As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been looking again at Sherrie Eldridge's book, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. I thought I'd post about some of those twenty things. I'll be skipping about in the list, but thought today I'd start at the beginning:
Number 1: I suffered a profound loss before I was adopted. You are not responsible.
Eldridge, an adoptee herself, talks about the importance of acknowledging that adoption starts with loss. "The first thing your child wants you to know is this: I am a grieving child. I came to you because of loss -- one that was not your fault and one that you can't erase." She says that most adoptive parents romanticize adoption -- "You are a chosen child!" "Be thankful you were picked." That denies the loss, rather than helping their child grieve the loss and find closure.
She argues that part of the reason for this denial is that we live in a pain-avoiding society. But pain is a normal and natural reaction to losing a set of parents, isn't it? We can't prevent our children from feeling pain, the only reaction then, is how best to help them deal with the pain. She suggests that parents need to embrace and share their own pain -- infertility, pregnancy loss, etc., in order to achieve intimacy with our children.
Eldridge suggests the following things our children need to deal with loss:
1. Validation of their wound and loss.
She advocates DIRECT statements of validation: 'A parent might whisper to her adopted infant, "You must miss your birth mommy. We are sad too that you had to lose her.' 'It really hurts, doesn't it?' is a phrase that can be used by parents in every phase of the adoptee's life, for it demonstrates empathy and compassion.
2. Education about adoption and its emotional and relational repercussions.
Eldridge says that adoptees need to know that their first loss creates emotional wounds, because "shame falls away as self-disclosure grows."
3. For adoptive parents to put aside their false guilt (ouch, that hits home!).
Eldridge argues that false guilt is a control mechanism, quoting Children and Trauma: "If a parent can find some way in which the trauma was her own fault, it becomes possible to believe that further trauma can be avoided. Guilt offers a kind of power, however illusory, over helplessness."
4. Freedom to express their conflicting emotions without fear of judgment.
Eldridge describes this as the most important of adoptees' needs -- "a safe place to share their feelings about adoption, both positive and negative, and to feel protected and loved unconditionally regardless of what comes out of their mouths."
It's interesting to re-read this book after 7 years of adoption-parenting. I read it first while waiting for Zoe, and it was all very abstract. I wasn't sure I bought the idea of a primal wound -- how could a newborn experience loss? I can't remember anything before age 3, how could an infant remember the loss of birth parents?
Seven years later, I can definitely say that the loss is real. I can't say I understand the mechanism of infant feelings of loss. But I can say that as Zoe's understanding of adoption has grown, she has experienced those feelings of loss. I've blogged a lot about Zoe's feelings this year, but it certainly hasn't been the first time she expressed those feelings of loss.
When Zoe was 4, we read a book called Horace. It's a very cute book, and Zoe asked me to read it again, and again. In that book, Horace is told by his adoptive mom, "We chose you when you were a tiny baby because you had lost your first family and needed a new one." Yikes! One day, inevitably, Zoe asked, "How did he lose his first family? Was it at the mall?" I explained what they meant, connecting it to her story. Within days, Zoe had become increasingly clingy. She asked me, "Do you leave and go shopping after I go to sleep?" "When I'm in ballet, do you stay in the lobby or do you leave?" I believe she was finally connecting her adoption to loss, and was feeling insecure about whether she'd lose me, too.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with Eldridge's list of 4 things adopted kids need? How do you go about creating that safe environment for processing loss? Do you think there is a primal wound?