Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grieving for the Might-Have-Been

"Dr. Randolph Severson, a writer and psychologist specializing in adoption issues, explains that behind many kinds of reunion rejection lies a grieving for the might-have-been. And people respond to that grief in different ways.
'I think there is a stage that some people go through where they feel rejected, really, by life. [They recognize] that all these things that could have been -- or, along a different kind of life trajectory, would have occurred -- simply aren't going to be. Too much of life has already been lived. And people withdraw. The anxiety is just too great, the disappointment is too great.'
-- The Second Rejection
This is a quote that hits me where I live. When I saw my biological parents together for the first time this summer, I got the clearest glimpse I have ever had into the might-have-been, and, quite frankly, it knocked me flat. I have been recovering ever since. I have been mourning the life I didn't lead.

I know that I am not alone in this reaction. I have heard from other adult adoptees who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, a similar form of reunion backlash.

I will not retreat from reunion; I recognize this as a stage, something I just have to walk through. But I have retreated temporarily into myself, becoming withdrawn and inwardly focused. 

It is no small thing, this grieving. But as with all things, it will pass. It won't necessarily disappear, but it will change. 

I'm not sorry that I started down this path. When I reached out to my biological father in June, after a failed attempt at contact five years previous, I hoped at minimum to learn a few things about him and at most to have one face-to-face meeting. Given his previous reluctance to have any contact with me, I didn't dream that he might want any kind of an ongoing relationship. That he does seem open to continued interaction is beyond anything I had dared to consider.

This second reunion has exceeded my expectations in every way, but it has also triggered an emotional fallout that I wasn't bargaining for either.

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16 comments:

  1. So, now I wonder if this has been part of my emotional downturn the last few weeks, too? You & I talked about wanting to avoid the black hole of what-might-have-been, but I still know that seeing you with your father trigger something deep in me, too. Thanks for this insight. It helps me a lot. I've been saying that I don't expect to develop a new friendship with him, but I haven't figured out yet what I do want. And I can't pretend he isn't out there and isn't a really nice guy who could have been a wonderful dad for you. We talk a lot about adoptees and their mothers. Know anything more about dads? They they show up much in this conversation at all?

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  2. I know what you mean. I hadn't expected finding him to knock my so far off kilter, because I already had YOU. Growing up, if I thought of searching, it was for you. He was an afterthought. I think I was always more consciously aware of your absence, but I didn't realize the full extent of his until I found him. It has taken me by surprise.
    By the way, I think I'm going to start calling you Mabara.

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  3. Okay, but you have to do it with a Maine accent: Mah-Barah.

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  4. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

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  5. Rebecca, I am struck by your innate sensitivity and by your ability to analyze and consider it intellectually as well as emotionally. I think that is a piece of your Mabara

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  6. Wow! I know exactly how you feel. I had never heard of reunion depression / backlash but I van tell you the exact event that trigged mine. And when I told my Bio mom about it she too completely knew when & what wad mine. I am continually learning from your blogs and feel a kinship with you as no one truly understands than another adoptee. I will even add FEMALE adoptee to that as even my adoptee husband feels differently than I do.
    Thanks. And keep blogging!!

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  7. Also. I received a picture taken at my Bio parents class reunion this last year. My Bio moms sister took one quick of them standing together. It is the only picture I have of them together since they were in high school. I cried & cried. I had always wanted a picture of us but never was a comfortable time to do it. But until I saw it, I never knew how much it would affect me.

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  8. Wow! I know exactly how you feel. I had never heard of reunion depression / backlash but I van tell you the exact event that trigged mine. And when I told my Bio mom about it she too completely knew when & what wad mine. I am continually learning from your blogs and feel a kinship with you as no one truly understands than another adoptee. I will even add FEMALE adoptee to that as even my adoptee husband feels differently than I do.
    Thanks. And keep blogging!!

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  9. I'm setting up a blog tour for the book Open Adoption, Open Heart. Wondering if you would be able to put up a post as part of the tour?

    More info can be found here:

    http://iamareadernotawriter.blogspot.com/2012/10/open-heart-open-adoption-blog-tour.html

    If this isn't for you but you know some who might be interested I'd appreciate if you could pass the info on to them.

    Thanks for your time!

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  10. As an adoptee, I cannot understand your logic? First, you are grieving what might have been but you have to remember, that your bparents that you see today weren't the same bparents when you were born. Your parents, at that time, were unable to care for you and having a romanticized "what if" dream is not being realistic of the situation that was present when you were born. It always amazes me how many adoptees have a romanticized version of "what if/what could have been" fantasy that is far from reality.

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  11. You absolutely right: this post is not about logic; it is about emotion. Also, you are correct that my biological parents could not have raised me on their own with out support -- though, with a different social or extended-family structure, they could have.

    You seem to view grieving very differently than I do. For me it is not a negative, and it is not at all the same romanticizing. There is a logical, adult part of my brain that is perfectly capable of looking at my situation and accepting it for what it is, but there is also another part -- the child me -- that mourns the family that was lost. Adoption, for me is complicated. I both celebrate the life I led and mourn the life I didn't lead. The two do not exclude each other.

    Grieving for me is not about clinging to a romanticized version of a past that never existed. It's about processing and moving forward.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

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  12. Thanks for the information. I will check it out.

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  13. Rebecca...it is so strange that I think almost exactly as you do. It is almost if my brain and heart just cannot get together. My thoughts and feelings are so far apart and the best I can hope for is that they will move closer. I am just now beginning to mourn the might-have-been even though I know the might-have-been might not have been all that great. But it would have been my life with no interference from strangers who got to make all the decisions for that little baby who was me.

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  14. Thank you for your comment! I think that at my current stage of my adoptee journey this is the biggest issue for me: the integration of selves. I'm working toward accepting that I will always be multiple people, in a sense. I am her daughter and her daughter, and his and his. I am the self I am and the self I would have been. It's all part of me. I look at the world through a fragmented lens.

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