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Nancy Verrier

Our first daughter was adopted. Two years later I gave birth to my other daughter. Even with all the crazy things they do in hospitals the bonding process with my biological daughter was much easier and more effective than with my adopted daughter. When we adopted, I had no idea that this could be true.

At three days old my adopted daughter knew her mother and I was not the mother she expected or wanted. I didn’t know that at the time. We were told to take this baby home and love her and everything will be just fine. That’s what I thought would happen.

Since then, a lot of adoptees have told me, “we’ve been loved very much but love is not enough.” I became very interested in what my daughter was experiencing. After having experienced the birth-bond with my biological daughter, I could only imagine how desperate and terrified my other daughter must have felt when she was separated from her biological mother. I grew to understand how much that bond plays in the prenatal to postnatal experience. Bonding brings a component of safety and security, which I don’t think adopted children feel. Once you’ve separated from one mother, there’s always the possibility of being separated from another. They live with that every day.

Attachment can and often does happen, but it’s what we call anxious attachment. There’s always the feeling that someone can leave. Children are traumatized by this experience of being separated from the birth mother and the mothers are traumatized as well.

Let’s explore this notion that love is not enough. It has very serious implications.

Adoptees are often told that your birth mother loved you but she couldn’t keep you. This very well may be true, but the child associates love and closeness and intimacy, with basic trust and security. Rather than getting close to someone, they feel much safer if they don’t. The phrase, “If you don’t love too much, you don’t lose too much,” comes up quite a bit.

They do things to distance themselves from their adoptive parents so they won’t feel the loss if they leave too. They act out in ways that test. It is as if they know its going to happen and just want to get it over with, like they are holding their breath. They keep talking about it, that they are just waiting for it to happen. That’s one of the reasons these children are often diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. How can you possibly focus on math when you’re so afraid of being abandoned? It’s in their minds all the time, not wanting to be abandoned again.

The kids that aren’t acting out are, what a woman in Vancouver calls, acting in. They withdraw, go inward, and don’t want anybody to know what they feel about anything. They often don’t know how they feel themselves. They become very compliant and do everything they cannot to rock the boat.

Most people feel that they are well adjusted. They’ve adjusted just well at the expense of who they truly are, which is not what they see when they look for feedback from others.
As mothers we mirror our babies and we do this instinctively. When an adopted child looks up into the mother’s face, and he or she does not see anything familiar, it is like looking in the wrong mirror. They aren’t being mirrored the same way a birth mother would mirror them, and the baby knows the difference. Mirroring is the beginning of self-esteem. Adopted kids miss this. It is an on-going trauma… the ugly duckling theme and its one reason that love is not enough.

For some people birth itself is a trauma, but certainly if you were separated from the person with whom you feel close, whom you’ve been with for nine months, you are going to feel trauma. Part of that has to do with the sense of self. It isn’t just losing mother. At birth babies are very immature, as mammals go, physically and emotionally, and are very connected to the mother. She plays the role of ego for quite a while after birth.

The adopted child has to develop what we call premature ego. They have to be a separate person right away, before it’s really time. One might think that helps develop a sense of self, but it doesn’t. They don’t have a chance to go through the process of separating from her and knowing that they are safe, which means loved and wanted. What they feel is that somehow they are to blame for the separation. They feel they are not good, that they are bad because mothers don’t leave their babies. There’s no evidence, anywhere in the world, of mothers leaving their babies and that being okay.

There seems to be a feeling of defensive in the creation of this self centered entity. Perhaps the ego is fundamentally a defense response or reflex. Being abandoned would necessitate an immediate and strong defensive reaction.

Babies go through a process of beginning to understand that they are separate from mother and that she isn’t a person over here and they’re a person over here. That happens over time. When it happens at birth, before they have a chance to go through the normal process, there’s a sense of something missing. Mothers talk about this also. They feel something’s missing. They want to get back together. It is a sense of not only finding that lost child or that lost mother, but finding that other part, the lost self that was disconnected.