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Abandonment After Adoption


Today marks my 43rd year, and as birthdays go for the adoptee, it's a bitter-sweet day.

I'm not one who likes to celebrate the day my mother agreed to send me away.  And yet, I am able to acknowledge my life has meaning and has brought much happiness and comfort to many others.  [Therefore I do recognize my life is not a waste; it does have worth.]

I have found I am not one who can easily accept kind attention from others.  Such attention makes me anxious and nervous.  It also makes me feel pressured to share with others how glad and happy I am to have been born in the first place.  And yet it really humbles and softens me when someone feels compelled to give me a card or a gift... a gesture that shows a measure of love and appreciation. 

The truth is, there have been many dark lonely times in my life I wish I had never been born, let alone be adopted by the people who purchased me.  There have also been many times I have thought had I been adopted by less dysfunctional, self-centered people, my attitude towards my own birthday (my own sense of self-worth) would be very different.

Some may say this hardened personality trait of mine stems from old unresolved abandonment/adoption issues.  Those people would be somewhat correct.  What most will not know or notice is my abandonment/adoption issues are not as clear or obvious as they seem because from my own point of view, the worst examples of parental abandonment come from the time after my adoption was made final, not before.

People seem to forget, adopted children can be abandoned by their new parents, too.  

On this particular soul-searching day, I'd like to share some ways abandonment after adoption can take place.  It's my hope AP's reading this will recognize how certain actions and behaviors affect the bonding process between parent and adopted child.  Perhaps many will see why difficulty in bonding is neither the care-system's nor the child's fault.

One common and critical form of abandonment after adoption comes in the form of a woman's work obligation.  Gloria Steinum fans and supporters take note.

As I was reading "Abandoned Baby Syndrome", I found myself wondering, how many APs (Amothers, specifically) think about the way in which work outside the home, babysitters, and/or day-care settings would be seen through the eyes of the newly adopted "orphan" in their lives?  If working-motherhood is tough on the bio mother-child relationship, doesn't it stand to reason such strain would be more difficult - more strongly felt in the family touched by a new adoption? 

Think about it: often times the relinquished children, the kids put in-care, are put in environments that are impersonal, even institutional.  The child sees multiple cots, cubbies, and cribs; generic gender colorings, showing no definite preference that might seem offensive to some.  The child eats food choices based on the populus, not the specific.  The child feels diapering products chosen for cost, not comfort.

The very personal needs of each individual child are far too often met at the convenience of the paid staff-member or volunteers, not when each child-specific need presents itself.  As a result, both infants and older toddler children put in-care learn early in life, there's no sense in crying if no one is around -- in fact, in all too many cases, crying will only make matters worse (ie the care-giver may become rushed and irate... rough, and not at all loving).

For the child relinquished to strangers, or adults who just don't care like a good mommy would, absence of mommy-care brings a natural consequence:  trust in consistent loving care will become limited, making the ability to attach and bond (love and trust) that much more confusing, if not more difficult.  This lesson is fine when we're talking about a child not bonding with strangers.  But how good is it this mind-set if a child sees his/her own parents as he sees strange unfamiliar temporary baby-sitter # 3?

Therefore, it's my strong belief, after adoption, when all the dust is supposed to have settled, and the child seems to have "adjusted" and "adapted" to the new routine, the new parents need to remember the child who has been through so much change and trauma, since birth, does not recover after a few week of intense quality 1:1 Mommy-time.  For many of us, that loving attention is like everything else -- temporary... something that can and will be quickly taken away, and replaced with something else.

APs need to remember our life-experience is rooted in change and inconsistency.  With this comes good reason to feel a general sense of anxiety and insecurity, making seemingly benign instances or circumstances (like a new room, or a new bed, new food, or new caretaker in the form of a babysitter) major life-changing (stress-filled) events - events that can easily feed and perpetuate a sense of fear... fear of the unknown, which leads towards a love and mistrust  towards all adults.

In my own case, I have heard the stories how the first few weeks with me were miserable.  I cried; I wouldn't eat.  I would cling to my AMother and I developed a very bad rash.  I learned later in life, (in Nursing Schools), all of these behaviors are symptoms of stress and trauma; they are very normal behaviors to change, like moving away from all that is known and familiar.  Good parenting wisdom dictated, as long as I had a consistent care-giver, these anxious reactions would change.  They did.

However, once the crisis transitional period was over, it was assumed all would be good.  It was assumed I would be a regular normal kid, having no memory or sense of previous trauma or loss.  Like the body forgets.  It doesn't.

There is another time abandonment after adoption can continue.  Parental abandonment can take place during a time of crisis.  My example is very personal.

I remember my more lonely scary times, back when I was a child and was either injured or sick.

My Amother, in particular, was they type of person who'd make an appearance, (for the sake of getting credit for being where she had to be),  but her presence did not fulfill my real need for a loving caring mommy-figure... one who'd know what to do to calm and ease a terrified child going through so many sudden scary changes. 

This went well beyond not being good in a crisis situation, because the truth is, she was always calm, cool, and collected when the heat was on.

The problem with my Amother was different.

There was always a disconnect coming from her; it's as if she herself was not capable of being selfless or meeting another person's needs.  The work - caring for another during a time of difficulty  -  seemed too demanding of her, so the excuses would ensue.

Whether it be work, or the need for sleep, or something else that weighed on her, the message that came with her absence was very clear:   I was not a priority.  My need for a mommy did not matter to her.  Her needs came first.

I learned early on, I had to take care of myself, and those around me, (by making things easier),  even if I couldn't walk or if had a fever of 104 degrees.  I simply had to find a way to make magic happen.  But how?

This awareness was especially painful for me to process because she herself - my chosen Adoptive mother -  was always experiencing some sort of personal crisis; she was always battling some type of demon or depression; she was ALWAYS in-need, requiring many long hours of intense mothering from me... or someone else.

But no one said a word... it was simply a fact that had to be accepted by anyone who claimed to like or love her.

It got to the point where it was best if my own acting mother did not know there was something wrong with me; it was easier to take care of myself and my own wounds and traumas,  then to have to wait and rely on her.  What an adoption-story... to realize a mother's care and loving attention is more work (and a source of stress) than anything else.

My point is this.  It seems anyone can become a mother these days.  (Heaven knows few adoption agencies are willing to discriminate the bad from the good.)  But to be a mommy?  That's special... and it needs to be remembered:  while every adopted child is given a new family through adoption, not every adoptee receives a mommy.

The loss - and absence - is remembered, and significant... especially on something as annoying and stressful as an adoptee's birthday.

by Kerry on Wednesday, 12 October 2011