(a post from 2011 I’ve rewritten). I have so much praise for this book, the way it explains the different phases an adoptee may go through, and the triggers that can happen along the way. How the cognitive developmental stages work with understanding adoption, to different stressors, losses, the different phases of life.
Being Adopted The Lifelong Search for Self David M. Brodzinsky, Ph. D. Marshall D. Schechter, M.D. & Robin Marantz Henig
From pages 11 – 12 from the Introduction: The Loss of Adoption
Grieving almost always follows loss. It has many emotional and behavioral manifestations: shock, anger, depression, despair, helplessness, hopelessness. Grief can be blocked or it can be prolonged, but usually it is a normal and adaptive response to the experience of loss.
For children adopted late, the loss can be traumatic and overt, placing great stress on the child. But for children adopted at birth, there is still loss involved. It is less traumatic, less overt, but it can shape the child’s entire personality. Adoptees who are placed in the first days or weeks of life grieve not only for the parents they never knew, but for the other aspects of themselves that have been lost through adoption: the loss of origins, of a completed sense of self, of a genealogical continuity. Adoptees might feel a loss too of their sense of stability in their relationship with the adoptive parents; if one set of parents can relinquish them, they might think, then why can’t another?
The loss for early placed adoptees, though, is generally not acute or traumatic, nor is it usually consciously experienced until the age five or so. It emerges gradually, as the child’s cognitive understanding of adoption begins to unfold. And it can lead to subtle behavioral changes in childhood that seem at first glance to have nothing whatever to do with loss and grieving.
Sometimes grieving becomes a significant factor in adoptee’s life; sometimes it doesn’t. Some adoptees are overwhelmed with feelings of alienation and disconnection. Others, for reasons we still don’t fully understand, have no such feelings, and are instead intensely grateful for having been given the safe and loving homes their adoptive parents made for them.
We can’t predict which adoptee will feel incomplete or abandoned and which will feel cherished, which will choose to emphasize the “lost” nature of adoption and which will dwell only on the “found”. But we can say that both types of reactions are understandable, common, and usually part of a healthy adaptation – and that they can exist, at different points along the life span, in the same individual.
(bolding mine because people can’t grasp this)
I am fascinated by this book and find myself reaching for it again and again. The best part of the book is that it really explains how we get to where we are today, from where we were before, the life stages. How lived experiences trigger reflections and reassessment all throughout life whether we process it in the moment, or through the lens of remembered experiences, or both.
It is not a book that assigns labels and does not dismiss or negate any feelings or say any feeling is bad or the right one. It does not try to correct assumptions of the adoptee – it simply explains what feelings they have heard and the why…it is refreshing after reading websites and blogs where we are labeled and patted on the head and referenced as mal-adjusted, have angst, or any number of other terms used in derogatory way…
Getting back to the book – I found the Mid-Life part especially interesting as it pertains to what happened to me. It talks about two general types of people – those who are internally controlled and who take charge deliberately, and those who feel externally controlled who believe things happen to them. I never allowed being adopted to be a focal point in my life for any length of time, yet, it would come to the forefront time after time throughout my life, but I would put it away each time when I decided enough was enough, and I had to get back to life. (I feel I fall into the internally controlled group)
The birth of my son made me all too aware of being adopted, holding him and realizing that he was my kin and the overwhelming feelings that brought – the very first person I had ever met I was related to, words themselves are too sterile to even begin to describe those feelings.
The passing of my son was all-consuming and the blackness of loss seemed like there would be no ending to it. Surviving but not surviving. But over time, I found a place deep inside of me for those feelings to hide away. I put on a smile and kept it firmly planted on my face – only allowing those feelings to escape when certain dates (or events) would bring them forward, and then putting them away again. Perhaps one reason I have a hard time letting go and actively grieving, I’m to used to this coping method, and never talked about my son until I started this blog.
From page 151 – Mid-Life.
In this context, adoption can be seen as a life stressor, and the idiosyncratic ways in which adoptees respond to it can be seen as a reflection of their own coping styles. A good many adoptees consider the stress of adoption to be something they cannot change and would be better off ignoring so they can get on with their lives. These people reveal little inner turmoil about being adopted; they have either suppressed or denied or minimized the significance of adoption in their own lives…
We do not want to portray adoptees who suppress or deny any interest in adoption as being maladjusted, denial can be a highly effective coping strategy when confronted with an unchangeable life stressor. But neither do we want to portray these people in denial as being assured of happy lives just because they repress or suppress any interest in adoption or in their origins. This is simply a coping style, and for many it works – at least until the phone call from a birth mother or the uncovering of a genetic illness makes denial no longer possible.
And that is when the walls finally crashed for good about the impact being adopted has had on my entire life, when I got gravely ill. When all the losses in my life suddenly became too much for me to deny that my life started with a loss, the loss of my mother, and that never went away, ever. The anger over the fact that my genetic history was denied to me simply because I was adopted. And the knowledge having that genetic history could have changed, or at least mitigated the impact on me, and that my life wouldn’t have changed to what it is now. I was done denying that being adopted had always caused a lot of pain in my life and that it started at day one and will end when I am gone.
Which is what started me on my journey of learning about adoption then, and now, the practices, what it should be, what it should never be. And here we are, all these years later and I’m still talking. Thank you for reading and being part of this community.