This book is not about finger pointing. It is about learning from our mistakes so that we can perhaps reduce suffering in the future, especially for those who are separated from their children and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers.
I first became acquainted with Joe Soll when he occasionally posted to the adoption newsgroup I was in in the late 1990s. My adoption journey and discovering who I am has been a long road. I remember reading this book once before, along with a number of other adoption books. For some reason, though, when I reread this recently, it hit me a lot differently.
Adoption must be about the best interest of the child… Adoption is for babies who need parents, not for parents who want babies.
Soll is a social worker, as well as an adoptee himself. He has been through what I’ve been through. The “baby scoop” era of post-World War II through the 1970s was a time when women who found themselves pregnant didn’t have much of a choice except to give away the child for adoption. If they said they wanted to keep the baby and raise it themselves, they were threatened with incarceration in a mental hospital, because no sane woman would want to do that. Abortion was available, although illegal, and many women died this way as well.
From infancy, adoptees are bombarded by verbal and non-verbal messages from the outer world that directly negate and contradict their inner feelings and experiences … They are told that their natural mother loved them so much that she gave them away – a statement that must certainly leave them wondering about the desirability of being loved, to say nothing of the motives of their mother.
The children of the Baby Scoop era are the main subject of Adoption Healing. Soll details the messages that have been present throughout our lives, both from society and often from those much closer to us, that have often conflicted with how we felt inside. Our ideas around adoption are often shaped by those encounters, and sooner or later, no matter how many times you tell an adoptee that he or she is “special,” they come to realize the mechanics of just how they came to be in life.
Adoptees will often subdue (unconsciously) their natural way of being to make their adoptive parents happy.
Soll tackles all of the misinformation I was raised with. I was told I was “special;” that I was “chosen.” My mother liked to tell me later on that the way I proudly told my fellow children that I was special and chosen made them go home and ask their parents why they weren’t adopted. That’s a really bad place to go with this because sooner or later, that image is shattered. As adoptees enter puberty, and figure out how babies are made, we realize we were often brought into a relationship to make our parents feel complete.
For someone to be incapable of creating a child is an enormous wound to one’s self. If one is going to adopt a child, attention should be paid to the wound of childlessness before embarking on alternative methods of parenting.
In our time, our parents were just told to take us home and love us. They weren’t given any counseling about their own grief over their infertility, nor were they ever told that parenting a child they adopted might be different than parenting a child they gave birth to.
It is still believed in many circles that adoptees come with a blank slate and can become whatever the adoptive parents wish.
In my case, there were many things that had imprinted on me, particularly my love of baseball. My adoptive parents weren’t into sports, but around 7 years old I discovered baseball on my own and taught myself the rules by watching it. That came from my birthmother. When I was pregnant with my own daughter, there were things I knew about her before she was born. What happens when the person a baby has imprinted on for the past 9 months is suddenly whisked away and replaced with someone else?
The adopted child is unlikely to really believe she is loveable.
That line was the key for me. From the time I was a pre-teen I felt like no one could love me. Hey, my own mother had given me away. Anything I did that was “good” was because of nurture. Anything I did that was “bad” was because of nature. My parents didn’t know any better; there was no counseling for adoptive parents back in the day. Even when I went for counseling in my late teens, it was to Lutheran Social Services, who were still in the business of placing babies in good, Christian homes. They weren’t about to acknowledge that my issues were likely rooted in my adoption.
After asking questions and/or thinking about what happened to her, it is inevitable that the child’s running internal tape will be, “If she REALLY loved me she would have kept me. I must be defective and my defect is that I am not lovable.” The child will now feel enormous pain, sadness and rage. If we can be aware of the child’s dilemma during the playing of the “tape” we can encourage and assist the child in expressing her negative feelings about her lovability and feelings of rejection in order to help her understand that it is not her fault. If we do not help the child grieve this most sacred loss and express her rage and indignation, she will continue to play the tape and believe (unconsciously) that she is unlovable. This playing of the tape (and the resultant feelings of unlovability) is the third trauma and what I call the fracturing of her personality. “One of the greatest wounds a child can receive is the rejection of her authentic self. When a parent cannot affirm her child’s feelings, needs and desires, she rejects the child’s authentic self. Then, a false self must be set.
As Soll said, though, this is not about finger-pointing. This is all to help an adoptee who picks up this book start to understand that their feelings aren’t “bad.” He wants to help adoptees, parents, and birthparents come to grips with the psychological issues surrounding adoption and have better lives.
Often, adoptees feel that they do not deserve to be loved because there must be something inherently wrong with them if their own mother did not want to keep them.
Much of the book is devoted to helping an adult adoptee resolve some of their issues. He cautions reading the book and working through it alone, and at times encourages the reader to put the book down and take a break. He has steps to take for us to go back into our childhood and convince our younger selves that we are worthy of love. At first, I thought it was a lot of bunk, but when I did the exercises to tell my younger self that I was loveable, it really felt like a weight was lifted off of me. A lot of my life made more sense as to why I had such a poor self-image.
Intimate relationships very often don’t feel safe for adoptees. After all, the person who should have been the most trustworthy to have a relationship with “abandoned” her…. The adoptee pushes others to leave her, knowing it will happen eventually, or believing that she deserves it to happen…
After reading this a second time, I feel much more like I am finding my authentic self; the who I am in the nature vs. nurture conundrum. Soll supports adoption only when absolutely necessary and then within the family if at all possible. I’m not quite there. There will always be parents who can’t or won’t raise their children. There are times when “the best interests of the child” are not to be with the parents who gave birth to them. What needs to be done is better counseling so those people who adopt the children give them the space to become their full, authentic selves.
I highly recommend Adoption Healing to adoptees, and especially to people who are thinking about adoption. I think parents can successfully raise a child better when they know more. I think everyone involved in adoption will have a better experience the more open things are.
See all of my Kindle notes & highlights for this book here: https://www.goodreads.com/notes/19061431-adoption-healing-a-path-to-recovery/12219894-patti?ref=abp
Categories: Book Reviews