Tag Archives: anna writes

Anna Writes: Endings part 2

Anna WritesA final post from the lovely Anna…

 

Happy New Year and I hope this finds everyone well and settling back into life after the holidays.

As mentioned in the Adoption Social Times I have made the difficult decision to stop writing this column. It wasn’t easy to get to this point and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings and left comments and generally made me feel very welcome on this site.

I guess I started to feel that I was writing more and more about my parents, rather than my own ‘stuff’  and this left me feeling, well, kind of disloyal if I’m honest. Even though this is anonymous, even though there is no reason for my parents to ever know anything has been written by me- I still feel bad. I am pretty sure that these feelings are a throw back to the ‘needing to feel grateful’ discourse that runs through my adoption. Some things don’t change.

Ultimately its pretty hard to write about my experiences and then face my family in ‘real life’ knowing that I’m not ok with how lots of things were handled in my early life. Maybe some worms need to be kept in their cans.

Also this year is looking pretty busy with two new jobs starting and a bit of a push with my creative writing- I’m looking forward to exciting times ahead and exploring some new avenues.

I am very grateful to Sarah and Vicki for supporting and encouraging me- I was and am still very honoured to have been asked to write regularly for such a fab site.

Writing has been a such a huge relief and release of things that I have kept private and locked away for years- and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share it. I will remain an avid reader of TAS and look forward to remaining (a slightly quieter) member of this community.

With very best wishes to everyone for 2016.

Anna. W

The A word

Anna WritesI’ve been off the radar for a little bit, partly because life gets oh-so- hectic at this time of year but also, and I think I have alluded to this in a couple of posts, all is not great in the older generation of my family.

I’ve become quite concerned about my mum, I thought she would struggle after the death of her mother earlier in the year- and if you didn’t know her you would think she was fine, but her hoarding has increased drastically and the anxiety that goes hand in hand with this is really impacting on her and those around her.

The aspects of her life that she tries so hard to keep under wraps, seem perilously close to the surface and it’s frankly, really sad. I feel at a loss as to how to support her. Despite working in a relevant field and to an extent ‘understanding’ the origins of her distress, being connected to someone seems to make it that much harder to be objective.

I have always had a bit of an inverted relationship with my mum- she has lived her whole life with physical and psychological challenges (real and imagined) and I never felt that there was much room for my, or anyone else’s ‘stuff’- but that was ok, I had good friends, something she isolated herself from.

In more recent years I began to understand that I had felt responsible for her wellbeing, that she was the child and needed those around her to hold her in mind, to listen to and reflect her experiences, to show an interest in and care about her.

And then I got to thinking about attachment.

Attachment is the buzzword of this generation, it’s always topical (especially this week with the new NICE guidelines coming out…) and the theory can be a really useful shorthand to understanding some of the hows and whys we develop in the ways that we do. From babies to adults we can find attachment questionnaires and measures and can plot ourselves into an attachment style(s).

Attachment ‘difficulties’- it seems to me, are often considered as something that resides solely within our most vulnerable children- phrases and concepts such as ‘attachment resistance’ and ‘attachment disorder’ situates the problem very firmly with the child.

We are asking a lot of children to attach to people they don’t know.

We are asking a lot of children to communicate in a clear and sophisticated way about the things that the adult world has done to them.

A lot is asked of adoptive parents in terms of therapeutic parenting capacity and a willingness to educate themselves and engage with the dominant discourse of attachment.

I am very much of the belief that behaviours which may be associated with attachment difficulties, are a communication of distress, of confusion and of fear- they are survival strategies that children have developed and may take with them throughout their lives. And/or…they become part of a reparative process with people who can offer them something that their birth families couldn’t. Well, at least on paper..

I can see how my mum didn’t have her needs accurately met by her own parents and to an extent I can empathise, but sometimes it’s hard to know that the person who wanted children so badly was not accurately assessed as being capable- that her own attachment issues were never (and as far as I know) have never, even been documented.

I’m very much ambivalent, although I find that at different points in my life the way that I relate to others oscillates, so I’m probably a little bit avoidant too…and disorganised- heck, I think we are all on a continuum between the different axis of attachment.

But is my attachment style dictated by my adoption status? I’m sure being given away has impacted on my sense of trust in the world, I definitely don’t feel that I had a ‘secure base’ from which to explore life. From my perspective I experienced trauma before and after the adoption order was signed- the fact that I was placed with people who were unable to meet my emotional needs seems to me, more likely to be at the root of any ‘attachment difficulties’ I may have experienced.

And now I’m a parent too- so I think about my own ways of relating to and parenting my children- how will my experiences impact (or not) on them? I am far from perfect, but I do hope to continuously reflect on my own experiences of being parented and try and do it differently.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I think attachment isn’t really the child’s problem- it is the responsibility of adults to build up positive experiences and connections where there might not have been any. Our own attachment patterns and styles have a huge impact further down the line and these are equally important to consider.

Anna. W

 

Anna Writes: Who and how and what to be

Anna WritesSo that’s National Adoption Week over for another year and I for one feel strangely flat about it all.

 

 

November 1st sees the start of National Adoption Month in the States and as with groups like The Open Nest over here, there are some trying to prioritise the voice of adoptees (lostdaughters.com and #flipthescript are good ones to follow if you’re interested) but somehow… I still feel strangely flat about it all.

I have been trying to work out why this is- perhaps falling into that minority means that lots of things feel like an uphill struggle?
Perhaps being exposed constantly to media which reinforces old stereotypes about adoption feels negating?
Or maybe its because I live in a society that tells me I’m ‘normal’ in one breath- having assimilated into a family not of my origins- but yet ‘demanding’ and ‘traumatised’ and ‘difficult’ in another.

Sometimes it’s really hard to know who and how and what to be.

A lot of people have an opinion in how adopted people ‘should’ be- I’ve written about it before in the context of gratitude and other peoples expectations.
I have experienced it since making myself visible on social media, with suggestions that I am too old to have a ‘relevant’ view on adoption, or that I am somehow ‘opening old wounds’.

I don’t have an opinion on how other people should share their experiences, and I am a strong believer in people owning the things that have happened to them, sometimes that is the only way that their power can be redressed.

I have never considered myself defined by my adopted status- although if I did I don’t see that there would be a problem in that- what I do recognise- as lots of adopted people do- is that I am indelibly changed by the experience of having been adopted, the ‘sliding doors’ effect if you will.

I could have remained in my birth family, I could have been adopted by any number of other families, I could have been brought up in the care system. The possibilities are many. For non- adopted people (because is there a word for them? birth children? families of known origin? the norm?…) I suppose there aren’t all of those possibilities because they were born and kept.

Imagine being told you were a mistake, or an accident or that your mother had tried to abort you.
For me, being adopted is kind of like knowing all of those things, all at once. And that’s ok, because the flip side of that is that if I hadn’t been adopted I wouldn’t be where I am now – which is a pretty good place. I am fortunate and grateful for the family that I now have.

Being adopted has shaped me.

It has impacted my sense of self (including esteem and worth) ,my identity, my relationships, my personality, my interactions, my emotional resilience,my interests, my career, my parenting, my politics and my ability to watch films or programmes containing maternal separation (I think Bambi would destroy me!)

I wrote very early on about adoption running through me like the letters in seaside rock and that’s the only way I can define it. But it still doesn’t define all of me.

Anna Writes: Authority

This week is National Adoption Week, but rather than joining the other adoption organisations out there by promoting adoption, or encouraging more people to adopt, this year we’re promoting the voice of the adopted person. We’re doing this by sharing guest posts from adoptees only this week, and we begin with Anna…

Anna WritesFirstly- I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy National Adoption week, it’s an exciting time for many people with awards nominations (good luck to all those nominated!), conferences and lots of focus on all things adoption. I am very happy that the Adoption Social are supporting the view of The Open Nest that this year the focus should be on the voice of adopted people.. maybe one year that will be the national focus too…!

So recently I’ve been re-reading some books concerned with adoption and in doing so, some themes began to emerge- the usual ones about loss, abandonment and identity, but also issues concerned with compliance and authority and I thought I might explore this a little bit more.

I often find myself challenging accepted truths- partly because I think knowledge is always situated in a context, a historical and a political landscape that always benefits someone (clue: usually someone white, male and middle class). Partly because I like to ask questions of the world- I’m curious about why things are the way they are and partly- I think- because I’m adopted.

I suspect that being given up shortly after birth has done strange, but understandable things to my sense of trust in people and the world. Ronnie Janoff Bulman writes about ‘shattered assumptions’ in relation to trauma and how we all have a fairly stable view of how the world is, what is fair/unfair, ‘normal’ and not- and that when these assumptions are ‘shattered’ by a trauma, the whole world tilts on its axis. It’s probably fairly safe to assume that as babies- though we can’t know the words ‘mother’ and ‘biology’ and ‘attachment’ that we innately sense when all is not as it ‘should’ be, that the symbiotic experience of pregnancy has not continued in a linear, predictable way into post-partum life.

So when that connection is severed, trust can be severed too. Maybe it’s hard to rely on the goodness of adults when the first act of the play feels like a betrayal?

I didn’t consciously think any of this until much later when I worked my way into worlds that I could understand and where I could make sense of my own experiencing – but reflecting on it now- it makes a lot of sense to me that I would struggle with authority.

It’s not that I think I know best- I really don’t and am happy to be wrong and I’m keen to learn, but what I have a problem with is people 1) telling me how I feel 2) being rigid 3) taking a position of ‘expert’ over things they often know nothing about- to illustrate- I find that often, on reading panel paperwork the language used is fairly judgemental- towards birth parents, towards prospective adopters and even sometimes about the children too. I’m not talking unprofessional or whistleblowing statements but phrases like ‘sadly’, ‘would probably want’, ‘beautiful wide smile’. ‘very attractive woman’ and ‘morbidly obese’ – some of these are value judgements based on the adoption professionals’ own frame of understanding and preferences. I know that it can be hard to be objective, especially when working in such an emotive field but I wonder how big that leap is between deciding a child is ‘beautiful’ and deducing that they are ‘attachment resistant’…

I digress.

I was told that I had no respect for authority from as young as I can remember, certainly most of the way through primary school. I was told– not asked about why that might be the perception or invited to think about it. Interesting how the way things are handled can reinforce the ‘problem’!

Because if someone would have asked me why I was ‘resistant’ or ‘inquisitive’ or ‘difficult’ the answer might have been upsetting to hear and certainly challenging to the assumption that I should be a grateful recipient of parenting.

Without listing a litany of ways in which my trust in the adult world was gradually diminished- it might be fair enough to say that the adults in my life weren’t always perfect. Parents, the GP and teachers all played their part- and I mine- but everyone knows there is no such thing as perfect so each experience just crystallised in my mind that I should learn to cope by myself, be self sufficient because then I would only have myself to blame and feel let down by. I wonder if this is a common phenomena- not just to adopted people but for people who felt let down/betrayed/mistrustful of the grown ups in their worlds?

In certain books this view of trust and authority might be described as part of the ‘perpetual child’ syndrome- I don’t perceive that as an insult, I think everyone carries some hurt from their childhood and it seems to me that when that hurt is not healed- (which with adoption I’m not sure it ever really can be, separation from birth parent (s) can never be undone.) Certain traits will continue into adulthood. This isn’t to say- of course- that people can’t be happy, grow up loved and wanted and develop into well rounded and authentic individuals.

I ask questions of authority because authority assumes power and power permeates through everything. People are threatened when authority is questioned. But in my view anyone with responsibility or power needs to be accountable for it. This covers the spectrum from the domestic (parents) to society (government)…  so I like that questions are being asked about the status quo of adoption- that the script is being flipped and people are starting to ask individuals who have been adopted to talk and write and speak about their adoptions.

Happy National Adoption Week!

Anna Writes: Adoptee or adopted person

Anna WritesLanguage is a powerful tool, the words that we wrap around each other providing meaning in any given context. So we are careful with the words we use- language requires a sensitivity to others as well as harbouring signifying powers for the user.

 

I’ve always struggled with the term ‘adoptee’- something about it, for me, denotes a kind of powerlessness, an element of ‘not quite having a choice-ness’ which of course I didn’t, such is the nature of adoption. I prefer ‘adopted person’, particularly as an adult, the term gives me some semblance of control I suppose..

Adopt means ‘to choose’ so adoptee, technically would mean ‘chosen one’ or someone who was chosen…and I don’t think that this reflects how I felt about my adoption. I felt a bit of a burden to be honest, I felt like an interloper in a family scene that didn’t really require one of, well, me.

I was told early on, as early as I could understand. Great.

I was given pretty much all the information that my folks had. Great.

I was told that my parents had to go through a lot of hard work, and forms, and intrusive questions and meetings to get me. Not so great.

I was told (when misbehaving) that I was just like my ‘real’ mum. Again, not so great.

I didn’t and I don’t feel chosen. I feel like someone, who as a baby was in the right location at the right time with the right set of circumstances, who got adopted. Because that was the plan.

That was the plan in utero, that was what a handful of other people- grandmother, mother, health visitor, GP, had decided.

Not chosen.

We choose what to have for breakfast, what clothes to put on for the day based on the seasons and the forecast and whether our eyes tell us it’s raining. We choose how to travel to work or wherever based on our circumstances, time constraints and the traffic information available to us.

I wasn’t chosen, hand picked for my potential or my cuteness. I was just there when it mattered to some other people.
And yes, I know it IS different now, adoption activity days and APR’s and photos and assessments among other things provide some more context and information about the child ‘waiting to be permanently placed’ (that language again…) but still, chosen?

I’m only one voice among many, and I’m always really interested to hear other perspectives particularly from other adopted people about how they like to be referred to (because in practice, most people don’t ask- they just use ‘adoptee’) to some people it might be irrelevant and to others an important part of their identity that helps them to feel part of something bigger.

Shifts in language often happen, sometimes imperceptibly, one day we use one word to describe something and the next day something new- that’s called progress.

Prior to the 1970’s it was common to hear the phrase ‘real mother’ or ‘natural mother’ before people in the field began to understand that this terminology was not always helpful. I’ve also seen some really interesting discussions around the term ‘LAC’ (Looked After Children) certainly in more recent months. Hopefully as the many myriad ways that we configure family develop and progress, so too will our language.

Anna Writes: Birthdays

PhontoAnother year. Another birthday….hard as I try, somehow I always seem to end up feeling the same: a curious kind of ambivalence.

I feel happy to still be here, another year alive is something to celebrate I’m sure, but I also feel this yearning, a pull towards something that is absent and intangible. I struggle to put my finger on it.

So, I said this year would be different, I would come off Facebook and not spend the day checking in to see if she has remembered or deigned to wish me a happy birthday, because I would be spending it with family…well, I didn’t think that one through very well as my birthday has fallen on a weekday, people are at work and the Bank Holiday is stretching out like a promise on the other side.

It’s me and the kids. Which is lovely. We are hanging out, going swimming and out for a meal later but still, something inside me feels unfulfilled, needy.

Am I just ungrateful? My husband made me a lovely breakfast and my kids showered me with kind, thoughtful gifts, I have met up with friends throughout the week and done something nice with each, I have done something I never do and planned a meal out next week with the people who make my life really special. What more could I want? What is it?

I oscillate between wanting to celebrate life, to wanting to crawl into a dark space where no one can find me. to be or not to be. Maybe that’s how it’s always going to feel, understanding and acknowledging that being born was a good thing (I hope that by doing what I’m doing I create/find some meaning out of being here, like we all do) but that being relinquished, given up, separated- whatever, was a sad thing- a really sad thing.

An act that wasn’t a one off decision, but something that reverberates throughout a number of lives, for entire lives. And I feel it most keenly today. Each birthday not only a demarcation of another year but the anniversary of a wound. Of all the days, this one day always feels like a hurdle, a thing to be got past and then life returns to some kind of normality.

So, like a scratched record, I return to the tried and tested behaviours of the day. Trying to put on a happy face, being buoyant and doing what we are ‘supposed to do’ on a birthday but also, spending time alone, shedding some tears, mourning what has been lost and can never be. And, foolishly, naively, logging back onto Facebook for ‘the message’.

Nothing.

It doesn’t hurt as much as it has done before though, so that feels like some kind of progress, but I wonder why I still need it? Why does it still feel important to have acknowledgement from her on this day?
I guess its a throwback to all those years before I did find her, wondering if she thought about me on that day- I figured that if she was going to think about me on any day that it would be that one. Since finding out that I was adopted, I always thought of her on my birthday, wondered, fantasised.. and hoped.

Hoped that she was ok, hoped that she was alive and happy and in a better place than she was at 16.

And maybe thats what keeps me stuck in this place, on one day every year. Hope. The thought that for one day I could be the person on her mind and that she could value me enough to acknowledge that I’m here and can be contacted.

Mine was never a family that celebrated ‘Adoption Day’ – I was brought home from the hospital 10 days after birth and presented to my brother as one of his 2nd birthday presents. Apart from the conversation where I was informed of my adoption, we never really spoke of it again and children’s birthdays were never such a big deal (and anyone who shares a birthday that falls in the summer holidays will know how awkward they can be!)

But I always liked celebrating other peoples days (if that’s what they wanted) I’m of the thinking that a birthday is a special day and is one where it’s ok to be made a fuss of/cry if you want to etc. For children that are adopted I don’t imagine it’s unusual for a birthday to be a time of mixed feelings, where things don’t go in a straight line and perhaps even with the best will in the world, it will always be difficult.

For me, tomorrow, life will move on and I can inhabit my adult state again, but birthdays seem to have the effect of taking me back, like falling down a rabbit hole to a time and a place where I felt vulnerable and worthless and small. Roll on tomorrow.

Anna Writes: My fantasy life story book

PhontoThanks to the Adoption Social I have been finding out in much more detail about different aspects of the world of adoption, some fairly recent developments and other aspects that I had just not been aware of -life story work is something that I find really really interesting; as an independent member on a local adoption panel, I hear a lot about life story books, and life story work in general- though in that context it seems to be the preserve of social workers and happening without the input of the people affected- as with adoption itself..

The work of Root and Branch has been demystifying some of this for me and has got me to thinking about- if I had received (or ideally co-created) a life story book/memory box what would I have liked it to contain?
What would have been important to foster more of a sense of identity and could have helped to counter some of the shame that I felt about being ‘different’? What questions would I have liked answered?

( I am clearly writing this with the benefit of hindsight, which I’m aware removes me from the reality of children and young people trying to make sense of their journeys so far.)

I suppose the most obvious starting point would be photographs- growing up, there were only about 2 or 3 pictures of me and my brother up in the house, it’s not that my parents didn’t take them or get them developed, it’s more that my mum didn’t like to share, so hundreds of unseen childhood photos remain hidden away in cupboards gathering dust. The youngest photograph I have seen is me at 16 months, it seems a strange hole to have no baby photos.

Pictures have subsequently always been really important to me, I enjoy documenting life through photos and writing down the funny things that my kids say so that they can have a record of their lives when they are older..so for me, the more pictures I could have seen the better- ideally I would have also had a picture of my birth mum, dad and grandparents- as much of my birth family as possible, to have some sense of where I fitted. To help locate some resemblance to other people.

I would like to have known where I was born, what time, how much I weighed and whether or not I was breastfed- simple things, but facts that would ‘normalise’ and could give some colour to the picture surrounding my birth. My adoption record states-

‘A is illegitimate and was born normally, mother has agreed to adoption’ not quite the first line most people would want in their life story…

It would’ve been good to know where my birth family was from, where they had lived, places that I might have been able to visit growing up to provide me with a sense of geographical connection. It was much later in life when I realised some of my birth family had lived really close to me and with this knowledge my relationship to my home town took on a new significance, but only after I had moved away.

For my own children I have saved things like the ID bracelet from hospital at their births, the welcome to the world cards, knitted gifts and special mementos like locks from their first haircut and first lost teeth (yes, maybe I’m overcompensating as I never had any of these things…) but they feel important, I would like my children to have a sense of their own history, an understanding that their milestones were and are, so important, or at least worthy of being documented so they can be revisited.

Letters would have been great- although knowing the kind of person that I was, any scrap of information would have been pored over and re- read a thousand times, but it would have been so helpful to have had some understanding of why I was given away- in the words of the people who made that decision.

I was told by my adoptive parents that my birth mum was too young to look after me but that was all- pretty much for 18 years- I think if I had grown up with some sense of the context of that decision and that actually several other people were involved in it and also that my adoptive parents actually really wanted me rather than being in the ‘right place at the right time’ all of those things would have helped combat some of the very negative feelings I had about my own worth.

So, photos, letters, mementos and facts, a few of the things that would have made a difference, things that would have helped me to have an increased sense of identity, connection and perhaps even worth- these items and objects coupled with an openness and willingness on my parents part to talk about adoption would make up my fantasy life story book.

I know its impossible to pre-empt what an individual child might want or need from a life story book but perhaps if we ask people who have been through the adoption process what they might have liked, it could help…

Anna.W

Anna Writes: Endings

PhontoI’ve been thinking about endings a lot recently, I suppose following a bereavement that’s ‘normal’ but the other ending is one that I have chosen in the last couple of months- to remove myself from Facebook- what’s the big deal? you might think…well, Facebook is the only link I have with my birth family.

We used to write and speak on the phone in the early days but as contact has shifted and relationships have morphed into something much less definable, Facebook seems to be the way we do things now.

I can see why-it requires very little effort, people can see what other people are doing without actively engaging with them and contact can be considered a ‘like’ against a photo.

Except I’ve always struggled with it- historically I have been willing to accept the bare minimum in relationship because I thought it was better than nothing at all- offering a banquet in return for a crumb.
And my relationship with my birth mum (and extended family too) has followed this pattern: I write long messages, I send things in the post, I remember birthdays and I try to be the ‘good person’ and generally nothing comes back and I really don’t feel bitter about this, just sad.
Sad that I still sometimes feel that I’m not good enough as I am, particularly in relation to my birth family.

I suppose this all stems (like so many things) from being given away- learning strategies to ward off the threat of further abandonment- on some unconscious level believing that I need to give people things to get them to like me or not leave me. I remember at school I would never just give someone a card for their birthday, I would also feel I had to spend any money I had getting them a ridiculous present too- one that usually didn’t reflect the level or type of friendship we had- what may have appeared as generosity was actually a fairly desperate attempt to not be rejected.

So it’s pretty big deal for me to initiate an ending- there have been times in my life where I really should have ended friendships and relationships that were really unhealthy, but I stuck them out until things got really, really bad because the thought of pushing someone away was anathema to me. But things are different now.

My birth mum sent me a video via Facebook (of course) which was entitled ‘ Every kid should watch this’ I was intrigued, did this mean she was sending it to me as ‘her kid’? or did she intend for me to show it my kids because they ‘should’ watch it? I pressed play…

to summarise: the video showed a former American sports star talking about his career and his mother, how he had always found her a drag when he was successful and enjoying his fame around the world, she would be ringing him up to see how he was, caring about him, supporting him and loving him- he is giving this speech to an audience of rapt schoolchildren- then the bombshell, his mum died whilst he was away on tour (cut to scenes of the audience crying inconsolably) and he realises that he should have appreciated his mother when she was alive, he should have thanked her for all the things she did for him and all of her sacrifices, he should have been less ungrateful, he should have loved his mum better.

I was stunned. Not even upset, just staggered that she would send me this- what was she trying to tell me? I sat on my feelings for a day and then messaged her the following day- and I told her. I told her how confused I was and how hard it had been watching something sent from her that bore no resemblance to my experiences of being mothered, that I felt upset that she would send this to me. I let her know I was making an active choice to come off Facebook and that I would write to her soon.

She sent a brief apology and assured me she had not meant to hurt me, which I don’t doubt, but this felt like the last in a long line of insensitive moves on her part, so I stuck to my guns and deactivated.

This may seem a bit ‘all or nothing’ in response to a video but my relationship with my birth family via Facebook has been ambivalent at best, I feel like there’s too much scope for misunderstanding, passive aggressive communication and just plain old ignorance, so I chose to keep myself safe.

So far, its been a revelation, not only have I saved lots of time (!) but I also feel free of the worry of what is coming next, what post or photo or share is going to destabilise me and reactivate old feelings. I am living in the present and acknowledging the past, rather than the other way round.

I have chosen to end one type of connection and to maintain another that works for me and it hasn’t destroyed me…me saying ‘this isn’t ok’ is alright and the only changes that have happened have been positive…So this year instead of spending my birthday checking Facebook to see if my birth mum has sent me a message (which has never happened) I will be actually enjoying my day with the people I love, not feeling sad that I was given away, but happy that I ended up where I did.

Anna.W

Editor’s note: Anna’s taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks, so don’t worry if you don’t see a post from her. She’ll be back again soon.

Anna Writes: Trauma

PhontoThe separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

 

 

 

Removal, relinquishment, via bereavement or forced separation across geographical boundariesregardless of the circumstances surrounding the event, it is always going to be traumatic.

For those children who have not only experienced a primary severance of connection, but multiple placements (and losses) since, their grief must increase incrementally, becoming further compounded by each new start.

Trauma has a multi faceted impact on people, from the physical to the psychological and relational and everywhere in-between. We know a lot about trauma from eminent scholars and scientists in the field like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Daniel Hughes, Babette Rothschild and Antonio Damassio, to name a few, we know because of people like Allen Schore and Sue Gerhardt who have written more recently and so accessibly about pre and peri natal brain development and the effects of cortisol on the brain.

We know because it’s there. It can be seen in the eyes that bear an ever present layer of sadness.

I have a really terrible memory, not just in a ‘where did I put the remote- oh, it’s in the fridge’ sort of bad memory but a full on wipeout. Before the age of 10, I have a handful of memories, if I were to draw a timeline, there would be a big blank space and then later on some more smaller, less profound ones.
I sometimes wonder if it’s a result of something like cortisol that could have caused this- was there something in the separation that caused my amygdala and hippocampus to go offline? did something in my brain short circuit, when as a baby, I cried and cried and the right person wasn’t there?

When I met my birth mum she told me that when her own mother found out that she was five months pregnant, she beat her with a wooden coat hanger all over her body- what does that do to a person stress-wise? What happens in other cases where a child isn’t immediately removed from that environment but left to suffer until agencies intervene? Layer upon layer of trauma. More obvious trauma.

And I get that we need to focus on that, and there is so much more understanding about the effects of trauma on the brain and how to parent therapeutically and empathetically to support positive connection and develop healthy new neural pathways, it’s wonderful that science and reality are starting to level with one another.

But what of children that are ‘just’ given away? There are loads of us- not as common these days of course, but from when records began thousands upon thousands of babies have been relinquished and adopted. I’m not entirely sure that we are included in the trauma informed rhetoric because ‘we would have never known any different’ but my experience tells me that being separated from my birth mum is probably one of the most traumatic things that has happened to me. I was 10 days old, so how can that be?

How can it be that I grew up with a pathological fear of rejection, abandonment issues, nightmares, bed wetting, low self esteem, destructive coping strategies, poor concentration, an innate disrespect for authority, identity issues,a wonky moral compass, eating problems and a need to always be doing 10 things at once?

When I think back now on those early years, I feel like I was a stone knocked down a narrow alley, scratched and bowled, over and over, submerged in a shame, so quiet and pervasive…was a
chemical to blame? Is this the pickling in cortisol that the clever folk talk about? Because my birth mum didn’t use drugs and she didn’t drink, she did sport and ate well – so I cant help but come back to the separation, was that the bit that broke part of me?

I think the adoption world is much more trauma informed now, and it gives me a lot of hope that children who have been adopted in more recent times will have the benefit of parents who are willing to learn and understand their experiences from their perspective, and potentially be able to access external support when needed rather than keep things under wraps or try and cope alone.

I would like to think that any child who is relinquished (at any age) or placed in care or removed or abandoned or has survived the many ways that attachment can fail is afforded the understanding that what they have experienced is a trauma and is supported by the system accordingly.

Trauma defined-
1.
a. Serious injury to the body, as from physical violence or an accident
b. Severe emotional or mental distress caused by an experience
2.
a. An experience that causes severe anxiety or emotional distress
b. An event or situation that causes great disruption or suffering

The separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

My fact, at least.

Anna.W

Anna Writes: Grief

PhontoIt’s such a strange thing- grief, at once consuming and then faded, blending into the background like a fact. And again it comes, lurching into the foreground, a colossus, scouring for consumables, a heart, a mind, all the time you have, sat blinking into space.
I have no right to feel this sad. My Nana was 98, a long life in anyone’s book, we weren’t ‘close’ in the sense that we told each other everything and had a deep bond, but in my small, emotionally constipated family, she was one of the good guys. One of two. 50% of my good guys gone.

I have nothing but happy memories of her, even sitting with her on Sunday, holding her hand and watching her fight to be/ to not be- I felt so privileged, so lucky to be with her at the ending of her life and like I somehow didn’t deserve to be. She was incredibly kind, selfless, in fact I don’t really recall her ever talking about herself and her own history, she wanted to know about other people, she wanted to feed them, make them comfy, she couldn’t do enough for anyone.

My children think she was great, they managed to entertain themselves and the other residents when visiting her in the home where she spent the last 4 years of her life, struggling to accept that she had lost her independence. They thought she was the bees knees and the littlest one always made her laugh with his escapades. Climbing onto her bed and walking around with her walking stick pretending to be old.

I recognise that my sadness is generally disproportionate, I can’t separate out one loss from another and each one that happens lights the touch paper of the first. The one that left me void- so I sit with the chasm opened up inside me, beckoning me down into it’s belly. I know I won’t go because that’s not a choice I have anymore, but it’s frightening to know its there, it’s hard to remember that its not a hole but a mass- a big ol’ pile of grief; a recognition of how much others touch my life.

As a small person I didn’t recognise my grief for what it was- the mourning of my first loss, the loss of my birth mum, I existed with an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness, shame and otherness. People talk about the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I neither knew nor understood this as a child, but it makes sense to me now- these cornerstones of experience and they don’t go in a straight line and whilst the ‘stages’ may be universal- everyone does them differently.

When I was told I was adopted, I knew, but the confirmation still changed things. Denial wasn’t really an option but isolation was- I grew up in a rural location on a farm with lots of nooks and crannies and limited social contact outside of school, disappearing wasn’t hard, whether it was to my room or off into a field somewhere. Emotionally retreating from any bonds that my parents had tried to form, I needed to make sense of something that really made no sense.

Why would she give me away?. What did I do wrong? ..Where do I fit?…How do I love?

Isolation gave me plenty of time to ruminate on these things and isolation and rumination gave way to depression*, because not having access to any of the answers or even an opportunity to voice them meant that those thoughts could only go round and round, circulating through my being until they sedimented and became ‘fact’.

She didn’t want me…I was a bad baby…I don’t fit…I can’t love, I’m broken.

And then I got angry. Angry at myself for being bad, angry at my adoptive mum for adopting me (my poor mum!) angry at the world for being twisted enough to encourage mothers to give away babies and I was a teenager (again, my poor mum..) it took a long time to understand that I could be angry at my birth mum for giving me away.

Bargaining for me was about compromising myself to protect against rejection, I couldn’t do the ‘what if’s’ because the worst thing had already happened, but I felt I could make sure it wouldn’t
happen again, by being compliant when I should have complained, by saying yes when I meant no, by contorting myself into shapes to try and fit, rather than hope that I could be accepted as I was.

Acceptance is the stage that eludes me- Can I accept what happened? Yes, she had good reasons to relinquish me and I am, in many ways very fortunate to have had opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise (this gratitude is mine, not the one I’m expected to have…)

Can I accept that she’s not my mother when actually she kind of is and is still very much alive? That’s where things get much more complicated, I have two mums- how do I accept that something’s gone when its still there? how do I grieve for the living? Am I grieving for the severance? As an adult I still wrestle with these ideas and more, how does a child even begin to make sense of this?

In todays adoption climate how can young children make sense of their parallel lives and multiple losses? Where does the grief go?

Anna.W

* I say depression because its a helpful shorthand to understanding, I’m not actually a big fan of diagnosis and pathologising human experiences- I think I was responding quite reasonably to an abnormal event…