I’ve been brooding for a couple of week about a conversation I had with another adoptive mom. She had two hard questions for me.
1) “Do you think an adopted child can love the adoptive mom like a biological child can?”
2) “If you had known then what you know now about pain, loss, primal wound, ‘angry’ adoptees, yearning for birth parents, etc., would you have adopted?”
I’ll address the first question now, and blog about the second one later. These are tough questions, and I guess I’m still brooding because I don’t think I did a very good job of answering them in talking to my friend. I’d really appreciate comments, since she reads the blog, and y’all are bound to do a better job than I did!
That first question is a real turn-around of the question I’m more accustomed to hear people ask -- whether PARENTS can love an adopted child as much as/the same way as a biological child. But can an adopted child feel the same love for the mother as a biological child can? Ah, those metaphysical questions about the nature and quality of love!
First of all, I want to clarify the question my friend asked. She was NOT asking whether an adopted child can love the adoptive parents like she loves her biological parents. That’s not the comparison she was seeking to explore, because while a child might love birth parents she doesn’t know, hasn’t met, hasn’t lived with, doesn’t have a history with, that’s very different from the relationship of biological children who live for a lifetime with biological parents. She was making another comparison – let’s suppose a 5-year-old who has lived for the past 5 years with the mother who gave her birth, and another 5-year-old who has lived for the past 5 years with an adoptive mom who did not give birth to her. Is the love the same?
My friend has been reading Nancy Verrier’s Primal Wound, a notoriously difficult read for adoptive parents. Verrier talks about the bond between mother and child, built in the womb, as “primal, mystical, mysterious, and everlasting.” And she argues that breaking this bond is the source of the primal wound. From this she argues that the adoptive mom and adoptive child can never have this magical, mystical bond (of course not, as a definitional matter, if you define the bond as something that starts in utero!).
Verrier writes: “I don’t believe it is possible to sever the tie with the biological mother and replace her with another primary caregiver, no matter how warm, caring, and motivated she may be, without psychological consequences for the child (and the mother). An infant or child can certainly attach to another caregiver, but the quality of that attachment may be different from that with the first mother, and bonding may be difficult or, as many adoptees have told me, impossible.” She goes on to say, “I believe it would be safe to say that most adopted children form attachments to their adoptive mothers. . . . Bonding, on the other hand, may not be so easily achieved. It implies a profound connection, which is experienced at all levels of human awareness.” At a later point, in summarizing her conclusions, Verrier warns, “We know that love is good for children, but in the case of adopted children, parents need to be realistic in their expectations of the adoptee’s ability to accept love freely or to return it.”
Is it any wonder that my friend asked whether there can be the same love between adoptive parents and the child they raise as there is between biological parents and the child they raise?
I think there’s a lot of value in Verrier’s book. But I think she isn’t terribly nuanced. She advances her premise as if it affects ALL adoptees in the same way and to the most EXTREME degree possible. I don’t think I’m in adoptive-parent-denial to say that different adoptees feel the loss of their birth parents in different ways! And while there might well be a “primal wound,” not all wounds are mortal as she might be read to suggest.
I know that the pain and loss and yearning exist and are real – I’ve seen Zoe experiencing it. I don’t know if it’s a “memory” of her abandonment at one day old, or a growing realization of her abandonment as she understands that she had to lose her first family to gain her current family. I’m also not sure whether it matters, so long as I acknowledge the loss as she experiences it.
And I believe that my kids love me, just like I love them. I don’t know if it’s the same or different from the love that starts with a biological link, but I know it is love and it’s enough. I think love is not a biological imperative, but a mutual, reciprocal process of giving and receiving care. Maybe the analogy is to an arranged marriage – you grow into love rather than fall into love?
Even Verrier isn’t quite as hopeless as it might first seem. In the preface, she talks about her adopted daughter and their relationship. She concludes, “Are we bonded? I don’t think that I would be able to write this work if we were not.” So she acknowledges the existence of that primal, mystical, mysterious, and everlasting bond between mother and child in her relationship, while also acknowledging that she can never take the place of her daughter’s birth mother.
I’ve never wanted to “take the place of” my children’s birth mothers. We each have a place in their lives, and those places needn’t be the same. I wouldn’t want to erase the bond they have with their birth mothers – why would I? I have the better part of the deal, since I get to see them every day, watch them grow and develop, enjoy their hugs and kisses, and listen to their “I love you’s.”
So how do you answer the the question? Can an adopted child love the adoptive mom like a biological child can?
1 month ago