luck & gratitude

During this month folks who are Irish—literally or metaphorically—celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day's origins. So what does St. Patrick's Day have to do with adoption? The "luck of the Irish" comes to mind. Luck...a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees. They routinely hear, "You are so lucky you were adopted."

Regardless of the reasons that caused their adoption, the loss of their first family is significant, painful, tragic. Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion.

This expectation of gratitude is often coupled with equally offensive "Shoulds." Adoptees are told they should:

From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-five years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested to fifteen-year-old me that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous.

I did/do, however, frequently hear that I should feel grateful that I didn't have to experience pregnancy or childbirth. I do not. I grieve that loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. Yes, it rearranged my life and ultimately led to my cherished children entering my life. But the benefits do not erase the losses;  they coexist. Yet this expectation of gratitude for the cruel factors that shaped our lives is often flung in our faces. It feels deeply invalidating to have our personal tragedies dismissed as trivial or as a blessing. When we connect to our own individual experiences of painful incidents, we can glean a small appreciation for what our (adopted) children encounter. Still, we are adults and benefit from an adult's perspective, experience, and skillsets to help us cope. So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?

Most of us--unless we ourselves are also adopted--can not truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses, miscarriages, or stillbirths, etc. and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful. We ache when we're told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy or when we hear, after a miscarriage, that we'll probably conceive another. I suspect most of us have felt gut-punched by such callous remarks. I believe it is hard for people to see their loved ones and friends suffer. They feel discomforted by our pain or struggle. For their sake as well as ours, they seek a quick resolution. However, moving too quickly to fix-it mode ignores the genuine reality of the pain of the present moment. It must be worked through not denied.

To some extent, I suppose we can appreciate such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children's plight.  Like our children, we too, hold a Both/And reality with our own emotions because while adoption provided us our children to love and graft into our families it did not cure infertility or cause us to forget our stillborn babies or the monthly rollercoaster of grief when pregnancy failed to happen. We must resist the need to apply emotional band-aids and instead to sit with them offering empathy, validation, and a safe harbor in which they can be 100% honest about any pain and angst they feel about adoption. This kind of presence, compassionate witness, and honesty are at the heart of Adoption-attunement.

Intentional families are lucky in one way: we exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about our choices, language, methods, and emotions and therefore, raise our consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life rocked us out of our comfort zone and into a world of hard-won empathy. What will you do this week to reshape the connection between luck, gratitude, and adoption?

GIFT Family Services -- Growing Intentional Families Together

"Your Adoption-attunement℠ specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption."   

GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.

Contact us to explore this possibility.

*Adapted from our blog originally published in March, 2016

An adult adoptee I know described a recent conversation she had with the eight-year-old daughter of a coworker. Somehow the child learned that my friend was adopted. This shocked the little girl because my friend didn’t “look adopted.” In her child's mind, she assumed that adoptees would exhibit an identifiable appearance that would be instantly recognizable by all observers. At first, the child thought the revelation of my friend’s adoptive status was a joke or a trick. Once reassured that it was neither, the youngster tried to wrestle with her thoughts.

She had questions. The first one began as follows: “So when your real mom got rid of you…”

My friend is a middle-aged adult, well-adjusted, with a life that is proceeding well. She has come to terms with adoption, has reconnected with her birth mother, writes and speaks publicly on adoption complexity. Nonetheless, my friend felt gut-punched by the innocent comment and called me ASAP to help her work through her reaction.

Words spoken so innocently had cut deeply on two main points. The first was “got rid of you.” Intellectually, my friend understood that the child lacked the vocabulary to express her thoughts more tactfully. Viscerally, in the recesses of her own insecurities, the words echoed a deep-seated fear that plagues her—and I think most adoptees— that somehow my friend caused herself to be adopted. A mental laundry list of personal failures that she had compiled during a lifetime of adoption grief, self-recrimination, and doubt immediately came to mind. Her baby self had been “too needy, too plain, cried too much, or wasn’t good enough, etc, etc. etc.…

My friend is familiar with the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on…” In that conversation with the little girl, however, she didn’t feel like a miracle to be celebrated. The only thought which she could hold was “your real mom had gotten rid of her” like trash.

Inside her adult self, a Rejected Child still lived, anguished, ashamed, and convinced she had caused her adoption. She had to be at fault because, in her Inner Child’s eyes, mothers are Good.

A Good Mother would only reject a Bad Baby. My friend recognizes the irrationality of these thoughts and yet…they still burn like battery acid and persist like the belly button that reminds her they were once united.

She has worked hard to develop resiliency, confidence, and competency. Yet this Inner Child awakens easily and for a micro-second she automatically accepts blame, feels at fault, and unworthy in the face of life’s challenges. Intentionality, self-awareness, and a strong commitment to Adoption-attunement has helped her overcome this negativity. Her learning and resiliency have been hard-won.

The second big trigger in this conversation centers on the child’s use of the word real. My friend knew that the child lacked the appropriate language with which to refer to a birth mother. However, because of the unique circumstances of my friend’s life, she dislikes it when anyone suggests that her adoptive mom is not real. (In her mind she experienced mothering only from her adoptive mom. From her first mother, she received only on-going distance and rejection.

She accepts that both are real, but only her adoptive mother has filled her needs for mothering. If anyone minimizes her adoptive mother, my friend fiercely comes to her mom’s defense.)

As intensely as her Inner Child feels emotions connected to being placed for adoption, she feels equally impassioned about the importance of the parents who loved and raised her and whom she loves and treasures in return. Fortunately, her adult self can hold a medley of emotions and beliefs about adoption complexity. But that requires higher-order thinking and sometimes that more cerebral thinking lags behind the immediate responses of her emotions.

Why did I detail so much of this single conversation? Because it offers a peek into the emotional vortex that lies beneath the observable surface of an adoptee’s daily life. It’s complicated, not always visible, and occasionally understandably reactionary. This is where the skills and empathy of Adoption-attunement help us to be the parents our children need. AQ is helpful from infancy through adulthood. That is why we encourage all our client families to grow a High AQ!

At GIFT Family Services we know and encourage clients who work with us to accept that birth and adoptive parents are all real and are all forever, permanent parts of an adopted person’s whether their presence is physical or only emotional.

Our coaches are available to present workshops in person or online or to speak at your organization or conference. Contact us to explore this possibility.

For additional insight into the adult adoptee experience read “You Don’t Look Adopted” by Anne Heffron. We interviewed her in a past blog. Her book is raw, unvarnished and well worth the read.

 

 

 

luck & gratitude

During this month folks who are Irish --literally or metaphorically-- celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Like many holidays, a non-sectarian sense of fun has overtaken the religious aspects of the day's origins. So what does St. Patrick's Day have to do with adoption? The "luck of the Irish" comes to mind. Luck...a term easily tossed around. And often hurled in the face of adoptees.

Luck is also something which adoptees are expected to feel about being adopted.  Many have written eloquently on this absurd and painfully invalidating notion. This is often coupled with the equally offensive idea that they ought to "get over it," quit whining about being adopted, "be glad they weren't aborted," and relinquish any interest in and/or connection with their birth parents and first families, etc.

From the day our first child was placed in my arms thirty-one years ago, I believed I understood the tragedy at the roots of our joy. As the years have unfolded, however, I realize that the enormity of this life-long loss cannot be parsed by anyone who is not actually an adoptee or birth parent. When cancer destroyed my ability to conceive, no one ever suggested to fifteen-year-old me that I should feel lucky for having cancer or lucky for being rendered sterile. The very notion is ridiculous. But isn't this (to be "grateful" for being adopted) the expectation that is often flung in the faces of our children?  So how do we best support our children and free them from the crushing weight of such societal expectations?

As parents committed to intentionality, we understand the pivotal role of relationship. It is the key to attachment, the conduit to connection, family building and the establishment of unified family values. Relationship requires mutual trust, respect, empathy and genuine caring about each other's needs both physical and emotional. How can we best empathize with our children's adoption-shaped emotions? We must recognize that there is a profound "conflict of interest" around their being adopted. Adoption created one of our greatest joys: we received a child into our hearts and families but it also caused a primal loss of our children's first families. These two factors do not cancel each other out; they coexist. As with so much about adoption, we are called upon to hold a both/and mentality. We can be joy-filled because our children are part of our lives and simultaneously be heart-broken "for" them because of their huge loss.

Most of us--unless we ourselves are also adopted--can not truly understand their emotional reality. The closest we can come is probably connecting to our own infertility losses and imagining how we would feel if people regularly expected us to be grateful for our infertility. Or how we might force a smile in the face of being told how lucky we are to have avoided the discomfort of pregnancy when in fact we grieve the loss of not having that nine months of shared intimacy. I believe most of us have felt gut-punched by such callous remarks. To some extent, I suppose we can be grateful for such emotional hand grenades as it is a way of nurturing empathy for our children's plight. Like our children, we too, hold a both/and reality with our own emotions because while adoption provided us children to love and graft into our families it did not cure infertility.

Intentional families are lucky in one way: they exist in a level of awareness committed to thinking deeply about their choices, language, methods and emotions and who, therefore, raise their consciousness to a level often missed by those who operate on auto-pilot because life hasn't rocked them out of this comfort zone.

GIFT Family Services -- Growing Intentional Families Together

"Your Adoption-attunement™ specialists
providing coaching and support before, during, and after adoption."   

GIFT coaches are available to present workshops in person or on-line.

Contact us to explore this possibility.

Call today!

1-800-653-9445


GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption

SUBSCRIBE TO THE GIFT NEWSLETTER