This may sound crazy but adoption might be like a battlefield, metaphorically speaking. Actually, I should be more specific. When I look around my growing network of adoptees, I feel as if I’m looking at soldiers who’ve experienced an attack on a beach somewhere. I don’t write this loosely and I certainly don’t mean to belittle the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women who serve our country by drawing the comparison. I have profound respect for them. But in a way, I do see similarities. Bear with me.
I am the product of a good adoption. I was raised by a great family, provided a good education, and grew up with opportunities to live a nice life. But adoption left scars. Later in life I learned that some of the childhood anxiety I carried with me can be tied to my relinquishment at birth. The love and structure I received couldn’t make it go away. I twisted on something I could never put a finger on, yet it’s a natural outcome of adoption and I think every adoptee feels it at some level: the “Primal Wound.” I discovered its existence in my life just recently. So, while I had it pretty good, I can say that adoption wreaked some level of havoc on me.
In late 2016 I initiated a search for my biological family and since that time I’ve thrown myself into the world of adoption to better understand the many complexities that exist and to learn how I might be of help to others. A thought that keeps hounding me is how much pain and trauma I see out there and about which I had previously been oblivious. I guess I was very lucky with my adoption and had just assumed that my other fellow adoptees had it pretty good too. That, I can promise you, is not the case.
Adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. Those that do are the soldiers whose corpses lay frozen in place, maligned in inhuman contortions amongst the marram grass. They weren’t lucky with adoption. For a plethora of complicated reasons, their adoption situation was too much. They weren’t the lucky ones and succumbed to a horrible fate. It wasn’t their fault. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time and did their best in trying circumstances. When we see these startling images from war, we feel so terribly for the fallen, their sacrifice and their families. When we hear about an adoptee suicide, we say, “He was a weird kid with issues. He never really fit in.”
Other adoptees are survivors. The battle took something from them; maybe a leg, an arm or a blown off ear. They limp around the beach, or lean on someone to keep from falling down. They are bloodied, but not beaten. Unlike a veteran amputee whose wound is visible, that is not the case for adoptees. Adoption took something from them or left them with a painful ache, one that is so deep it is doubtful that others will be able to find it to fix it. They are left with a permanent scar on their soul. Like veterans who flood the VA for assistance, so do adoptees psychotherapy. Adoptees are overrepresented in treatment settings and if they don’t seek help from a therapist, they’ll find relief through addiction. You guessed it, proportionately speaking adoptees are more likely to become addicts than non-adoptees.
Then, over there on a bluff lined by trees, a company of adoptees is quietly high-fiving and silently feeling grateful. They withstood adoption’s barrage quite unscathed. In fact, the battle didn’t really involve them and the enemy was rarely found. Moments could be terrifying but on the whole, they came out relatively well. However, from their vantage point, and due to a lot of fog around them, they are unable to see the carnage below. For them the battle went as smoothly as battles go, and it will be hard to truly know what their brethren experienced. But, regardless, the shock of the battle will be with them forever.
So, what are the elements of adoption that are so akin to bombs, grenades and bullets? I would have to write a tome to answer that but I’ll provide some examples now. It all starts with PTSD from relinquishment. For most adoptees our first experience on this planet is trauma associated with our relinquishment. There are heaps of studies now that show that a baby can recognize the scent of her mother’s milk or the sound of her voice. We spend nine months growing inside her getting ready to meet her, and then, in an instant, just as we take our very first breath, she’s gone. We cannot anchor ourselves to pre-trauma cognition because there was no life before the trauma. The PTSD can be latent or active, but it is there. For many veterans who suffer the unseen, harmful PTSD symptoms from combat, adoptees can relate. Only in recent years has it come to light that a newborn suffers trauma – and subsequently PTSD – from the separation from her mother at birth, but this finding is not widely known or understood outside of adoptee circles. It’s the Primal Wound.
Then you have adoptees who have been physically or sexually abused by their adopters. I know one adoptee whose adoptive uncle abused her. There are so many more who’ve suffered a similar hideous wrongdoing. Or you have adoptive family members who taunt you and tell you you’re not really part of the family. If they don’t explicitly tell you then they express their views nastily through more implicit means. I had an English great aunt, who in her beautiful benevolent generosity, bequeathed small inheritances to all her grand nieces and nephews, except for two. Me and my sister, who also happens to be adopted. We were not blood, and therefore not worth one of her Pound Sterling. The size of the gift that could have been isn’t relevant. The message she sent us certainly is.
The last example I’ll share is the adoptee who so desperately wants to meet his birth mother. This has been his dream for decades and so one day he commits to finding her. He has done research, including DNA, and through the marvels of technology he found her and he learned he has maternal siblings! A brother and a sister! OMG how exciting – he cannot wait to meet them! He does additional research and tracks down where she lives and her phone number. He then spends days if not weeks anxiously thinking about what he will say to her and how she will respond. There is probably a chance that she has longed for him for decades and is just waiting for his call. What will her voice sound like? He summons the courage, starts dialing her number and he can no longer feel his feet touching the ground.
She tells him he’s wrong. There must be a mistake. He should do more research and to please leave her alone. He scrambles to keep her on the phone. He knows it’s her, he has DNA, the smoking gun! Eventually she admits it was her. She doesn’t know who the father is and has never told her children. She condemns him from ever contacting his newfound siblings because no one in her family knows and things would just be so destructive to her if they ever found out. He’s reeling and getting nauseous. Why is that her call to make? These are hissiblings. He begs for any medical risks in the family he should know about. She says there are none and promptly hangs up the phone.
I grew up on the bluff surrounded by trees. There’s a lot of fog there and you cannot see how others have suffered. I am now walking towards the beach to see how I can help.