Earlier this week, I posted "Adoption versus Abduction" on HuffPost, and in no time, comments racked up from adoptees, fast to point out how satisfied they were with their adoptive parents and families. There were also adoptive parents on the board, eager to share their own feelings of contentment, calling adoption a gift and a blessing.
I once assumed my own adoption had been a gift and a blessing too. In fact, the term, "gift from God," was bandied about more than my own name. My adoptive mother, with a tumor growing in her spine, trusted that if she were truly meant to die, God wouldn't have given her a baby. For three years she had what some called a miraculous recovery and was able to leave her bed and walk intermittently. The tumor continued to grow however, and my adoptive mother suffered through many surgeries only to die when I was seven.
Analyzing the outcome with only a child's knowledge and ability to reason, I concluded the magic must have worn off and that surely I caused my adoptive mother's death. My father's death of a heart attack a mere eighteen months later sent me spinning. Many years later, my older brother (their natural child) ended his life with a single bullet to his brain due to depression; I became convinced I had doomed my family.
That's what magical thinking, the realm of children's minds, can do to a person. Magical thinking is black or white, good or bad, up or down. This way of thinking, a common consequence of surviving anything traumatic as a child, can grow to rule adolescent and adult thought patterns if not exposed and demystified.
Awakening began when I sat with my son at an eye specialist's office. My nine-year-old had neurological damage in his optic nerve and I had been sent to the specialist for further tests. The doctor asked a series of questions, one of which was had my son had a severe fall or a car accident? When I said no, the doctor asked about the circumstances of my son's birth and if we had ever been separated. In fact, yes was my answer, my son had been taken from me for most of four days. He was healthy, but hospital procedure for premature babies born earlier than 34 weeks' gestation required that he be, not in my arms bonding, but in intensive care for a battery of mandatory tests.
The specialist suggested I read up on infant separation trauma and the work of adoptive parent Dr. Nancy Verrier, who wrote on this phenomenon in order to better understand what was going on with my own son.
Verrier's work in Coming Home to Self, published in 2003, points to a study by Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of Magical Child and Evolutions End, who states that it takes less than forty-five minutes for an infant separated from his mother to go into shock and this reaction has immediate impact on the brain and functions like sight.
Beyond Verrier's work, I found a study titled: Randomized controlled trial of skin-to-skin contact from birth versus conventional incubator for physiological stabilization in 1200- to 2199-gram newborns. This study showed that within six hours of separation from the mother, babies experienced "protest-despair" biology and "hyper-arousal and dissociation" response patterns. The conclusion of the Randomized Controlled Trial was: newborns should not be separated from their mothers.
Despite all this evidence, I couldn't budge from my conditioned magical thinking about my own adoption. I could accept that my son suffered trauma and neurological damage due to our four day separation and I could get him the treatment needed to restore his eyesight, but I could not release the belief that my adoption had been good and that my adoptive family had simply been unlucky, likely because they adopted me and I had failed to be a good enough child.
Next I read the work of Bert Hellinger, a former Catholic priest who spent his life in study of the energy dynamics within family units. Hellinger wrote Love's Hidden Symmetry, published in 1998. In that book, Hellinger states that adoption with ill intent leads to consequences in the adoptive family such as divorce and death. "In its most destructive form," Hellinger writes, inappropriate adoption can lead to "illness and even suicide of the natural children."
Finally my magical thinking shifted and I saw the outcome of my adoption made me a statistic in the context of Hellinger's research.
The last barrier to the magical thinking I'd been using my whole adult life came when I met my original mother and my birth family. Finally my nervous system and my brain had recognizable genetic markers to latch onto. My mother smelled right, sounded right, looked right, was right! I discovered that an essential part of me had been waiting to make contact with my homeland -- the mother who had given me life. Basic biology.
Make no mistake, my reunion was no panacea for me or my original mother. The wounds of separation, 47 years deep, will take a lifetime to heal; but I am now fully aware that I was not the cause of my adoptive parents' death, and to take that awakening a step further, I began to accept that my adoption was not such a blessing after all. I could see my truth from other perspectives. If separation from original mothers has negative effects on babies, as it had on my own son, then it had, necessarily, a negative effect on me. I did not have to be happy about my adoption, nor did I have to feel thankful for it.
At this point in my journey, post awakening, I feel strongly that adoptive parents need to examine their deepest intention around the desire to adopt and then set the intention to be of true benefit to the child first. This examination isn't only for the adopted child, it is for the well being of the adoptive family and for all of the future generations of that family.
Those who place their children for adoption would do well to study into their own decisions too. If it is true a mother cannot keep and raise her own child or keep her within the family -- maternal or paternal -- what are the other options other than adoption?
And society must look at its role in this unregulated industry of baby trading. What parameters can we place on the "for profit" side of adoption? What interventions can be put into place to properly screen, educate and prepare adoptive parents? What information can be provided for birth families about their decision, in order that they think more deeply before parting with one of their own?
Perhaps what we are exploring here, in this discussion of adoption, is the deeper understanding and value of motherhood. In British Columbia, at a conference called the Vancouver Dialogues, Deepak Chopra asked His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama this question: "If we make motherhood the most sacred profession on our planet, is there a possibility for world peace?" The Dalai Lama responded, "Yes, that's very good." Applause silenced the discussion for several minutes.
Every human being on the planet comes through the womb of a mother. To force a mother to choose between keeping her offspring or losing acceptance by the culture is to force her to split in half and as a result, to collapse. Rather than divide mothers, can we keep women intact, empower them and thus empower children to feel whole, safe and content?
Examining our own minds for magical thinking, reflecting on our intentions to adopt, exploring all of the options before giving our children up for adoption, and especially, breaking open the mythology that adoption is the answer can be a beginning toward an important collective awakening.
Jennifer Lauck is the author of Found: A Memoir, The True Sequel to Blackbird with Seal Press and her book video trailer can be seen on YouTube. She is also the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blackbird, Still Waters, Show Me the Way. She is a regular blogger on Prolifically Raw and Shewrites.com.