Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ah-ha Moments at Adoption Conferences—an Adoptee’s View

From adopting a child to being an adopted child

Guest Post by Gian M. Schauer for Adopt-a-tude

I’ve had a couple of epiphanies at past adoption conferences. One led me to a husband. The other still has me searching.

I am adopted. I am interested in adopting an older child. I had contemplated giving up my birth daughter for adoption back in the ‘80s. I’ve been a foster parent. I could pretty much sit in on any talk at an adoption conference and find something that resonated with me.

It was the stuff that didn’t resonate that brought on my “ah-ha” moments.

My first moment of clarity came during a break at a Single Parent Adoption conference. I had been in presentations and break-out sessions listening to people talk about the joys of adoption and the struggles of parenting an adopted child. Their tales all sounded familiar, even though I didn’t have an adopted child.

Then it hit me. I’d had the same struggles parenting my birth daughter, not because she was adopted but because I was parenting alone. If I continued down this path of single-parent adoption, I thought, I would be telling these same stories of time management, depleted energy levels, and the frustration of facing decisions alone.

What I was longing for was not just another child—I already had a wonderful one. I wanted someone with which to share another child. 

With new clarity, I left the conference and got busy. I talked it out with my shrink and increased my dating search. A couple of years later, I got married on a boat in the Caribbean.

That’s not the end of my story.

I had also been attending general adoption conferences, not just those for single parents. Other conferences offered many different topics, depending on your interests. As I sat in rooms full of adoptive parents discussing their issues with their adopted children, I stopped hearing the voices of the parents and starting thinking about my own voice as an adopted child. 

That’s when I had “ah-ha” moment number two. 

I didn’t need to learn anything more about adopting someone else right now. I needed to learn more about the adoption of me.

I’m not talking about the usual stuff like who my birth mother was or if I had any half-siblings. Not yet. What I needed to address was what it meant to me to be an adopted child.

I listened to experts and other adopted people talk about things like “The Primal Wound” and “always looking for your people.” Those things didn’t ring true for me. I turned protective of the adopted children in stories. I got frustrated with my shrink when she said perhaps I was experiencing things in a certain way because I was adopted. I researched attachment disorder in adults to figure out my relationship problems. I stopped reading studies about older children in the foster-care system or fetal alcohol effects and started thinking about my own birth and adoption circumstances.

Being adopted is a part of me. But is it a bigger part of me than growing up in a small town in the Midwest, having freckles, or being tall? I wasn’t comfortable with the generalization that all adopted kids were more difficult as adolescents anymore than everyone with freckles is a class clown. I didn’t go around in life searching for someone who looked like me or someone who could understand me anymore than my friends who weren’t adopted searched for those things. 

So what was I curious about? I wasn’t sure about starting a search for my birth mom. I understood what she must have gone through to give me up, but I didn’t need to see her, touch her, connect with her.

Or did I?  I tiptoed around the subject, reading online stories of how people found birth parents but never starting my own search. I didn’t talk with anyone about this, either.  Instead I just quietly sat in small groups at these conferences, thinking about the circumstances behind my own adoption and wondering about the life path of my birth mother. My curiosity took me from wondering about adopting a child to wondering about being an adopted adult.  

I have stopped planning and searching for a child to adopt. I have started searching for my inner adopted child. Maybe one day when I sort out the imprint that adoption has left on me, I will move my attention towards finding my birth family. And maybe after that, I will be interested in adopting a child with my husband.

For now, I’m not attending any more adoption conferences.


AdoptAuthor said...

GREAT POST! Go for it! You are definitely heading in the right direction - keep following your instincts and keep on that inner journey to your inner YOU.

Let go of your fears:

- the fear of rejection
- the fear of being (or appearing) ungrateful; or hurting others

Let go and go for it. If you set your goal of search to find the TRUTH - YOUR TRUTH - you will never be disappointed with what you find, good bad or indifferent.

Good luck and thank you for this post which I will be sharing at:

AdoptAuthor said...

You might want to read:

ALSO: Have you been watching the ABC show "Find My family"? Check it out!!

Martha Nichols said...

@AdoptAuthor: Thanks for your feedback. I'm curious about what you think of "Find My Family." I've been contemplating pulling together several responses to the show with my fellow contributors for Adopt-a-tude, told from different perspectives (adoptee, adoptive parent, birth parent).

If you have any leads to birth parents who might like to write about their response to the show, please send them our way -- Martha

Dana Seilhan said...

This might be a nitpick, but a couple things you said don't make sense to me:

"I wasn’t comfortable with the generalization that all adopted kids were more difficult as adolescents anymore than everyone with freckles is a class clown."

Except that there's no good reason that kids with freckles would be class clowns. But there are very good reasons that an adoptee of any age might have behavioral problems. I can't really see how the two scenarios compare.

"I didn’t go around in life searching for someone who looked like me or someone who could understand me anymore than my friends who weren’t adopted searched for those things."

I don't know about the understanding part, but people who grow up in intact families don't need to look for people who look like them because they already grew up with them. Biological mirroring happens in biological families. It doesn't happen in adoptive ones.

I had a situation, growing up, that was somewhat similar to adoption except that my dad had custody of me and I was mostly raised by my stepmother. Whenever anyone told my stepmother that I looked like her, for some reason I cannot fathom she felt the need to tell me so, and I always resented it. I look NOTHING like her and she had a child of her own so I have no idea what she felt she needed to prove.

Sorry to go off into a me-tangent. At least I look a lot like my dad and got to see him a lot. (He was active Navy for most of my childhood.) I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up among genetic strangers. It does matter, on some level.

My daughter would have felt the difference had I given her up at birth. She was crying when they brought her in to me and quieted as soon as I said her name. They know. I think that knowledge carries into adulthood, too.

Good luck on your personal journey.

Dana Seilhan said...

Back to the me-tangent briefly so I don't inadvertently offend anyone: My situation was somewhat analogous to adoption because my dad got custody when I was three. Initially my mother did not have visitation rights and for whatever reason, I lost conscious memory of her. At some point I asked my stepmother if I had come out of her tummy the way a family friend of ours' son had just come out of hers and my stepmother said yes. For whatever reason, Dad never corrected her. I'm not sure he knew.

I didn't find out who my real mother was until I was seven. I went Jeckyll to Hyde that year and never fully recovered. Especially when I learned that if I wanted to really piss my stepmother off, all I had to do was lie about something. Man, you could smell the hypocrisy in Timbuktu.

David Biddle said...

Gian's post is fabulous. I love the issues it's revving up here in the Comments section.

I got an Ah-Ha moment reading through. It's very clear that adoption as a catalyst operates in many ways at many different times in people's lives and the spectrum of situations is so dynamic and fluid for each of us.

Adoption literature is full of stereotyping and pop psychology fluff. Each of us is different and has had different adoption experiences that play right into how we view ourselves as adults.

Dana helps me see all of this from a new perspective too. While not "adopted" per se, the notion of being a step child, especially in Dana's case, has many elements of the adoption trilogy built into it. Is it possible to speak of being half-adopted or step adoptionhood?


Martha said...

Yes, I find this fascinating, too. There's always been some adoption expert talk about how blended families--through divorce, in particular--create situations that resemble the confusions and submerged emotions of adoption. Bringing those emotions to light is one of the only things that helps, I think. None of us can magically make things better for kids who have experienced such losses in childhood.

So we talk, and get out what we feel from our given vantage points--me, I'm an adoptive mom, so I find Dana's comment that "My daughter would have felt the difference had I given her up at birth" hard to hear, but I am so glad Dana put it out there. It does none of us in the adoption triad any good to avoid the strong and real and conflicting emotions that "adoptionhood" sparks.

Lisa @ Pack of Three said...

Hi Gian,

I appreciate your post as it seems far less common to hear from those who aren't experiencing that sense of a "primal wound." The burning question for me is why? Is this because your experience is less common? Or is it because those who don't have that sense of a primal wound genuinely feel with no wound, there's not a lot to discuss? I would love to see more broadly based, statistically meaningful research that attempts to answer this question.

Thanks again for sharing your experience and insights here.

With best wishes,