Livia Montana: The Primal Wound is an integral book for many adoptees, as well as adoptive parents and birthparents. What originally inspired you to explore the ideas that you talk about in that book?
Nancy Verrier: When I gave birth to my second daughter, I thought about what it must have been like for my older daughter, whom I adopted, and her mother to have been separated. I wondered how that separation might affect adoptees and their birthmothers, because I couldn’t imagine being separated from my daughter after giving birth.
LM: And you also have a second book, Coming Home to Self.
NV: Yes. I wrote Coming Home to Self because everybody said, “Okay, now that we know why we feel the way we do, what can we do about it?” It’s important for adoptees to recognize that they often use coping behaviors—these are behaviors they use to cope with the original loss and the fear of another loss. While the first part of Coming Home to Self is a clinical explanation of separation trauma and how it affects the neurological system, the second part of the book talks directly to adoptees about how they can recognize behaviors they might want to change and how to become more authentic.
I talk about the “The Three A’s” which are awareness, authenticity, and accountability. Awareness is vital because you can’t change things until you’re truly aware of them.
LM: Unfortunately, there are still many mental health professionals that aren’t aware of the effects being relinquished and growing up adopted can have.
NV: I know.
LM: Many therapists don’t see the experience of being adopted as something that needs to be explored. The counselor wants to focus on the behaviors and issues the adoptee is trying to change, but not on that original loss and displacement. Even when adoptees want to discuss their feelings about adoption, many counselors will respond by saying something like, “Well, a lot of people who aren’t adopted have the same issues you’re dealing with.”
NV: Yes, and this is very dangerous. Many adoptees are being misdiagnosed as bipolar due to that tendency not to recognize the effects of adoption. There’s always a “diagnosis of the week” and bipolar is it right now. It used to be borderline personality. Even though many of the symptoms of borderline personality and bipolar can be very similar to the coping behaviors adoptees might exhibit, the source for the adopted person is a real separation—a physical and psychological separation from the mother. Therefore, the treatment must be different.
LM: Why do you think many mental health professionals are still reluctant to discuss adoption issues?
NV: It’s due to the culture of adoption we have in this country. Adoption is only looked at as such a wonderful thing. Many therapists have bought into this belief, this idea of “Well, you were adopted, so if you had good parents why should that be a problem?” Everyone thinks the substitution of another parent makes everything okay, but that’s just not true. There is no worse time for a baby to be separated from a mother than right at birth because the baby knows nothing but that mother—she is the whole world. Cutting the umbilical cord doesn’t untie the psychological connection. So when the baby is separated from the mother and that psychological guidance is cut off, it feels like chaos. There are a lot of things that need to happen to a baby after birth. For instance, the birth hormones need to recede. If the baby is anxious, that’s not going to happen. The result of this trauma is that the child’s neurons actually connect in a different way. This is why many adoptees always have a lot of adrenaline pumping through their body; this is why they’re quite often experiencing fight or flight symptoms.
LM: Can this be changed?
NV: Yes, but it takes patience and deliberation from everyone. The first thing that adoptive parents need to do is acknowledge that the baby is suffering from the loss of that first mother. Then they need to empathize with this loss. Acknowledgement and empathy can build a strong connection between adoptive parents and adoptees. When I did interviews with adoptees, there was such a depth of pain and sorrow in the loss they spoke about. And they felt totally alone in that sense of loss all the time they were growing up. So empathy is powerful. For instance, if you empathize, your child won’t need to act out because he or she will feel understood. Acting out is just a form of communication.
LM: What would you say to people who were adopted when they were older or parents that adopted older children? Does being adopted when you’re older make the separation easier?
NV: No, it doesn’t. No matter what caused the mother to relinquish, the child always feels abandoned. Being left by your mother, no matter when it is, is traumatic. The problem is that a baby will have no conscious memory of what happened. There will be cellular memory and implicit memory, but no explicit memory, that is, no conscious memory. I do think it’s a little easier to work on the trauma if the child has a conscious memory of being separated from the mother. On the other hand, in some ways it’s more difficult. Someone who was adopted when he or she was older will think, “Mom knew who I was and she still left me,” whereas someone who was adopted as a baby can think, “Well, she didn’t know who I was.” Of course, that thought really doesn’t make much difference in the way the person feels.
LM: You mean they’ll still believe they weren’t good enough?
NV: Yes, that’s right. That feeling of not being good enough always goes back to the original separation. The belief is “I wasn’t good enough to keep.”
LM: What are some important things for adoptive parents to be aware of?
NV: One of the things people need to recognize is that there is no biological mirroring for the adopted child. They don’t see physical and personality traits reflected in the biological relatives around them. (These are inherent genetic traits; they’re not things you just pick up from living around people.) People who are born into biological families and stay in them take biological mirroring for granted. But this isn’t present in an adoptive family. So the adoptee is always trying to figure out how to be in that family and the family is trying to figure out how to be around that child.
LM: What’s one of the ways that adoptees react to this?
NV: Adoptees become very good observers of behavior and mannerisms in order to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. Again, people who stay in their biological families don’t have to do this kind of observing because they see themselves reflected in the people around them.
LM: What advice can you share with adoptive parents?
NV: Your child is going to observe you in order to figure out who they think they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be interested in. It’s your job to discover who your child is, and to figure out what their talents and interests are. You must nurture and encourage those talents and interests so that they feel comfortable becoming who they are. Remember that adopted children can feel like they’re on trial. Adoptees think that they’ve already been sent out of one family, and now they’re full of anxiety about whether or not they’re going to be able to do whatever it takes to stay in their second family. Never, ever threaten abandonment of an adopted child in any way because that child will absolutely believe you.
LM: You said before that those people who grow up in their biological families take biological mirroring for granted. But sometimes they will respond by saying, “Well, even though I grew up with my biological family, I was nothing like them and they didn’t understand me. I felt like I was adopted.” How would you respond to this?
NV: In a biological family, even if you are the black sheep, there’s always something of yourself that you recognize in the relatives around you, though you may not want to admit it. So I would say to those people, “You cannot even begin to comprehend what it’s like to have absolutely not one gene in common with the people you grew up with.” Now, I have met adoptees who were fortunate to have other things in common with their adoptive families. For instance, an adoptee that’s artistic having an adoptive mother who’s an artist. But that biological mirroring will never be present.
LM: In the beginning of Coming Home to Self you have a quote from author Salmon Rushdie, “Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as time changes, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” How can adoptees have “power over their stories”?
NV: In order to have new thoughts about your life, you have to accept that nothing is going to change what happened. Blame is not going to change what happened. Anger won’t change what happened. Attitude is a very big determinate of what direction you take in life. One thing that disturbs me a great deal about some adoptee support groups is that people can get stuck in their anger and never get out of it. The problem with anger is that as long as you’re stuck in it, you’re also stuck feeling like a victim. And leave no doubt, as a baby or a child every adoptee was a victim—they were taken out of their biological family and had nothing to say about it. But you cannot be a victim your whole life because victims always have somebody to blame. When you have somebody to blame, you always have an excuse for not going forward in your life. You have no power.
LM: So how might a person who has the story of “I am a victim” begin to change that?
NV: Well, it’s not going to happen by saying something like, “I guess it was all for the best;” it’s not about sweeping your feelings under the rug. But you do need to ask yourself, “What can I take away from this experience that makes me a stronger person?” For one thing, adoptees are usually pretty good observers of life. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get in there and be part of life, but being a good observer is a useful talent. People need to become aware of the behaviors they developed while they were trying to figure out how to be a part of their adoptive families. Then they need to assess which behaviors they can use as strengths in their adult life, and which behaviors are hurting them and those around them.
LM: We’ve talked a little bit about the “culture of adoption” that we have in this country, a culture that sees adoption as only a blessing. I know you’ve given talks in different countries. Are there different viewpoints elsewhere?
NV: Absolutely. In this county, if something is difficult, we just don’t want to talk about it. Certainly there are adoptive parents and adoption professionals in the U.S. that appreciate the information I share, but unfortunately there are those who respond by saying, “You make adoption sound like such a negative thing.” They don’t hear the part about how they can do something different and make it better for the children. But when I go to England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia I find that people have a much easier time discussing this. I gave a talk to adoptive parents in Ireland and they all told me how much they believed in what I was saying and how they could see the truth of it in their kids. The adoptive parents there are much more open.
LM: That’s very interesting. Well, we’ve gotten more open about adoptees searching for their birthfamilies in this country.
NV: Yes, but we’re doing it painstakingly—state by state, trying figure out if adoptees should have their birth records. In some other countries, all adoptees have access to their biological information.
LM: Do you think that reunions can be an important step for adoptees in “having power over their stories”?
NV: I do. That’s not to say that all reunions go well, but I think that comes from a difference in expectations. I do believe that when adoptees meet their birthfamilies, it can help them feel grounded. There are many reasons why this is so. One thing that adoptees who have been reunited with their birthmothers often speak about is finally feeling like they were born. Even thought they knew it logically, they never believed it. You know, we have intellectual understanding and we have beliefs. Those two things often have nothing to do with one another. You can’t force yourself to believe something.
LM: What do adoptive parents need to know about search and reunion?
NV: From the day they bring their child home, adoptive parents need to realize that the child has two sets of parents and always will. It’s important for them to recognize that their children’s need to find their biological family is not something that’s meant to hurt them. In fact, it has nothing to do with them. Searching is about an adoptee finding out about his or her identity. You know, as much as we adoptive parents love our children, we need to accept that they’re not biologically related to us. And everyone has the right to know who their biological family is.
Don’t refer to our children as “gifts”
Gifts are something you “create or buy” with the intention to give away. Birth Mothers don’t intentionally get pregnant to give children away as “gifts.” Rather, you were given the “gift” of the experience of parenting and entrusted with the honor of caring for, and keeping safe, another mother’s child. A gift passes ownership of “the thing” from the giver to the receiver. Children are not “things” to be owned, but rather unique individuals who like all people have ties and connections to family which cannot be severed or transferred, no matter who claims them as their own. Most Birth Mothers would agree that they “gave up” their right to parent, but do not feel they should have to “give up” their right to know their children, even if that was what we were told we had to do.
Instead you might say, “I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience parenting and raising a child.”
Do not say “you made the right choice.”
You do not know for sure if a Birth Mother actually felt like she had a choice. Often due to circumstances and the social influences surrounding her, she doesn’t feel she had much of a choice at all. A Birth Mother may have been harassed, threatened or isolated to get her to relinquish, or she may have felt there was no support system to help her. A child is best left with their original mother whenever possible, therefore relinquishing a child is not considered the “right choice,” but “a choice.” Since we do not have the ability to know what might have been, no one will ever know if the “right choice,” for mother or child, was truly made or not.
Instead you might say, “That must have been a really hard thing to do. If you ever need to talk about what happened, I am here for you.”
Don’t say “you, or the child, was better off.”
Again, whenever possible, a child is best left with the mother that created them and with whom they share a biological bond. Their connection to the world begins with their biological mother. We can all agree that every child deserves a safe and loving home, and when this cannot happen within a child’s family of origin, we must provide it for them some other way. However age, economy and marital status are not automatic reasons for a child to be “better off in another family,” or for a mother not to be able to keep her baby. In fact age, economy and martial status are all variables that can and are changed with time, whereas a biological tie cannot be replaced or substituted.
Instead you might say, “I wonder what your life would have been like had you not had this experience” and then JUST LISTEN.
Don’t say “it’s a good thing you have an open adoption”
Open adoptions are not the cure all for the grief and pain that comes with relinquishing a child. Although we can agree that “open” is a much better than “closed,” it is still painful for a mother and child to be separated and open adoptions come with a different set of challenges altogether.
Instead you might say, “I bet it is still hard to not be able to parent your child yourself.”
Don’t respond with, “maybe your child does not want to have a relationship with you.”
Often, the only thing a Birth Mother has is “hope.” It may be the only way we get through each day of our lives after relinquishing our children. It is especially hard to hold on to “hope” when reunions are rocky or stagnant. Our biggest fear is that our children will not want to have a relationship with us, or be so hurt by what has happened that they don’t feel they can. Nothing positive can come from reminding us that this might be the outcome.
Instead you might help us hold onto “hope” by saying, ”I’m sure he/she will come around.”
Don’t remind us “that it may take time” to reconnect with our children.
For most of us, we are all too familiar with the “time” it takes to connect with our children. Those with a closed adoption have most likely had to wait 18 years to even attempt contact with their child. Others may have taken even more “time” to find the emotional energy to attempt this reconnection. When we finally do find that strength it takes every fiber of our being to make that journey. We apologize to all those who feel we seem to be “too pushy,” but when you finally have a chance to be with your baby, patience is a pretty tough thing to practice. Imagine for a moment if you had not been able to talk to, see or touch your own child for 18 years and then tell us if you would be willing to “take more time.” We are intimately aware of the “time” it takes. . .there is not need to remind us.
Instead you might say, “It must be really hard to wait for your child.”
Don’t shut down grief or pain, or say you “know how we feel.”
Relinquishment of a child is an incredibly unique and painful experience. Trying to soothe a Birth Mother by using comparisons to other loses in life will not console, but rather widen the gap and isolation. We know you can’t know what relinquishing a child is like, unless you yourself have gone through this exact experience. The grief, sadness and anger that accompanies it is normal and needs to be let out. We know no one wants to hear the true pain of this experience and that is why we are often left to deal with it alone. Be able to sit, listen and comfort without trying to “fix it,” make comparisons, or shut it down. It is truly a gift when a Birth Mother feels safe enough to begin to tell her story. If you are who she picks to tell it to, you have a unique opportunity to help with her healing by simply listening and giving her love.
Instead you might say, “I have no idea how hard losing a child to adoption must be. If you want to talk I am here to listen.”
Don’t say “at least you didn’t choose abortion,” or “at least your child’s alive.”
First of all, you don’t know if the woman you are talking to may have had an abortion in addition to relinquishing a child. Abortion is an equally hard and painful choice, discussions of which often lead to arguments of personal, religious and political beliefs rather than offering comfort. Additionally, many of us with closed adoptions have no idea if our relinquished children are alive or not. This is another fear and anxiety we live with until we are able to find out the truth. We don’t know if their adoption experience was a good one, and whether or not they were raised in a loving home, or if instead they were abused and neglected as sometimes happens. It is obvious that we chose life for our relinquished children, so no need to point it out.
Instead you might say, “It must have been really hard to carry a baby full term and then not be able to parent.”
Please, please, please don’t say “everything happens for a reason.”
I have a personal disdain for this statement, but know that there are some Birth Mothers and even Adoptees who find comfort in it. However, since I am writing this particular piece I am going to take liberty and state why I, and other Birth Mothers may not find this statement helpful.
None of us like to feel out of control of situations that occur through life, especially uncomfortable or sad ones. Also, if you are a religious or spiritual person, you may in fact have the belief that things are in being directed by some greater power. Either way, we have a tendency to try and make “sense” of things by throwing out this comment. This statement is made for the death of a loved one, to the loss of a job, or the adoption of a child and everything in between. I will tell you the reason I lost my son, because I was shamed and felt no support by the people who supposedly cared the most for me. They made a mistake, as many people do with this “situation.” This “mistake” has caused great pain in my life, my child’s life and the lives of many other Birth Mothers who were faced with my same circumstances. Adoption occurs for many reasons, whether it is by “choice,” or “circumstance.” Suggesting there was some “divine plan or fate” that caused the loss is not comforting or healing for the people that were separated. We live in an imperfect world, and sometimes bad and sad things happen. I find greater comfort in knowing that life is sometimes unfair, then feeling that I and my child were in some way “used” to fulfill some “greater plan.” Until you know whether or not the statement above is comforting to the Birth Mother you are speaking with, it is probably best you just not say it.
Instead you might say, “I am so sorry that you suffered this loss in your life.”
I smell her all the time. I smell her breath, I smell her hair, and the top of her head. Smell is such a powerful sense, and I love my daughter’s scent. Through scent I am drawn to her, and her to me, it is instinctual and innate. My daughter is of me, and her scent is a marker of this.
At birth, mothers and babies are hardwired to find each other’s scent appealing. This shared attraction is a natural aid to attachment. Scent is also an identifier. Studies have shown that after just ten minutes to an hour with their new babies, mothers are able to recognize their scent with 90% accuracy. After an hour the percentage rises to 98%. Babies are also able to identify their mothers based solely on scent.
It doesn’t surprise me that scientists have found that this bond between mothers and children may last well past infancy and into adulthood. Many adoptee friends of mine, who have reunited, talk about feeling viscerally attracted to their birth mothers, regardless of whether they felt emotionally hesitant or conflicted about meeting. They wanted to touch their mother’s hair, her face, but most of all, they wanted to hug her so they could breathe in her scent.
I was adopted at the age of two and a half. I was not adopted along with a sibling. I have not reunited with anyone in my birth family. Most of my life I’ve felt as though I was suspended in time and space. Not knowing a single blood relative is an unnatural state of being and can make you crazy. You feel disconnected and lost. When I scent my daughter, it literally grounds me and I become anchored to this world. When I scent my daughter, my soul quiets. On a primordial level, I claim our bond to each other. Through scent, I recognize her as my own, my family, and my blood.
Take a peek at the first couple pages, and a few inside pages of the spring 2011 issue of Adoption Mosaic’s magazine The Adoption Constellation, and be sure to read our post about the on-line magazine reader we’ve chosen to use.
For information about submitting an article or essay to The Adoption Constellation please read our submission guidelines here>>
I remember the exact times and places in which I first felt as though I was “different.” No, it wasn’t the times in which my parents and I had the “talk” about my adoption. One day in elementary school, I was walking up the steep hill from the school bus to my house and my neighbor shouted oh so casually, “See ya later, brownie!” Or the time I broke up with the first boy I ever dated, he tried seeking revenge by slamming me over instant message, capitalizing his every angry word, “SLANT EYED BITCH!” I even remember close friends joking about my physical appearance, blatantly saying, “I can’t tell when you’re angry and squinting your eyes, or not.” Another one of my ex-boyfriends in high school had the audacity to pull the skin away from the corners of his eyes, a completely racist thing to do.
But probably the most hurtful of all, was the moment as I was waiting at a crosswalk near Hawaii Pacific University, I could hear two drug-addicts, the lowest of lives, laughing and pointing, their long, dirty fingernails seeming to reach out and pierce my skin. They were making horrible comments under their breath and they made sure it was just loud enough for me to hear. They were commenting on the shape of my eyes. They were making fun of the fact that I was born without double lids. It made me livid and worst of all, it began to worry me just how much the opinions of these two strangers really mattered to me. The anger started to set in and I finally realized, I am different because I am adopted. Feelings came flooding through me, like a tsunami, and at twenty I was finally facing my worst fear, dealing with residual identity issues from my adoption.
It didn’t help that when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t stand the person staring back at me. At times I wouldn’t even turn the lights on, I didn’t want to confront myself. I refused to accept myself, because in my mind, in the small town just outside of Portland, Oregon where I grew up, I was surrounded by Caucasians, ultimately leading me to believe I looked like one on the outside. If mirrors didn’t exist I wouldn’t know any better. I was sheltered from different races and diversity. My self-image was distorted, and my identity was torn between being born Korean, and growing up an all-American girl.
Feeling this type of confusion, I believe, affected my personality as a young child. I turned inward, shying away from people because I couldn’t deal with the fact that I was different and didn’t know who I was or where I came from. Who made me this way? It made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable and almost ashamed to realize I looked Korean on the outside, and on the inside I felt lost and extremely awkward.
At times I felt as though strangers I met were judging me, expecting to meet an authentic Korean girl, who spoke and knew the culture, but ultimately were awfully disappointed and let down to know I wasn’t that girl. It used to amaze me, the comments people would make when they first found out I was Korean or was adopted. They would ask me to, “Say something in Korean!” or, when I would tell them about my adoption, explaining I crossed the US border when I was only four months old, they would ask ignorantly, “Are you from North Korea or South? What was it like?” The ridiculous questions about my adoptive parents bothered me the most. “Do you like your foster parents?” These types of outrageous questions shut me off to the world; I realized keeping the adoption to myself was better than speaking about it openly, because I was beginning to realize that no one truly understood me and how I felt. Later, I came to understand that this was a method I used to shut people out; if I don’t get close to anybody, nobody gets hurt.
Inside of me I have always known that I am special, and my unbelievably supportive, incredible adoptive family never made me feel as if I was anything less than their own. I will admit, at times it wasn’t easy for me to cope with my own insecurities as all adoptive children have. I don’t remember a specific memory caught in time, when I first realized I was not my “Mother’s daughter.” I only remember the times after I found out; at completely sporadic moments I would feel sick to my stomach, and I felt like I had lost something I never had, almost like finding out all your childhood heroes, the Easter bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus, never existed. With this knowledge that my Mother, the one who I had come to know as “Mommy,” did not have anything to do with my conception, I withdrew and became angry. If I am not yours, who’s am I?
The confusion surrounding being a Korean daughter of an Irish father and a German mother was not easy for me to swallow. I almost felt as though I was in The Body Snatchers. Later in life I realized the reason I felt so much confusion as a young child and adolescent was because I had not come to terms with my adoption. I have suffered through a lot of denial and depression but during the past four years I have finally come out the other side and am no longer suppressing feelings of loss for my biological parents.
I know who I am now and I have begun to accept not only what I look like on the outside, but also the person I am on the inside. While as an adopted child I believe my issues are heightened, it doesn’t mean that as an adopted child I cannot find peace. By permitting myself to be sad and angry and letting go of the things I cannot control I have learned to love all of me.
Who am I? Now I look at myself in the mirror under florescent lights and am proud of all the things that make me who I am. I am proud of my Korean side and my American side. I am proud of my single-lidded eyes, my American accent, my tan skin, my hot temper, my satisfaction with all things spicy, and the fact that at times, I seem to mimic a Valley Girl to a tee.]]>
We talk about it a lot at Adoption Mosaic, behind the scenes, on the blog, in The Adoption Constellation magazine, and in our workshop African American Hair Care. Whether we like it or not, hair matters.
Here is an interesting perspective from Workshop for Beginners blog, the author is a white adoptive mother of an Ethiopian boy. Here is a quote, but go read the entire post. It’s worth it.
From the post:
“…the truth is, the kids I see who happen to have loose, big hair tend to have mothers like me. Moms who aren’t Black.
And that, well, that just didn’t sit so well with me. That general ignoring of culture. Of ethnicity.
I mean- who am I, the one who happens to be begging for ideas on how to make sure my son grows up knowing how to be Black, if I happen to kick aside words such as those quoted above? To be ignoring the words of the woman in the merkato? To be shoving aside the opinions of African American women and Ethiopian American women who happen to live all around me? Who am I if I ignore these women because I, the European American, want my kid to have big, wild hair… because I think it looks cute and it’s so awesome and isn’t it incredible and so deserving of celebration?”
1) Sign up to receive Mama C and the Boys automatically to your email using the subscription button on her sidebar, and leave a comment saying how happy you are you did!
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3) leave a comment answering the following question; “If I could read an article about one thing of CRITICAL importance to me as a member of the adoption constellation¹ it would be; __________________” in the comments section of this post. The magazine provides a forum for all voices in the constellation, so please spread the word, and the opportunity to win.
If you are not sure how to approach that, and want some inspiration, download your free copy of the first issue of the magazine here, and find out. Then come back and write a comment. You’ll get a free entry if you tell me what your favorite article was in that issue, and why!
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We’ve increased the odds by offering another free subscription to her second place winner. Check out the full post here>>
Huge thanks go out to Catherine for running this contest!]]>
It was a profound experience listening to their stories, and I learned so much about the emotional investment and process that is involved in beginning, and sustaining a reunion for over 20 years. One of the things that most impressed me was seeing these families who had been in reunion for so long, and how they had all reached normalcy in their concept of family and kinship.
Reunion has two very different subjective connotations. On one hand it’s seen as a connection of separated (birth) families. On another hand it can be seen as destroying the connections of existing (adoptive) families. My question is why are these concepts mutually exclusive?
Adoptive families, more so than the mainstream population, know that families are not only made, they are created. Kinship systems are defined by blood, but they are also defined by love (and, well, laws). If adoptive families are more able to use out-of-the-box-thinking when it comes to the concept of family, isnt it then just a small step further to conceive of a greater family system that includes not only the adoptive family, but the birth family as well?
Not to say that any of this is simple. Connecting different families, in the case of reunion or in the case of open adoptions that occur on the outset of adoption, can be complicated, emotional and even messy. But honestly, aren’t most families, in general, complicated, emotional and messy?
I am so grateful to have been able to see first-hand, on the Reunion Panel, adoptive and birth families who are making it work, and who even love and appreciate each other. I left hopeful and inspired.
We blend our families through marriage all the time. We don’t always love or understand “the in-laws” but we don’t question their right to be considered a part of our family. Shouldn’t it be the same for birth families?
Here is another blogger’s take on the Reunion Panel]]>
Humor and Adoption, An Uneasy Balance
Most everything in the world, no matter how poignant, can be viewed through the lens of humor. However, when it comes to adoption, there is sometimes an uncomfortable pause before anyone giggles at the punch line. It’s a pause that seems to ask, “Wait, is it okay to laugh about this?” New rules apply, and it’s hard to know what they are, who is making them, and how they’ll be enforced.
Is it okay to laugh about adoption? If it is, does it matter whether the person telling the joke is a first parent, adoptee, adoptive parent, or someone without any adoption connection? For instance, an adoptee might joke with a wink that he looks uncannily like the next door neighbor, but is that joke still funny if told by an adoptive father about his adopted son? And in a time when the media is still using, “You’re adopted!” as a punch line, should the adoption community be encouraging laughter about adoption?
These are some of the questions that we at The Adoption Constellation asked ourselves as we approached the comic No Refund. The beauty of a short comic strip is that, like a painting or sculpture, it is open to many different interpretations regardless of the artist’s original vision. For instance, the title No Refund can be seen as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on adoption dissolution and disruption. But the title can also be read as a reflection on the paradox of the, at times, exploitative economics of adoption and the lived realities of families built through adoption. Whatever the author’s intent or the reader’s interpretation, the title No Refund is sure to provoke strong reactions. We struggled with whether such a title might offend people to the point that they would not want to engage with this piece at all.
We wondered if the comic would be viewed differently if the title changed or if the illustrations were redrawn. We talked about whether the impact of the comic would change if it were authored by an adoptee, a birth parent or an adoptive parent. We found that we’d shared a common pause when we read the comic, one that problematized the smile tugging at our lips. Wait, was this funny? And if we thought it was, what exactly were the implications of that? If we found it offensive, what did that mean? On the other hand, maybe we all just needed to lighten up.
Our confusion was not surprising given that people have different ideas about humor, just as they have different ideas about art. What is considered funny varies from person to person. In addition, humor serves different purposes in society. While humor has often been utilized to smooth tension, ease communication, and bring people together, it has also historically been used to keep people in their place and create or enforce separation by stigmatizing those outside of an insider group. Humor also has a trangressive side. It allows us to say things that are not polite. It can give voice to uncomfortable truths and shock us out of complacency. As such, humor has often been used as a tool to transform the status quo.
The intersection of humor and adoption requires that we challenge ourselves and push out of our comfort zones. Humor can break down our assumptions and certainty. All we can do is wonder. And in this state of wonder, we are open to new possibilities.
Thinking critically about adoption means we must listen to different voices and build bridges between divergent perspectives. We look at how joy and sorrow intertwine. And we do not settle for easy answers. Because we know that to do so would close down dialogue. As we’re doing this work, can we also welcome levity to the table? Is there a place set for joking? As Sally Moon Lee invites, can we entertain the possibility that there is something to laugh about?
We commit to listening and sitting through the uncomfortable pauses. We stay with each other through the tears—whether they are tears of grief or of laughter. As The Adoption Constellation sets about the work of building bridges, we invite you to wonder alongside us.]]>