I am often asked whether, as a late discovery adoptee, I experience any of the issues other adoptees – who always have known about their adoption – have to contend with while growing up.
The short answer is yes.
As a child I felt surrounded by people who I believed didn’t like me – from aunts, uncles and cousins, to friends at school. Although I excelled academically and at some sports, I never felt good at what I did, or that my achievements were good enough to ensure approval, which I was constantly trying to earn.
I was extremely afraid of rejection, and would unconsciously go about sabotaging relationships with my friends and family. I reasoned: “I know you are going to leave me eventually, so I will push you away so that I don’t get hurt.”
When the person did eventually leave because I had pushed them away one time too many, my response would be: “See, I knew you would leave.” I was completely unaware that it was me who was causing the very thing I was most afraid of.
Closely related to my fears of rejection were issues of distrust – especially of the feminine. I could never understand why I always felt more comfortable around men than women. I have always had more male friends than female. One of my closest friends at high school, and at the university I studied, was a boy.
When I applied for my first job I was asked whether I got on better with men or women. Immediately I answered men. The interviewer asked why. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I just don’t trust women. They have a hidden agenda.” But I could not explain what this hidden agenda was.
When my husband and I started dating he noted that I always seemed to be “hanging out with the guys”.
“They’re just my friends,” I responded. “I have more male friends than female. I don’t know why, I simply prefer it that way.”
I have since learned that because of the rejection/abandonment experienced at birth, adoptees often view women as abandoners – people who cannot be trusted. Generally, we feel unaccepted by girls or women or uncomfortable around them. While adoptees may have one best friend of the same sex as themselves, for most of us the rest of our friends tend to be boys or men.
Then there is that little matter of control. I am a control freak. I have always been one. I can even be manipulative if I want to, owing to my insatiable need to be in control at all times. To not be in control leaves me feeling extremely anxious, and the less in control I feel the more anxious I become, until eventually I feel completely overwhelmed. Then I break down, have a good cry on my husband’s ever-present shoulder, and feel better.
Low self-esteem, coupled with guilt is another issue I have had to contend with all my life. Thankfully, I now believe I know the root of all this emotional baggage.
From the first chapter, it was as if Nancy had written her book about me. I could relate to almost every aspect she addressed. All the emotional issues I experienced before knowing about my adoption and could not explain, suddenly made perfect sense.
Nancy is a registered clinical psychologist and the mother of an adoptive daughter. In her book, she explains how, no matter how much love she gave her daughter, the child continued to push her away and act out. In an effort to understand her daughter, Nancy wrote her doctoral thesis on adoptees. Her research culminated in the identification of what she calls the primal wound.
According to Nancy, this wound is formed immediately after birth when a baby is not placed in the arms of their birth mother, but given to a complete stranger. After having gone through the trauma of birth, all the baby wants is to the comfort of the woman in whose womb they have spent the last nine months.
Research shows that during this time they have come to know the woman who carried them so well that they can even identify her by smell. Thus when they are placed in the arms of a stranger, they experience no sense of safety, wellbeing and comfort, but rather intense abandonment. What’s more – they are expected to bond with this strange person, but how is that possible when they are yearning for their birth mother?
These intense emotions of abandonment, rejection, neglect and betrayal create an emotional wound so primal, Nancy says, that it is indelibly etched on the child’s sub-conscious memory. These fears never leave the child.
Consequently, most adoptees, regardless of when they learn of their adoption, grow up with issues of rejection, trust, intimacy and loyalty, together with guilt and shame, power and control and identity.
I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter at what age you find out about your adoption – the emotional impact of being separated from your birth-mother begins on the day of separation and is profoundly and permanently life-changing.
My belief is based on my personal experience and confirmed by Nancy Verrier’s research.
Thanks to my Christian faith, however, and a wonderful support system, I have been able to confront and deal with these issues. I have experienced considerable healing, but I have also come to accept that I am a work-in-progress, and will always be on a lifelong journey of healing.
- An adoptee writes to the birth-mother he never met (aurettebowes.wordpress.com)
- The final chapter (aurettebowes.wordpress.com)
- Birth-fathers Q&A (aurettebowes.wordpress.com)
- Transracial adoption: Thoughts of a South African Adoptive Mom (aurettebowes.wordpress.com)