Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The "A" Word: Let's Talk Abandonment

Here's a statement that is so obvious that it doesn't need saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: all adoptees are not the same. When we meet, online or in person, we often discover commonalities, but we also discover differences. Language is one area that often highlights differences. Words are powerful, but a word that is triggering or resonant for one adoptee may not be for another.

"Abandonment" is one such word. It is powerfully meaningful to some adoptees and much less so for others. I fall into the second category. 

Though my feelings about my adoption are not 100% positive, I don't tend to perceive myself as having been abandoned by my first mother. I tend to view adoption as something that happened to us -- to both my birth mother and myself -- rather than as something she did to me. It was the baby scoop era and powerful social forces were in play. My first mother, as an unmarried pregnant teen in small-town Maine, was relatively powerless. In my particular story, the more powerful player was my biological grandmother, but even she was swept along by strong social currents. In order to move beyond the mores of her time, she would have needed to be a remarkable woman. Can I blame her for being merely ordinary? 

"Separation" is a word that, for me, has more significance than "abandonment." Simply put, I consider myself to have been separated for much of my life from something vital to my well-being: knowledge of and connection to my biological roots. "Identity" is also a big word for me. 

All of that said, I can look back over my history of relationships and notice that for much of my life I tended to seek out partners who were unlikely to stick around. Was I reenacting a scenario of abandonment, working through my unresolved adoption issues through my adult relationships? Maybe. Though stability is one of the defining factors of my adoptive upbringing (my a-parents have been married for more than 50 years and still live in the house I grew up in, with my childhood bedroom more-or-less preserved for me when I return home), I have a hard time expecting that anything will last. I have been at the same job for almost 20 years and have never received anything but positive reviews, but there is a part of me that never stops expecting to be let go at any moment. Adoption-related insecurity? Maybe. 

The thing with adoption is that it can be difficult to tease out which parts are adoption-related and which parts are just life. Impermanence is part of living; the only constant, it has been said, is change. Few of us (adopted or not) make it to adulthood without some form of damage. All of this is true. But it's also not too surprising that a person whose first experience in life was one of separation would experience ripple effects from that event. 

I'd love to hear from other adoptees (and other members of the triad, for that matter) on the subject of abandonment. Is the word one that resonates for you, or not?

13 comments:

  1. The more I read your story, the more you sound like me! I don't feel abandoned either, but have always felt separated. Weird..

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  2. I love reading your blog. Your insight is extraordinary! I don't always know what to say to your posts, but I just wanted to affirm to you that they are enlightening and educating!

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  3. I think of abandonment as being something that's done thoughtlessly and carelessly, like a baby left on a doorstep or in a dumpster is abandoned. It's because I was adopted and not just left somewhere helpless and alone that I don't feel abandoned.

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  4. Quite honestly, I wasn't adopted. I am an adoptive mom, but that doesn't effect my feelings on abandonment.

    Everything you voiced about abandonment issues, I've experienced as well. We moved once when I was growing up. My parents did divorce, but not until I was an adult. I was 20 years old the first time I knew someone in my family who died.

    I've been married almost eight years and still expect my husband to come home one night and tell me he's leaving me. I've thought about leaving him first so that I dont have to go through rejection. I used to have panic attacks at work because I'd be totally convinced I was about to get fired for absolutely no reason. I am totally convinced that one of my kids is going to die. That everyone will leave me alone.

    I'm not saying this to belittle your feelings. I don't know if you feel the way you do because of your adoption. But in my own life, having not been adopted, I feel the same way you do. So you're not alone there. :)

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  5. Not for me, I'm from the Invisible era when it was expected that a single mother would not raise her child.You can't blame someone who had so little choice and who never recovered from the experience.There are words that resonate for me but abandonment is no tone of them.

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  6. Rebecca -- I feel like I could have written this post myself! "Separation" is the word that resonates with me also, far more than "abandonment". Like you, I was born during the baby scoop era to my unwed, teen mother....also in small-town Maine!! And yes, "identity" is a big one too! Also like you, I am a mother to both adopted and biological children. I really enjoy your blog -- I find it affirming/validating as an adopted person, and enlightening/valuable as an adoptive parent. I recently asked both my adoptive mother and first mother to read many of your posts. Thank you!

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  7. I related more to the term rejection more than abandonment growing up because I felt like I had a flaw others could see but I could not. As an adult I use them interchangably at times because of the base feelings they both evoke in me. I use them as terms of feelings not based on actions of my mother solely as "my" feelings.

    The waiting for the other to leave, insecurity in a job you know you excel in, all of those do fall under separation which to me leads to feelings of rejection or abandonment. I think they are all intertwined when it comes to adoption.

    At the end of the day we all have our own communication styles, geographic differences and preferential word choices based on personality, but quite likely if you broke it all down we all have similar feelings (different levels) - we just choose different terms.

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  8. I did not feel abandoned either. I was separated, as your were, but my biggest frustration was being kept in the dark about my birth, my bio parents, and my placement with my a-parents. I tend to get very anxious if I don't know what's going on.

    I had never really even considered abandonment as a word related to infant adoption, until maybe a year ago when I started reading these blogs. It didn't resonate with me.

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  9. Loving all these comments! Thanks all!

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  10. Thanks for this feedback. And thanks for telling your mothers about my blog!

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  11. I hope you don't mind me commenting, I'm not adopted or an adoptive parent?

    I had a similar upbringing to yours, extremely stable parents, and I had a similar response to adult relationships. In my case I had my first long term relationship (with my husband) aged 28! Before that I really struggled with relationships, they never lasted more than a few months. After almost losing my life in an accident, I went for therapy around the relationship problem. It turned out that the stability of my parents' relationship felt smothering to me, I felt threatened by what I perceived to be a kind of entrapment.

    I'm not saying the same thing applies to you at all. I can well imagine that if I had been adopted, I would feel that had been the reason (and for a few years as a teenager I was convinced I had been adopted and my parents were keeping it a secret, but it turns out it was just ordinary teenager feelings of alienation).

    I love your blog, and I love being able to see things from your perspective. Although I can never know it it in the sense of having lived it, I can well imagine it. It's so incredibly hard to find out how and where we fit in to the world as it is, without the added parameter of wondering how life would have been with your birth mother.

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  12. Rebecca, I wrote about this is my book, "The Ugly One in the Middle" (which is still with an agent). The title does tie into my adoptee status.

    I found out that I was adopted when I was 16. I was applying for a driver's license and couldn't seem to find any identifying info. I mentioned my problem to an aunt who said, as casually as though she were asking me the time of day, "well you know you were adopted, right?" My reaction was more like, "Really? No kidding! Wow!" That was pretty much it. I was 16 and cared only about girls and a car. Well the car was priority number one, because without it, I could forget about the girls. My point is, I didn't fall apart and it was only years later that I actively began to wonder about my origin.

    I have to admit to being guilty of poking fun at characters in TV shows and movies who fall apart in anger and tears upon the discovery that they are adopted. I am now more sympathetic towards adoptees who feel that sense of separation and abandonment but especially those who were brought up in an abusive environment.

    I feel no anger towards my birth mother. She died long before I found out her identity. I do often wonder how she and my father could have kept my existence a secret all their lives, from even their closest family and friends.

    I had no idea that it would take 50 years to discover the surprising answer.

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  13. Abandonment is the word that resonates far more for me, especially when I am in touch with the rage I feel about it. It makes it easier to blame someone for the pain when I can say "You abandoned me."

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