Many adoptees and foster children haven't been told that it's possible to find freedom from their painful past. Sherrie reviews the literature that's been available, especially that of Nancy Verrier's THE PRIMAL WOUND. The case is made that in physical healing, validation of the wound is just the beginning. Most adoptees want more--more growth, more steps to take toward freedom, and more self-worth. Sherrie shares her story of how this reality transpired in her life.
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Hey friends, I thought I'd written every book I ever wanted to, and I was ready to enjoy my senior years on the beach. However, something radical happened inside me that I believed was important enough to share with fellow adoptees and foster kids, as well as adoptive and foster moms. What I'll share in this podcast, isn't included in any of my writings or previous books. This is brand new. This podcast is a message of hope that strained relationships between moms and adopted kids can heal, and that there are steps we can take to help that happen. For the sake of transparency. I am 100% pro adoption. In order to communicate this foundational truth, I'm using two words, relinquishment and adoption. When the first mother signs off parenting rights, the term relinquished is apropo. This word refers to pre-adoption pain and trauma. However, when your child is placed, this is adoption and it is positive for it provides a forever home for an orphan child.
Of course, there are bad actors amongst adoptive and foster parents and in the system of adoption itself, but giving a child a home, a homeless child a home, is positive. I say that from experience and I'll share a little bit of my story with you in just a few minutes, but first let's focus on what this podcast is going to provide for you guys. The purpose of the podcast is for you to realize that adopted children can heal from their painful past and secondly, for adoptive moms to learn and appropriate the fact that healing from your painful self can happen; you know, that condemning self that says you're not a good mom, that you're not enough, you'll never be able to meet the needs of your child. So that's a purpose: we can all heal, but it's hard work. And we have to work individually and then hopefully together as parent and child.
Okay, let me talk about the audience now, adoptive parents. Let me just address you for a minute. There is nothing more foundational in a parent child relationship than love. When moms consider adopting, they want nothing more than to become a safe Haven of love for their hurting children. But instead, sometimes without either mom or child desiring it, the complexities of unresolved loss bind them together in an adversarial relationship. And this makes it seem impossible for the mother child bond attachment to ever happen. The adopted child, not only rejects the mom's love, but also the mom, even though moms understand that the rejection is not about her. She can become crushed and exhausted, often suffering from PTSD.
This wound is often the mom's secret, whether they are aware of it or not. They don't discuss the strained mother child relationship publicly because they're bound by shame. In other words, shame tells them there must be something wrong with me since my child can't attach, they're bound by fear. What will others think when my child is charming outside the home, but downright mean to me? And crippling insecurity, like I spoke of before, I am not enough. Let me just add here that the adopted child has no awareness that she is turning the home life into a war zone, but that happens in the complexities quite often with adoption.
Okay, the second audience would be birth parents. There may be similarities between your journey and your child, so I think you would enjoy participating or listening to this podcast; also rejected bio parents. Maybe your child is rejecting you and you're shocked that it's happening, but you need hope that things could get different, and this would be the place to get it. Adoptees have mixed feelings about both moms, many hate the birth mom for giving them up. And they hate the adoptive mom because she isn't the birth mom. This creates immeasurable loneliness for many adoptees and foster kids. Many adoptees live with Phantom pain every day.
So let me just share with you the outline for the first eight podcasts that I'm going to be sharing with you.Intro: Good News for the World of Adoption, Number One, How One Adoptee's Junk Became Treasure. Two: The Dance of Adoption. Three: How to Find an Adoption Competent Therapist. Four: Identifying and Validating your Adoptive Mom Wound. Five: Create a Template of Adoptive Mom Self Care. Six: Understand Why your Adopted Child May See You as an Enemy. Seven: The Path toward Adoptee and Adoptive Mom Freedom and How to Become a Yellow Slicker Mom. Included in each podcast after the reading or the talking part of it, will be five things: a truth to embed, a story to remember, what moms can do, a verse to comfort, and discussion questions. So you could even use this as a format for a group.
All right. I'd like to just share the history of what brought me to this new place. In the world of adoption literature, many authors have contributed seminal work with a desire of leading we adoptees toward healing from traumatic laws. There's John Baldy, Betty Jean Lifton, David Brodzinsky, Daniel Hughes, the late Connie Dawson, and Bessel van der Kolk, just to name a few. Especially meaningful to many adoptees is Nancy Verrier's bestseller, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. Verrier teaches that without acknowledging and validating deep wounds, healing can't begin, and that's so true. Since its publication 25 years ago, many adoptees have held onto this book and dogeared its pages and quoted it and carried it around like Linus's security blanket. We've all done that, Nancy Verrier, and thank you. Of course, the adoptees loved it. It affirmed that we're not only not crazy and that we might be... it's kind of like the adoptee's aha book. It validates who we are; however, many adoptees are stuck in the validation phase of healing, and most don't know that there are other steps that can heal to becoming free from our painful past.
There's more to healing than validation, but no one tells adoptees this. No one tells them that they're literally is a way to be free from a painful past. The majority of people in the world of adoption, including me sent many kudos to Nancy Verrier, she's led us miles, and now it's time to move on. After all, who wants to stay in the middle of validation, in the middle of the wound, when you can discover you're a survivor of one of the greatest losses. I want more, don't you, fellow adoptees and moms? More steps, more growth, more maturity, more self-awareness and more forgiveness.
Now I'd like to share my backstory with you so that you can fully see the miracle that I have experienced and the journey toward freedom from my painful past. The characters in my story, are first Elizabeth, my birth mother: the beautiful 20 year old woman who was so traumatized by her rape, that she didn't want to see me after birth. The second character is Retha, my adoptive mom: the extremely gifted teacher of elementary school children for decades. And Leah, my adoptive grandmother and matron of the orphanage in our town. There was also Mike, my father through adoption. So Retha knew many of the adoption dynamics prior to my homecoming. It would be a closed, private adoption facilitated by her mother-in-law Leah, who was the matron, as I said, of the children's home, the orphanage. It was here that bruised and broken children, teens and adults found respite during life's storms.
It would be here also that I would be prepared for my life's work with those touched by adoption. I played every day with those kids that had been abandoned. They were my best friends; one of them went on vacation with us. Every night, Leah served up a hearty dinner around her huge dining room table and how I loved the unspoken camaraderie with the children, who'd also lost a family like me. Leah knew that Retha and son Mike would be outstanding parents because Retha was a beautiful woman with dark, shiny hair and a winsome smile. Every area of her life, whether studying to become the valedictorian of her college class or teaching elementary school children, she exuded self-confidence. When she and Mike fell in love, they dreamed of having children way into their forties; unfortunately, infertility won. And because they lived during the age of romanticism, even Leah didn't recognize the resulting secret sorrows that they carried and the profound need to grieve before adopting.
So on August 4th, 1945 after delivery, Elizabeth was whisked off without knowledge of my gender or seeing my face. I believe she did this to save her marriage because her husband was away at the war and he was not my father. So I was placed in an incubator for 10 days; I was so tiny and I had no human touch and I had no name, I was named baby X. So this was big trauma for me before I was ever adopted. I cried long and hard for human touch, but no one came. I gave up and went within. As a result, I refused to eat and nurses listed my condition as failure to thrive. Retha was a trooper though, especially when she learned of my suffering; even though I was extremely small, would need days in an incubator before homecoming, she pressed on like any good mom does when her kids are hurting.
When Leah came to get me from the hospital, she paid the bill in full: 55 dollars and 97 cents. Can you believe that? Then she drove the treelined street to Retha and Mike's modest bungalow, where they waited with great anticipation, they couldn't wait to see me. When Leah carried all five pounds of me into my new home, they came running, for this was the day that their dreams would come true. When Leah handed me to Mike, his hand shook like he was holding a delicate piece of fine China. And then he said, she's so tiny. I can hold her in the palm of one hand. And you know what? Mike recounted this memory until his dying day. And whenever he told it, a sense of belonging took root in my adoptee heart. When Mike handed me to Retha, I arched my tiny back and screamed bloody murder.
Whenever a baby arches like this, it means she's in extreme pain. This was my first quote, "cry print" to Retha. This was my communication to her. Just like a fingerprint notarizes a unique identity, cry prints communicate personal needs. My cry print was, "I lost my mama. Where is she? I'm going to die without her." Who can even imagine how Reetha felt, perhaps like a bucket of ice water had been thrown on her. She must have shaken in shock, like we all do when something unfathomable happens. It would be easy for her to read rejection into my screens. Maybe she'd think, "Maybe my baby doesn't like me", or "Maybe I'm not suited to be this baby's mom. If I were, Sherry would've snuggled into my welcoming arms immediately".
So that is how it all began for me and Retha. Because I experienced multiple traumas before homecoming, I didn't want her love. I wanted Elizabeth, my birth mom. I was so in love with her and she didn't believe, Retha didn't believe in herself. So she compartmentalized all that insecurity and was basically emotionally absent for me, and this happens a lot with adoptive and foster moms. So we all need healing. So let me just share how this wonderful healing occurred for me.
Circumstantially. I was painted into a corner by a fellow Christian who inflicted a wound that I didn't deserve. The anger and hate within me was so great that I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. At first I thought maybe my brain had changed. If not, why would seemingly rampant thoughts flood my mind? So I read every book I could find about the brain, but I gained no insight. I felt like I was waking up from surgery and hearing the muffled voices of recovery room nurses.
Then I wondered if I were psychotic and hearing things. My husband assured me I wasn't psychotic. So I began reading a wonderful book by the late Lewis Smedes, who was an adoptive father himself, called Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve. I realized I was in a crisis of forgiveness. I could either go to the stress center or forgive the one who was hurting me. I chose forgiveness, which required surrendering in a new way to God. I was already a faith based person, but this area was uncharted territory. So for two years, the past two or two and a half years, I have followed the path toward forgiveness. I began to connect the dots between present day hurts and past history.
Up until then, I didn't know I was carrying hurt from my relationship with Retha. I mean, all I had was sadness: looking at old pictures of us and everything, it was just extreme sadness. I remember at midlife going through the photos and the sadness deepened with her sudden death. They were vacationing in Florida and dad went into the kitchen in the condo to fix her a piece of toast when he heard a loud bang. It was his dear wife of 49 years leaving this world. Our family was in transit to my parents' condo in Florida. After a day with our young daughters at an amusement park, we found a note on our door, asking us to check in with the office. Bob left, and when he returned, his face was ashen. "You better sit down, Sherry. Your mom just died two days ago, and they've been trying to get in touch with us all that time."
Then I remembered how I got impatient with her because she was asking where we'd be staying on the way to their condo. That was my last memory of talking with my mom. So guilt blanketed sadness. The process of returning her body to Michigan was daunting. I can still see her casket being loaded into the belly of the plane like it was yesterday. At the funeral home, uncomfortable neighbors and friends raved about her Florida tan, and I wanted to punch them. I remember shivering in sandals by her snowy grave. I was only 37 when I lost Retha.
And now, 35 years after her untimely death, warm memories began flowing inside me like gentle waves on a sandy beach. Not because I worked them up.I could smell her best in town apple pie, envision her cooking Franco-American spaghetti with hamburger, and affectionately caring for Dinny Dinwit my tiger cat.
One day, I thought when all this was happening, I thought about mom's wedding rings. Now, why would I be thinking about those tarnished rings, with all the diamonds missing? And unconsciously, I carried them for years from geographical move to move. In my estimation, they were pieces of junk, and I wondered why I hadn't given them to Goodwill a long time ago. Suddenly I wanted the darn things, can you believe that? I wanted them, and so I ran to my closet and eagerly pawed through my overcrowded costume jewelry box. Much to my delight, they were still there and when I placed the rings, the old black, no-diamonds rings on my fingers, never asked questions and curiosities flooded my mind about Retha and Mike, like what was it like the evening that mom and dad were engaged? Did dad get down on his knee to propose? And was she the blushing soon to be bride dreaming of a house, children and happiness forever?
I slipped the rings onto my shaking fingers and immediately ran in to Bob's office to show them off like a kid on a sugar high. Just a month ago, he handed me a small... Could it be that in the depths, I always wanted a close relationship with Retha? Could it be that I loved her deep down inside? I think I did. I really do, and adoptees aren't going to like that, but I think I do. And so, the mom I once hated, I now love. The mom I once rejected, I now consider my hero. So that's how the healing began. And it continues, with every relationship in my current day life, as I learned to connect the dots between the past and present hurts. So remember I said, we're going to have a truth to embed. So the truth is it is possible for adopted children to heal from their painful past.