One big problem with being adopted is no one understands how much it feels like you are an alien. Anne Heffron puts it very simply, “You want to hear my generalized story of the adoptee in six words? Something is wrong. No one understands.”
Possibly if adopted as a young child then people would see that you had a history with parents or foster parents or in an institution of some kind, but I was placed for adoption immediately, with the gap of only seven weeks between birth and adoption and no one thought that was time to have a history. I don’t know when the cut off is, my brother was three months old when he was put up for adoption and no one thought he had a history either, even though he had been with his birth mother all that time, and cried for a full day when first he came home with our mum and dad. He cried until he was exhausted and then was fractious, but no one thought about the trauma to him of losing his mother, suddenly and completely.
Another point made by the wonderful Anne Heffron (an adoptee who wrote “You don’t Look Adopted”, the book which began my current flurry of writing) is this; imagine being suddenly removed from one life completely then confusingly placed somewhere unknown and randomly told to get on with it with people you don’t know, where you can have no contact with your previous family or life, where if you are upset by this they simply don’t understand why. Now imagine this happening to an adult. It’s called kidnapping and is a criminal offence. But that is how closed adoption works, where files are sealed and no contact is allowed. I know it’s different now in many cases, but this is how it was for my adoption.
By the time I reached mum and dad (I use this nomenclature to be less clumsy than adopted mum or adopted dad, and actually mum and dad were the roles they were in, successfully or not) I was on my third mother through having been fostered, so the alien syndrome was already present. It is now known that newborn and very young babies are responding to their mother and she mirrors them, she smells right and she has the other half of the bond they share fixed before birth, the biological bond that is our animal heritage birthright. Of course, an adopted mother, even if she is the most loving and devoted parent can have none of these advantages, she is on the back foot before she begins.
I am not an expert in the biology and psychology of these areas, there are many good references on bonding, attachment, and separation trauma, starting for me with John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott. Initially, I learned most of what I know in relation to adoption and these issues from Nancy Verrier, who wrote “The Primal Wound” and “Coming Home to Self”, both of which are go-to reference books for me in dealing with the adoption issues. Read them for lots of sense, and referenced and researched science.
The bit of science that seems relevant here is the limbic regulation that the mother provides to her baby, to soothe and to give a feeling of security. This is part of a neurochemical bond and without it, the child feels overwhelmed and this causes a large part of the traumatised response that maternal separation induces. I imagine my little mind was full of confusion and loss, the limbic overload of trying to mirror and connect but not getting the right signals, maybe not any signals given my mum was not a cuddler or an empathetic mother. My baby needed to connect to stay alive, literally, the baby is helpless and all they have is this connection.
There appear to be two responses to this lack of connection in adopted children; to be compliant or to act out in the external world their rage and despair. I was a compliant baby – a “good” baby, mum said. When the Adoption Society conducted a welfare visit on 24 March I was reported to be on three meals a day and sleeping through each night. I was 15 weeks old. The reptile brain operates very basically: do what is asked of you and be safe, anything else and they might abandon you too. I conformed and slowly turned into a very proficient chameleon.
Growing up it felt normal to feel alien, it was the water I swam in. I didn’t look like anyone I knew and felt disconnected and abstract for much of the time. I continued to be a compliant and quiet child, the chameleon. But more of this anon, I feel the need to process what is written here already, stay with the newly adopted Baby and be with her.