Saturday, December 12, 2009

D28Bob: The Primal Wound

Here are my three questions:

This request for comment from birthmothers is actually based on Nancy's book completely. In Chapter 13, The Reunion Process, she outlines what she sees as Barriers to Positive Relationships. I have fear, I have guilt, I have shame, I have rage, I have anger and I work constantly on not letting them dominate me. I have made much progress with guilt and with shame. Anger I am trying to just accept. Bottom line, I want myself back. I want to take back my power so that future relationships not only with my birthson but with my husband will not be grounded in the sandy soil of self doubt.
I chose to answer this question even though I am an adoptee, not a firstparent. The barriers she speaks of apply to all members of the Triad! I too have had fear, guilt, shame, rage and anger and it has been hard to get past these symptoms of grief. It has affected my relationships with my nurturing family as well as my own spouse and children. The value of pondering Nancy's book has been that unlike the adult sides of the Triad, I never knew where my loss came from. Until only a few years ago, I was buffeted by these emotions as well, only I had no idea what drove them. Yes, I knew I was adopted from early childhood, but no one in my acquaintance ever suggested that there might be an underlying cause.

It took the near collapse of my marriage of over 30 years to cause me to seek help; fortunately my therapist picked up on my status as an adopted person at the start and asked if I had ever explored that issue. Of course I had not, even though my adoptive parents have been gone for years. This led to support groups and my introduction to the literature and an awareness of modern thought and studies of adoption, and eventually to Primal Wound. My reaction to the book was overpowering - I felt it was written for me by someone who knew my innermost thoughts!

We cannot begin repairing our lives until we know and acknowledge there is something wrong, and find the causes for our unhappiness. Fear, guilt, shame, rage and anger are all symptoms of unhappiness, reactions to grief. First parents may not understand for a time where the grief comes from, but they have the advantage of being adults (or at least past puberty) when their trauma occurs, as do nurturing parents. But we whose parents gave us their unconditional love, as Nancy gave her adopted daughter, still have difficulty accepting that love from lack of trust, fear of abandonment, all the reasons that Primal Wound suggested. Many natural and nurturing parents did not experience this trauma; those who had a normal biological infancy still find it hard to accept.

I agree that natural parents suffered a trauma connected to adoption, but the focus of the book is not on their trauma for it is usually a different one (except for that large cohort of female adoptees who become first parents.

The value of Nancy's book to me was in identifying the source of my grief. That's a necessary step, but I have just begun Coming Home to Self because after reading Primal Wound three times over the past 18 months, I'm ready to move beyond grief to healing myself.
As a birthmother, my overwhelming stance towards this book was, (until completion that is) very defensive. It hurt to have to read about the pain I've inflicted upon my daughter, and my initial reaction was to criticize the book's thesis and deny that any part of it could be found in my personal story. Did others (adoptive parents, adoptees and birthparents alike) have this same reaction? If so, was your opinion changed by the end of the book?
I'll answer this question because of a specific example in my own life. The first time I read Primal Wound almost two years ago, I found the thesis thought-provoking but could not really accept it; I had after all spent over 50 years believing in the "win-win" model of adoption that is socially accepted, never questioning the myths. After all, despite my excellent memory, I had no recollection of my earliest childhood, even of my year in an orphanage before adoption, so it all seemed hypothetical to me.

My sister-in-law happened to phone soon after I had finished the book, and on a whim I asked to speak to her because I recalled that her youngest child was born premature and spent time in a neonatal unit - I thought her experience as a mother and RN might validate some of Nancy's thesis, because the book mentioned premature infants and children of disaster as similar subjects of separation trauma.

What she told me rocked me to my very core. She explained that friends suggested when her children turned three, that she ask them their earliest memories, because by that age they had developed language skills but had not yet begun school. On her older daughter's third birthday, she began asking about Abigail's previous birthday, then her first birthday, and finally asked about her earliest memories. Much to her surprise, Abby remembered being born at home, and her father being present, as well as a woman she didn't know - the midwife who attended the birth in rural Vermont!

When Lilliana, her youngest, turned three, she again regressed her memories. Lilly recalled intense heat and light - the incubator in the neonatal unit. She recalled her mother and father coming to see and hold her, but then they would leave even though she did not want them to. She also recalled a man with a loud voice counting numbers. I don't pretend to be a child psychologist, but it seems to me that she recalled the sounds and faces, and later as she learned that those sounds represented numbers and those faces were those of her parents, she was able to associate the memories with her later knowledge. The "man counting numbers" puzzled my sister in law, until her husband pointed out that with the premature birth, there was a male nurse calling out fetal oxygen levels.

Hearing her story completely reversed my thinking - just because I've forgotten where I filed my early memories does not mean that I was not aware and observant of what was happening. Those memories are still there somewhere, deep down and are the foundation for what I built my later memories and psyche upon. I immediately began reading Primal Wound again, this time without my innate skepticism.

Is a primal wound part of my personal story? Yes - once I admitted that to myself, the rest began to fall into place. My fear of abandonment which causes me to never quite trust in anyone else, my fear of losing contact with anyone I ever knew, my constant desire to please others and avoid conflict, all I believe trace back to that initial separation. My wife had a difficult time accepting the idea, until she recalled that moments after our daughter was born, our child was crying until my wife spoke, and our daughter immediately calmed and turned her head to look at her mother. For months afterward, my wife was frustrated because every time she was hungry, so was her child. What do you expect? Fetuses can sense circadian rythmns through the mother's body, know the times of day when their mother's blood sugar rises from eating, knows when the heartbeat slows for sleep - they know their mother's voice, heartbeat, scent - they are part of her.

A recurring message throughout the book is that adoption should be in the best interest of the child and not the adults, something that I think very few people would argue against. But should the adoptees feelings always trump everyone else's in the triad, even when that adoptee is a grown up?
Of course adoptees feelings should - because I'm an adoptee and I was spoiled!

Seriously, I don't believe that adoptees should always get their way - after all, we are trying to finally be adults, not children. As I read postings on forums by different members of the Triad, I continually see anger directed toward different sides of our interwoven relationships. I also see factions form, with nurturing parents pleading that only they be considered "real parents" while natural parents argue with them over who should take precedence, and both tug at adoptees wanting recognition. Meanwhile adoptees are urged to either defend their nurturing parents or be considered ungrateful for wanting to know their origins.

Enough! There is a solution if the parents would quit trying to "win." I acknowledge both my sets of parents - each made me part of who I am. I can find room in my heart to appreciate both. I am both kinds of parent to my own children - it has never been an issue for them or me. Society allows step parents and grandparents roles without demanding children take sides - can we who are even more intimately related not do the same?

Feelings are emotions, and we all must acknowledge that people's emotional reactions will differ. Does anyone's feelings ever trump another's? No! Can feelings change? Yes, but no amount of persuasion will ever change another person's feelings. Time may change them, or experience, but only if that person wishes to change them.

I am a male adoptee; that makes me twice crippled when it comes to emotions, I admit. Adoption brings out the deepest human feelings, ones which go back to our earliest experiences and the most powerful drive evolution instilled in us, the desire to continue one's DNA. No, I don't know how much it hurts to surrender a child - but I do know that it must be so painful that even after 60 years, my first parents cannot speak of it to me or their own families. No, I don't know what it is like to not be able to have children biologically, though I know it was so painful that my parents could never speak of it.

But my parents made that discovery as adults. And my first parents made their actions as young adults. As much as I might like to ease their burdens, I had no choice in the matter. It was not my decision to be conceived, born or placed in an orphanage for my first year. Nor was it my decision to pick my family.

Ultimately, we all do the best we can at any given time, under our circumstances. When an adoptee has feelings, even as an adult, which do not agree with what other Triad members would like, acknowledge and respect their feelings and accept that their feelings are the product of their nature and nurture at that point in time.

It was through Primal Wound that I first became aware of being a victim of adoption. That is an unpleasant feeling, and it has taken me over a year to work through that. But I refuse to stay a victim - and if that means I step on someone's feelings, I apologize. I don't hurt people just to see them suffer, I do what I have to do to regain my self-respect. My needs are different from my natural parents' just as they were different from my nurturing parents'. Most of us have grown up trying to please everyone around us, trying to stay in character as much as possible without provoking something which would cause us another abandonment - which often means hiding our feelings, either through emotional aloofness or anger. When conflicts arise between our different sets of parents, we don't ask to trump anyone, we just want to assert that our feelings be accorded the same status as yours.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at The Open Adoption Examiner.


Leigh said...

I found this really fascinating. First: the memory regression when a child is three. My baby is 4 months old - I can't wait to try this!!!
Second: the natural connection btwn baby and mother. I too was frustrated that my baby wanted dinner everytime I was about to eat!
Third: So true about society allowing grandparents etc to have a role in a child's life, why not all members of the triad?
Fourth: male adoptee = twice crippled emotionally. I just thought that was funny :)

I'm sorry you've had such a struggle with this, but am very happy to hear that you're coming to a place of healing and understanding.

Lavender Luz said...

Oh, how I wished I'd held such conversations with my children when they were 3!

One of the things that struck me most in reading this book was this sentence: "The adoptee was there."

I really like your take on triad relationships: There is a solution if the parents would quit trying to "win." People can get stuck in thinking either/or. Either one set of parents or the other. Either adoption is a scourge or it is rainbows. An adoptee's loyalty must lie in one place or the other.

What if we could embrace both/and?

As far as you being an emotional cripple, I see you as more of a SNAG (sensitive new age guy). And I say that affectionately :-).

OpenAdoptMomof3 said...

Thanks so much for sharing! It helps so much to hear directly from adopted adults as to their experiences.

I never heard of a SNAG, but I'll echo Lavender's post and say that if you are an emotional cripple, then other men I know must be brain dead...

Thanks so much for your thoughts.

Lora said...

I think you were amazingly articulate, so much so I do not know what to say except ...yes.

Your story is incredibly similar to mine, and I want to thank you for saying it so well.

Jacquelyn said...

Hello D28Bob
Emotional cripple you are not.
I am the birthmother who wrote the question...and yes...I was an adult and made the choices for my new born son. He had no say. I appreciate the intensity of your answers drawing on your own life. Your powerful testimony as an adoptee had my complete attention. Moving myself onto the high ground emotionally is long overdue-I feel the urgency so that my focus is where I want it to be for the rest of my life....on my son. Thank you for throwing a little lifeboat my way.

My name is Andy. said...

thank you ! It's always great to hear how other adoptees have reacted to the book.

battynurse said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I too have discovered a reason for many of the issues I've had all my life from reading this book. I remember several years ago having a conversation with my friend where she asked why I felt like I was ugly, to fat, unloveable etc. I couldn't answer her. I didn't know. I just knew that was how I felt. It was such an odd feeling to have this validated and explained where these feelings could have originated from. I also helps immensely reading your experience that you've been able to find some peace with things over time as it helps me feel like I may not always feel like I'm broken.

*Peach* said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the book and being adopted. It was a great read and made me ponder even more.