Friday, January 7, 2011

Growing Pains

There was a period in my life when no printed word escaped my vociferous hunger to learn. I was the target of many a taunt over my propensity to "check out" of conversations because I would come across a magazine, newspaper, or book that drew me in to its vault of glittering new gems of knowledge. Then I was accepted to dental school. Suddenly I had no need to seek out the written word. It came to me in the form of hundreds of thousands of pages of mandatory classwork. Actually, my love affair with the written word helped me survive the massive overload I experienced those four years. Many a less semantically enthused classmate was reduced to tears. I never was entirely overwhelmed but I left with a decidedly diminished craving.

Just as I was taking a polishing rag to my tarnished library card and floating off into the gentle pools of popular fiction as a way to address the stresses of private practice I go and meet this certain Kerryman. In a whirlwind couple of years I went from single working professional to married working mom. I moved twice, undertook the monumental endeavor to adopt internationally TWICE, and switched from private practice to public health. There was no energy to read. My mind was was awfully "durn full" and the very thought of reading for pleasure hurt. I did read...a LOT...there was the whole new topic of parenting that needed mastering...but there was no room in the noggin for superfluous information acquisition let alone the fluffy bit of stuff known as popular fiction!

Then, ever so slowly, my babies became children who could 'potty' themselves, make their own snacks, and even generally practiced sleeping in 8 hour stretches! I could slip on-line more often and READ?!?!? Once or twice recently I have even been known to curl up on the couch with actual paper and ink books. While I'm enjoying bouncing on the fluffy stuff every now and again, I have more of a growing passion on philosophical enlightenment. Sometimes its shallow waters but sometimes I'm caught in an undertow.

Today, a fellow adoptive mom posted the following quote as her FB status:
 "Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful." - Rev. Keith C Griffith, MBE
The concept of a "primal wound"  has been well and copiously studied and debated. I have personally embraced a "middle of the road" opinion on this matter. I accept the concept that there is indeed a "primal wound" but I am not buying into the radically extreme position that it plays an omnipotent part in every aspect in the life of an adopted person. As I read some of the responses and as I rolled and twisted the idea around in my mind I had one reaction that I believe has started order the chaos in my thinking on a subject of importance in my life.
I want to provide my girls with the "best" possible life. I hope to make our home a place where feelings are allowed to be expressed, discussed, and addressed because I believe that people who can be honest about their feelings have a better chance of finding the "best" possible life. The above quote has a mirror image. When I came to see my self in this mirror image I was caught off guard. You see the flip side to that quote is an idea pushed by the radical "primal wound" supporters that all adoptees MUST be emotionally crippled by that same trauma. In my naive eagerness to allow my daughters their "right" to "feel that wound" I may very well have contributed to the crippling!!! I have been so "supportive" of their feelings of pain and depression over being adopted that I very well may have sent too strong a signal of support...I may have OVER validated by not giving due consideration to the more "normal" state for an adoptee...or so I read from the writings of adoptees...the state of being conflicted, ambiguous. So while I thought I was a "middle of the road" believer in the "primal wound" I find I may have actually been a practicing zealot! 
My girls have very different 'stories' of how they came to be taken from their first families. Neither story has ever been glorified or glossed over in this house. In NO WAY have we ever had anything even remotely close to an expectation of gratitude from the girls!! It has also never been all frowns and tears. So maybe it's not too late to swim out of the undertow called "primal wound" and make our way over to the tidal pools? You know? That part of the shore where tides come and go and each time the tide is out the little pools left behind the rocks are full of interesting bits of sea life. I think it is time I focused on letting my girls know that it is "normal" for emotions to come and go regularly. They need to learn that each tide brings us a chance to learn something new and different about ourselves...and that it is OKAY to learn something new about emotions you thought you had explored thoroughly. That while some may think you should only sit on the beach and bask in the loving glow of my love and others feel you must swim out into the deep water until the undertow sucks you under, there are other options and all of these options are yours to make free of society's opinion or expectation!
My brain is hurting again. But this time I'm fine with the pains. They are growing pains. I'm making room for new thoughts, new opinions, new knowledge. Time to go. There are a LOT of words waiting out there for me to read.....


  1. Adoption loss is two fold. There is the initial loss of separation from one's mother. Then there is the social context of loss where, day to day, an adoptee lives a different life than 98% of those around them. While most people are able to embrace both nature and nurture and do so without a second thought, many adoptees cannot. On the other hand, people also often cannot imagine what it is like not to be able to embrace both nature and nurture because they don't know any different for themselves, and are quick to dismiss the unique needs and issues adoptees face. Which is exactly what that quote means to me.

    The quote speaks of an frequent adoptee experience where they are chided by society for expressing any displeasure with anything adoption-related. And the Primal Wound is just one tiny aspect. We want our records and birth certificates? We want respect in the media and not to have our stories exploited for entertainment or to be made fun of in commercials? We want antiquated policies updated and adoption reformed? The response we frequently receive: "aren't you grateful you weren't [insert stereotype here]," as if we are not entitled to pain, opinions, a voice, and equality because we're too busy being lucky about [insert stereotype here].

    Meanwhile, we watch others, who also have loss and pain and inequities in their lives--things that are more common for larger portions of society to experience, and watch how there is compassion and understanding for those things. And we wonder why our issues are viewed so differently.

    I have never interpreted the PW (which is a theory that's been pondered upon since probably the 70's and brought to public eye in a very eye-opening way by the self-help book titled "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Verrier in 1993) to say that all adoptees must be emotionally crippled. To me, it says that stress in infancy and early childhood can be impacting (Verrier, amongst others, agrees that impacting stress in infancy is not exclusive to adoption separation) and therefore, loss should be avoided when possible. Often times in infant adoption, especially in the 50's-70's in the U.S., adoption was used to solve the social "issues" of unwed motherhood and illegitimacy. The infant and child experience were often not considered because they were seen as either non-issues or a secondary issue, because unwedmotherhood was just absolutely so appalling at the time. The adoptee was to be too busy being "grateful" not to be raised by *her*, a woman who likely at the time would have been given the diagnosis of "neurotic" for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, that little else should matter to them. "The Girls Who Went Away" by Ann Fessler and "Wake Up Little Susie:..." by Rickie Solinger are the two best books that talk about the experiences, stereotypes, and social policies of this era.

    Adult Adoptee, author, and psychotherapist BJ Lifton was one of the first professionals to call attention to the initial loss and the social loss of adoptees. Others have continued that concept, not for the purpose of promoting self-loathing, but to entitle adoptees to grief as well as suggest a change in focus of adoption. Focusing on the needs of children, rather than the social "reform" of "fallen" women. The advocacy, as well as reform groups speaking out, has changed adoption practices from the "reforming women" focus to the "helping children" focus, more and more.

    The given quote encompasses quite a lot. I hope some of my explanation made sense :-)

  2. lots of good thoughts and insights. so much to be read on the subject, and i do think that some children have been seriously perhaps permanently traumatized by and during their early pre-adoptive life. fortunatley that is not the case with my daughter preadoptive experience. but i recognize too that trauma can result from when they begin to understand adoption, and even later in their lives. thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I love that this post brought on so much more info coming from your first commentor. My plan at this time is exactly what we have been doing, we talk aobut whatever maya wants to know when she brings it up, its part of her life and discussed openly. As she gets older the issue's and questions will change and I"m hoping that we can give her what she needs when she needs them. For now her last question was "was I cute when I was in my birthmom's tummy?" and asked Joe is he was from Guatemala since his skin was more tan then mine. I love these questions, but I know as she gets older they will be harder to answer it will be more of a discussion because I won't know the answer and will only be able to comment on how I would feel.
    Thank you for beign the one that loves to read and good at writing to pave the path that well all will be following as our kids get older.