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Sharing Her Grief Story:

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An Adult Adoptee

[Thank you to Jody Moreen for openly sharing her thoughts and emotions. It will help us to better parent our children.]

I am an adult adoptee, age 46, and I have traveled the journey of loss and grief. Adopted parents from my era had no idea of this happening in their children’s lives. My loss issues hit me BIG time when I was a student in college. I was raised in a very good and nurturing Christian home and had a very close and attached relationship with my adoptive mom (and dad too). When I was in college, I was a normal , happy student loving college life.

My adoptive father retired and decided he want to leave winter behind and consider moving south with my mom. So in spring of my junior year, my parents rented a trailer in Florida and lived there for a time. I remember visiting them on Spring break and really doubting that they would move there (and leave me in the Chicagoland area). I was in a stage of denial (first stage of grieving/loss) that they would do that; I thought it was all talk.

Well, they made the decision to move, and sold the house and moved to Florida. I cannot even explain what came over me at that time- I went from a happy college student who had numerous friends and was active in many activities and leadership positions, and had a steady boyfriend (life was wonderful and I was on a high with life) When my parents moved, I slipped gradually into a clinical depression. I could not eat, could not study, and was immobilized by their retiring and leaving me. I was scared for I did not know what was happening to me. It was something that seemed completely out of my control.

My parents of course were concerned and sent me to have a complete physical and went to see a psychiatrist at a hospital near the college. I remember him asking me many questions and one was if I was adopted – but he never delved more into that. Many of my friends would visit me in my dorm room and tried to make me feel better by telling me all I had to be happy for- my parents, my grades, my boyfriend. This only made me feel worse; I felt guilty and was hard on myself for not just coping and dealing with my parents’ move as a mature young adult.

I ended up going home for a month because I needed a break and rest from my depression, and my parents thought it would help me get back on my feet. And it did. What also helped was visiting a college chaplain. I do not remember how he counseled me – but I clearly remember a comment he made that was a turn around for me. He said, “You have the right to feel sad, you have permission.”

Wow! So simple, but so profound. He allowed me to grieve. That released me to own those feelings, grieve them, and get well and back to my old self. (I had never been given permission to grieve my adoption loss or even explore the complex feelings related to adoption – both positive and challenging emotions. I could only think I was chosen and special and lucky!!)

I did not know then that my extreme reaction and depression was part of my unresolved loss issues in adoption. I was born two months early to a birth mom with cancer and venereal disease. I remained at the hospital two months and then was transferred to a loving foster home until I was nine months of age. Then I was adopted by my parents.

In midlife- in my late 30’s I had some adoption questions surface. I began reading books on adoption and human development of the infant, and attended support groups with others touched by adoption. At that time, I also took a college course on Grief and Loss and I learned a lot about how any loss puts the grief process into action- not just death. I also learned about delayed grieving and unfinished grief. And I was beginning to realize that my “happy adoption,” which it was, also had a loss side to it.

I grew up in the era when adoptee were called chosen and the encouraged psychology was to read them The Chosen Baby story- a classic for adoptive families then (I have copies of that book). It was a good story and had a

good feel to it- but now realize it was half the story and the child was never to explore or acknowledge the loss issues. I read about infants “imprinting” emotional experiences- we are born and make investments in an emotional bank that create our emotional development. And these losses in a newborn and subsequent losses are imprinted on the emotional bank even if they are memories that one can not verbalize or bring to mind.

That is what is so so crucial with adoptees- their emotions have stored this loss and it is “remembered”. But adoptees cannot pinpoint or recognize the loss or the impact of that loss unless they explore it by parents and others encouraging them and supporting them to feel the feelings and process the loss.

Also, in my loss courses I learned that a new loss can trigger the repressed losses to surface at the time of the new loss (unfinished grieving) and then the reaction is magnified and the person seems to overreact to the current loss. That was me in college; the loss of my adoptive parents move to Florida, 1,000 miles from me, triggered my infant and foster child losses buried within me.

Oh, how I wish I had known what was happening to me as an adoptee in college! And, I know it would have helped my parents know how a happy loved child could sink into depression. Intellectually I could share that it was okay for my parents to retire and move away and that they loved me and cared for me. But my emotions were the ones that could not cope and handle another loss.

I cannot tell you what a breakthrough it was to realize many years later what was going on with me in college when my parents moved. I hope another adoptee does not have to go through the cycle I did for no one related any of it to my adoption issues. And how can an adoptee “remember” the loss for it does not come as regular memories as do events that we remember and make “photos” in our mind- we cannot recall the earliest experiences in infancy- toddlerhood.

I lead an adoption triad support group in Wheaton, Illinois. What amazes me is that many people touched by adoption that come to the group will say “I recently faced my adoptive mother’s death,” or “I just went through a divorce,” or mention another big change or loss in their life which seems to have triggered the adoption loss issues to surface and cause them to find an adoption support group.

This subject of grief and loss is so critical for adoptees emotional development. I understand it for I lived it and had some a challenging journey that could have been made easier if people knew I was experiencing the unresolved grief and loss of my birth mother at birth and foster family at 9 months of age.

It is not only important for adoptive parents of children to know this but those of older and adult adoptees to understand this dynamic and important matter that adoptees need to recognize in themselves and cope with when loss hits them again.

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