I have given a great deal of thought to the complex emotions that an adoptee faces throughout life. The transformation that occurs as we become adults free to fully express previously suppressed feelings. What is it that we are trying to accomplish? I think first and foremost we do so in an attempt to find a truer sense of self. I also think we very much wish to be understood. Doesn’t everyone?
One of the bridges we seem to have the most difficulty building is the bridge of understanding between us and adoptive parents. Part of the problem of course is that we create this US and THEM mentality but I really don’t see a way around that when trying to convey a definitive level of understanding. In any case a great deal of emotion comes into play and whenever you are dealing with huge levels of emotion you run into people unwilling to really hear what you have to say, people who will protect themselves at any cost. Even if it means sacrificing the emotional well-being of their child. We all know adoptive parents who are shining examples of a better method of communication, I am obviously not speaking about them.
I want to share a letter written by fellow adoptee Julie Rist. My first thought after reading it was that it was going to cause adoptive parents a fair amount of anxiety. My second thought was that it is a far too important message to keep to ourselves regardless of it’s potential to hurt. We probably have to allow the hurt to some degree if we wish to heal the situation and build the bridge. I don’t know if it is humanly possible to truly understand what another is feeling but we have to keep trying. If we don’t we risk alienation from those we love most and on a more global level we risk the continuance of the adoption system as it stands. That is totally unacceptable. We have to keep trying to build those bridges for all of the adopted children to come.
Here is Julie’s note to be pinned onto adopted baby’s shirt:
To Whom It May Concern:
I miss and need my mother. It is no matter to me, the circumstances
that led to this day. I am not aware of them. I will not understand
them for many years to come – if ever. All I know is that my mother
has disappeared. Please show me empathy for this profound loss until
and unless I tell you I no longer need it.
Never forget that I spent the first months of my life with my mother
getting to know, intimately, her voice, her heartbeat, her taste, her
scent, her rhythms, her laughter, and so much more. She has been my
Universe since the day I was conceived. Because I am human, I was
designed to need and want the familiarity of these things upon
emergence from her womb to make me feel safe, to trust, and to feel a
part of the Family of Man.
Never forget I have lost these things. I have lost my Universe. I may
be your Universe now, but you are not mine now.
Despite your desire for a baby, please understand that, to me, you do
not smell right, sound right… feel right. Because of this,
understand that I am going to resist you. Understand that I will not
trust you, because I lost my nascent sense of trust when I lost my
mother. I will have to learn a different kind of trust, and that will
take a great deal of work on your part.
Also understand that I will carry the memory of my loss (though hidden
from my conscious memory) forever. My bones know it, my heart knows
it, my soul knows it. Whether you are honest with me or not, I will
always know it, so it would be wise not set up a scenario for my
feelings of your betrayal.
I was born with a given set of characteristics and personality. They
will not reflect those of your own family. I compel you to honor and
respect them. Do not try to mold me to your own; I will resent it
forever. If you truly care about my well-being you must perceive,
respect, and nurture the person I was born to be. You must also honor
and respect my own family – and my relationship to it.
If there is even one feeling or request that you find uncomfortable in
this notice, please return me forthwith to my mother. For all her
faults, she is still what I want and need most. I would rather live
with her in a cold-water flat with just a few rags of clothing than in
your 4-bedroom house with a fenced yard and nice dog.
<Signed with baby’s footprints>
Copyright © Julie A. Rist 2007
Julie also wrote a great article entitled Adopted Child *Waking Up* for Origins Canada, you can find it here. It’s about her transformation as an artist after her reunion.