Adoption – The Shadows, the Shame and the Sharing
Adoption is such a broad subject, volumes could be written about it, and from the perspective of everyone involved. The adopted child, the birth mother, the biological father, the adoptive mother, the biological grandparents, the biological siblings – the list goes on and on, so many people involved and as we’ve learnt from looking at family systems and how we all relate and inter-relate, no-one may be forgotten. This is only meant to be an article and many of the issues around adoption and all of the feelings and truths that have been revealed to me over the years in my healing practice cannot be covered in depth. There are many adoptions that take place that have been very balanced, this article seeks to reveal some of the aspects that are not always considered and it is not an attempt to label any of the parties involved as bad, or even adoption as bad. Adoption is very often the only viable choice.
Let us also be mindful, the central character in the story of adoption is the child. All of the others have their story too, each of them is important to be heard and felt, but the child’s story takes precedence. Some of my clients found out by accident that they were adopted.
In order to look at adoption and its long term effects on everyone concerned, we first need to suspend judgements regarding who is good, who is better, who is bad, who is wrong and who is the victim. Very often we can become distracted by aspects of adoption and our judgements concerning the adults involved that simply serves to make us blind to the reality of the child. When we look at the case of a drug or alcohol addicted mother surrendering her child for adoption we may be tempted to sit back and say ‘Lucky child, she got out!’. But is that how the child really feels? Lucky? There may be others who say that this child should be grateful and consider himself lucky? Is he? We cannot underestimate the effect that being ‘the one who got out’ has on an individual. It not only affects their perceptions of themselves, it is also very difficult for any of us to allow our family members to remain in hell – even if it is a hell largely of their own making.
It is very important to realise than when a child is given up for adoption it is rarely the sole act of the mother. She may be very young, she may have been coerced to surrender the child, or perhaps she surrendered the child and did not give her parents the option to raise their grandchild. Also, was the father informed? Was he given any real choice in the matter? In many cases of adoption, in reality it is not the mother who surrendered the child in adoption, but the grandparents, for very often the mother is herself a child or barely an adult at the time.
It is said that it takes an entire village to raise a child; it also takes more than one person to surrender a child for adoption.
Very often the burden of guilt only serves to blind us from the truth of some matters, it stops us from being authentically honest and clear about our actions and responsibilities. When we look at all of our choices with clear and simple truths, we can then make the inner changes necessary, take responsibility where necessary, and allow others to carry their portion of responsibility whilst we fully carry our own.
The worst thing the biological mother or father can say to her adopted child on meeting is ‘Please forgive me’. The child has already lost everything, he/she cannot be expected to give anything. The forgiveness is internal work and it is unfair to ask the adopted child to absolve you.
Why are we adopting? Is it for the child’s reasons or is it for the adoptive parent’s reasons? Very often the mother who adopts a child either cannot conceive or has had multiple miscarriages. This of course is a great source of grief and bereavement. So what are we asking the adopted child to do? Make the mother happy? Replace the lost children? Sometimes the adopted child is invited in for the mere purpose of holding a relationship together, to help the relationship feel complete. It is true that the biological impulse behind relationships is to re-produce, so this is a natural impulse. However, we are more than our biology and having said that, even many LGBT people have this impulse, it is very strong. Of course there are also adoptive mothers who already have biological children and adopt for the child’s reasons.
In writing this I am aware that it may sound as if I am saying that the adoptive parents are bad people. They are not. At least not more or less than any other human beings with unclear motivations and defence mechanisms that seek to avoid pain. I do not write as an adopted individual, but I do offer these observations after having worked with dozens of adopted individuals over the past 17 years.
It is most important for adoptive parents to look with clarity at what role they may have given their adopted child. Do they need to fill the emptiness of depression? Dissatisfaction with your mate? Become your friend?
An adopted child is freed when the adoptive parents can say ‘You owe me nothing, it is all given freely, to know you is sufficient for us’
For generations childbearing and raising of children was seen as mostly or only the domain of children. With that in mind, how many men have been denied their children and have even had that supported by the law? Sadly, many. Previous generations saw a man as incapable of raising a child.
Very often men are not even aware that they have become a father and abortions and adoptions can take place without their knowledge. Additionally, the father’s parents have not been given the opportunity to take the child as their own.
Some fathers do know, but because of personal circumstances, chooses to distance themselves. However, as they go on to have other children, the impact of their decision can follow them in ways that cannot be clearly seen by the unaware eye – even impact their ‘other’ children.
One client of mine met her biological father and she was only allowed to do if she promised to keep her own existence a secret – thereby denying her the right to have brothers and sisters. This is outrageous – first the child is abandoned and is then asked to help the father not face the truth.
The first question here is: where are they? How did their child come to this decision? Did they make the decision for her? Were you informed? Why couldn’t they keep their grandchild? How does it feel to have been denied your grandchild?
Every biological mother who has come to me feels a deep sense of grief and guilt concerning having given up their child for adoption. However, as I ask the questions, very often a different picture begins to emerge. They begin to realise that they were only 19 years of age at the time and that they had no moral or financial support from their parents. This then changes everything. It does not mean that they feel relived form all responsibility or from all of the guilt, but the burden is lessened greatly when looking at the facts from anew, to see who really gave up the child for adoption. Many mothers who have given up their child for adoption have experienced feeling abandoned not only by their parents, but often by the father’s parents and the father. At 19, younger, or a little older, we simply don’t have the inner resources to make those kinds of decisions alone. All of this needs to be looked at in the bright light of awareness.
I have met several grandparents in my career who have mourned the loss of their – either because they weren’t told, or the law didn’t support their claim, or because they regret making the wrong decision and now carry it as a burden of guilt.
Very often race or religion is at the core of grandparents forcing an adoption to take place. Either their daughter has disobeyed the religious rules of her community and the child is kept a secret – this create a huge subconscious or conscious burden for the adopted child, or, the child in question is mixed race and owing to social norms needs to be hidden away. In this scenario the adopted child becomes the ‘object of shame’, this is a burden that is felt for life.
The Adopted Child
Most adoptees are painfully aware that their mother gave them up for adoption. However, what else was given up? The list is rather long and can include the following:
– Mother, Father
– Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents
– Nationality, Country, Ethnicity, Language
All of the above is how most of us identify who we are with. We see ourselves as coming from a certain place, having a certain type of family, an ethnic, linguistic, religious, national and racial background. In adoption – some and all of that can be lost, especially in the case of children born in developing nations and brought to a developed nation.
Very often an adopted child is a people pleaser, still unable to digest why they were given away and very often secretly holding onto the feeling and belief that there is either something wrong with them, that they are bad, or that if they had been good enough, then it would not have happened. Frequently a deep split is present between the adult logical and reasoned mind that understand the entire story and its reasons, and the young tender part of themselves that feels the pressure to be ‘good’ for the adoptive parents in case abandonment happens all over again.
Very often, an adopted child can be so given to ‘perfection’ that rigidity has now taken over and within that, they have simply lost touch with feelings and have convinced themselves that they have no un-resolved issues regarding their adoption.
There is so much to be said on behalf of adopted children, and so much that is misunderstood, and so much that is said to adopted children that is counter-productive and potentially shaming.
Some of the things my clients have heard:
‘Why are you unhappy? You’re so lucky, your mum was a drug addict, you should be happy you were adopted’
‘You’re the lucky one, you brother was left with her’
‘Why do you want to know about Vietnam? That country has nothing to offer you, you’re an American now’
‘I had a daughter, I lost her at 7 months pregnancy, I had so many dreams for her, now I have you’
‘She’s not your mother, I am!’
‘I don’t want you to meet your birth mother, she’s bad’
‘Don’t go, you’ll upset your mother if you meet your family, you have a family, the ones who looked after you’
‘I’m happy to meet you, but you must pretend to be someone else, I don’t want my husband and children to know who you are’
‘Your father was a total loser, he left me with you, I had no choice’
Very often adopted children feel very protective towards their adoptive mothers, even to the extent of denying themselves an opportunity to resolve unanswered questions and the deeper need to simply know where they came from.
Each of us gains a deeper sense of who we are through merging with our parents in infancy, through being held and adored by them. However, with adopted children this either didn’t take place, or the entire process was interrupted, and at times, more than once. This can leave adopted children with a deep feeling of ‘there is no love for me’ or great difficulties in merging with a partner or lover – to truly receive someone into their heart and surrender to love. Of course these challenges are present in the rest of the population too – it is often amplified with adoptees.
Both Sets of Parents
It is important that the adoptive parents have a relationship of deep respect towards the biological parents – even when those parents appear irresponsible according to our own ‘moral compass’.
It needs to be emphasised that our feelings and opinions regarding the biological parents are keenly felt by the adopted child. Often an adoptive mother can fall into the trap of feeling that she is the ‘better’ mother – and many may agree with her. When we stand in judgement of the biological parents it shames the adopted child. If we judge the biological mother for her age, sexuality, race, ethnicity, addictions, morality, cultural, social and national background what we’re literally doing is taking a gift and telling the gift (child) that it is incomplete, comes from ‘bad stock’ and that now it will be good. This is shaming, and it does not need to be said out loud in order to it to be felt.
The gift of life is a precious one, no matter the circumstances of the birth. If the adoptive parents can inwardly bow with deep respect to the biological family from whence their child came – much direct and indirect shaming can be spared.
If the biological parents can bow inwardly with deep respect for what has been done on their behalf, then guilt can give way to the light of consciousness so that deeper healing can take place.
Adoptees Embracing Life
Very often those who have been adopted are aware that their biological mother or family has suffered in some way. Perhaps they were rescued out of the hell of war, a ghetto, drug addiction or severe abuse. With this, they often feel the split of being both the ‘lucky one’ who got away AND the one who was abandoned. It is very often more difficult when they are aware of having siblings.
How would it be to say ‘Please smile upon me kindly if i have the courage to be happier than you?’
We cannot underestimate the power of biological bonds – they tie us with our biological family over space and time. In order to be free of the burden of being adopted, we need to have the courage to bow to everyone’s fate, including those left behind. Limiting our life, love, freedom and happiness does nothing to serve or save those suffering – it only seeks to further, deepen and lengthen our own suffering.
There are deep stories behind everything that is said, even when the words seem so very hurtful. What would cause a biological parent to keep their child a secret? What would cause adoptive parents to shame and deny the existence of the biological heritage? All of the unhealthy and damaging choices we make have a foundation of pain, denial and a belief that there is no other way.
I’ve worked with many adoptees, adoptive parents, birth mothers and biological fathers over the years. Each person is deserving of my respect, is worthy of being held in my heart as they hear the simple truths that can be very uncomfortable or painful but ultimately lead to freedom from guilt, pain and suffering.
For many adoptees, their life is influenced by the dilemma of being ‘the lucky one’ who was abandoned. Unsure if they are ‘good enough’ to be loved by their adoptive parents, unsure if they are ‘bad’ for having left others behind, unsure if they really belong. So much has been taken from them and yet, without awareness, we can then ask them to give too much – the one who saves us, the one who forgives us, the one who fulfils us, and the one who holds our secret.
For more insights into adoption, I dedicated an entire chapter in the book ‘The Language of the Soul’.
‘To Whom Do I Belong?’ Click HERE