I’m a big fan of adoption, in spite of the many mothers who give their babies up for adoption, my own included. You may be surprised to read that statement, given the previous posts I’ve written about Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a disorder that bedevils many adopted children. The disorder that bedeviled me for many years. In this post, I’ll tell you why my birth mom gave me up, a little bit about my adult relationship with the parents who raised me, and why you shouldn’t be afraid to adopt.
“Mothers who give up their babies for adoption don’t do it because they don’t love them, but because they do, and want them to have a better life than they can give them.”
It seemed as I was growing up that these wise words were invariably rolling off my adoptive mom’s tongue. I’d always known I was adopted. We all did, as it was made plain to my two older siblings and me right from the beginning.
I was the third baby adopted by my parents. Like all old school adoptions of the day, it was a closed adoption, meaning that my new parents had no idea who my birth parents were or even any medical history, for that matter.
They were given a smattering of information by the adoption agency: my parents were married but separated and heading toward divorce.
My birth mom knew she couldn’t provide for me and wanted me to be raised in a loving home by those who could. There was some musical talent in my birth family. My ethnic heritage was Irish, English, Scot, German, “and a little bit of Indian,” according to the social worker. And that was pretty much it.
Since I’ve already written about my adoption experience and what it was like growing up as a child with reactive attachment disorder, I won’t go into that in this post.
But if you haven’t yet read those posts where I do, I encourage you to read them, as it may shed some light upon things perhaps some of you are experiencing. And for a fascinating read from the perspective of an adoptive parent of a RAD kid, check out Tina Traster’s site here.
I Didn’t Hate My Birth Mom…but…
Thanks to the above-mentioned words of wisdom from my adoptive mom, and the evident respect and admiration she had for distressed birth moms and their heartrending decisions to give up their babies, I didn’t grow up hating my birth mom.
Instead, I appreciated the fact that, in addition to the tremendous emotional impact, she had gone to the trouble to contact an adoption agency and go through all the red tape, in order to provide a safe and secure home for me. As a young child and later as a teen, my friends thought it was bizarre that I was adopted, shaking their heads in bewilderment.
But I would always shrug it off with statements such as, “Well, at least she cared enough to give me up for adoption! She could have had an abortion, or given birth and then tossed me into a trash can. But she chose something better.”
Yet, somewhere in the depths of my unconscious mind, anger and resentment seethed like an angry cobra waiting to strike. And as RAD children tend to do, I struck out at anyone I could, especially my bewildered adoptive mom. She had unwittingly joined the ranks of moms who are known in the RAD community as the “Nurturing Enemy.”
But how could I do both – that is, not hate my birth mother and even appreciate her agonizing decision to give me up, yet at the same time have all this anger and resentment toward her?
As I pointed out, the latter was in the unconscious mind. In one of my earlier posts, I explain a bit how the area of the brain called the pons works. Scientists say the pons is a pre-verbal part of the brain, so the saying, “I have no words to describe it,” are literally true in the case of trauma before a child has developed a vocabulary.
This is why, in another post in this series, I said that as a child I had no idea how to describe my feelings; and that looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, it’s still almost impossible to describe it. I guess you could say that it was a case of facts vs. feelings: what my adoptive mom told me were the facts, and what was rattling around deep in the recesses of my unconscious were the primal, pre-language feelings.
One thing that really cemented the positive things my mom said, was getting non-identifying information from the adoption agency. I was in my late 20’s by then, and the adoption laws had loosened up enough that (for a fee) they would glean the information from the records, type it all out in a letter format, and mail it to the adult adoptee.
When I received these papers I was stunned. I already knew my birth parents were married yet separated, with divorce in the future. What I didn’t know was that they already had four kids by the time she found out she was pregnant with me!
This now-single woman with little education was facing a bleak future of being the sole breadwinner for three boys, ages eight, six and three, and a girl, age two. I stared at the paper and thought, No wonder she felt the only right choice would be to give me up. Once again, Mom was right. No – both moms were right.
A few years before this, my former husband and I had been tossing around the idea of adopting at least one baby. We already had two little ones and were perfectly capable of having more.
But we hated the thought of children languishing in orphanages all over the world, with little hope of ever finding loving parents and permanent homes. In the meantime, we took in foster kids; a wonderful, if sad experience, as they were inevitably returned to their drug-addled, neglectful parents. But we were never able to adopt, due to divorce.
So, What are We Supposed to Do?
If any of you have read this series on RAD and thought that surely after my experience, I was down on adoption, or blamed birth parents or adoptive parents for RAD, I hope I’ve set your minds at ease.
Sure, there are cases where it is the fault of the birth parents, as I’ve seen with foster care. A baby not bonding with a parent due to willful neglect is setting that child up for RAD. But as I pointed out in this post, there are many legitimate reasons a child may end up like this, reasons that are no one’s fault.
We live in a fallen world. Bad things like attachment disorders happen. What do we do about it?
In these cases, courage and honesty are called for. The courage to research this insidious monster called RAD and then, armed with the information and description of what this monster looks like, take a good, hard look at ourselves and our children.
Then ask those agonizing questions. Be brutally honest. If it looks like there may even be a remote possibility that you or a child you love is suffering from RAD, dry your tears, stiffen your spine, and reach out for help.
Does that mean that prospective adoptive parents should toss the baby out with the bathwater, and abandon all hope of adopting children? No! Look at it this way: If you have read my series on reactive attachment disorder, you now have some idea of what it is, what it looks like.
Continue to research, for there is a wealth of information out there. Hunt down a qualified therapist with plenty of experience in helping RAD kids and their families. Attend some parenting groups. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, is it not?
Now you have information, and even help lined up, just in case. Then what it comes down to is this: The child you may or may not adopt could grow up in foster care or an orphanage. Or perhaps be adopted, but maybe by someone who is completely clueless about the existence of RAD.
Or you could make the child your child, and you could learn to be the parent he or she desperately needs, as well as provide the required therapy from experienced professionals.
It is perhaps, not an easy decision to make, and one not to be taken lightly. Parenting a child with RAD is not for the faint of heart.
But speaking for myself, I’m grateful to my adoptive parents for having made the decision to adopt me, even though through no fault of their own, they (and everyone else at that time) were clueless.
We muddled through, I turned out okay, and we grew close. No matter how dreadful my behavior, they loved me unconditionally and never, ever gave up on me.
Late May 2012.
I was having lunch on a restaurant patio with a friend on one of those rare, gorgeous Western Washington spring days when it isn’t raining or cold. Or blowing. Or all three.
My phone rang, and it was Mom. Dad had had a heart attack and was in the hospital in Portland, Oregon, where they had gone for the weekend. Although I was shocked, I really wasn’t consumed with worry; after all, Dad was one tough old bird, having cheated death twice already and bounced right back.
Sure, he was getting frail now in his old age, but that was to be expected. He was still the toughest, most stubborn guy I had ever known!
A couple of days went by, and I was sure he would be released at any time. We drove down to Portland to see him and were in for a shock. He was bloated up like a Macy’s parade balloon, and unconscious. They’d had to quickly remove his wedding ring before his fingers got so swollen they’d have to cut it off.
Mom sadly commented that it was the first time that ring had been off his finger in the 66 years they’d been married. We were informed by the hospital staff that he had more than cardiac arrest going on: He also had pneumonia and was in stage three kidney failure.
He had conveniently “forgotten on purpose” to tell Mom about the kidney failure, not wanting her to worry. She knew he’d been seeing a urologist, but he’d told her everything was fine.
Weeks went by. My sister and her husband had immediately flown in from their home in “the other Washington” when they heard the news. They, my aunt, my son, and his family, my husband and I, and my daughter all took turns making the two to three-hour drive (depending on where we lived) to Portland so Dad would never have a day alone.
An uncle and several cousins from even further away visited as well. It seemed as though every day was a day of hope and hopelessness. First, they said he was recovering well from the heart attack, but there was still the kidney failure and pneumonia to deal with. Then they said the pneumonia was getting better, but now his heart was weaker.
As soon as one thing improved, another got worse. Even so, eventually he became stable enough that they were able to do a tracheostomy, then plug the hole, so he could talk somewhat. He had long since woken up but was unable to make a sound.
As soon as he could, did he ever have a thing or two to tell us! He was not a happy camper about having been kept on life support and insisted we take him off it and let him go. It was time, he said. Even if his heart would have healed — which it hadn’t — his kidneys were shutting down, and he was adamant that he didn’t want to be on dialysis.
Almost six weeks after his heart attack, Dad was removed from life support.
Early in the morning, Dad was moved from the hospital to a nearby hospice. My husband, daughter and I arrived several hours later. My son and his family were already there, as of course was Mom and my sister and her husband, who had driven Mom, as she has macular degeneration.
We all spent some time with him as a family, but I also wanted some time alone with Dad, so I suggested to the family that each one of us get a turn going into his room to say goodbye.
They all thought this was a great idea, and when my turn came, it was like I had lead weights strapped to my feet. But, taking a deep breath and whispering a quick prayer, in I went.
He lay on his back, unmoving, once again unable to talk, as the move from the hospital had so exhausted him. But though his eyes were closed, he was awake and could hear and understand everything, able to nod or shake his head in response to questions.
I took his hand and, while I don’t remember everything I said I clearly remember this:
“Dad, thank you so much for loving me and never giving up on me, no matter how awful I was. And I’m so sorry I was such a rotten kid and gave you and Mom so much grief.”
He smiled and shook his head.
“Oh yes, I was,” I chuckled, I was horrible!” Another smile and shake of his head. “But I love you, and I know you love me and forgive me.”
Another smile, and an emphatic nod.
I don’t remember what else I said to him – it wasn’t much, as there were others who wanted time with him and he was so tired. He was just… done. Whatever it was, I said my goodbyes and calmly walked out of the room, and away from my family in the waiting area.
And fell to pieces.
Almost six years later, Mom has lost nearly all her sight and is now in a wheelchair, but still hanging in there, at almost 92 years old! Several months after Dad passed, my husband and I moved into the house next door which my parents owned. Soon after, my sister and brother in law moved in with her, as her fondest wish is to die in the house she shared with our dad for 66 years.
Did Someone Say More?
And now, I have not forgotten my promise to reveal the next chapter of my adoption story – the reunion! Coming at you next week, so stop by! And please, don’t forget to share this post! You never know who might be helped.