Margot Starbuck, author of The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail, comes at adoption from two angles. First, as her book narrates, she was adopted as an infant. Second, she has two biological children and an adopted son. In Ellen Painter Dollar’s post on Tuesday, she mentioned, “every adoption involves loss.” Today Margot shares some of the hard stuff surrounding adoption. I relate to her reticence to do so. As the parent of a child with Down syndrome, I often hesitate to admit the “hard stuff” in light of the fear and suspicion already surrounding disability in our culture. So thank you to Margot for her vulnerability and honesty here today. (And for those of you interested in a free copy of Margot’s book, submit a comment and you will be entered into a drawing. I will announce the winner next week.)
As an adoptive parent, I’m aware that we don’t always like to talk about the ruptures and separations that our children have experienced. We’d rather tell the good story—about how they’ve landed in a “forever family” that loves them—than to dwell on the losses which they have necessarily experienced in order to find their way into our lives. And certainly, we need to nurture and celebrate that foundational reality of belonging and acceptance and delight.
As an adopted person, though, I’m all too keenly aware that those of us who’ve been adopted still hold the memory of those early losses, if not in our minds, in our deepest places. Maybe bone-deep.
By even saying this much, I worry about reinforcing negative stereotypes about those who’ve been adopted. That’s certainly not my intention. Rather, I decided that Amy Julia’s blog—home to a clearly compassionate readership—would be a safe place to reflect.
~One adopted child, seven years old, constantly needs to know her family’s plans. With an uncanny sixth sense for separation, she can smell absence. If her mom has left to take a quick run, few minutes pass before this girl wanders through the house to ask her dad or siblings, “Where’s mom? Where did mom go?”.
~A seven-year-old boy who was adopted annoys and aggravates his older siblings incessantly. When they finally reach their breaking point, they sometimes respond with anger and, occasionally, physical violence. After a loud outcry, he sometimes retreats to his room muttering things like, “I might as well just kill myself.”
~Another girl who was adopted at age fourteen began cutting herself the following year. Though she does well in school, has lots of friends, and is rarely without a smile, she has found a way to release the pain she carries to which she can’t quite give voice.
~Whether he’s playing with Fisher Price characters or McDonald’s Happy Meal figures, a five-year-old boy, adopted as a toddler, repeats the same story over and over, in various forms: a boy falls into the water.
I once would have thought that some of these behaviors, and my own confounding ones on top of them, were irrational. I no longer find them so at all. In fact, from what I’ve learned on my own healing journey, I think they’re the most rational responses in the world.
If you’ve had absolutely no control over who comes and goes in your life, as is the case for most adoptees, you’re going to want to keep tabs on your caregivers. If the story that runs in your head blares, “I’m alone” or “I’m worthless” then you might behave in ways that promise to drive others away. If the way that you’ve survived, emotionally, has been to bury pain and show the world a smiley protective shell, you might even hurt yourself to express the pain you’re unwilling to face. If your life has been thrown into chaos over which you have no control, you probably do feel like you’re drowning.
In this respect, nothing could be more sane than giving expression to those realities. They are the red flag indicators that let us know where our hearts still stand in need of healing.
And there’s nothing shameful about that.
Read more from Margot Starbuck at MargotStarbuck.com. You can also pre-order her new book at a discount: Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor (Enjoy!)