First-hand joy, second-hand pain

I added a comment on the subject of the following post to the incredible discussion over here, but I think it warrants its own post, too, because it's a little complicated. But before I go there, I have to say that that discussion did my soul a lot - I mean, A LOT - of good. Amazing. Thank you.

If you haven't read the post and comments, you'll need to for context. One commenter asked a really good question about my analogy and the logic I used to get there:
But I do wonder, from the side of a first/natural parent - when a aparents do understand and grasp the "other" feelings of adoption that exist for adoptees and first/natrual moms, can they ever truly really turn off that light with no reminder of the other truths that exist.
The commenter is absolutely right that I can never really escape the reality of adoption pain. The fact that I'm still here talking about adoption after all the ups and downs I've experienced in adoption-blogland kind of proves it. But for me, anyway, there is a switch, so let me explain in a little more detail how it works in my life.

I live adoption two ways. I live it through my own adoption journey: the story of how my husband and I decided to adopt, how we chose to adopt from Korea, our homestudy, the legal process we followed, the waiting, the arrivals, and parenting. That journey is one that is marked by sadness and joy, sometimes for reasons that really have nothing to do with adoption itself, like infertility. But given the outcome - my two incredible kids - adoption has been and is a joyful experience for me, one that has completed me, rather than causing division and separation.

As a parent always feels what their children feel, I also live adoption through my children's experiences. When adoption brings them pain, there's no question that I feel it. I try to understand the pain adoption has brought my children's parents, too. But in both cases, I feel this pain second-hand, maybe even third-hand in the case of my children's parents, because I have no access to them and can't even hear them tell their own stories. No matter the degree, the point is that I can talk about what I think they are feeling, write about it, and even experience it - but never the same way they do, never in the context of a personal experience.

For example, I can go to the doctor and fill out a medical form without a thought. If I don't know the answer to a specific question, it's only because someone in the family doesn't know, not because law and practice have blocked it from me. I can therefore choose whether or not to acknowledge my children's pain at having to write Unknown down the page, or I can tell myself it's really no big deal. I can make a conscious decision to flip that switch one way or another.

Same thing about my children's parents' experiences. When someone asks me how many kids I have, the question doesn't cause me pain and I don't think twice to answer. I can choose to remember how hard it must be for someone to have to weigh that answer, or I can downplay that pain. Again, I can choose whether to flip the switch or not.

Like I said before, I can escape. Which is why I shouldn't.

Hope this clarifies rather than making it all murkier. It is, after all, Monday morning and I'm only on my first cup of coffee.

Comments

Judy said…
I see where the commenter is coming from -- having faced, to the extent that I'm able to, my son's losses via adoption, it is hard to flip the switch off. I just don't think it's as much of my psyche as it is that of a first mother or adoptee, if that makes sense. ???

My difference is that I've chosen, as I have in other areas of my life, not to actively engage in adoption talk, blogging, "fights," etc., and this has everything to do with my health and trying to keep my stress level down.

Perhaps some would find it cowardly, but I just do walk away from fights and stress as much as possible these days, and not just with blogging and reading/commenting. It's happened IRL too, to the point where I actually walked out of a meeting that was too upsetting for me at one time.

I simply won't do it anymore, and the fact that I'm able to do that and others aren't is sad and unfair and all kinds of those things that I'm not in control of. *sigh*

- Judy
Margie said…
I don't find it cowardly at all, Judy. And I need to post on that.

At the end of the day we all do what we can, and that's influenced by what's going on in our lives. I don't have challenges facing me that look anything like what you have faced and continue to face. Plus, you have proven yourself already - you spoke out loudly and clearly for a long time on these issues. You still do from time to time, and we all benefit from it.

Re psyches: Yes, it makes perfect sense. That's exactly what I mean when I say that pain isn't a part of my personal adoption journey, I can only experience it second- or third-hand.

Hugs to you!!
Mei-Ling said…
It's kind of also like when people ask me how many siblings I have. How many siblings I have varies on whether or not I want to answer that I'm adopted. Why?

Because to say that I have 3 siblings (1 bio to my a-mom and 2 bio to my Taiwan mom) but yet don't know about 2 of them do or what they like or why they are in Taiwan and I am not... tends to brings on the WHYs. Fast.
mama d said…
Thanks for continuing to post on this. Perhaps I'm having some difficulty in aspects of the whole conversation because I didn't know there was a switch to turn reality completely "off."

Denial, perhaps?

Since that works so well (ahem), I've opted to remain open to any and all feelings I and have and my children share about our adoptive relationship and associated losses. It does not mean that I must talk broadly and publicly (blogging, for example), but I do continue to advocate for positions I feel are important to at least consider.

Adoption and the associated losses became a different picture for me when we adopted an 8YO. Not unexpected or startling, but different. And we're all still putting it into context. Perhaps this is why I've felt a need to circle my own public wagons for the time being.
This is a very balanced and nuanced response. I don't think that future adoptive parents are ever in a rush to get this or that baby, generally speaking. I have met a few foster and adoptive parents and the lengths they go to to secure their future offspring's wellbeing is rarely given the praise they thoroughly deserve. Good on you and your husband.

Greetings from London.
Margie said…
It's really interesting to me to see how everyone experiences what I've talked about here differently - but you all understand what I'm trying to say. Thanks, all, I appreciate it.

I think one thing that gets lost in some of the things that I've said is that I feel and process on different levels. I would think we all do. What I talk about here isn't something that always flows on the surface of my life. When my kids hurt, I hurt, period. It's upon reflection that I realize that we feel the pain differently, for different reasons and with different impacts. But in day-to-day life, the "compartmentalization" I describe here is much more subtle than it may come across here.

It's been interesting to think and write about this, though. And in a strange way, it's helping a bit with the empty nest struggles, which really are a challenge at the moment.
Paragraphein said…
Margie,

Been reading this series of posts of yours with great interest.

I just (JUST, on page 10) started reading Judith Herman's book Trauma and Recovery and what she's said so far about the dialectic in trauma being the urge to tell the truth vs. the urge to repress has me thinking a lot about your posts and what you're saying here. Especially that dialectic as it relates to witnesses of trauma... which, when it comes to adoption, I think would included adoptive parents.

She mentioned that it is very hard for witnesses of trauma to "side" with the victim, that it is much much easier to side with the perpetrator, because the perpetrator demands nothing but the victim demands action, empathy, acknowledgment, and change.

This is what specifically made me think of you and your posts... about how time after time you continue to choose the harder side. You are right, we (adoptees, first parents) are stuck with it... we ARE the victims, and while we can choose to go into psychological denial, that's really all we can do--and not without a huge price. But I think you are right, that you do have more choice--and so maybe that's why your willingness to choose the more painful side is so personally helpful and healing to me.

I don't mean to discount the peer support of other first moms--not at all. They bring tremendous healing, too. But there's a slightly different quality (not better, not worse, just different) to the healing when it's an adoptive parent choosing to side with us--one that is harder to find than the peer support, but just as needed (for me anyway)--and so I just wanted to say "thank you" for sticking with us.

It means a lot.

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