I sat in a conference room in the Park Central Hotel in New York City; just two blocks south of Central Park. I was attending the adoption conference, Shedding Light on the Adoption Experience, put on by Adoption Crossroads, Adoption Healing.
My presentation wasn’t until the afternoon session so I decided to sit in on Joe Soll’s session, entitled, The Separation of Mother and Child…The Profound Effects on Both. Joe is an adoptee, author, lecturer and psychotherapist.
To be quite candid, I knew Joe was the organizer of the conference so I sat in on his session to do more networking than listening.
As his title implies, Joe spoke on the effects of the separation of a mother from her child specifically in adoption. He explained that studies have found the bonding process between mother and child begins no later than the third trimester of pregnancy and by the end of the third trimester the child can recognize his mother’s voice, and heartbeat and the voice of anyone else that is constantly around during this time.
The birthing process can be seen as a traumatic experience for the baby who is soothed by being placed on the mother’s chest close to the heartbeat the baby has come to know soon after the birth. The sound of the heartbeat and the mother’s voice are very comforting, and a natural way for the baby to calm down after the trauma of coming in to the world. Being with the mother, the baby has come to bond with, provides shelter and safety to a small child who was just seconds ago in the warmth of the womb. This bonding then continues and solidifies over the coming days and months. So what happens to the baby if this doesn’t occur?
I sat in the small conference room motionless and straining my brain to remember what if any contact I had with my birth mother. My memory database didn’t store information that far back so I was left to wonder. Up until this information, I assumed there were no effects of this separation because there was no bonding that occurred between me and my birth mother.
I wasn’t sure what Joe was telling me was true but I decided to tip toe down the path this scenario created to explore what truths or falsehoods maybe laid ahead.
There was a study done on the eye contact of newborns. The study concentrated on the intense starring that the baby does, soon after they are born, in to the face of their mother. Immediately, I recalled my own sons staring into my wife eyes as if she held the secrets of the world.
It was found that this intense starring actually helps exercise and develop the eyes. Those babies who had little to no opportunity to participate in this activity had significantly weaker eyes. Adoptees have been found to have more eye problems than non-adopted children.
Stunned I sat in my comfortable chair. My eyes have been horrid all my life. My eyesight is not just bad, it is scary-bad. I can’t function without contacts or glasses. I am legally blind without corrective lenses.
Maybe this is just a coincidence. Whether this was a coincidence or not, I sat up a little straighter and listened to Joe more intensely.
One step further I crept in to this theory being presented. It was theory to me because I didn’t know Joe or his sources so I was cautious not to swallow his hooked lure without really inspecting it further.
So I decided to entertain the idea that maybe there was this natural bond that occurred between child and mother prior to birth. It made sense and was logical, so I assumed there was this bond between my birth mother and me. Then soon after I was born I was taken away from the only safe thing I knew. Could that affect me or would I just forget it.
One more step.
Joe went on to explain that adoptees and birth mothers are told to just ignore this bond and separation as if it never happened and just move on. This separation was compared to a death that both parties were not allowed to grieve and often this caused the feelings of many adoptees and birth mothers to shut down; a defensive response to prevent similar pain in the future.
Pondering the application of this idea in my own life, it struck a nerve. The memory of my response when I found out my birth mother had died came screaming back to me. I found out at a football game via an email message sent to my phone that my birth mother died 6 years, 5 months and 6 days prior to me finding out who she was. The news stirred up nothing in me. I felt no sadness, no anger, and no pain and since then haven’t felt anything; the only feeling I can really say I felt was relief.
I continued to reflect on the fact that I can get up in front of groups of people and talk about deeply emotional issues in my life and not crack. So far, in my experiences, Joe was hitting the bulls eye every time he pulled back his bow.
So I continued to stroll down this virgin path.
I learned this separation gets translated into abandonment and rejection which can bring with them the fear of being loved or worthy. THUMP! These feelings hit dead center with me. I have struggled with these feelings my whole life and have spoke about this in prior posts.
It was further explained that the fear of being rejected can manifest itself into not wanting to have anything to do with the birth mother for fear of being rejected again. My feelings of relief when I discovered my birth mother was dead could be due to this fear of being rejected. Since she is dead she can’t reject me again and that translates in to relief.
This fear of being rejected can also play out when adoptees begin to explore finding their birth mothers. The fear of being rejected by the adoptive parents because an adoptee wants to find his birth mother can play a role in the search. Often times, adoptees resolve not to search for fear of being rejected by either side and so cling to the guaranteed, established relationship with adoptive parents and never bring up the desire to search.
Growing up I often thought about my birth mother but never voiced it to my adoptive parents because I didn’t want to hurt my Mom and Dad. There maybe some truth to the idea that I also didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want to open myself up to a negative response; rejection. Did I think my parents would respond negatively? I was 95% sure they wouldn’t but not bringing it up assured me of better results.
One last step.
It was explained that often times adoptees concentrate on finding and searching for their birth mother but not the birth father. The birth father doesn’t captivate a lot of adoptees like the birth mother does. This is because the bond that was established with the birth mother may not have occurred with the birth father. It is possible for a child in the womb to recognize other voices who are around on a consistent basis but if the birth father was never around while the birth mother was pregnant that bond can’t take place.
Dead center again!
I have always wondered about my birth mother and often thought about her but rarely have I thought about my birth father and for me I never could explain why that was until Joe shot this last piercing arrow. It is a strong possibility for me that my birth father was not around much during the pregnancy because both my birth parents were married to someone else making quiet time between them difficult.
After the session, I wondered what would happen if all adoptive parents had access to this information. It seems it may help a lot of parents to understand their children better. To be open to the possibility that adoption can cause some deeper issues than we initially realize, I think will help many to see why certain things may be done and said by adoptees.
I can only speak for how the information spoke to me as an adoptee and in the 75 minutes that I sat in this session I found great clarity in many areas as I strolled down this possible path.