People often ask me how I function being both adoptee and a mother of loss. The truth is, life was easier before. I could never connect the dots. Missing my daughter made sense but missing my mother was an elusive ghost. I didn’t have a name for it. How could I miss someone I never knew? Why would I long for her if I already had a wonderful family? But, I did.
I was the master of distraction, constantly running, especially when I felt my momentum start to betray me. I surrounded myself with people and movement and noise. Sometimes I would work out twice a day. Keep moving. If I didn’t have an activity, I had a project to keep me occupied. Keep going. If I kept the volume of life loud enough then I couldn’t hear the persistent sound of despair.
I spent my 30’s searching for a diagnosis as an explanation but no doctor would give me one. My older brother worked for Mayo and one year at Christmas he thought it would be nice to give me the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. This book is HUGE, bigger than the Bible. It contains every physical ailment and mental illness known to man- with photos. Upon receiving this nightmare of a gift I started diagnosing myself with new disorders/illnesses and on several different occasions, drove myself to the emergency room. I was never given more than a couple bags of saline and a prescription for Xanax (which I never filled but probably should’ve). I knew they were missing something. But really, how do ER doctors diagnose adoption trauma? I had ALL the symptoms, I just didn’t know it had a name.
I had no idea there were thousands of other adoptees and mothers that felt this way. An army of grief: they had lost their mothers or their children. I had lost both. It wasn’t until I found community, support, and my mother that I finally began to mend. And that didn’t happen until I was 45 years old. If I’d had the information back then that I have now everything would’ve made sense, not just for me, but also for the family that raised me.
Today my overwhelming concern is for young adoptees and their parents. Teenage adoptees attempt suicide four times greater than non adoptees (Academy of Pediatrics). Adopted and foster teens /adults are the highest minority of people to be over represented in mental health facilities and prisons. Every time I hear of another adoptee suicide it sends panic through me. It’s avoidable! The trauma occurs at separation. If we support family preservation and view adoption as a last resort then we will lower these alarming numbers. Adoptive parents need to understand this prior to adopting a child. They need to be educated about adoption related issues in order to help their children survive.
This week we learned that we lost sweet Jane. She was a beautiful, 14 year old Korean adoptee. She could no longer numb her pain so she took her life. It sent a ripple throughout our community even though none of us were surprised. We shake our heads in solidarity and think, ‘What did they really expect?‘ We must listen, for the children.
(photo by Anne Heffron)