When you start to explore something that you’ve been in denial about your entire life, two life-changing things can happen*:
- The stories and narratives you have always told yourself get blown out of the water.
- You realise that who you think you are, i.e. some of the key facets you thought were part of your personality, are merely constructs you’ve built based upon the stuff that happened to you when you were younger to keep yourself safe.
Some of the reasons I haven’t explored any of this until recently are based around the things I’ve always told myself – my narratives – about being adopted.
I realise now that these are not ‘the truth’ but are simply things (platitudes!) I’ve told myself to justify my decision and choice not to explore this part of my life before now…
- It’s just what happened. It’s not really had any impact on me, who I am or my life. (I will just about forgive you if you guffaw out loud at this. Only just!).
- There’s no point in exploring this or even looking for my birth mother because she could be in HK, the Philippines, maybe even Canada (a lot of Filipino helpers went to Canada), or somewhere else random in the world, and it’s just too hard to find her. Where on earth would I start? (Facebook seems a good one to try 😱).
- I don’t need to find my birth mother/family; I already have a loving family. What difference would it make? (Seemingly it’s a pivotal piece of the puzzle in discovering who I am).
As my therapist pointed out, I have my fair share of uncertainty and not knowing to hold already:
- I don’t know who my birth mother is, who my birth father is, or who my birth family are for I know I have half siblings.
- I don’t know what happened straight after my birth – did my mother hold/take care of me at all in the hospital?
- What happened during the 7 days between when I was born and my family coming to pick me up?
- I don’t know the circumstances around my conception, or what their relationship was.
- I don’t know her own very personal reasons for having me adopted.
- I don’t know if her husband or other children knew/know about me.
- I don’t know if she would want to see me again.
- I have no idea who she is or what she’s like.
- I don’t know if she ever thinks of me.
But now it’s time to know, as much as I can. At the risk of sounding trite and cliché, the more I uncover – already being about a year into this journey – the more I’m coming to know myself (the real me) behind and beyond the constructs of my childhood and the things I’ve done/been to protect myself.
And I want to know more. There are some key pieces of my puzzle missing and it’s time to put them into place. But first here’s some of the knowing I’ve already discovered…
Adoption is a trauma
In our society, adoption is generally portrayed as a positive solution to a difficult situation. And I don’t disagree but…
When the focus is purely on the positive – on what the adopted child has gained in the form of a new family, something they otherwise might not have had – it denies a huge part of their truth…one of loss.
Because while they may have gained a family – one who loves them, one who chose them and one who will be their forever family (though not always which is even more devastating) – they have also lost something fundamental to their experience of life…their birth mother and what she represents – a foundational mirror to who they are and where they’ve come from.
One of the most frequent comments is “But you had another mother (i.e. your adopted mother), what difference does a birth mother make?”.
There are studies which demonstrate that spending even just a day with their birth mother massively benefits a baby’s long term emotional wellbeing; as well as studies which show just how connected a baby is to their birth mother, from before the birth. Newborn babies are able to identify their birth mother from a line-up of women; it’s utterly illogical to me to claim that a baby has no real connection to or need for the person that has carried him/her for 9 months before entering this world.
Whilst I almost instantly disliked the title of Nancy Newton Verrier’s first book about adoption, The Primal Wound, it is eye-opening, and highly recommended reading for anyone who has experience of adoption, whether as a birth parent, an adopter or adoptee.
She very clearly outlines the key emotional challenges faced by most (all?) people who’ve been adopted, namely: Abandonment, separation and rejection.
Alongside these, there are others which have delightfully made themselves known to me over the past few months such as choice, belonging, control, trust, knowing and no doubt a few more to come!
The experience of these is like being hit by a tsunami wave of emotion and during this wave, it’s like wearing a pair of glasses or goggles through which everything – every relationship, every event, every conversation – is experienced…
- The lens of rejection – When you’re looking through the lens of rejection, every tiny little thing feels like a rejection…someone not calling you back is you being rejected, someone not being on time to meet you is you being rejected, someone not answering a text message in a ‘timely’ manner is you being rejected.
- The lens of separation – When you’re looking through the lens of separation, being apart from loved ones hurts sometimes even for the smallest duration of time. To be able to separate from them you might sometimes engineer an argument, so you can be angry at the person you’re going to be separated from in order to actually be apart from them. It’s not fun nor fair and yet it’s sometimes the only means of coping you have.
- The lens of abandonment – coupled closely with separation, when you’re looking through the lens of abandonment, someone who storms off in the heat of an argument has abandoned you. Even someone dying is another experience of abandonment, no matter how unfair this may seem on the person who died!
During the waves, you’re hit with feelings of anger, shame, hurt and grief:
- Anger at being rejected, hurt and abandoned.
- Shame for wanting to be seen, for wanting to be heard, for wanting to be noticed, for wanting to be wanted and for wanting to be loved.
- Hurt and grief at the loss(es) you’ve experienced.
I’ve been asked – when I’ve shared how this feels for me – why on earth I’m doing this! It’s not fun to feel the pain and hurt that’s been buried for years and yet it feels necessary. If I’m going to put me first, I need to know who the me is that I’m putting first…the real me.
* Please note that none of this is unique to being adopted…
Much of this also applies if you decide to deep dive into your own origins and some of the pivotal events of your life which have no doubt shaped who you are today. It is most certainly a journey of self discovery, to understand who you are, why you are how you are, and whether you can/want to change some of this. Are you game? 😉