This article originally was posted in PsychBytes on November 23, 2019.
As an adoptions psychotherapist and an adoptee, I want to help bring more awareness and understanding to a very painful, and sensitive circumstance in adoption, the initial separation of mother and child, and the core vulnerabilities that develop for the child placed for adoption, which can hinder having a successful reunion.
A phrase I often use, in the Adopt Salon Constellation support group I facilitate in Los Angeles (now on Zoom) is “it is not a rejection of you, it is a reflection of them.” This candor is in no way meant to diminish, depersonalize, or take the grief and loss away. It is meant to help gain objectivity, separate from re-experiencing this “primal wound of rejection” and help reframe, rethink, and gather from a distance, the various elements that form one’s experience. This is helpful for the birth family and adoptive family if either party is not ready for a reunion.
Adoptees thematically have a high sensitivity to any perceived sense of rejection. Why? Because of the initial separation trauma from their birth mother, which feels like a death. However not acknowledged by society as it becomes disenfranchised grief. As children grow up, they try to make sense of why they are not with their “families of origin” and question over and over,
“How could a mother give away her child? There must be something wrong with me?” A core belief system develops which concludes “I am not good enough. I was not wanted. I was rejected.” This system of rejection is downloaded into the psychological and emotional psyche of the adoptee, and becomes the “core of who they are” thus causing strain in future relationships that remind them of this primal wound.
Because of this invisible wound, adoptees can anticipate a rejection in an instant, by misperceiving new situations as possible further rejections, unless deemed otherwise. And to subject oneself again to the “threat of their existence” is a “life and death” situation. And in human experience, the avoidance of such a painful occurrence will be its culprit.
To move through this threat of rejection, it is very important for the adoptee, to gain an understanding of their birthmother’s circumstances at that time, so they can be sympathetically aware of what led their birthmother to make such a difficult decision. And most of the time, adoptees don’t have this information due to closed records and restricted access to any of their information.
However, once there is a discovery, adoptees can see their birthmother’s decision was not based upon them as a person but based on a multitude of psycho-social stressors occurring in their life at that time that had nothing to do with them. I.e. lack of family support, mental health support, parenting support, childcare, and/or financial stability. Having this information can help the adoptee externalize, and hold a knowing internally...
“…your birthmother could not parent any baby born on your birthday, this decision was not about you, it was about the circumstances in her life, which were not able to support her in doing so.” this is a logical explanation, however the physical traumatization remains in the body and it keeps the score.
I recommend, for the adoptee and birth mother or birth father, take planned, concrete steps in reunion together and create the 7 Pacts.
Reunion can catapult a strong desire to “jump into the deep end too quickly without realizing its depths” which if not handled carefully can emotionally drown anyone. Both the mother and child will regress in reunion, meaning they will go back psychologically to the time of the initial separation trauma and want to repair what has been lost. They will need support from an adoption-competent reunion therapist, who is able to facilitate healthy steps, boundaries, and consistency to initiate repair in the relationship. Such as exchanging initial handwritten letters, providing an opportunity to process and ask questions back and forth, enable understanding of each other’s life circumstances, perceptions and intentions.
Most importantly, if an adoptee is not able to have a reunion, a birth mother must be assisted and supported in following the adoptees “reflection” as psychological and emotional protection of the initial rejection and recognizing this as such. In doing so, the birth mother will affirm her child’s “reflection as valid” and as a sign of their existence. “
I see you, I hear you, and I can understand how painful rejection must have felt like for you as a child...” This holding of understanding is the most validating act a birthmother can do for her child and ultimately their relationship moving forward.
Even children today need to be supported in understanding how and why adoption happens. Most recently I created an animation for children explaining the reasons:
In closing, I hope today we can support mothers to remain with their children. I am not anti-adoption, there will always be children who still need to be adopted when their family is not able to due to maltreatment, abuse, neglect, mental illness, and death.
However the best practice in adoption is changing in the 21st Century and we are understanding more and more, how to better support mothers. I highly recommend watching the film Mothers in Recovery by birth mother and Sheila Ganz to learn more about support mothering in our country.
Listen to a poem I wrote... Like in You, Like in Me.