I am so excited and a little apprehensive about this series…. #FlipTheScript Adoptee’s Voices. I was initially nervous about the reaction this series would get. I was afraid that it would, as it surely is, be a trigger for many adoptees, but in my quest to better my understanding of the adoptees journey and in so doing, better my ability to parent my (adopted) children, I felt a need to do this. Not just for me, but for other adoptive parents who are muddling there way through this journey.
First up…. Paula Gruben
I read Paula’s book earlier last year and reached out to her through social media. She has become a mentor of sorts to me, whenever I need advice or affirmation of my parenting, Paula is the first person I turn to. I have learned that in the adoption triad, there are 3 very different stories. The birth parent’s, the adoptive parent’s and the adoptee. We have to hear and acknowledge all 3 stories to find truth and understanding.
Here’s Paula’s story… her voice…
When and how did you learn that you were adopted?
My folks introduced me to the concept from a very young age, so it was something I always knew. This was in line with the then-current wisdom which (still) holds, that adoptive parents should talk with their child about adoption as early as possible.
How did this make you feel then?
There was, and still is, a stigma attached to adopted children – that we are the product of teen moms and junkies and whores, that we were unwanted, and that we are all ‘damaged’ in some way, albeit through no fault of our own. This pervading narrative results in a lot of secrecy, which in turn perpetuates feelings of shame. Being ‘different’ as a kid was not cool at all. Growing up, I was terrified of being teased or bullied if people found out I was adopted. So I played my cards close to my chest until I was in my mid-to-late teens, when I had grown a thick enough skin to deal with the kind of invasive questions, insensitive remarks, and cruel adoption ‘jokes’ to which every adoptee will inevitably be exposed at some stage in their life journey.
How does this make you feel now?
Although me speaking my truth in my memoir ‘Umbilicus’ resulted in my adoptive mother cutting me out of her life – we have been estranged since I sent her the manuscript more than two-and-a-half years ago – I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Feedback from fellow adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and professionals working in the field the world over, has left me feeling validated and liberated. I have dealt with my shit, and I am now working hard at helping others realise they are not alone, that there is help out there, and hope for healing. The more we shed the burden of adoption stigma, and secrecy, and shame, the closer we’ll be to creating a healthier generation of adoptees, and a more compassionate, cohesive society.
Is there anything you feel could have been done differently by your adoptive parents that would have helped you?
I wish they had been more forthcoming regarding the information to which they were privy regarding my birth parents. When I was 16, they received a heartfelt, hand-written letter from my biological mother detailing her version of events leading up to my birth, and her reasons for relinquishing me. She and I could have exchanged letters and photographs, and met in person if that was something we both agreed to and felt ready for. Sadly, secrets continued to be buried by my parents, while my pain continued to surface, manifesting in all forms of anti-social and self-destructive behaviour. Because of this, my relationship with them deteriorated drastically over the course of my teenage years, and with a severe breakdown in communication, I never felt comfortable verbalising my yearning to meet my birth mom. I had to wait until I was 21 to access my file at Durban Child Welfare without my parents’ consent, and then deal with the emotionally taxing search and reunion process on my own.
Is there any one thing that your adoptive parents could have done to ease your struggle with identity?
I wish that as a young child they had made a Lifebook for / with me. I wish that when I started acting out as a teenager, in an obvious cry for help, they had found me a professional to speak to. Someone who specialised in dealing with adopted children, and the unique psychological and emotional challenges we face. Someone with a strong grasp of pre- and perinatal psychology, and how it relates to ensuing problems with attachment, bonding, and abandonment issues – as uniquely experienced by adoptees. Someone with proper training in treating the trauma associated with the primal wound, the ghost kingdom, genealogical bewilderment, mirror loss, and identity issues – again, as uniquely experienced by adoptees. I now advise all adoptive parents to seek out professionals who specialise in adoption, to help their children. Normal family psychologists and school counsellors and clergymen are not qualified to deal with these adoption-specific issues. Period.
What are you needs/wants/desires from your birth/first parents?
To simply continue loving and supporting me as they always have. Since the day we reunited, I have never felt anything but acceptance and unconditional love.
What do you want adoptive parents to know?
It is the fear of rejection that runs through every thread of the adoption tapestry. Deep down, everyone in the triad has a fear of it. But remember, your child is the only party in the triangle that entered involuntarily. You are the grown-ups. You need to put your fear of rejection aside and do what’s in the best interests of your child. Biological or adoptive, immediate or extended, family is family, and we are all inextricably bound, through blood ties or otherwise. Don’t deny your child information about or access to certain branches of their complicated, colourful family tree, no matter how crooked those branches may be. Each leaf on every branch is part of your child’s story.
What do you want birth parents to know?
At some point, your child will want / need to know their biological history and your reasons for their relinquishment. If you are not able / willing to explain everything in person, at least write it all down in a letter, and include photographs of family members wherever possible. Even if the truth regarding the child’s conception and your pregnancy is ugly and painful, it is still better for the adoptee to know the facts, than being forced to live with the anguish of unanswered questions. Simple, unadulterated truth will go a long way towards your redemption in the eyes of your child, and the healing of their trauma caused by relinquishment.
What do you think should be done differently in adoptions today?
I am a firm proponent of an open and adoptee-centric approach. Adoptive mom and author Lori Holden, who describes herself as being “passionate about de-freakifying open adoption and ending discrimination against adoptees” explains beautifully in her work the difference between contact and openness. They are NOT the same thing. And in her adoption grid, she breaks down the various options available: traditional closed adoption, obligatory contact, openness with discernment, and extension of family. This particular page on her website is a MUST READ for all social workers, birth parents, and adoptive parents before negotiating a post-adoption agreement.
What has been your experience with the primal wound?
Not all adoptees will experience abandonment issues. But I do believe all adoptees will, at some stage in their lives, experience a sense of grief and loss related to the primal wound. For some, it may feel like a minor piece of the puzzle is missing. For others, it is a far more serious matter. For me personally, it was a deep and aching void, a painful longing to reconnect with my roots, a veritable hole in my soul that I knew could only be filled with the answers to certain questions I had about my biological family and their reasons for relinquishing me. I think for anyone to deny the fact that the bond between a mother and her biological child goes right down to a cellular and spiritual level, is akin to denying the very essence of life itself.
Any parting thoughts? Or points you’d like to add?
Although #AdoptionAwarenessMonth and #WorldAdoptionDay and #FlipTheScript campaigns may be triggering for some, I believe they open dialogue around pressing issues in our community. For example, in the US, where millions of North Americans are still prohibited by an archaic law from accessing personal records pertaining to their historical, genetic, and legal identities – due solely to the fact they were adopted as children, and depending on which side of a State line they were born – there is a groundswell of advocacy for change. Activists are lobbying for the basic civil and human right of all North American adoptees, regardless of which State they were born in, to have access on demand, at age of majority, without condition and without qualification, these government documents, including their unaltered original birth certificates.
Like the inimitable Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I think we can all do better, together. #EducateEmpowerInspire
Paula, you are a rock star. Thank you so much for your valuable insights! You’ve already given me so much more than you will ever know, so from the bottom of my heart. I thank you!