Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reflections from an Adopted Adult

While it’s likely that as long as man, woman and child have walked this earth there has been some form of adoption taking place. Children separated from their parents usually found themselves with adults who wanted them for love, labor, or property. Adoption, as we know it today, frequently a means to deal with infertility, is a fairly modern phenomena. When we look at today’s adoption triad – birth parents, child and adoptive parents, we find they all have in common “a sense of loss.” The birth parents’ and child’s loss of each other is obvious, but often overlooked, or at least less talked about, is the loss adoptive parents experience through their infertility. Resolution is not quick, nor easy.

Adoption is not merely an “event” that takes place in the life of a person, or family, but rather a “process” that evolves throughout the life span. Being adopted means something very different to a four-year-old child, adopted at birth and never having resided with her birth parents, than it does to the same child, twelve years later when she’s trying to figure out, as all adolescents do, “Who am I? Where did those ‘ears’ come from? Who do I look like? Why didn’t they keep me?” Into adulthood – dating, marrying, parenting, other questions may arise. Society, in the form of friends, spouses, in-laws, Oprah, Reader’s Digest and a plethora of other sources tell us we should be curious, we should look for answers. Well meaning friends have dramatic stories to share about their cousin’s wife’s neighbor who . . .

Like most important decisions in life, timing and readiness are crucial. For some, they can’t recall a day they haven’t thought about seeking out their past, others may be startled by a revelation that comes from out of the blue, “I’m going to do it,” and yet many feel no desire to dig in their past.

Following is an essay written by Don Conklin who shares his thoughts on the topic of having grown up in foster care and then being adopted.

My reflections as an adopted adult . . .

A recent post concerning my adoption prompted Angela to ask me if I would elaborate on my experience with foster care and adoption. This is a relatively easy task since this has been an internal monologue of mine for some years. I often receive questions regarding adoption and people inevitably ask, “Did you ever think you wanted to look up your biological parents?” Or the question is asked in a more awkward and inaccurate way by using the words, “real parents.” Angela did not ask this question at all, which I found very refreshing, and so I agreed.

I would like to begin by making a clear distinction between biological parents and adopted parents. Often the most significant distinction between the two is that of a conscious choice. Adoption is the ultimate expression of Planned Parenthood. You don’t need a license to be a biological parent but you do need to go through several visitations, background screening and several interviews if you want to be an adopted parent. This of course is not to speak poorly of biological parents. After all I am now a biological parent, and although I have made my share of mistakes, I feel more than prepared for the tasks at hand.

I should also mention that I was one of four siblings put up for adoption at the same time. This indicates to me that something happened that was unexpected. Could have been spouse abandonment, poverty or any other form of domestic crisis that initiated the decision to make us wards of the state. I have never faulted my biological mother’s decision to put us up for adoption. I believe she acted in our best interest and it was a tremendously unselfish thing to do. I am not sure I could make such a tremendously heroic decision, if placed in the same position.

I should also point out that there are different types of foster parents. There are those who feel lead to be foster parents out of gratitude for what they have and they want to share their

family with someone who needs one. Then there are those who do it as a source of income with little consideration, effort or accountability. My sister and I had the second type. They were not deliberately cruel, from what I can remember, and have been told. If anything, they were just neglectful and inconsiderate. We stayed with this family for four years which as I am told is a long time for foster care. Perhaps we were low maintenance and a good source of income. Neither my sister nor I thrived from the care provided by our foster parents. My sister had to repeat kindergarten due to absences. Our foster mother would keep my sister home to clean up around the house. A notable curiosity was that I was thought to have a speech impediment and was sent to a speech therapist after we were adopted. It was discovered that my language skills were learned from listening to my foster father who did have a speech impediment. This was quickly outgrown after my adoption.

One of the stories my adopted mother tells is that of when we first came to live with them we would eat continuously at breakfast. We would each finish four and five bowls of oats cereal. Our new Mother explained, “You can eat more at lunch time,” to which my sister replied, “You mean we will eat again today?” Both of us had the distended bellies of malnutrition seen in third world countries. It wasn’t due to lack of food but rather from poor nutrition, so we were told.

There was a caveat about our adoption that caused me some concern for a number of years. I discovered that my adopted parents had originally wanted only a daughter but changed there their mind after a call from Catholic Charities adoption agency. Sister Margaret (I can’t believe I still remember the name) informed them that they would have to take us both or neither. Apparently in the absence of my sister (who was on overnight visitations with our prospective parents) I had some terrible tantrums, nightmares and bed wetting. My foster parents contacted the agency and reported the behavior and said it was either both or neither. Was this an act of compassion on behalf of our foster parents or was it a desire to have peace and quiet again? I tend to think it was a bit of both.

We did not discover that we had another brother and sister until several years later. My father knew we had a brother and sister somewhere in Ohio and he even knew their last name. This he apparently learned from the lawyer during our adoption process. Dad received a promotion and a consequent transfer to this same town in Ohio, when I was around the age of six, I believe. He stopped at a phone booth and looked up the last name that he had learned from the lawyer. As fate would have it there were only two names listed in the phone book that matched. He called and after a few awkward moments requested that we get together some time. It was agreed and we met our brother and sister soon after.

Our correspondence over the years has been off and on again which I can only assume is true for most brothers and sisters. Each one of us has had to deal with our own demons over the years. Some of my issues provide substantial questions regarding the debate of environment vs. heredity. Are personality traits learned behavior (environment) or are they due to heredity? This is like wondering how the pig got stuck in the mud. It doesn’t matter how it got stuck in the mud you just got to get the darn thing out.

I use to be fond of saying that I came from a dysfunctional family but one day I realized that I was the dysfunction in my family. I learned new phrases such as, “fear of abandonment,” “emotionally unavailable,” “blocking,” and many other words and phrases trying to understand my adult relationship challenges. All of this information I learned about me I documented and shared with a trusted friend. The solution to these issues could be represented with the analogy of the man standing in water up to his shoulders holding a rock as he watches in panic as the water rises. He says, “I am drowning.” The obvious solution is, “Let go of the rock!” Sounds easy enough but when you have held onto something for a long time, even though it is harmful to you, it can be difficult to let go of it. It has become a part of you for better, or for worse.

Just realizing that the issues exist was a huge benefit to me. These challenges have not all disappeared but are instead things that I am aware of about myself and when I see them surface I know what they are and how to respond. Some negative responses have disappeared completely, because they were defense mechanisms. They are no longer needed since I no longer put myself in positions where I feel I need to defend myself.

The hope in all of this is that sometimes great things come from bad situations. If not for these experiences I would have never have been placed with my, "real parents." Best wishes as we all trudge the road of happy destiny.

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Don Conklin.