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…
Firstly- 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 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!