Adoption and "loss"

As I poked about WordPress today, I found a series of posts in Empowering All that seeks to explain “Adoption and related psychological issues.” Beyond the obvious issues of an automatic presumption that adoption and psychological problems go hand-in-hand (perhaps sometime I’ll post on my research and ponderings of how the Library of Congress Classification System indexes texts on adoption…), there are some base assumptions in her posts that need to be queried.

Bear in mind that, as a psychological counselor, Empowering All is using a psychology-shaped hammer and, therefore, finds lots of psychology-shaped problems (aka nails) everywhere she looks. This is true of most people — we see what we look for (myself included). The primary difference from my Cultural Studies perspective is that I seek to be aware of my biases, to indict them as appropriate and, most certainly, to help make sure my readers recognize where my particular leanings may be informing my comments. I also work to qualify what I say as, in my view, nothing in human existence is so simple as to be able to be universally generalizable.

One of the most basic assumptions about adoption is that there is, in all cases, a sense of loss involved for all members of what is commonly referred to as the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted person). While the triad itself is highly simplistic (some, including Signe Howell, have proposed an adoption spectrum to be more appropriate as it can take into account the role of the state, of adoption organizations, of society…) the loss/absence/”primal wound” is not an automatic part of adoption and the idea that it is is a social construction that, I believe, serves to harm all those involved in adoption and the cultural views of adoption overall.

Many adopted persons never experience a sense of loss, never “miss” what they never knew, never have a desire to search. In fact, such adoptees often believe there must be something wrong with them because they are happy since society dictates that adopted people MUST feel loss, MUST be traumatized, MUST be unhappy. What an incredible disservice to these people that society should work to force them to be displeased with their lives!

And the belief that all people who bear children wish to keep them and that, therefore, all birth parents feel a sense of loss is inaccurate. All creators/bearers of children always wanting to parent all children is a romanticized concept that, like the views of reasons for adoption discussed below have never been the only experience. Some people find themselves in circumstances they did not anticipate and make the choice to carry the child to term and place them for adoption without ever looking back, feeling inadequate, feeling like they are missing something. This does not mean that all birthparents feel no loss — quite obviously they do. Neither is a universal experience. Indeed, some people bear and raise children that they never actually attach to so why should it be different for some people who do not raise their biological children? Of course, if society constantly tells you that all good people feel guilt and regret when surrendering or placing a child for adoption, many will feel it who may not otherwise. Especially when you consider that, if they don’t, we will likely ask what, the heck, is wrong with them!?! (Which isn’t to say that question isn’t asked of birth parents anyway. They can’t catch a break!)

Very many people adopt children by choice regardless of ability or inability to bear biological children. For these people, there is no loss. Many people choose to adopt because the cannot bear children, but do not experience loss because they never bought into or placed all their value as parents in the myth of biological reproduction as the sole means of making a family. (DM and I fit somewhere in this overarching category. Don’t know if infertility would have been an issue for us because we never really felt a need to check anything out since we were planning to adopt all along). The presumption that adoption comes from (and usually only from) a struggle with infertility has, in fact, never been the case. As long as adoption has existed, there have been people who have chosen to adopt — whether as the first means of creating a family or in addition to biological familial additions.

I know many people find it difficult to believe, but sometimes (in fact, more often than not) families formed through adoption and those people involved in all the various parts of adoption are just fine. Fine doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean always happy. It means fine — good days, bad days, happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, elation, joy, things we know a lot about, things we have to ask for help on, things we have no idea how to handle. It means being people — in families, in groups, in communities, in societies — who just are.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Adoption and "loss"

  1. As a student of psychology, I am very well aware that no psychological research study results have blanket application. In fact no two minds think alike and no psychological theory can be applied to all minds.

    In my posts I have no where generalized my sayings by using words like, “all adoptive parents” or “all adopted children” wherever I have mentioned any particular issues. I have taken care to use the words “many” and “most of the times” in order not to generalize a statement. I have tried to empower people by bringing to their awareness the many possible issues that can crop up in any adoption case so that they can be pre-equipped to handle them. Also, the general public has been sensitized to many issues of adoption so that their insensitivity should not bring in distress to anybody in adoption. All issues mentioned there are very real ones and not coloured by anybody’s prejudices.

    You may also please read my rejoinder to your comment on my blog. 2 more posts are to follow.

  2. If only your claim that you “have taken care” not to generalize were actually true, I would not have had such a strong response to your post (which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have responded). I quote directly from the post I link to above — and this is the exact sentence that led to my post here:

    “We all need to understand that first of all adoption is a a triangular shared loss and shared faith experienced by the three parties involved in it. It is a loss for the biological parents (or birth parents) of giving away their child, loss for the adoptive parents of not being able to bear their own biological child (for whatever reason – by choice or by force of circumstances) and loss for the child of birth parents.”

    There is not one tiny instance of qualification in this sentence. You state universally “adoption is” as if all adoptions can every be categorized as anything. You don’t say “adoption can be” or “is sometimes” or even “is often viewed as” — you say that it is — unequivocally, irrevocably IS. It is this universal and unqualified claim that I object to. This does not “[bring] awareness to the many possible issues” it tells people that this sense of loss WILL happen — because that’s what adoption IS.

    Your further comment that “All issues mentioned there are very real ones and not coloured by anybody’s prejudices.” is a further example of my concerns. Stating that these issues are “very real” implies that I have somehow said they are not. That has not been stated anywhere. Contrary to your posts, I have actually qualified my statements when explaining that “Many adopted persons,” “Some people,” and “very many people.” The great benefit of qualification, and why I called for it in your post, is that it automatically indicates there are other experiences.

    Without getting into a postmodern discussion of what “real” actually is, I can easily say that something being socially constructed (like notions of loss in adoption) in no way indicates that those who experience a sense of loss aren’t REALLY experiencing it. Of course they are! If they weren’t, then there would be no need to discuss it (and, indeed, no need for society to construct it). But the nature of social construction is that we should query the “truth” of everything to determine, to the extent possible, where it comes from and what ends it is serving.

    But the notion that these things are “real” and that that means they are “not coloured by anybody’s prejudices” is just silly. I would certainly expect more from someone seeking to serve as an expert on any topic. Everything in life is colored by prejudices and biases. If not then we would all agree on everything all the time. In this case, as I stated above, you are a psychologist and, as such, see things from that perspective. I come from an interdisciplinary cultural studies perspective and, as such, believe everyone (and particularly scholars) should always seek to be attentive to how their beliefs and their life experiences influence their perspectives (we call it subject position). That doesn’t mean we stop saying things or writing about our views, but that we qualify them, seek to convey them accurately, and do everything we can to ensure that those who might read or hear what we have to say understand what our biases are.

  3. I think you’re missing that experiencing loss and feeling loss can be two different things. Surely, since you study psychology you have studied child growth and development. You will know that when a child is born, their favorite everything, is their mother. Their favorite sound, taste, touch, smell and sight, all are the mother. When an infant looses this, it traumatizes them. Now that infant can go on in life, and maintain a successful life. They can grow up and not continue to “feel” a loss. They may also become numbed by that loss, and development attachment related issues that numb them from feelings of loss as well. There is a very thin line between these two experiences. I recommend that you read up on infant development and separation issues before coming to the conclusions that you have above. There is a blog called Lizard Chronicles that has a great number of links on separation trauma and infant development, maybe you could benefit from ( http://lizardchronicles.blogspot.com ) .

    Remember we DID know our first mothers, we all lived in their bellys for 9 months, the most rapid growth development in a humans life. There is no point to dis-crediting primal wounds that exist in many adoptees. This doesn’t mean that those who don’t recognize or feel a loss HAVE to, not at all, but to advocate against separation trauma does those who DO feel it a disservice.

    To be able to encompass adoptees in a general umbrella such as you have above, you’d have to define age of loss of mother ( in order to know if the primary stage of attachment and development has taken place or not ), why the loss happened, or if it was a “step parent” adoption where the adoptee may not have even lost his/her mother. Adoption is a very large scale that many different situations can fall onto. To generalize and say “many” adoptees don’t feel a loss” well which ones? who are you talking about and show me the information and research behind that please so that we can get a clear undestanding of which ones don’t feel loss according to you.

    I want to end with my truth that feeling loss is OKAY. Loss isn’t something we need to hide, and it doesn’t make us less than those who don’t feel it. Loss should be expected. Infact, its the ones who DON’T feel a loss that I am more concerned about because naturally, when we lose a mother, and a father, it hurts. It should hurt. So maybe the focus should be THERE, why wouldn’t someone feel loss, from losing their parents and more? Now theres a study for you!

    Feeling loss doesn’t mean that we can’t love our adoptive parents, it doesn’t mean our adoptive parents were less than, or did anything wrong, infact they could very well have done EVERYTHING RIGHT. I’m happy i feel comfortable with being able to express my loss comfortably around my adoptive mother and that she can validate that loss for me. Expressing this loss doesn’t mean anyone is any less developed than he who doesn’t feel it. You give the impression that that would be the case in your above post.

    For any adoption to have happened, loss has been involved. It may not outweigh the gain, an adoptee can go onto feel well adjusted and comfortable in their adoptee life, but still, a loss has happened, denying that is only doing a disservice to he/she that is doing the denying.

  4. It appears that you are combining me and my comments with Latha and hers. I do not study psychology — I study cultural studies. It is Latha who is a psychological counselor. I have actually done a good bit of research on the limitations of the psychological perspective on issues such as adoption and memory (not that the discipline doesn’t contribute something useful, but that it isn’t the be all and end all of any knowledge. Indeed, no individual discipline is.)

    I also did not discredit that some people do, indeed, have significant feelings of loss (in fact, I very specifically indicate that some people do). The only discrediting taking place is in Latha’s original posts and now in your comment where, once again, people who don’t identify with the mainstream view of what they are supposed to be are not afforded the right to actually feel something else.

    You also claim I am encompassing all adoptees in a general umbrella. That is, actually, the exact opposite of what I’ve done and is precisely what I am critiquing in Empowering All. Nothing I state declares that any human experience is universal — because, quite simply, none is. What I do state is that there are multiple people with multiple experiences and they should ALL be granted the ability to feel whatever it is that they are feeling.

    Yes, I have studied child growth and development (in fact, I teach a class that specifically addresses this). But what you claim I must “know” as a result is neither objective truth (if such a thing even exists) nor is it always accurate (talk about generalizing). It is, however, another socially constructed idea that is certainly dominant in many (perhaps even most) cultures currently (of course, it has been the dominant view only for a very small percentage of human history).

    As someone who seems to have at least some experience in the study of children and childhood, you surely recognize that it is not possible to “know” anything that children are or are not experiencing (particularly a pre-verbal child) because every assumption we make, interpretation we develop, hypothesis we propose is mediated through the views and biases of the adult doing the investigation. Children simply cannot tell us what thing is their favorite, what they feel they should or should not have had a relationship with, what they “lost.” They cannot TELL us anything.

    I am a scholar of adoption studies and, therefore, am quite aware of the research on infant trauma that you cite (and considerably more than you list — most of which comes from sources far more balanced, far less biased, and with a significantly less divisive an agenda than the source to which you refer me. You may actually want to read some of it!). It is on the basis of my significant knowledge of the literature that I make all my claims. To assume otherwise is rather presumptuous (as is the assumption that the simple fact that my views differ from yours is indicative of my lack of knowledge in the area — clearly if only I had read the same things you have I would never believe anything different!)

    To presume that we always “know” someone because we live in their uterus is, simply, not accurate. Absolutely, some mothers talk with, sing to, read to, touch, etc. their children while in utero and after. It could certainly be claimed that these people may, to some degree, “know” their mothers (of course, it could also be argued that they don’t. I lived in my mother’s uterus for 9 months, her home for 18 years, and her life for still longer, but I still don’t “know” her. I keep getting to know her every day). But there are also mothers who do not do any of these things, who never interact in any way beyond the obvious physical connections (that are sometimes viewed as parasitic) — how do their children “know” them?

    You also ask how I can “generalize and say “many”” — well, first, the use of the word “many” in and of itself specifically means it isn’t a generalization, but that isn’t really the point. What is the point is that there are people involved in all sides of adoption who feel and experience all sorts of things. The only thing that can be confidently stated about ALL of them is that there is nothing that can be stated about ALL of them.

    Yet by asking for “proof” you are asking me to prove a negative — prove someone doesn’t feel something. And the convenient part about about disproving a universal such as the claim you and Latha are making is that it takes only one example. So, fine — me (an adoptive parent who doesn’t feel loss), my aunt (a birth mother who doesn’t feel loss), and my student J (an adoptee who doesn’t feel loss and has spoken to me, at length, about how other adoptees have treated her quite cruelly because she doesn’t). Of course, I presume you will automatically discredit these examples because, considering the ground you claimed at the start of your post that declares EVERYONE experiences the loss, it’s just a matter of us not being cognizant of the “fact” that we experienced this loss.

    Yes, in your case loss is, clearly, part of the adoption experience. That is an earnest part of your life and I validate that as do so many others. You absolutely have the right to feel whatever you feel and to be supported in examining and addressing those feelings. But there ARE also people for whom loss is not part of the equation and they have the right to feel the way they do as well. You do not have the right to tell them they can’t or that they are wrong if they don’t.

  5. Actually, i disagree with some of what Latha was saying and in the midst of reading the 3 posts and your comment, i did get a bit confused on who I was posting to. I apologize for that!

    You said:

    What is the point is that there are people involved in all sides of adoption who feel and experience all sorts of things. The only thing that can be confidently stated about ALL of them is that there is nothing that can be stated about ALL of them.

    agreed.

    I’m tired, normally I would spend a good while on a reply to this and on the comments you made to directly insult me, but i’m too tired so have a good night and good day.

  6. Gershom,

    I am not clear where or how you feel I directly insulted you. That was certainly not my intent and I apologize if I offended you. I do admit I felt insulted by some of your comments and mischaracterizations, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that my emotions on that ended up infiltrating my response. And I apologize for that as well.

    I do hope you won’t simply check out of the conversation as I strongly believe dialog is far more constructive than silence.

    My goal through this blog, and through much of my life, is to get people talking about issues that we may not normally talk about. Does this mean we will always agree? No. Does it mean we can’t have a respectful conversation about differences? Absolutely not! Indeed, through discussion everyone involved may well find themselves learning from each other!

  7. “Does this mean we will always agree? No. Does it mean we can’t have a respectful conversation about differences? Absolutely not! Indeed, through discussion everyone involved may well find themselves learning from each other!”

    That is beautifully said. And I have learnt a lot through these discussions. I am sure we all can continue to have meaningful discussions over each other’s blog about things that we agree and also about things that we do not agree! 🙂

    Thank you, Marie.

  8. absolutly 🙂 thanks you guys.

  9. not dismissing you at all, i just have all kinds of things to be doing right now, and sitting down to put my heart out into the post takes so long. conflict of interest, not that I’m not interested, because I am, i just… really have to do other stuff. I apologize for snappyness, it was in my post and I see it, thats not how I want to come across at all. I’ll lurk until I have time to be more involved.

  10. No worries — feel free to lurk and pop back in whenever works best for you. I certainly understand having too much to do and too little time! I look forward to chatting with you more in the future.

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