Hi everyone, welcome back to Blogville. I’m having a lovely ginger tea today. Last blog I wrote about the day I arrived at my parents’ home when I was placed on adoption with them. That blog was inspired by video calls with my 9 month old grandson. Recently we have been visiting with this little guy and my heart is filled with love for him but then, suddenly, an even greater sense of loss for 9 month old me. I thought I would share more about this with you in today’s blog, there may be some lessons here.
Spending some time recently with our 9 month old grandson feels bittersweet. If you recall, in my previous blog ‘9 Months’ I talked about being placed with my adoptive parents at that age. I wrote about the way I had been simply dropped off to them with no pre-placement visits, and no pre or post placement contact with my foster parents. I know that meeting my foster parents, even having spent some time observing me with them, would have helped my mom know what my routine had been and what comforted me. Remember, a 9 month old baby is not a clean slate, they already have preferences, likes and dislikes, fears, and things they found comforting.
My placement was further complicated by an immediate hospitalization that had been pre-planned, and a condition of my placement with my new parents. I needed a small surgery and my parents were able to arrange it almost immediately after I arrived at their home. To me, it should have been apparent to the professionals making these decisions that I would have been better off to have had the surgery while in the care of my foster parents than while in the care of my new parents. My foster parents had a relationship with me and would have been better able to offer comfort to me following the surgery. My poor parents and 9 month old me were really set up for a terrible attachment experience. As I see my 9 month old grandson and his secure attachment to his parents, deep feelings of abandonment are rekindled in me and tears fill my eyes on behalf of 9 month old me. Though our grandson plays with or is held by us easily, when he suddenly looks at me or my husband, then looks around for his parents with lips quivering, we quickly hand him back to his mommy or daddy where he is immediately soothed and relieved. Watching this, it occurred to me that when I felt that insecurity at 9 months old, there was no one to hand me to where I would have felt soothed and relieved. I know that eventually an attachment with my parents formed but those first few weeks or months must have been difficult for all of us.
At one point in our visit we were calling our grandson’s name and as he turned from the window to look at us in response my husband said, “Well he sure knows his name.” I realized at that moment that my parents would have immediately been calling me by my new name, they may not even have been told what my old name was. How confusing that must have been for me. I suppose over time I must have realized that they meant me when they said “Lynn” instead of “Marie”. I wonder how long that would have taken? I wonder if I wondered where the people who had called me Marie had gone.
After we had been with him for about a week, our grandson’s parents had to attend an appointment, so my husband and I watched our grandson for an hour or so. When we knew his parents would be home soon we started watching out the window for them together. When they pulled into the driveway our grandson started to cry at the unexpected sight through the window of his mother standing outside; he’s used to watching through the window and greeting his dad as he arrives home from work, but not his mother. He was frantic for her to come in the house and hold him. When she came in and picked him up, snuggling him close to calm him, a strong feeling of jealousy bubbled up in me as I realized I had had no one that could comfort me like that when I was 9 months old. I cannot describe how overwhelmed I felt. My husband looked at me and asked what was wrong. My eyes filled with tears and my throat burned with emotion as I said, “Nothing.” There is no way anyone in the room with me at that moment could understand what I was feeling. There was no way I could help them to understand so I simply swallowed my grief. As I watched my grandson playing on the floor with his toys I noted that he is always tracking where his parents are, as is developmentally appropriate. How would I have known whom to track in my new family when I arrived? I had never met these people, a man, a woman, a little boy, and a dog. I honestly cannot even convey my strong feelings of sadness on behalf of 9 month old me.
The adoption placement procedure has changed significantly since my placement day over 60 years ago. Now there is typically great emphasis placed on slow introductions, usually in a space where the prospective adoptee is most comfortable, such as in their foster home. Many procedural changes now contribute to a smoother permanent move for children. For example, not automatically changing a very young child’s birth first name but instead, giving it great consideration. If, after consideration, the name is changed there are helpful tips like initially using both the old name and the new name together, eventually dropping the old name once the child starts responding to their new one. Sometimes people will elect to choose names that are similar to the birth name, such as Byron and Brian, or Lena and Tina, to make an easier transition. (To me, not changing it at all is the best approach.)
Although I still see flaws with some International Adoption placement procedures, I appreciate that adoptive parents are now most often expected to attend their future child’s country of origin and begin building a relationship with their new child. What I cannot imagine is the depth of the loss experience as the child loses not only their caregivers, the sights, smells and sounds of their community, but also the landscape of their entire country and culture. What could possibly mitigate the magnitude of those losses? I think these are the things we need to pay better attention to not only in International Adoption planning but in multi-racial, cross-cultural adoptions as well. Our loss is real, and it is not necessarily about anything our adoptive parents did or did not do, it runs deeper than that. Just like everyone deals with their grief and loss resulting from the death of a loved one differently, adoptees deal differently with our losses as well.
My eyes sting and my heart pounds with emotion when I see that my grandson is so protected from the kind of loss my adoption visited on me, at nearly exactly his age. I’m so happy for him, grateful on his behalf really, while at the same time feeling such enormous sadness for 9 month old me.
So my message to adoption professionals is to say that, no matter how busy you are, how full your caseload is, a proper pre placement plan is critical to attachment (or perhaps better identified as attachment transfer) for that child and their new family. A proper life book, or life story, is one of the best gifts you can give a child you are placing on adoption. When your supervisor, manager, or even Ministry personnel return your Social and Medical History document for clarification or revision, be grateful, for they are helping you to provide the best, most accurate, information for that adopted person. The next gift you can give an adoptee as access to vetted files increases, is to be clear, concise and detailed in your notes. You hold their history in your hands, their truth as you know it, or as told to you, for them to receive and read some day, so please strive for accuracy. This is a great honour and privilege that needs to be respected.
My message to birth relatives and adoptive families, as an adoptee, is that some openness, in whatever form works best for everyone, can only help ensure the secure adjustment of their shared child, and may even help to mitigate some of their child’s abandonment trauma. I strongly believe that when a child is surrounded by love and acceptance they will learn to love and accept themselves and others more easily.
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