, has just dumped her for the 4th time. Well, they’ve broken up 4 times, but she was the dumper at least once. I think about telling her there will be many more heartbreaks, and that she’ll have ample opportunity to be on both ends of them. Each one hurts, but when it’s all said and done, she’ll be thankful that she and Doug (and the many that follow him) parted. I’d tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me. She hands me her diary, the one she just started and intends to keep for the rest of her life.

The next young woman arrives in a black gown and mortarboard and with a gold cord dangling from collar to waist. You can feel the promise that fills her. She looks both ready to tackle and tame the world and also petrified of taking her next step. She will face rejection after rejection before she comes on a job with a meager paycheck that will fulfill her emotional, if not monetary, needs. She is planning a wedding, but is having thoughts of calling the whole thing off. The burden of this thought weighs down her shoulders. I whisper to her, “listen to your gut.” She looks at me hopefully and shows me the keys to her first apartment. Where she will live alone.

A very sad woman enters our circle. She’s in her 30s and she’s been crying, crying, crying. The losses she has endured have sucked the very life out of her. She has beautiful, glorious child-bearing hips, which are going to waste. Her dreams have evaporated. She feels alone (although, still well-loved) and without hope. We instinctively move toward her, trying to sense if she will allow us to comfort her. I barely recognize this woman — the toll has been so drastic. Can’t she see that this chapter, like all the others before, will end? Her hands hold only tissues full of tears.

The next woman to grace the clearing has graying hair, still long like I knew she would. She is weary — after all, she is raising teenagers. The one knows how to trip all her wires and the other is just growing up and away too quickly. She has a peace about her…the peace that comes from repeatedly being shown that this, too, shall pass. Her eyes pierce through me, chiding me for my petty complaints about the drains of childrearing. She has brought me a watch — one that ticks twice as fast as normal.

We turn to receive our final guest. She walks toward the west and is a few inches shorter than the rest of us grown women –still a head taller than the child. She is white-gray in hair, fissured of skin, and her eyes and lips have lost several shades of their original vibrancy. For all her physical feebleness, the corners of her mouth are upturned. Her eyes are kind, and she exudes patience. Like the sky above us, there is something timeless about her. She extends only her trembling hand, representative of the enduring body that houses her immortal spirit.

These are my Selves. They have come to honor the fact that I have been on the planet for another turn around the sun. They bring me their tokens and dreams and insights. I envelope them and am enveloped by them. One by one, I welcome each into my heart, accepting the gifts they have brought. I acknowledge the gift she is, she is, she is, she is, she is, she is.

I am.

Image: Vic-Art

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