Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Suzanne Jones
Adoption speak in my house was forbidden.
I was adopted at three months, as was my brother. He was two years older than me. I have always known I was adopted but I had no real concept of what it meant.
The only thing I remember is ‘I’m not their child’ — that in fact, their child died.
My adoptive parents had thirteen miscarriages and finally gave birth to a baby girl. Their beautiful bundle of joy passed away at three days old.
I cannot imagine that kind of pain.
Looking back, while I can only speculate, it seems my role was to replace their daughter. As it turns out, I didn’t do a very good job.
They made that perfectly clear with all the emotional, mental and physical abuse they bestowed upon me. Then, at fifteen years old, my adoptive family gave me back. I was made a Ward of the Court.
I became another statistic in the Children’s Aid Society here in Canada. I bounced from foster home to foster home until I found one I blended well with.
While I was in foster care, now sixteen years old, my brother was killed in a car crash. He was eighteen.
My grandmother said, ‘It’s just too damn bad the best one in the family had to die.”
I was devastated. I talked to my mom and told her, and all she said was, “Well, you know Nana.” I received no support and it was never spoken of again.
I felt beaten down one more time – literally and figuratively, and I lived in a perpetual state of fear. I never knew when/if I was going to get in trouble for something so I could never settle. When I thought I did good, it wasn’t good enough. If I did something, I shouldn’t have, if I didn’t do something, I should have. Nothing was ever enough. I was never enough.
The fear quietly lingers like a bad smell in a gym bag, and it doesn’t become obvious until something causes it to open. Like any profound emotional experience, fear gets stored in our nervous system and any time a similar experience presents itself, the subconscious mind — in an effort to protect us — allows those fears to resurface as a reminder we are in danger.
Adoptees will do whatever it takes to avoid danger.
Adoption causes trauma. Being removed from all I’d known for forty weeks was gone in an instant. The maternal bond that a child needs has been severed.
And then I was placed with strangers to try to recreate that bond. Except no one tried.
When it came time for me to have my own children, specifically my first pregnancy, I had no concerns whatsoever about bonding. While I never experienced it myself, bonding was a priority that came very naturally.
Being a mother wasn’t an issue for me, but something else was: being a great mother. I had all the love in the world to give to my children, but I was terrified I would do to my kids what was done to me.
I had not been around babies at all and I didn’t really babysit until my early twenties, when I lived on an army base with my husband.
So, I went back to visit my social worker, who had been assigned to me when my family gave me back. After sharing my concerns, I asked very specifically, “What did I do so wrong that my parents had me removed from their home? I don’t want to repeat my past.”
Bonnie was her name, and she said, “Nothing. You did nothing wrong, Suzanne. Your parents (and grandmother) were so mired in their own fears and insecurities that they projected their stuff onto you. They were not and are not emotionally prepared.”
You cannot imagine the weight that was lifted from me. I felt stronger and was convinced I could do this baby thing,
But the euphoria wore off and I started questioning why my brother wasn’t treated this way. Surely, there must be something wrong with me! Bonnie was just being nice. She didn’t want to hurt me.
So I went and saw a psychiatrist. He said the same as Bonnie. He told me I am fine and that I would be fine and my awareness alone shows my ability to change the past.
Again euphoria! Someone telling me, I am in fact, normal.
Unfortunately he was wrong. Awareness alone did not change all those years of negative programming. My kids, my beautiful flesh and blood, became victim to my greatest fear.
The only thing worse for a parent than living through emotional torture as a child is living with the guilt and shame of passing your hurt onto your kids (and blaming them for the way you feel).
Maya Angelou has a saying I love. “When you know better, you do better.”
The only problem is the how. How do you do better? Sure there are light bulb moments where an instant shift in perception occurs. But a great deal of damage is done during the wait.
I remember being in the throes of a fit and [most of the time] I damn sure knew better – but I couldn’t stop myself! I was acting and reacting to the programming of my past and no amount of logical thinking changed that.
When I understood adoption trauma, it made perfect sense to me why I am the way I am and did the things I did. Between the inherent wounding and the abuse, this is who I became.
Here are some thoughts and personal experiences that ended up shaping me. They resulted from a lethal combination of being adopted and inept parenting.
- If my own mother loved me, she wouldn’t have given me away. There must be something wrong with me.
- My own (adoptive) parents can’t love me, there must be something wrong with me. [adoption wound reinforced]
- I wasn’t good enough that’s why she didn’t want me.
- Nothing I do is ever good enough. I must be perfect. Then someone will love me. (adoption wound reinforced)
- I had no voice in what happened to me. (being relinquished)
- My voice was completely silenced growing up and into adulthood. (adoption wound reinforced)
- Separation from the womb creates abandonment issues.
- I was forced to stay in my room alone or sent outside alone – not allowed to have friends over. I remember many times watching through my bedroom window, my brother and my cousins playing together outside. I felt alone, rejected and worthless (adoption wound reinforced)
- If I was chosen and you wanted me so badly, why are you hurting me?
- If I was chosen and you wanted me so badly, why did you give me back? (adoption wound reinforced)
My entire life, I felt empty. No matter how good things were, or how much fun I had or how much I adored and loved on my kids. There was a void within. I felt flawed and insignificant.
I berated myself regularly because I could not for the life of me understand what I needed to be happy and whole. I already had everything.
But I didn’t.
Now, all these years later I have worked through my ‘stuff.’ I have made it my mission to be an adoptee advocate so no other adopted child lay at the hands of an uninformed, unprepared adoptive parent.
Virginia Satir – the pioneer of family therapy – said, “What lingers from the parents’ individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”
That’s what I do. I help adoptive parents resolve past issues as well as create a foundation for their child and their family to thrive. Parenting an adoptee should be done with as much care concern and intention as it took to go through the process of acquiring the child.
Adoption isn’t going anywhere, so as long as there are adoptive parents, I will continue to guide them to live their best life. Because when they live their best life, they will model for their children how to do the same.
And isn’t the ultimate dream the intention to be a great adoptive parent and have a happy healthy whole family?
Suzanne Jones is the founder of SuzieQSolutions, a one person pre-adoption firm working with couples to create happy, healthy, whole adoptive families. You can learn more about her or book a time to chat at www.suzieqsolutions.com.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.