Hirsch and Landay adopted their son, whom they named Gabriel after the Biblical Gabriel, at six days. Although Gabriel was born in 1988, when open adoptions were advocated by adoption professionals and were becoming commonplace, Gabriel was adopted in a closed adoption, arranged by attorneys. The parents' ignorance about adoption--admittedly this is a harsh word--is sorely evident throughout
Wilkinson's article. After Hirsch and Landay, respected professionals in the arts world, took the boy from their attorney who collected him from the hospital "they worried that the mother, overcome by love or guilt, might want the child back, but she didn't." They assumed she didn't want him, not considering that perhaps she couldn't care for him, a false assumption often made by adoptive parents.
TROUBLED FROM THE START
Gabriel "'was a restless sleeper. ...He never stopped moving in his crib. ...As a small boy, he grew easily overstimulated and was subject to fits of temper'" Hirsch told Wilkinson. Gabriel hated school from the start. "'He cried hysterically. He threw things. He clung to the couch, he held fast to a chair.'" At the end of the year, the principal told them to find another school, which led to a succession of schools when one after another did not work out for the boy.
Hirsch and Landay had Gabriel evaluated by a specialist who diagnosed Tourette's syndrome and wrote prescriptions to deal with his behavior--a slew of them, according to the story for an eight-year-old who had trouble "reading, paying attention, getting along with others, sleeping." The parents sent him to two different Jewish Sunday schools, but he had trouble learning Hebrew. They gave up on Gabriel having a Jewish education, "other issues seemed more pressing than whether he had a bar mitzvah." It appears that Gabriel's being adopted never came up.
NO SENSE OF SELF
When Gabriel was 11, Hirsch and Landay did what many affluent parents of troubled adopted children do: they began sending him to a series of expensive boarding school; the first, Little Keswick in Virginia, cost about $90,000 a year. Hirsch had won a MacArthur [genius] Fellowship which enabled the couple to pay for the school. Gabriel didn't do well, but he did a little better. "A therapist at the school wrote about Gabriel: 'A concept of self, what is me and not me, what I am good at, and how I am performing as an active agent in the world is not clear to Gabriel.'"
In 2003, when Gabriel was in the eighth grade, the family moved to New York where Hirsch became president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The following year, the school's doctor told them he didn't think Gabriel's diagnosis of Tourette's sufficed. He diagnosed Gabriel with "PPD-NOS--pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified." Since this represents a mild form of autism that presents in such a variety of ways, Hirsch considered it a "technical confession of ignorance," a diagnosis so vague that to him it sounded as they the doctor was saying, "We don't know what's wrong."
NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE
Gabriel began tenth grade at Devereux Glenholme in Connecticut, which Gabriel said was like a prison. The following year, Gabriel went to Franklin Academy, also in Connecticut from which he graduated. When he turned 18, he stopped taking his medications. During this time, Hirsch and Landay divorced. Gabriel moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, took some pre-vocation courses, and worked at odd jobs. In 2010, he drove a get-away car for friends who burglarized a home for which he received six months' probation. Gabriel moved back to New York and lived between his mother's and his father's apartments. For the next year, Gabriel spent time partying with is friends, living on handouts from his father.
"His social life was dramatic." 'He was repeatedly fighting with friends, talking about them, reconciling with them.' Hirsch wrote. 'He had a small but intense circle. Whatever else was happening in his life, he was always so much happier when his friends were around. In his own way, he had a gift for friendship.'"In 2011, Gabriel had two seizures from unknown causes. On August 27, Gabriel went to a party and took a drug called GHB (Grievous Bodily Harm), a sedative, sometimes used as a date-rape drug. He became violently sick and had a seizure. He died a few hours later from cardiac arrest.
A MASTERPIECE OF SORROW
To deal with his immense grief, Hirsch, a poet, began writing about Gabriel, first a factual account and then poems which led to a 75-page narrative poem "Gabriel" to be published next month. My heart went out to Hirsch as I read Wilkinson's article which included quotations from "Gabriel." Writing the book, though, did not alleviate his pain. Hirsch told Wilkinson: "Art can't give him back to me. It comforts you some, better than almost anything else can, but you're still left with your loss"
Wilkinson's article is emotionally wrenching. Yet I wanted to shout out Adoption! Adoption! Adoption! Did you ever consider how being adopted might have affected that boy? You placed him with a nanny soon after he was born, when he was still suffering a primal wound, grieving the loss of his natural mother. You sent him away when he needed assurance of your love, reinforcing his belief that he was not good enough to keep. You tried to make him into the boy you weren't able to have, the son of a Jewish poet/academic which he couldn't be. I wanted to ask: Have you found Gabriel's first mother? Have you told her what happened to her boy? She may still be grieving over losing him as an infant and may be looking for him.
Hirsch and Landay are both highly educated people, successful in their separate careers. Why did they not take the time to educate themselves on the realities of adoption? Because they didn't want to know that raising an adopted child is different from having and raising a child born of your genes and raised in his family of origin. They put on blinkers and sought professional help from psychotherapy which in general remains just as clueless as they were.
Hirsch joins other fathers with troubled adopted children we're written about: John Sutton whose sent his adopted son, Christopher, to a punishing institution in Western Samoa, Paradise Cove. Soon after his return Christopher murdered his mother and attempted to murder his father. John Brooks whose daughter Casey, adopted from Poland, committed suicide at age 18. Brooks told his daughter's story in The Girl Behind The Door: A Father's Journey Into The Mystery Of Attachment. And there's Doris and Ken Hall, whose memoir, Go Out and Live, tells about their adopted daughter who suffered from demons until her early death from cancer. Joan Dideon wrote about the death of her adopted daughter, Quintana, in Blue Nights, but as we wrote here, did not fathom the effect being adopted might have had on her.
Like Hirsch and Landay, the others above did not have the benefit of pre-or-post adoption counseling. Understanding adoption issues, may not, of course changed the outcome for any of these children or their parents, but surely it might have helped.
I write this not to add to the pain of these adoptive parents, but to encourage others to face the realities of adoption and what it means when a child loses his original mother and family. Adoptive parents, therapists--all of us--need to know that adopted kids are not as "if born to them" when the "them" are genetic strangers.--jane
Alec Wilkinson, "Finding the Words", The New Yorker, August 4, 2104
Attachment disorder in adoption--and parents who don't recognize it
Adoptive Parents Ask: "What Could They Do?"
Adoptees more likely to commit suicide
Joan Didion's Blue Nights is really an adoption memoir
The bittersweet reality of being adopted
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
By Nancy Verrier
"As an adoptee, I could not have written this book better myself. It is an extremely insightful book which opened up a world of understanding to myself and also to my loved ones. It helped me understand why I am the way that I am, why I do some of the things that I do, why I struggle with love in my life, and why I have this subconscious fear of abandonment and trust. This book is a must read for all parents of adopted children. You will learn to understand your adopted children and will be able to help them throughout their lives - sometimes even in the smallest way, i.e. the simple reassurance that you WILL return home after work.
I met my birth family at 30 years old. Then I read this book a few years later. This book made a difference in my life. It will make a difference in your life, too."--Coco Ventura at Amazon
Adoption: Uncharted Waters
by David Kirschner
"Adoption: Uncharted Waters... a thoughtful, provocative, and well written book about adoptees....Kirschner accurately presents the psychological world of adopted people. His book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what sows the seeds of violence in some of them." Joe Soll, LCSW, psychotherapist, author of Adoption Healing ...a path to recovery.
From the back cover: "A courageous, ground breaking book."--Betty Jean Lifton, adoptee, therapist and author of the outstanding Journey Of The Adopted Self: A Quest For Wholeness.