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Adopted And Dealing With Mother Issues

Question:

I was adopted back in the late 60’s and so never had any contact with my birth mother. I was in the hospital nursery 14 days before going home. By 9 months of age I had a life-threatening illness and to save my life was left completely unclothed and was touched only for surgeries and medical procedures until I finally screamed myself into an ulcer. Finally, at 2, my parents went to work in a third-world country for 10 weeks and I was left behind. As an adult, I found my birth mother but she refused contact with me. According to my therapist, the result is abandonment issues resulting in me desperately wanting my birth-mother and throughout my life looking for my "lost" mother in older women I come in contact with. The thing is that my adoptive mom is a wonderful person who, although she has her faults like everyone else, has always been a great mom to me. Why is it never enough? I feel terribly guilty all of the time that I can’t just accept her as "mom" and have this need to keep looking elsewhere – usually unconsciously – and then when those relationships fall apart because I want too much from those people, I turn back to her as if she’s the "booby prize". After she comforts me and assures me that she’s there for me, I go off and look for my "mother" again even though technically I already found her and know she doesn’t want me around. What is wrong with me?

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Answer:

A small smile crosses my face as I read your last sentence, "what is wrong with me". You’ve just spent a paragraph telling us exactly what is wrong with you, and have spent all the years it took you to get to the point where you could sum it up in a paragraph, and yet you still want to know what is wrong with you. There’s humor in this situation, I think. Not because you want answers (That part is just painful and many of us can relate, I’m sure), but because it points to a deeper issue that I think is just part of the human condition: even when we know the answers, they are often not satisfying. Or to put it another way, insight into your problems doesn’t make those problems go away.

So you probably do have abandonment issues. You were certainly set up for abandonment issues as an adoptee, and as an ill infant, etc. It was certainly a profound rejection experience when you made the effort to contact your birth mother and she wanted nothing to do with you. It would be easy to perceive yourself as abandonable and unwanted after that sort of life history. This sort of early emotional wound is not a rational thing; you can’t easily think it away. And though you’ve had many good experiences in life, including being blessed with an adoptive mother who loves you and values you, that sense of being not good enough continues to lurk in the background of your heart as an adult.

To be clear, this sense that you are not good enough is a fantasy, not a reality. You developed this mistaken understanding at an age when you were not capable of conceptualizing the situation accurately. Yes, your birth mother gave you up for adoption. No, this does not mean that you did something wrong, or that she did something wrong. You do not know the circumstances of why she gave you up. There are a thousand reasons why giving up a child you are not ready to raise yourself is a blessing rather than an act of negligence. If you haven’t thought about how this is true, take some time to read our adoption articles addressing the mother thinking of giving up her baby . But it takes a mature mind, not a child’s mind, to see that is true.

Along with your child’s mind decisions about what these events that happened to you meant, you seem to have developed what we might describe as a rejection compensation fantasy. You dream of an all good mother who will love you unconditionally, and contrast this with the flesh and blood mother you take so for granted. How can any flesh and blood person compare with an idealized fantasy object? It’s like porn in a way. An idealized woman (mother in your case) who will not disappoint, and who cannot ever be tested because she doesn’t exist. Of course, all real mothers (both of yours included, as well as the various older women you try to fit into this role) do disappoint, as will any human being who was held to an unrealistic standard.

Your mistaken understandings, your fantasies that you are unacceptable or that there is a perfect "real" mother out there who will love you unconditionally are emotional and irrational in nature. You have difficulty with self-acceptance, and with appreciating what you do have, which is a real loving mother (she may be your adoptive mother, but she is your mother nevertheless). You seek what you feel yourself to be missing where you won’t find it. You know about these things and even that they are not quite accurate, but you remain helpless in their grip nevertheless. This is the place where therapy work can be useful to you. A present-day focused, rational and relentless examination of these most basic understandings through the vehicle of cognitive therapy perhaps, or maybe with a good dynamically oriented therapist might help you. What needs to happen is for you to reevaluate your child’s mind assumptions and conclusions in the light of your adult mind. For you to take your expanded adult understanding of what it means to give up a baby for adoption and what it means to be adopted and let that mature understanding soak into the child’s more self-centered understanding so that your basic assumptions get updated. If you can update these mistaken (yet understandable) understandings, there is a reasonable chance you will suffer less.

It is so easy to remain embedded in old, years out of date, and immature understandings of situations that have hurt you. And yet, so long as you allow yourself to remain in their grip, they keep you from appreciating what treasure you really have. Few people in this life will really love you. If you have a mother who really loves you, you have a treasure you cannot purchase, and which will not continue to exist forever. Don’t allow yourself to continue taking this treasure for granted.

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    I think this is summed up quite nicely with neat little bows. How quaint.

  • Anonymous-2

    What do you say about the adoptive parents who tried and tried, five times for their own children without success. Then settles for adoption. Hum...could they be settling for something second best? They love the child but was not their first choice. This is unconditional love?

    Editor's Note: Would these parents have been better loving figures if they had made it their first choice to adopt and had not tried to produce biologically related offspring? There are a variety of reasons why adoption is not many potential parents first choice, some of the lessor ones including added complexity, cost, and a profound lack of control (as the adoption process is about the needs of the child not the parents needs). I think it better to view infertile parents who choose to adopt as those who persevere in their desire to give love to a child, rather than those who have settled for second best.

  • Vivian

    When we were going through infertility and struggling with our options for parenting I had that same thought. I considered how I would feel as a mother to this child I hoped to someday parent...did I really want to exhaust everything possibly medically and then turn to adoption as a last resort? What would I tell my child later when they asked questions?... I hope people realize that adoptive parents consider these issues when making decsions.. What we decided was to try minimal medical intervention and at the same time begin the path of adoption.

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