Primal

I have of course read in many books—memoirs and novels, mostly—that becoming a mother means that a piece of your heart lives outside of your body, and runs around doing dangerous things, and occasionally screams at you that you are a fascist. I hadn’t realized that giving a child up for adoption also means that you are gaining a great and permanent vulnerability. It’s not like I sat down and thought about it that clearly, of course. If I had sat down and thought, I am going create a hostage to fortune, and then I am going to send that child to other people where he or she can be used to hold me hostage by even well-meaning parents.

Please don’t mistake me: I’m not mad at anyone but myself. But I’m feeling angry at myself about the adoption today. It just feels too hard right now. If I don’t hear for Ruth for a couple of weeks, I don’t know whether it will ever help to know that it’s probably because Nora’s having crunch time at work, or Cricket’s not sleeping well, or Ruth herself has caught a cold, or the dog has found a bag of peanut M&Ms and everyone had to make a trip to the emergency vet at three a.m. I wonder whether it will always feel like my fault—and I suspect that it will. Of course, there’s always therapy.

I’ve been reading The Primal Wound. Maybe that’s behind some of this. I feel deeply skeptical about Verrier’s theory, while at the same time I want not to be disrespectful of any adoptee who feels this wound in her own heart. But I find myself very frustrated by the book. Of course, the adoptions she describes don’t seem to resemble this one almost at all. The one thing that the book has really done for me is make me think about conversations I imagine I’ll have to have with Cricket in the future, and I just get upset. I think about the not insignificant chance that he’ll tell me to get out and mean it, and I get further upset. I know how pointless it is to brood about this, but here I am.

When I was planning the adoption, I genuinely, 100% believed that there was no loss of any kind for Cricket—he was going to parents with money and dedication who were very prepared to parent in a loving and thoughtful way, he’d have birthparents in the background to answer questions and assure him that he was never unwanted, and he’d just be better off—it seemed very uncomplicated in that way. I thought that the only loss would be mine and Mr. Book’s. I didn’t even see a loss for the adoptive parents, since they didn’t really pursue technological/hormonal solutions and certainly had no expectation of producing their own genetic offspring. I’ve since learned that Ruth and Nora may very well have experienced some loss with the adoption, although they haven’t hinted at that to me. But what about Cricket? Has he really lost anything? In the end, I know that he gets to decide whether or not he has experienced a loss, but if anyone has an opinion from experience, I would like to hear it.

7 thoughts on “Primal

  1. I’m going to reread Primal Wound because I read it long before I adopted and I’m interested to see if it strikes me differently now.

    A couple of years ago I was talking to a friend who was adopted as a newborn. I don’t know at what point he came to know his birth parents, but he did and had spent significant time with them during his adolescence and early adulthood. He said that he felt simultaneously that he was much better off for having been raised by his adoptive parents, and he knew his adoptive parents loved him so much and they were his “real” (his word) parents in his mind, AND that growing up as “different” and not-related in that adoptive family was a loss and an always present thought in his mind and always would be.

    I couldn’t get my head around it in the amount of time we had for the conversation.

    Thinking about this young man later, it occurred to me that if I’d been adopted, it could have worked like an amplifier to other relational issues in my family.

    For example, if I felt that my parents were unhappy with some aspect of me –say my looks or my lack of athletic ability– I, as their bio kid, could feel like they had no one but themselves to blame for it. But what if I was adopted? The subtle “why don’t you do something about your hair?” or “If you tried as hard as your brother tries, you’d get better at tennis” –remarks that any parent might make– could have a totally different feel. They might have been felt as reminders of my “otherness” if they didn’t come from the actual source of the frizzly hair or the very poor hand/eye coordination.

    As it was, I just felt like a disappointment to them at times, or like my mom should have picked a husband with better eyesight if she wanted to breed athletes. If I’d been adopted, I might have felt my parents wished they’d picked a different child, or that I wasn’t making the whole endeavor worth their while, or I might have fixed my hair or tried harder at tennis to make it up to them so they wouldn’t feel that way.

    After I thought about it like that, I applied the “amplifier” idea to the other relationship factors that I see as really shaping my childhood and my family, and I could see how being adopted could have really increased the hurtfulness of some factors, or changed things that weren’t hurtful to me at all into things that might have been.

    Based on my reading of Verrier’s book all those years ago, and on raising my three bio infants from day one, I don’t intuitively see the primal wound as springing from physical separation from the birth mother. But I do see that (for me) there would be a loss in growing up adopted, having so many things experienced through that filter, although unintended on the part of entirely benevolent adoptive parents.

    • That’s a point of view I hadn’t considered. When I was a teenager, my parents considered sending me to boarding school (as a cure for my depression), and I felt betrayed and rejected–I can’t imagine how much worse that would have been had I been an adoptee.

  2. One of the hard things for Pennie was VALUING herself enough to realize that Madison did lose out by not being parented by her. It doesn’t matter if I was the Queen of Sheba with diamond mines and magic and sundaes everyday and was the best most calmest most patient most understanding fabulous mother in the world either (and I’m a far cry from any of that, which is a shame because I’d love sundaes everyday), she lost Pennie.

    I wrote this a few years back when some adoptive parents on an adoption board were arguing that Madison didn’t experience loss:
    http://www.thiswomanswork.com/2006/07/23/adoption-verbosity/

    This was after two year old Madison very clearly expressed that she HAD.

    On the one hand, I know this is hard to hear because it’s pretty freakin’ difficult not to say, shit, I gave my child loss but the thing is, it’s important to understand that YOU HAVE TREMENDOUS VALUE FOR CRICKET BY VIRTUE OF BEING HIS FIRST MOTHER. You matter to him and he needs you. Now who the hell knows how that will play out in your unique relationship but don’t ever succumb to the idea that you are nothing to him because you are not.

    God, I hope I’m explaining this well and not just making a muck of things.

    • When I hear people tell me that I have unique value for Cricket, I get this hunted look on my face–I’m really threatened by that. I should probably think about why. Your blog really does have information on almost all of my concerns; I’ve reread the archives twice now, and may make it a biannual event or something. 😉

  3. Yes to what Dawn says….and I have more thoughts on this too, but I need to run to a meeting. If you email me the password to the pics though I promise to come back and engage in this conversation more though 🙂

  4. I can only say (so far, Saskia turns 2 early next month) that I keep telling Caroline (as recently as last week) that she gave Saskia all that love & concern to shepherd her into this world as she did (but I messed up a few times, she said to which I say, You loved her & that’s really what counts; you wanted for her the best best best). Remains true, that love, that gift, even if the day-to-day “stuff” isn’t with you.

    I have a friend who was adopted (pre Roe) & then shunned when she attempted contact & a meeting/some openness & there’s a pain in my friend that can’t go away. When we were adopting the situations that scared me were those in which the pregnant mother/birthing mother couldn’t even look at the child. That’s such deep pain for the mama. That’s almost insurmountable for the child, at least possibly.

  5. It is amazing, flabbergasting and shocking to me that people don’t think there will be a loss because you are an infant.

    It also really stymied me in my adolescence even though for an adoptee I was given a lot of help in this area.

    I guess it has a lot to do with how infants are seen in general. I have never met an adoptee that didn’t feel it, even those that on the balance sheet find adoption to be a positive. I mean it can be a positive thing, but the alternative has to be bleak.

    There are things you can do to mitigate it however. Making him important to you, valuing him, being a constant. Understanding that he may feel these things without pushing it on him. Understanding that your value to him will not dissappear, even if it may be easier for you.

    I had a horrible fear of abandonment as a young person, it is gone now.

    You cannot undo what is done, but there is a lot you can do to make his future easier. It sounds like you are doing a lot of that. It is too bad that this industry doesn’t give full disclosure.

    One thing I do know, consistency is vital.

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