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The Open Adoption Examiner is hosting an online "book tour" of "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Newton Verrier, a forerunner adoptive parent and psychologist. I've really enjoyed reading the questions/responses submitted by other bloggers and learn so much from them. Thank you for the opportunity to participate and learn! Here are some thoughts about the questions below:
There are a great deal of behavioral issues that Verrier attributes to the Primal Wound of being separated from ones birthmother and subsequently adopted. These range from acting out and testing the adoptive parents, to becoming detached, to future inabilities to maintain healthy relationships as an adult. To the adoptees, I'm curious if you identified with any of these traits. Further, if you answered "yes", do you think your adoptive parents would agree that you have these traits as well?
Let's see...ummm...yes, yes, and yes. As a child I hid feelings of differentness and insecurity, all the while putting on a smiling face to convince others and myself that I was "special" and "chosen" and therefore, almost superior to other kids. I HAD to make straight A's, be the teacher's pet, and make everybody like me, because inside, I didn't feel likeable. So I tried really hard. I said, "I love you" ALOT and made my Mom home-made cards for every conceivable holiday, always portraying the same message ~ "I'm so glad I have the BEST Mom in the whole wide world." Looking back I realize it was my way of not only trying to convince myself that I was perfectly happy being adopted, but also defending against my Mom's insecurities being my "Mother", loyally protecting her & myself.
I was the compliant adoptee for sure! The last thing I wanted was to "stick out" or be noticed in a crowd, because I didn't feel worthy of it. Yet, my Mom was SO proud of me, that she would make sure we were noticed. It truly humiliated me and caused me to go deeper into my shell. A shell which confounded my adoptive family. They couldn't understand the painful shyness (and did I mention, control) either. Yes, they would completely agree and I'm sure have much more to say than I. I just wish they had been given this book years ago, as I think it would have helped them understand my behavior a little better.
Becoming aware of these issues within myself is helping me become a better person, friend, daughter, spouse, and mother. Because my son deals with attachment issues of his own, my healing journey has provided the gift of "insight" into him, and will hopefully help him on his. I can allow him the freedom to rage and question and control, without the fear of being unaccepted, because I have walked through my own "ugliness" and learned to (a little better) accept myself.
It's hard to "admit" unsavory personality traits and relationship struggles because that brings up even more shame. The last thing I ever want is to "unknowingly" hurt those I love, or even knowingly do so through behavior that feels beyond my control. That's why I am so thankful for books that truly validate and educate, because they are a key that has the potential to unlock healing.
I still "numb out" and feel detached during times of stress. As a child I'd have reoccuring dreams where I'd be flying, feeling like my body and spirit was not grounded ~ searching for what? I did not know. But searching all the time. Restless.
Oh, and relationships. The same "detachment" can describe my relationships. Even my marriage of 19 years, as well as with long-time friends. I am the queen of "push/pull", always longing to feel close, but getting flighty and distracted when things get too close emotionally. Feeling alone alot, but it is getting better.
Even as an adult, before I read books like "The Primal Wound", I couldn't figure out WHY I was "the way I was". I remember going to a class at my church entitled "Boundaries" (great book by Cloud & Townsend) and discussing in the group how I "felt like a fake" but didn't know why. I didn't understand myself at all. All I got from the others, including the facilitator (interestingly enough, she was a social worker who worked for an adoption agency) was "your not fake, why would you feel that way?" I couldn't answer that. And felt even more isolated.
It wasn't until years after my "reunion" that I finally found some answers as to why I exhibited such contradictory emotions and perplexing behavior. On the outside, I seemed to have everything. An adoptive family who loved me immensely AND a first family who embraced me immediately. I remember telling others that I was "doubly blessed" because I had gained so much and lost nothing. Yet inside I fought feelings of extreme sadness that I couldn't explain. Why couldn't I just be happy, like my demeanor implied?
Then I happened across an "adoptee support group" on the web. I had NEVER known another adoptee, nor ever thought of myself as one, really. I had certainly NEVER thought of myself as an "orphan". It was like a slap in the face. I HAD a family. Yet I found myself weeping for days, literally. For the first time, I found books like "The Primal Wound" and felt validated, normal ~ what a huge relief. (Even through the intense crying and pain that made me feel like I was going to die.) It was like I "woke up" and became REAL. Thank God for books like "The Primal Wound", which finally put words to feelings that couldn't be explained. Truly pre-verbal. And so misunderstood.
I SO identify with the "false self" that Verrier describes. I mean, why wouldn't I feel "false" when my very birth certificate is false. We reap what we sow, even in adoption law. Which is sad. The only way my existence was validated or worthy was through a new identity, family, and "self" created to fill that role. My new "self" couldn't grieve the loss of my own mother or the "self" I was as connected to her. Because my adoption was a win-win situation that was joyously celebrated. What else was I to do? But create a "false self" that personified this new life, and deny that part within me that felt confused, undone, and unworthy. Or at least try.
"...the human child requires a period of a year after birth..to attain the degree of maturity that characterizes the young of most other mammals at birth...an uninterrupted continuum of being within the matrix of the mother is necessary in order for the infant to experience a rightness or wholeness of self from which to begin his separation or individuation process. The continuity and quality of this primal relationship is crucial, because it may set the tone for all subsequent relationships....the loss of the mother disallows the achievement of basic trust, the first milestone in the healthy development of a human being."
It is so hard to read or write about the question posed above. Not only do I identity with what is written, but I can see this so clearly in my own son. He was born three months premature, weighed 1.4 pounds, and was separated from me, alone, in a NICU incubator for four months. Emotions well up in me every time I take myself back to those days. The pain of leaving him there was almost too hard to bear. I could not only relate to his sense of complete and utter aloneness, nothingness, longing, but I could also relate to what my first mother must have felt with empty arms, and such strong hormones crying out to embrace and protect the one whom she carried and bonded with as her own flesh.
When I finally got to bring him home, I would hold and rock him close for hours on end, crying through whispered prayers for God to somehow heal his pain and help him feel secure in my love and His. As a toddler, he would anxiously resist touch and hugs; everything had to be on his terms. He is still very controlling and "jumpy", but is finally exhibiting improved affect and sensory regulation and even spontaneous joy.
My son will be five years old in just a few weeks and his latest milestone brings complete joy to my heart, just like every milestone has up till now. His new favorite word is "Why?" and it is like music to my ears. Interestingly, as his language has increased, his anxieties have become more clear. Not only did he endure early separation from his Mother, along with a premature nervous system, but he has also had four surgeries in his four years of life. This year is our first with no surgeries. Thank you, Jesus!
"Are the nurses coming today, Momma?" "Why did the nurses 'poke' me, Momma?"
No matter how much explaining I do, he seems to always come back with this:
Me: "You had to come out of Mommy's tummy early and I'm so sorry, Honey. I wish you could have lived in Mommy's tummy longer. The doctors had to give you medicine to make you feel better. I'm so sorry they had to 'poke' you. Were you scared?" Yes, he was scared.
"But Jesus healed us and we got to be together again. I'm so glad we are together now..." This conversation has been repeated numerous times, because Andrew asks to hear it over and over. I think it is his way of trying to process his early experiences. And maybe his way of reaching out in trust, the trust he has had to work so hard to build, even with me, his own Mother. Tears.
He's learning about birthdays and "celebration", and loves his favorite video of the baby dinosaur being "born" out of the egg. So he comes over to me and says, "I want to be born, Mommy." We'll "act out" his birth over & over again. He'll hide his little head under my shirt on my stomach while I gush over how very much I love him. Then he POPS out and says "I'm born!" ~ we clap and cheer and sing "Happy Birthday". He loves it. Again, and again.
"Mommy, will you always take care of me?" is another sentence I hear a lot. "Yes, Honey, I love you and will always take care of you." All this is so good to hear, because I know he is building trust and feeling more secure. The insecure attachment is lessening, and he isn't quite as anxious when we go new places. The frustration and anger towards himself is lessening too. He still sometimes prefers my husband over me, though, which is a heartbreaking confession. It is usually when I have been away for awhile. When I come back, he still sometimes screams for me to "go away, Mommy" and our reunions (even after short separations) are very distraught with negativity. But even those are getting better. He's becoming a "Mommy's boy", and I'm so happy, not only for myself, but more for him. It means he is learning to trust!
Another interesting behavior I see in my son, which makes me completely identify with "The Primal Wound" is his misuse of pronouns. He gets them all mixed up, especially when talking to me. He will call me "I" and himself "you". And alot of the time it is simply "we". Like his little mind and spirit can't distinguish between himself and me, his Mother. When he was younger, if I got upset or cried or even shed one tear, he would literally come undone. He looked to me for his "ok-ness" and if I wasn't "ok" he was at a complete loss in total panic. I could see it all over his face, as he frantically wiped my tears away while holding in his own. He still won't hardly cry. Ever. He's the "bravest" child I've ever seen, but I so wish he didn't have to be. My Mom says "he's independent, just like you used to be."
It reminds me of my "pre-awakening" days versus "post-awakening" regarding my true "self". Before, I tried to "appear" confident, overly "useful", and "strong". It was easier to focus on helping others (all the while hiding behind a little bit of hidden judgement) than to look within (too painful) and work on myself. It wasn't until I allowed the fearful, abandoned child in me to "wake up" and feel, that I became extremely vulnerable. But, not only did I finally acknowledge overwhelming grief; walking through it also enabled me to truly feel and embrace the joy and the love in my life. With both my families. Another benefit has been the ability to feel deeper compassion for myself and others.
Almost nothing, however, has been more healing for me than having my own child. He is my only "flesh & blood" relative I have the privilege of living life with in a natural family relationship. I find that he is the only person I can totally "let go" emotionally with and embrace with abandon. I don't find myself "pulling back" like I do with other people, even those who I am close to. I think we are both helping each other, actually, learn to trust nature and fold ourselves into each other, the way a mother/child relationship is intended at birth. That may sound strange, but I am learning that which I lost and never experienced, and I'm so thankful. Not that I don't still battle fear of loss. It overshadows everything. But I'll never give up contending for wholeness, for healing.
My son just woke up from a four hour nap. He is very active, more so than most kids. But he also needs alot of sleep, which he sometimes fights. He seems always on alert, needing extra reassurances and expending a lot of energy dealing with these anxieties. As an adoptee, I'm completely exhausted just writing this post. So I know a touch of how he feels.
"A recurring message throughout the book is that adoption should be in the best interest of the child and not the adults, something that I think very few people would argue against. But should the adoptees feelings always trump everyone else's in the triad, even when that adoptee is a grown up?"
If the above question was hard to address, this one is even harder, especially just coming down from watching 48 Hours last night, "The Lost Children." Until adoption becomes what it is intended to be, adoptee's feelings are not only disrespected, but their rights are too. Completely.
The very reason we even need books like "The Primal Wound" is because of the unethical and abusive practices against humans we call "adoption" in America. If even the medical field of neonatology recognizes and changes their practices based on knowledge now readily available and accepted regarding the "primal" damage done to humans infants by early separation from their mothers, then adoptees should not have to spend one more minute having to defend themselves or their right to own their history, feelings, or experience.
We should not have to wince every time we see mind-boggling "advertisements" recruiting pregnant mothers. Friends, adoption is a business, with HUMAN-BEINGS being bought and sold as products. "Owned". It's run by the principles of "supply & demand" and rakes in billions of dollars every year. All the while, adoption agencies and attorneys ("professionals") FAIL their "clients" by dismissing "The Primal Wound" as being unfounded and extreme. Something is wrong with this picture. Why is there so much "controversy" about this theory? Because it threatens the business, the abuse, the laws. As it should.
Until adoption does not involve ONE PENNY exchanged for the transfer of a human-being; until "Dear Burfmother (incubator), give ME "the" baby (no worries, I promise you can still see it) Letters" are deemed illegal (marketing for infants); until adoption is considered a last resort and not touted as "just another way to build a family", and mothers and children are encouraged and supported to remain together, instead of recruited for "options counseling" by agencies whose "business" it is to procure "available" children for their clients (PAP's) ~ adoption is unethical.
Individual states deem it "financially unfeasible" to even keep an accurate count of adoptions, making adoption the largest "unregulated" business in America. DA's hands are tied when attempting to fully investigate complaints, because attorneys and agencies are legally permitted to hide misdeeds and coercion through handy "sealed records" statutes.
Until there are no longer "amended" (falsified) Certificates of Live Birth or "sealed records" and EVERY adult adoptee is guaranteed the same right as all American citizens to their original (and accurate) birth certificate ~ "adoption" is just another word for child-trafficking.
I so hope for change, and am thankful for people like Nancy Verrier who had the courage to not only acknowledge the issue, but also to write a classic. A book which finally validates millions of "adaptees". It has helped us find our voices and has brought some much needed healing. We deserve better. We deserve our truth, our history, our records, as well as our feelings, without being dictated "how to" process or explain our adoptions through politically-correct "positive" adoption language. More questions we need to be asking are "Who does adoption truly serve?" and "Exactly whose records are they?"