Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The "Primal Wound" of Adoption

This is a recent conversation I had with my six-year-old adopted daughter. It’s important to note that this whole conversation was said with sadness, not attitude. She wasn’t having an “I hate you because you wouldn’t let me do something” moment. She was just being honest and hurting inside. 

“I wish I had never met you”
Me: “I know.”
“I miss my real mommy.”
Me: “I’m sorry,” and I hugged her while she cried.

My daughter was taken from her biological mother at birth (taken, not relinquished). I have been her mother since she was four months old and loved her and cared for her in every way. We are bonded, but that bond will never be as strong as the one she has with the woman who carried her for nine months. Being separated from her causes my daughter so much pain that it impacts almost every area of her life. 

I was incredibly ignorant about the pain of adoption, especially for a baby, before being thrust into the situation. I had two biological children who were ten and eight at the time. While not a perfect parent, I was fairly certain I could take care of a baby. Like many, even most, people, I thought that if a baby had a chance to bond with a primary caretaker while young enough, he or she would be fine. 

While the Department of Children and Families was very thorough about our home study and our fitness to be parents, they never discussed what we might be getting into. It wouldn’t have changed our mind, but understanding one’s child is a huge component of parenting. The majority of therapists don’t even understand the special issues that adoptive families and children often deal with. 

Instead, adoptive parents seek out others in similar situations hoping to find an empathetic ear. We are often judged harshly by others for our supposed lack of parenting skills and our children’s inappropriate behaviors. I get it. People don’t understand until they have walked in these shoes. I certainly didn’t. So, adoptive parents speak in quiet whispers to each other or in secret Facebook groups seeking support and advice. 

People, especially pro-life people, want adoption to be good, but the reality is that being adopted is always the child’s loss. Even the best adoptive parents can never replace the ones that the child has lost either through being given up, taken, or through death. Open adoptions can allow a child to have contact with their biological family, but these relationships are often fraught with challenges. My daughter misses her biological mother so much, yet whenever she sees her, the emotional fall-out is huge. Her barely scabbed over wound is ripped open. She doesn’t understand why she can’t be with her biological mom. There is no easy solution.

I just finished reading The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier. Every foster and adoptive parent as well as anyone who loves or works with an adopted child should read this book. It is based upon the author’s psychological work with adoptees as well as her own experience as both a biological and adoptive mother. Verrier shares:

What I discovered is what I call the primal wound, a wound which is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual, a wound which causes pain so profound as to have been described as cellular by those adoptees who allowed themselves to go that deeply into their pain. I began to understand thus wound as having been caused by the separation of the child from his biological mother, the connection to whom seems mystical, mysterious, spiritual and everlasting.

Even when children cannot consciously remember being taken from their mother, their hearts remember that profound loss the rest of their lives. The book goes on to detail the way that grieving that loss is expressed in an adoptee’s behavior. While not advocating that a child remain in a dangerous situation, Verrier raises an important question, “What if the most abusive thing which can happen to a child is that he is taken from his mother?”

What does this mean for us who are pro-life and who encourage adoption rather than abortion? First of all, we need to recognize that adoption is not an easy answer. No one escapes unscathed from that separation – not the birth mother who has made a selfless decision, nor the child who is given up. We need to work as hard as we can to help mothers keep their children and to offer them whatever support they need to do that. In terms of taking children from their mothers due to unsafe situations, we need to truly have that be a rare situation. Once again, support, not separation, should be the goal.  

My daughter wishes she had never met me, and in a perfect world, she would not have. I pray every day for Jesus to heal her heart and to help me be the mother she needs. I know I can’t heal her wounds. Only God can do that, but I so wish that she never had been wounded in the first place.

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