Act, Don’t React
Welcome back to Blogville friends. This is a chamomile tea blog for sure. Maybe make a pot, it’s a long one.
In the old days, movies used show young parents looking proudly through a window, admiring their newborn infant lying in their bassinet in the hospital nursery. My movie version is more like a Director yelling “Cut!” and telling someone to come and get me as they needed my bassinet for other unwanted babies. Not the Hollywood adoption script anyone would want to produce, or that an audience would want to see. There is no Disney version of my beginnings except maybe Bambi; but in my version no one died, everyone simply left and Thumper was my overworked social worker.
Early in my life I was like a costume piece; left in the dressing room for a couple of months, then tried on by two families but returned to the dressing room. My third family healed my physical wounds that had been created by the neglect from those first two families. In the healing family script, the main characters fell in love with me but, sadly, their train had to leave the station before I could get a ticket.
Thanks to Thumper’s persistence, another family was willing to give me an audition. I got the part of their beloved daughter, a sister for my co-star, their son.
I believe that all those moves and the neglect in my first nine months of life left a scar, eventually covered over with make up, but still part of my character development.
You know how toddlers are able to shift from snuggly, loving, amazing little beings to writhing, scowling, crying little beings in a matter of seconds? These sudden shifts are often precipitated by simple words like, “no”, “not now”, “let go of that” and so on. You know what I mean. We’ve all seen it.
Even more concerning at times is the toddler that does not react as expected in those scenarios. Be wary of the toddler who does not express emotion when expected, they may need attention even more than the toddler whose tantrum behaviour commands it.
I find that, even being in my 60s, I am still capable of reacting to situations like a toddler. I can relate when experts talk about trauma in adoption, explaining it to parents and professionals.
If you have adopted or are thinking about adopting, there are wonderful courses on trauma and attachment. Take them! Learn all you can about trauma, attachment and abandonment issues as they are at the root of many presenting problems of children and youth experiencing adoption.
Experts can, and do, explain why trauma informed behaviour happens, and they can help adoptive parents learn how to manage it. You will need many tools to help you manage, cope with, and support your child or youth.
One can never stop learning about the impact of trauma and attachment. I am 64 years old and I’m still impacted. When I feel abandoned I still have thoughts like:
“If her pregnancy for me was unplanned, does that mean I was never meant to exist?”
“It was very presumptuous of me to think I ever mattered really, I was never supposed to exist, was I?”
“What rights do I have as a refugee in my own life?”
There are many coping mechanisms people who were adopted will use. For example, I will often withdraw from interacting with family members or friends. Or, as a coping mechanism, I will use humour. Sometimes I wonder if I use humour because I feel I must choose between a clown suit and an invisibility cloak.
Speaking solely as an person who was adopted, a lived expert if you will, I think I swallowed my trauma. I can feel it sitting there in my belly causing butterflies, or creating cold prickles of fear. I believe that swallowing my trauma stunted my emotional development. It left me reacting to life events like a toddler: fine one minute; floundering the next minute, more often than not, unable to regulate my emotions. My trauma was filling my belly so full that there may have been little room left for the nutrients of love and acceptance.
All my life, the rejections (real or perceived), the failures, the hurt I have always immediately felt when friends made plans without me, the insecurity I felt over job offers that never came, I was, and am, somehow able to blame on being freed for adoption.
I further punished myself with thoughts of, ‘well if the person who was supposed to love me the most did not, why should my friends?’ I felt so tied to that one decision, made by one person, that I was blinded to the rewards for me of her decision.
What I failed to do my friends, was credit any of my successes to my being adopted and I have discovered that I am who I am because of a combination of rejection and acceptance.
In order to have been loved and cherished by my parents, encouraged to try new things, supported and applauded, I first had to be available for them to parent me. I first had to be rejected in order to be free to be accepted.
Love and acceptance, let’s be realistic, every child needs that! My birth mother clearly did not feel capable of giving it to me herself, so she let me go in the hopes I would find it elsewhere, and I did.
Being adopted by my parents pushed most of my trauma to the side. Their love, persistence and consistency made room in my belly full of trauma as they gave me the tools to learn to control my emotions, to self-regulate, and to meet challenges with confidence. Their love enabled me to change my thinking from, ‘I was never even meant to be born’ to ‘I was meant to be born, just not meant to be raised by my birth parents.’
One could argue that if I never had that trauma I would not have needed the support and encouragement of my parents. Yet, one could also argue that my birth parents gave me the genetic gifts that my adoptive parents recognized and cultivated. I think all that made me kind of a team project.
Remember assigned group projects when you were in school? Remember how you groaned at being partnered with someone you didn’t even know? Yet, you managed to work together and get an A on your project? All four of my parents contributed something to the group project that is me. The outcome? I am my parents’ A.
My point is that I have never given enough credit to having been adopted as a positive contribution toward who I have become. My genetics, combined with my life experiences, gave me the support and strength to become a Thumper for many people in need. Hearing the many nice things spoken during my retirement speech, I think I did a pretty good job.
Without my mitigated trauma, and without having been adopted, I would be a different person, and I kind of like who I am. My Bambi legs get stronger each day as I continue living my own version of Happily Ever After.
As ever, your comments are welcome here, or via my email firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for reading.
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