It is not enough to lose your biological mother at the beginning of life. Still, adopted individuals also must live up to unrealistic expectations set upon us by society and our adoptive parents. We must fit in the shoes of the fantasized biological child our adoptive parents would have had; could they have had children of their own. They have big plans for us like most parents have for their children.
News Flash: We can’t fit into those shoes or that role. It’s impossible. I’m very sorry for your loss, but its not my job to fix it or make up for it. I shouldn’t have to carry that burden. However, adoptees continue to be presented as a clean slate when we meet our adoptive parents’. Every one of us has a [his]-story & a [her]-story before we’re adopted, and it’s a critically important part of US.
I’ve experienced in my journey and learned by listening to my fellow adoptees that, more times than not, our adoptive parents have never fully healed from the unsettling truth that they couldn’t have children of their own due to infertility issues. This causes significant problems for the adopted child because we will never live up to the expectations as if we were a biological child, but this demand is high. When healing hasn’t happened first, it can be a disaster in the home.
We’re born experiencing immense trauma by being separated from our biological mothers. This separation trauma impacts every area of our lives showing up as grief, loss, C-PTSD, abandonment, rejection, anger, rage, addictions and so much more. The weight the adopted child feels and carries into adulthood is tremendous alone. Still, it’s compacted by the expectations set upon us to be something or someone we aren’t by our adoptive parent’s expectations. This weight carries on into adulthood and impacts every area of our lives.
When our adoptive parents have significant unhealed issues with the loss of not having children of their own, it surfaces in every area of the home.
In my story, I remember my adoptive mom never being well, and she was always taking pills. When I was a child, I didn’t understand what was going on, but now I know “never being well” was depression, pill addiction, and manic depressive suicidal episodes. The depression was rooted in untreated mental illness, the aftermath of not being able to have children of her own, and marrying and adopting two daughters, only to divorce one short year later. I was told she wasn’t capable of parenting one adopted child, but somehow she ended up divorced, alone with two adopted daughters.
A glimpse of my childhood consisted of me being my adoptive mom’s caretaker. She was abnormally emotional every day and cried daily, saying repeatedly she wasn’t worthy of being a mother. I was the comforter and “Good adoptee.” I would sit with her on the edge of the couch and comfort her by rubbing her back and saying, “It’s okay, mommy, I’m sorry, mommy, It’s okay.” I must have said, “I’m sorry,” 100X a day sometimes. I remember being sad all the time and wanting her to stop crying. She never did, but when she wasn’t crying, she was sleeping in the daytime, and she also had a compulsion of wanting to threaten to commit suicide in front of us, which she frequently did. Learning and focusing in school was impossible most days, because I was I was riddled with anxiety and fear day in and day out.
Is it possible her infertility issues were the root of her behaviors? Being 46 years old and evaluating my childhood, I would suggest so. I don’t have the definite answers because she never got help for those issues; she adopted to fill the void instead. It was my responsibility as far back as I could remember to take care of her, cater to her, and be there for her. I was a slave to her.
I’ve recently discovered that I’m a people pleaser, and this characteristic was developed early in my childhood as a direct reflection of wanting to make my adoptive mom happy. I did everything I could think of to bring her happiness, and in the end, I always fell short. A co-dependent relationship was created, but I had no choice in the matter. I felt trapped in this cycle of co-dependency for most of my life due to my adoption experience.
Where was I going to go?
How was I going to get out?
It was all I knew.
I recall my entire childhood was focused on ways to make my adoptive mom happy, at the expense of my childhood happiness. Everything was all about her. I felt like a child servant with a list of tasks to complete daily, and most of them were centered around making her happy. I was brushing her hair, putting makeup on her face, massaging her arms, legs, and back with lotion, filing paperwork for her, cutting coupons, cleaning far beyond everyday routine childhood chores. I was never able to be a kid in this home. My feelings were never validated, nor were they important. Her adoptive parent fragility reigned supreme over all things in this household.
Please understand that this didn’t stop in childhood. It only stopped when I packed up a 22 Foot U haul and left this toxicity. I moved across the country with my three young children at 31 years old. It felt like an escape, and I have never looked back or regretted my decision but it hasn’t come without more heartache.. When I arrived back in Kentucky, I had no job, no car, no money, no home, no place to live, and no keys to anything. Thankfully my twin’s grandmother was kind enough to let us use a bedroom, where we all 4 stayed for the next few months to get on my feet. Little by little, I made a way for my children.
This escape didn’t come without a cost. Unfortunately, it’s taken me 15+ years to recover, and I’m still recovering daily. It’s going to be a lifelong process for me, as it is most adoptees/relinquishees.
My adoptive moms’ actions throughout my childhood and lifetime caused significant damage that has radiated throughout my life course. When I left at 31, I had to sever ties for my mental health, but it wasn’t before I tried to set boundaries first. She overrode every boundary I asked of her, which were simple things like please put your pills away. I asked her to please not cry around my kids. I asked her please not talk negatively about me behind my back to my children. She broke everyone, so I cut all contact. She was not going to do to my children what she did to me. Moving across the country and cutting ties was the only option.
It was the hardest decision I ever made.
Being groomed to put my feelings aside and caretake to her and her feelings have been a pattern I have picked up into adulthood. I put everyone else ahead of myself, and I never learned how to say “no” or even have an opinion about anything. This has caused me a lot of problems in relationships and my personal space and life. Caretaking is something I was conditioned to do from a very early age; it’s no wonder I am a caretaker by career and have been for 15+ years. This role wasn’t healthy for me as a child, and it’s not healthy for me as an adult.
I was forced to pretend, and I ended up being a professional at this game of make-believe. Better yet, I was conditioned to assume the role of expectations from a very early age. In this game, I learned early that my true feelings of grief, loss, and sadness from the loss of my biological mother and families’ weren’t welcomed. If I shared them, I took the chance I might hurt my adoptive parents’ feelings.
With my adoptive mom crying daily, sometimes hourly, having mental health episodes, she was likely already hysterical. My feelings of sadness would only add to this problem. I learned to keep things inside locked away. I learned my feelings weren’t important, and they didn’t compare to her outbursts. The safest place for them was to pretend like they weren’t there. I think I learned to disassociate and became a professional at it as a survival technique. There was a split created between the real true me, and the me she needed me to be.
As an adult, trying to recover from this childhood, I have done countless healing exercises to help myself try to make sense of it all and heal. One of the things I did was put myself in her shoes to try to gain a better understanding of why she was the way she was.
Untreated mental illness has always highlighted itself in a way that I’ve put it at the top of the list of why she was the way she was. I didn’t understand this as a child, but It’s more than evident mental illness is front and center when her suicide attempts of laying in the middle of the street play like a repeated movie scene in my mind from my childhood. She was sick, but I didn’t understand mental illness as a child.
I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if my adoptive parents had gotten some therapy for infertility issues before choosing to adopt. I think about it from time to time; although non of us get any “do-overs” in life, I sure would have benefited in a positive way to have a happy, healthy mother figure to think about in my lifetime. I blew it in this area not once, but twice. A total crap shot.
Instead, the trauma of her attempting suicide, her untreated mental illness, pill addiction, and her manic depressive episodes trump all the good memories there were. Traumatic memories seem to have a way of showing upfront and center in our lives when we least expect it.
Over the years, I have heard countless stories from my fellow adoptees. They experienced similar childhoods and lives. Our adoptive parents adopted a child to replace their biological child they might have had if they didn’t have infertility issues, never healing from infertility issues first. It’s no secret in the adoptee community; we weren’t chosen. We were next in line.
This breaks my heart for my fellow adoptees because many of us didn’t stand a chance at having happy childhoods. There is nothing a relinquishee/adoptee can do to make up for the loss one feels who cannot have their own biological children. Nothing. Yet here we are, forced to fit into a role we can’t possibly fit into.
But we fake it until we make it, and we try because we have no choice. We learn to adapt, or we die trying. This sets us up for a lifetime of a false sense of self, never really knowing who we are or who we aren’t until we break away altogether. And some of us never make it to that place of self-discovery. Breaking away is difficult, if not impossible, for most of us. It’s no wonder adoptees are 4x more likely to attempt suicide. Look at the paradox we are forced to be in the center of.
The sensitivities around this topic echo throughout our lives. Many times it creates an adoptive parent fragility that adoptees are forced to be sensitive to. We’re groomed to put everyone’s feelings above our own, and it can and will create and a lifetime of struggles.
It’s taken a lifetime to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “You are important, and so are ALL of your feelings!” because no one ever did this for me growing up. My life was centered around her and her feelings. It was never about me.
I remember conversations with my adoptive mom way before I reached adulthood, where she wanted to make sure I knew she didn’t want to go to a nursing home when she got old. She also had talked about me being her power of attorney way before I was even an adult. It became evident to me at a very early age, and these were the reasons she adopted two daughters. She had a motive the entire time, and it wasn’t hard to piece it all together as I grew up.
I never was and never will be the daughter my adoptive parents signed up for. I’m pretty sure I’ve turned out quite the opposite, to be honest. I’ve committed to spending the rest of my days trying to recover from this childhood of pain, not just for myself. For my kids, so they have a chance at seeing a happy and healthy mom, which I never had. Even on the days where I didn’t have the drive and motivation for myself, I do it for them.
Suppose you’ve made it this far, and you are possibly a prospective adoptive parent. In that case, I ask you to please consider intense emotional and psychological therapy before you even think of adopting a child. And then before you choose to adopt, visit pages like @askanadoptee and @howdoesitfeeltobeadopted and read and learn what adoption is like from an adoptee’s perspective. Ask questions on the Ask an Adoptee platform because one thing for sure, adoptees there will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. Have you accepted that relinquishment trauma is a real thing? Do you know anything about it? If you don’t you need to learn from adopted adults. We hold the keys of knowledge but you have to have the willingness to listen and learn.
If you are an adoptive parent already, I urge you to seek deep within ourselves to find out where you are in your recovery and healing with your infertility struggles. Please do this immediately before you project your pain onto your adoptive child. Also, know that we never can and never will be what your biological child would have been. Unless you have accepted this, you still have work to do.
For my fellow adoptees, I’m so sorry for your pain and heartache. I’m sorry for the unrealistic expectations that have been placed upon you to fill the shoes of a child you were never meant to fill. I’m sorry you weren’t listened to. I’m sorry you haven’t felt your feelings are important as a child or an adult. Your feelings are important, and so are you. Can you relate to anything I have shared here? I would love to hear from you!
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova.