I am a 29-year-old female who was adopted at 6 weeks. I have never felt or perceived adoption in a negative manner because I have always known for as long as I can remember that I was adopted, and my parents are truly great people. They have provided me with everything I needed to have a great and happy life.
At age 18 I met my biological mother and in February of 1997 I began a relationship with my biological father and his family. After 10 years of knowing each other, things did not work out with my biological mother (for various reasons) but my relationship with my biological father and his family is going very well.
Unfortunately, a few years ago it was determined that I suffer from depression and I have been frantically searching for answers and solutions to make my life better. I feel like I have tried everything and now it's worse than ever. It has been suggested to me on several occasions by both psychiatrists and friends that perhaps my being adopted has something to do with my depression. I would never even consider it because I cannot imagine how I have been negatively affected by being adopted. Am I missing something? Is there more underlying issues that I am not aware of or considering? How common is it for people who are adopted to suffer from depression and what are the contributing factors? I am hoping since you have special insight into the adoption scene that you will be able to help me. Nobody else seems to understand.
Where to start? From what I can recall, growing up I was always a happy little girl (daddy's little girl). My mom gave up teaching to stay at home and raise me and my brother (who is also adopted and 3 years older than me). She was a great mom. My father worked a lot and aspired to own his own business, which eventually became a reality, but also continued to support his workaholic nature. I was always very interested in being a part of everything my dad was doing and he was very good at letting me help, even if it was just sitting on the other end of the piece of wood while he cut it...I always had a job. My parents are not filthy rich but certainly do not have financial worries.
When I was 16, we moved into a much larger home in what was considered a sort of rich neighborhood, which was my parent's dream home. They have come by everything they have honestly...with hard work, sacrifice and determination. I have a very high opinion of both my parents, who they are as people and what they have accomplished in life. My brother on the other hand is a bit of a nightmare. His favorite pastime growing up was getting a rise out of me, which I'm told is fairly normal for siblings. I was always told to ignore him and not let him get to me because that's what he wanted: To see how far he could push me and enjoy the entertainment of me losing it. We never grew out of this relationship. He treats no one with respect, he's completely inconsiderate and insensitive, he started taking drugs when he was a young teenager (and consequently gave me my first cigarette at the age of 8) is socially inept and has always had a bad temper. My parents have never had a normal relationship with him.
I always tried to buy things on his behalf for occasions like mother's day and Christmas because I knew he wouldn't do anything and my mother would be devastated. He and I have had some extremely severe fights but the closest it ever got to violence was him holding a chair over my head on my 18th birthday and threatening to smash it over me. I went up to our family cottage with my boyfriend at the time, hoping to have a romantic weekend since my parents had told me that they wouldn't be up there. We arrived late in the evening and surprise, surprise, my brother was there. He usually stays at the cottage across the road and practically lives up there in the summer giving no one else a chance to enjoy the cottage without his company. To make a very long story short, he totally freaked out and refused to let me stay at the cottage even though I agreed to leave first thing in the morning. He was talking crazy and was obviously drunk and probably stoned. When I went over to ask his friends to help me calm him down, he came running at me from our cottage and pushed me on the ground full force yelling at me and threatening me.
I cannot even begin to articulate what this experience did to me. Through everything that he ever was or ever did to me, our history, never did I think it would ever come to physical violence against me. In my opinion, physical abuse and intimidation is the ultimate disrespect you can show another person (I had a relationship in my teens, which made this point a sensitive one as well). I was totally devastated, scared, embarrassed, and eventually extremely angry. I have not spoken to him until this past year. I will speak to him only on special occasions like Christmas for my parent's sake. This is their wish so, once again, I am asked to put my feelings aside and pretend.
There is so much I could tell you about this relationship that could be relevant but there just isn't enough space. So in all, my family life was good, complete with 4 loving grandparents and lots of neighborhood friends. I went to good schools and benefited from lots of great school trips and social activities. The one strange thing about my childhood is that I didn't sleep through the night until I was 6 years old. I always had nightmares and I can recall still to this day the 2 different recurring nightmares that I had but cannot associate either of them to a certain age. I don't know if this is relevant but it is most certainly bizarre. I always called for my dad because I thought if there was an intruder, he would have a better chance of defending himself rather than my mom.
Anyway, at the age of 18 I started dating my best friend's boyfriend. I had never done anything so dishonest or hurtful like this in my life. To this day, I can't explain it but what I can say, is that I saved her from a terrible relationship. He had a lot of emotional problems and a really strange family life. He was extremely manipulative, controlling, obsessive and abusive (both verbally and eventually physically). Looking back I don't know how much of the 3-year nightmare was my fault and what is his fault. All I know is that that relationship introduced a great deal of confusion in my life from a sexual perspective, trust, self-esteem and I can't tell you what else. I do believe that sometimes you just have to move on and put the past in the past but if that's the case, how do I overcome all these issues I have today if I can't trace them back to something or someone?
So, the adoption issue. I have known for as long as I can remember and my parents never discouraged me from talking about it. The only bad thing that happened is that my parents told me they didn't know anything about my birth name or parents and one day I found papers with my birth name on it. I felt a little betrayed but I think I eventually understood their point of view and why they lied. At 18, for no other reason than curiosity, I found my birth mother. This wasn't hard because she had kept in close contact with the Children's Aid Society. For 10 years we met for meals, coffee or whatever and tried to build a relationship. I met her family after knowing her for about 2 years. Over the 10 years of knowing her, I learned that she was adopted as well and her birth mother wouldn't tell her anything about her birth father. She was controlling, stubborn, self righteous...many of the same characteristics I have but try to downplay as much as possible because I don't consider them good character. She has 4 children with her current husband who she met and conceived their first child within a year of my being put up for adoption. It helps that she is still with the same man but I've never quite understood having another child so soon after giving me up. She kept me from getting to know my birth father for 10 years because she decided that as long as he wouldn't tell his kids about me, he didn't have the right to know me and he would do nothing but cause me pain. She also told me that his wife was unaccepting of me which I now have learned was never true. I accepted not having him in my life, (other than the updates that she would give me) for a long time up until about 4 years ago. At that time, we started having more steamy disputes about her putting herself in the middle unnecessarily. Anyway, she arranged a surprise meeting between him and me in February 1998 and he and I have been very involved in each other's lives ever since.
His family has totally accepted me (which I cannot comprehend) and we continue to learn about each other talking a lot on the phone and spending occasions together. They truly treat me and consider me one of the family, one of their children. The really great thing is that they always keep in touch with me regardless of my efforts. With my bio-mother she would literally not call me because I hadn't called her and it was my turn. As it turns out, my bio-mother had been telling a very one-sided story about my bio-father and his family all those years. My perception now is that my bio-mother has many unresolved emotional issues and I just can't play her games anymore. Truthfully, she and I are so much alike, I'm scared to spend time with her because I don't want to end up like her. I have a total of 8 brother's and sisters between the two bio-parents which is an overwhelming responsibility. My bio-father's family is increasingly becoming a bigger part of my life but it's hard to make time for everyone. It's a great deal of pressure living up to their expectations.
My bio-father and my ex-boyfriend are responsible for reminding me of adoption and how it could be related to my emotional problems. My bio-father believes that unborn children can suffer from affects of rejection and carry those feelings throughout their lives. My parents have always been supportive of me finding my bio-parents and I've always been very up front and honest about it. I am however, very careful not to give them too much information because I've never wanted any of my relations with biological family to hurt them in any way. I always made it perfectly clear that my efforts were never based on any dissatisfaction with them or the life they gave me. I know that my mom's inability to have her own children is a very upsetting topic so I don't remind her by constantly talking about my being adopted.
So now this all comes down to me I guess. 3 years ago I split with the man that was suppose to be my mate for life. I chose him and loved him with all my heart. It didn't work out because we had grown apart. I guess the major reasons were because I didn't feel emotionally fulfilled by him...he didn't "show" his love enough and I was never interested in having sex. We could go months. I went to counseling for this but now in hindsight, that was only part of a bigger picture. I still have a total disinterest in sex, probably worse than ever, but 3 years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I am totally against pills and don't even take aspirin for headaches so completely rebelled against the psychiatrist's suggestions to go on medication. This was up until 2 weeks ago when I completely crashed and started taking Zoloft.
I am a lost soul in life right now without any direction, motivation or sense of reality. I don't feel I understand anything in life and I'm so deep when it comes to analysis, that I talk myself into circles and misery. I feel like I don't know what love is and never will. I think I felt that totally submerged innocent feeling of love once in my life but I'm not sure if I have felt that same feeling every again or ever will. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to work. My current boyfriend is very supportive. We have lived together for over a year in a house, with 2 cars, both work at the same place, he has a 6-year-old son with another woman, and there is only one place where this relationship is headed.
So basically my life is everything I never wanted it to be at my age because I was suppose to have professional respect in my career and be successfully balancing a career and family. I hate my job but it's all I ever dreamed of doing because I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps in business. I have never been totally committed to the "white picket fence' concept and I'm uncertain about the whole kids thing but, my parents really want grandchildren (god forbid if my socially retarded brother ever got a girlfriend let alone decided to breed). All I do is dream about a life that is not mine. I love my boyfriend and I love many things about our life together but I'm not happy and happiness is the only thing I've ever wanted. I've always held other's opinions of me in very high regard, I am extremely sensitive to other people's feelings and wishes, I live to not disappoint anyone, especially my parents and I'm a bit of a perfectionist.
Looking back, I truly don't feel abandoned but who's to say that my subconscious isn't working with different criteria if you know what I mean. I have had many bad experiences with sex and always tried to live up to the expectations of others because being liked is extremely important to me. Friendships are an absolute priority and I never stay in one place very long and I'm not sure if meeting my biological parents was or is having a positive effect on my life. So, what does all this information mean? In my opinion, everyone has a past and it can't ever be all good. I have always believed that it's what you do with life not what life does with you that's important but here I am with this crippling problem that is disabling me from having a life. I seriously have had enough and don't know how to live day to day and still be happy. Do I need therapy, you bet because I cannot make independent decisions anymore, of any size, I am totally disillusioned with regards to who I am, who I want to be and what I want to do with life. My questions to you are all pertaining to depression and how being adopted has affected my depression...if it has at all. I am not convinced that it has but it's the only avenue that I haven't given a fair try to address my problems. So can you offer any insight? Do you think being adopted has had an impact on me? I've never dumped this much information about myself to anyone. I'm not sure if everything I have provided is relevant but I hope you can offer some input.
Is it true that unborn children can feel rejection? What factors can affect you and how does someone get over it and move on? Obviously you can't do anything about being adopted so how does one replace these negative effects of rejection with positive ones? Does my inability to stay committed in a relationship long term have something to do with being adopted? Seeking approval from others and relying so heavily on their acceptance, does this have anything do with being adopted? My instincts are telling me that this could be caused by any number of things so how do you know if it's one thing or another?
Please note, this is my opinion it is not fact.
Thank you for your letter and I am so pleased that you were have decided to reach out to the adoption community. I know that it is painful to even entertain the idea that your adoption may have adversely affected your life. Whether your depression is related to you being adopted is a question that only you can answer after careful consideration. You mentioned that you have tried everything to relieve your depression but nothing has worked. I will say with certainty that unborn and newborn children do bond with their birth mothers and the rejection by them does affect them throughout their lives. That is very common among adoptees. Often times adoptees, whether they came from happy or unhappy homes, began dealing with their adoption related issues in their twenties. If this is true in your case, you are right on schedule.
The fact that your adoptive parents were wonderful is fortunate for you. However, it is a known fact that no matter how wonderful adoptive parents are, they simply cannot take the adoptees pain away. Remember that your adoptive parents did betray you by the very fact that they kept a major part of your identity from you --- your birth name. I am not saying they are bad people. I am just reiterating that they lied to you. Often times adoptive parents keep vital information from the adoptee in order to prevent the adoptee from "leaving" them. This is often unconscious on the adoptive parents part, but is present nonetheless. If you truly are in any pain surrounding your adoption, it will become apparent to you soon enough. One thing that pain always promises is that it will be realized sooner or later. It is better to deal with when you are young. The following issues are typically associated with adoptees who have been negatively affected by adoption: issues of abandonment, guilt/shame, identity confusion, fear of intimacy, control, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, self-sabotage, personality disorders, low self-esteem, and over sensitivity.
From what you wrote it sounds like your brother is what is called an "acting out adoptee". It is quite clear that your brother has grave emotional problems. He possesses many of the traits listed above. The fact that you took it upon yourself to buy your mother present's on his behalf so that she wouldn't be hurt is admirable yet beyond the call of duty. In regards to the nightmares, it is not uncommon for adoptees to having trouble sleeping due to nightmares. Often as children, adoptees will have nightmares that their "real" parents are dead or evil. Did you fantasize about what your birth parents must be like as a child? Do you wish they were famous or heroes? Did you fear that they were poor, uneducated, or sleazy? Did you ever entertain the thought that you were a product of rape? All of these questions may sound frightening, but are typical for the adoptee.
You are rightfully frustrated by the fact that you can't seem to categorize your nightmares or emotional difficulties. This again is very typical of an adoptee. Adoptees often disassociate in order to avoid the pain. It is almost like free-floating anxiety, there isn't anything concrete that one can put there finger on why they feel the way they do. If this is true for you then you are not alone.
I am not the least bit surprised that your mother conceived her second child within a year after giving you up. Birth mothers tend to either of two things. They either never have any other children because of guilt, or they conceive as soon as possible as a way of "replacing" the lost child. No matter which way you look at it, these reasons can prove disastrous.
I often ask these questions of adoptees who are curious about how their adoption affected them. I am sure after reading your letter that you will see yourself in many of these questions.
- Do you fear abandonment?
- Do you overextend yourself by giving to others (i.e., people pleasing)?
- Do you behave in such a way as to prevent loved ones from truly getting to know you?
- Is your birthday a time of pure joy or mixed feelings?
- Do you feel betrayed by any or all of your parents? Example: your adoptive parents lied about knowing your birth name; birth mother lied by omission about the fact that she was adopted; birth mother refused to help you find your birth father because her own birth mother refused to tell her about her birth father!!
- Is every disappointment feel like a huge let down?
- Are there times were you do not feel worthy of affection from others?
- Is substance abuse an issue for you?
- Are you saddened by the fact that you are no longer in contact with your birth mother after ten years of reunion with her?
- Are you ever angry at your birth parents for not keeping you?
- Do you ever wonder what is wrong with you that made you become "unchosen" by your birth parents?
- Do you sabotage your close relationships? Example: breaking up with "my mate for life" because he didn't show you enough affection. Adoptees NEVER get enough affection.
- Do you have sexual dysfunction of any kind? Example: no interested in sex/intimacy.
- Have you had successful long-term relationships?
- Do you find yourself in abusive/destructive relationships?
- Look at the relationship with your "best friend's boyfriend"!!!!
- Do you have a difficult time trusting other people, institutions, or circumstances?
- Do you accept positions that you are overqualified for, or do you let "lower companions" into your life that cannot, will not, should not fulfill you? Example: current boyfriend. Are you unhappy with him in particular or just unhappy with life in general? Would life be better with or without him?
- Were you able to bond with your adoptive parents?
- Do you ever feel guilty or ashamed of being adopted?
- Do you talk freely about being adopted to others?
- Do you have a fear of intimacy?
- Do you have the "good daughter" syndrome? Example: do you go overboard to please and not disappoint?
- How high is your self-esteem?
All of these issues may be present in those that are not adopted, but it has been proven that adoptees tend to have a combination of many of these issues.
If you related to anything I have written here or if you have answered yes to any of these questions, you may be adversely affected by being adopted. I am a firm believer that ALL adoptees are adversely affected by being adopted. Even they have a wonderful adoptive family and positive experiences in reunion with their birth families, the fact of the matter is that they were UNCHOSEN at birth. Many experts feel that the separation from mother is one of the most traumatic experiences one can endure.
I recommended that you seek out a counselor who is also in the adoption triad (birth parent, adoptee, adoptive parent). There are many resources out there for you.
This question was answered by Kasey Hamner. Kasey Hamner has a Bachelor of Art degree in Psychology, a Masters of Science degree in Counseling, a Pupil Personnel Services Credential authorizing her services as a School Psychologist, and is a Licensed Educational Psychologist. She specializes in adoption related issues including search and reunion, abandonment, self-esteem, substance abuse, depression, and relationship difficulties. Also amongst her specialties are children's issues including adoption, abandonment, ADD, special education and so on. Her approach is eclectic and is adapted to suit the individual's needs.