For instance, the other day, my neighbor and friend, Yvonne, whom I've written about before, and who has never heard of an adoption that wasn't peachy-keen and the adoptee just happy as a pig in a sty to be raised in a family not their own and original, told me that she heard that another neighbor, a young man whom we both like tremendously, and the girl friend who moved in with him a couple of months ago are now looking into adoption. I say young, because I'm in my sixties; he's probably either late thirties, most likely forties, and the age of his girl friend is probably the same. In other words, they are like a lot of young people today...waiting and waiting and waiting to settle down with a partner until the time when conception comes easy is long over. I suppose we do have The Pill thank for this...the 50th anniversary of The Pill, incidently was...Mother's Day.* But I digress.
Their answer to the age old dilemma of fecundity decreasing with the onset of the forties and perhaps, peri-menopause? Adoption. If Sandra Bullock, Angelina, Madonna, Meg Ryan, Sharon Stone, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pheiffer, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Senator (TX, R) Kay Bailey Hutchinson,** and the lady down the block all have adopted children, why can't we?
Yvonne then held up two fingers entwined, opened her eyes widely, and nodded her head in approval and hope. Not exactly the f!@#ing reaction I was having. I said a few things nearly incoherent words about stealing babies in China and India to feed the market here, that adoption screws up people way more than she's ever acknowledged, that why didn't they support the poor woman who couldn't keep her child, and that she had no idea what she was talking about before I left. Grrr...that was part of my buildup to Mother's Day.*
You wonder why this birth/first/natural mother went into a funk in the middle of the week? That did not help. I am not really sure what I am going to do about our "friendship." Our lives have been somewhat entwined for several years, and Yvonne is 80 and needs some assistance from a neighbor; there is much else about her that is worthy. She has called me "her youngest sister." It was only about a year ago I realized how truly far apart we are about the realities of adoption, and how much that would lead to such a split in our relationship. I asked her to read my memoir, Birthmark, and she did, and she was moved, she said...but that did not change her thinking. One of her oldest friends is an adoptive grandmother to a child or two from Siberia, and that woman's husband has called me: our greatest nightmare. Cool. They are my greatest nightmare.
Now I am not sure I even want to be around Yvonne. I spoke to my old-pal-in-arms Florence Fisher yesterday, and her advice is to simply stay away. I know that for the immediate future, I sure as hell need to do that. She may be one of those toxic people in my life that therapists talk about today. But it's not going to be easy, she lives too close; we've been too close. She's like family, only she's not. Family.
But my reaction to Yvonne, while I do not think it was an over-reaction, led me back to the essay that Wilson Harrington McCullough wrote. We have written about the after effects of surrendering a child to adoption before: Does giving up a child for adoption make you sick? I maintain the effects of the trauma of relinquishing a child are real and lasting and can not help but be detrimental to one's health. A primal wound, in other words. And I doubt many women can somehow bury thoughts of the baby who is lost once they sign the surrender papers and move on without examining what has happened to them, and the child.There must be a group of them, and many of them are the women who reject a reunion with their surrendered "birth" children.
Anyway, all of this is by way of a buildup to Robert Wilson Harrington McCullough's piece, which I found enlightening. Some of you on Facebook may have read it already, but I wanted to share it here:
An article in this month's Scientific American triggered some musings in my cabeza. http://www.scientificameriCertainly there were behaviors of my daughter that she was "corrected" for. In some ways she did fit into her new family of genetic strangers; in so many other ways, she did not, and the more I learned about them, the more difficult it became for me to accept what her being adopted meant to her sad life.
can.com/article.cfm?id=fau lty-circuits The premise is that neuroscience is now using imaging to map what actually occurs in the brain in realtime for patients suffering depression, OCD, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health disorders.
The human brain is a complex mechanism which is constantly evolving, building new pathways along prewired inherited structures. I was particularly interested in their findings on PTSD, because many of the effects common to adoptees are similar to PTSD.
I believe Nancy Verrier's assesment of the Primal Wound as a trauma is essentially correct. The separation of an infant from the only environment he has known since quickening in his mother's womb has deep emotional effects at the beginning of life. Surrender of a child is likewise a trauma; though relinquishment usually occurs at a later age than adoption, a huge loss like this is no less a severe interruption of a person's personality than "battle fatigue".
What the article pointed out was that the brain has normal processes (called extinction) to gradually diminish the effects of trauma which under normal circumstances make the memory recede in significance. In PTSD, however, the person becomes stuck in a loop which bypasses the parts of the brain which normally reduce the pain; in fact, the brain rewires itself to the point where slight triggers can cause anxiety and stress equal or even more crippling than the original trauma.
The implications are that there are ways to rewire the pathways and learned responses to overcome this, by therapy and targeted medications. I agree with this; the way to overcome irrational fear is to expose oneself to the causes of fear in a controlled, nonthreatening environment, and gradually reinforce new responses instead of falling back into the old pattern of trigger/response.
While I was pondering that, I heard a segment on NPR dealing with foster children who age out of the system at 18. http://www.npr.org/templat
What struck me from this was the similarity to adoptee experiences; the feeling of not fitting in, of high rates of involvement with criminal justice system, of becoming single parents at an early age, and of abandonment issues. The defining factor between success and failure seemed to often depend upon the parenting they received; most of them say had it not been for a good home placement, they would have had real problems like many of their peers.
This led me to recall an Ira Glass segment on This American Life I heard several years ago: http://www.thisamericanlif
It is about two girls in Wisconsin who were accidentally switched at birth, and the struggles they had fitting into their families; it's hard to grow up the only extrovert in an introverted family, and vice versa! This story pointed out that it is not adoption per se which causes the feelings of incomplete identity, but the transferrence from one's genetic family to a nonrelated family.
Mulling over all these topics led to this thought; Normal personal and social development involves building the mental pathways, control mechanisms and coping strategies necessary to become a functional, happy member of society. This development, training and education normally begins within a family setting. Much of this occurs through observing and interacting with family members - People who are genetically similar! It is no secret that physical traits (hair color, stature, features) are shared in families; I can attest in my own biological children and family that intellectual and emotional traits also run in families.
My insight is this; most people develop coping mechanisms to compensate for neurologically based behaviors whether they be good or bad. They pass physical traits as well as behaviors along to their children, through both nature and nurture. For example, a biochemical tendency toward depression because of an imbalance in serotonin reuptake, or to ADHD because of similar imbalances, can be inherited - but successful strategies the parent learned to compensate can also be taught, and indeed are observed from infancy by the child. That is the normal course of human development over most of our history. However, it works best when parents and children share DNA. (Of course, unsuccessful behavior can also be taught - not every family is functional. Some families keep the "fun" in "dysfunctional" from generation to generation!)
When a child is transferred to a different biological family, the strategies may be inappropriate. Indeed, they may even aggravate the problem, by using the wrong methods, or disciplining incorrectly. For example, a non-musical family cannot understand why their non-biological child is always whistling or singing or beating time with their hands; not understanding it themselves, they decide the child is inattentive or preoccupied so they may even punish them for behavior which would be encouraged and developed in the correct biological family! It's like trying to read a Russian novel without a Russian/English dictionary. My point is that half the resources available to the biological child are missing in nongenetic families.
I believe this is at the heart of why so many adopted children, foster children and even children of divorce sometimes have social adjustment problems; they lack the appropriate compensating mechanisms which children raised in their biological families gain by proximity to those who share their emotional and intellectual hardwiring!
*For those who follow astrology even a bit, this year Mother's Day came during Mercury in retrograde when all kinds of communication and travel gets screwed up: Ergo the Greenland volcano erupting and disrupting traffic, the Times Square would-be bomber, the eruptions of anger that various comments have unleashed in the blogosphere, dishes sent from Michigan that were largely broken because the UPS guy did not mark them "Fragile"[a personal reference], flowers not delivered [ditto], flashes of anger when I spoke to my husband, and there's more. The good news is that Mercury goes out of retrograde on Tuesday (tomorrow), though it will take a while--a couple of weeks--for everything and everyone to calm down.
** If you know any more celebrity adoptions, please add them in comments. Thanks.