Fast forward to 2005 when I worked for Prince William County Community Services Board. I attended a conference where Debbie Riley led a workshop on adopted adolescents. Ms. Riley is the CEO of The Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE), and she had just written a book, Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens. I can picture my seat in the front row (a learned behavior, I need to sit in the front row or I will be distracted by everything around me. Geeky, I know, but it works) with Ms. Riley standing in front of the group talking about adoption. I absorbed every word she said and then some. I asked many questions (refer to the previous mentioned "geek") and was absolutely enthralled.
I began reading all that I could on the adoption triad , attending more workshops on adoption and harrasssing paying special attention to anyone in my life that was involved with adoption. I have a friend that found his birth mother in his late 30's. I practically moved in with him to witness his search and subsequent reunion with his birth family. I have another dear friend that has adopted two beautiful girls from China in the past five years. What a gift it has been to be a part of their journey; from being a reference in the homestudy to Skyping with them in China after meeting their second daughter, greeting them at the airport for the two homecomings and now watching the miracle of the girls becoming part of their family.
In my clinical practice, I slowly began seeing more adopted kids, mostly teenagers. Many of my adopted clients come to therapy presenting with depression, anger or school problems. Adoption is just a part of their story. As the treatment unfolds, I weave the adoption into the therapy. Many of the kids are resistant to discussing adoption. The most common response when I gently tug at the adoption cord is "I don't care" or "it doesn't matter". Over time as my clients start to feel more safe with me and the therapy process, the shell begins to crack.
I worked for years with an adopted boy who was very angry and struggled in school. He had terrible self-esteem and was frequently fighting with peers and his family. After some prodding, he would talk about his birth parents and described a "hole filled with fire" inside of him. He was able to label it as rage; rage at his birth parents for giving him up for adoption. The rage penetrated his outlook on himself and his relationships fueling conflicts on a regular basis with both family and peers.
Like many of my adopted teenage clients, this boy felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with him which caused his birth parents to relinquish him for adoption. I ask these kids to imagine a baby; a sweet, innocent and beautiful baby. I ask whether a baby could do wrong, mess up or make mistakes? My clients usually agree that other than a poopy diaper or some crying, a baby is generally innocent. I ask how an innocent baby could cause it's own adoption? I ask when they were this young, how they could have been "bad" enough to have been given away? I try to make the connection for these teenagers that it was not they who brought on the adoption; the adults in their lives made the decision based adult reasons and adult resources. The adoption was out of their control, nothing they could have done either positive or negative could have effected the outcome ; they were simply the innocent player in this story of their own life.
There are so many emotions that come with the territory: rage, sadness, loneliness and confusion. There is also love, gratitude, appreciation and joy. On some days, my clients can feel one, another or ALL of these emotions at once. It is normal and confusing and again, comes with the territory.
If you have questions or thoughts, please contact me.