Monday, January 28, 2008


As painful as it was for this adoptee to watch, I actually liked Juno.

I liked it because it was a big fat reminder of what adoption actually is: a solution for a girl/woman who does not want a baby and the people who want one. (Clarification based on Anonymous comments: I am not talking about young women who were coerced or tricked into signing over their babies).

The baby is just a big bump. Something that gives her heartburn but not heartache. A moving image on an ultrasound that moves the stepmother, but never stirs Juno enough to rethink her decision. Once Juno has made up her mind to give away her baby, she emotionally detaches. She cracks witty jokes. She's fixed on an old-school Closed Adoption and has no interest in updates or pictures. She's determined to hand over the kid and get it behind her. Sure she rubs her belly with a flower, but she spends more time burning CDs than wallowing in angst ridden moments.

So why do I like Juno?

Because there was some truth in it. Some ugly, harsh truth.

Juno reminds me of my own mother. Ever cheerful, determined on her plan of adoption from the first and emotionally detached. Like Juno, my mother also never wanted to see me. She, "didn't want to get attached."

I liked it because it confirmed that society sees adoption as a nifty solution, with little or no thought to what that separation will mean for the baby.

Yeah, don't get bent out of shape because, "it's just a comedy," some will argue. Well, it wouldn't be funny if it didn't ring-a-ding true. (What did not ring true is Juno as a 16-year old. As my own teenager pointed out, teenagers don't talk or act like that and my daughter just wasn't buying Juno as authentic.)

In Juno, the institution of adoption is only vaguely about the child. It's about a transaction. It's about what is being transferred and the comedy that ensues. As Juno's stepmother points out, the adoptive parents could even be worse than her loser stepdaughter. They could be abusive. And while this is oh-so-true, it never gives Juno any real pause or concern. It's a movie about a pregnant girl, after all. Not what will happen to her baby. The movie ends with Juno and her boyfriend singing together, happily. Without the baby. Problem solved. That's what adoption is for everybody else.

What happens afterward is another movie.

What happens afterward is what we adoptees have to live with the rest of our lives.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Waiting Too Long to Search

If there was such a thing as a do-over in adoption reunion, I would absolutely, most definitely have searched earlier. Much, much earlier.

I mean, it's ridiculous to be going through all this I-Want-My-Mommy stuff when you are in your forties and birthmom is four decades past menopause.

In some profound, sad way, it's too late for the both of us. We're too worn out by life to find the energy to do the hard work of working on a new and complicated relationship.

My needy adoptive parents and the demands of their dementia have worn me out. I have little patience, now, for my aging birthmother. ( See? It sounds ridiculous to even call her birthmother or first mother when the woman is over eighty!) The last time we spoke, she spent most of her time talking about her repeated falls (it would help if she cut down on the vicodin, I suspect) and her failing health and it all left me, well, cold.

I can hardly be expected to give of my time and emotional energy to someone who gave me away forty five years ago and not once attempted to find me.

All of this may sound bitter. Maybe things wouldn't have gone any differently if we'd been younger. I just don't know. But reunion, as difficult and disappointing as it's been, has been an amazingly grounding experience. I was born again. It was my second chance. I just wish I'd done it sooner. For me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Unwelcome Child, Notes Part 2

In his 1929 paper, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct," Sandor Ferenczi (Budapest, originally published in The International Journal of Psycho-analysis) put forward an idea based on observations made during his stint as a doctor in charge of a war hospital.

His observed some patients came into the world as unwelcome guests of the family and that, "All the indications shew that these children had observed the conscious and unconscious signs of the aversion or impatience by the mother, and their desire to live had been broken by this" and that, "Moral and philosophic pessimism, scepticism and mistrust became conspicious character-traits in these patients. One could also note ill-disguised longing for (passive) tenderness, repugnance to work, incapacity for prolonged effort, and thus a certain degree of emotional infantilism, naturally not without attempts at forced character strengthening."

The following is a summary of the rest of his paper:

Ferenczi notes a common theoretical assumption. That the life instinct is strongest at the beginning of life, weakest (to zero) toward the end. He says this may not be quite accurate, pointing out this may be true only under favorable conditions of the infantile protective environment. "The child has to be induced, by means of an immense expenditure of love, tenderness and care, to forgive his parents for having brought him into the world without any intention on his part; otherwise the destructive instincts begin to stir immediately. And this is not really surprising, since the infant is much closer to individual non-being, and not divided from it by so much bitter experience as the adult. Slipping back into this non-being might therefore come much more easily to children. The "life force" which rears itself against the difficulties of life has therefore not really any great innate strength and becomes established only when tactful treatment and upbringing gradually give rise to progressive immunization against physical and psychical injuries."

If I'm reading him right (which I may not, I'm not a psychoanalyst), Ferenczi tries to figure out where to categorize these cases, but proposes they fit into, "the frustration neuroses," and goes on to observe, "there remains of course the task of ascertaining the finer differences in neurotic symptoms between children maltreated from the start, and those who are at first received with enthusiasm, indeed with passionate love, but then dropped."

Ferenczi then talks about he treated such cases. He found he needed to let the patient, "have his way like a child" which would allow him to enjoy the irresponsibility of childhood, "which is the equivalent to the introduction of positive life impulses and motives for his subsequent existence."
I'm not going to bother to summarize the last paragraph because Ferenczi starts talking about Genital Theory and libidinal theory and the "demands of genitality" and suddenly, I have no idea what the hell he's saying. If I had to put my spin on it, Ferenczi was onto something really important and then the shadow of Freud loomed and, well, he found himself on the Oedipus detour.

I'm not going to give my reaction today, mostly because I ran out of time and I don't want to make this post too long. But I did want to share Pt. 2 as I promised to do so last week. But please feel free to leave your reaction.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Unwelcome Child, Notes Part #1

In his 1929 paper, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct," Sandor Ferenczi (Budapest, originally published in The International Journal of Psycho-analysis) put forward an idea based on observations made during his stint as a doctor in charge of a war hospital. This included deciding the fitness of those suffering from epilepsy. The next bit is unclear. At least to me. But it seems Ferenczi also observed patients suffering from "nervous circulatory and respiratory disturbances" such as asthmatics and cases of "complete loss of appetite and emaciation, not explicable anatomically."

Ferenczi then goes on to write that he hoped, "that a wider circle of observers (I am thinking of particularly of children's physicians) will bring forward further material in its support."

The idea is this: His observed patients came into the world as unwelcome guests of the family and that, "All the indications shew that these children had observed the conscious and unconscious signs of the aversion or impatience by the mother, and their desire to live had been broken by this" and that, "Moral and philosophic pessimism, scepticism and mistrust became conspicious character-traits in these patients. One could also note ill-disguised longing for (passive) tenderness, repugnance to work, incapacity for prolonged effort, and thus a certain degree of emotional infantilism, naturally not without attempts at forced character strengthening."

Ferenczi then goes on to talk about a young woman, born an unwanted third girl in a family without boys, who not only brooded about the origins of all living things, but was also alcoholic and frigid with a tendency to colds. But Ferenczi wanted to make clear it wasn't his task to exhaustively explain all the symptoms, but wished to, "point to the probability that children who are received in a harsh and disagreeable way die easily and willingly. Either they make use of the many proffered organic possibilities for a quick exit, or if they escape this fate, they keep a streak of pessismism and of aversion to life."

Ferenczi wasn't talking about those given up for adoption. 1929 was long before adoption became big business. But I think it most definitely applies to those of us adoptees whose mothers cut themselves off from their babies in order to give them away.

While I have never been suicidal, I've had the persistent feeling that I'm not fully a part of the world. It's more than not fitting in. It's more than feeling you're on the outside looking in. It's like you're not quite real. Like you don't deserve to be here.

Then there are those things - big things - that I've struggled with and against all my life. Such as the inability to meet long term goals that are important to me. It's telling that I chose television news production (then radio) as a career. It's highly structured. In an eight hour shift, you can produce a newscast seen by many people. This I can do. I can also produce a radio story and finish articles of 1,200 or so words. What I can't do are long term projects, such as long feature stories and books. I'm not lazy. I just can't finish. In my basement are stacks of drafts of half-written and discarded novels. At some point, I reach the point where I say, it's useless. This is ridiculous. Nobody will want to read what I write. Who do I think I am? I'm nobody. I'll never be Margaret Atwood or Ruth Rendell or Joanna Trollope, who have so many interesting things to say. I'm unworthy.

This is more than writer's block. When I'm around other people, they seem more real, more solid. By comparison, I feel vaporous.

Ferenczi was onto something, as commenter Anonymous Bob pointed out. (He alerted me to the existence of this paper) I was an unwelcome child and knew it. Felt it. Probably in utero. My mother, who at 37 had already raised three children, decided as soon she learned she was pregnant that she would not keep me. It was never a possibility. She told me so. She also told me she never held me. Not once. She peeked at me, mostly because the nurse badgered her. Because, she said, she "didn't want to get attached."

While I do know I was fostered until I was placed in my adoptive home, I have no idea where I spent the first month of my life. Was it in a private home? An institution? Left at the county hospital? Was I picked up and cuddled? Or left in a cot and drugged to keep quiet?

My earliest baby pictures show me stiff as a board, looking away from my adoptive parents. I'm told I never cried as a baby. The aparents didn't think this was unusual. They just thought I was a "good baby." I was acting like a half-dead one.

I also think Ferenczi had it right because all those strange feelings of not belonging and being unwelcome are most pronounced when I'm in contact with my (birth) mother. I feel like I'm fading away. That she is real and I am not. Suddenly, it's almost hard to talk. To form full sentences. My voice feels weak. I'm devoid of thought and opinion and determination. And while she sometimes says untentionally hurtful things, she is friendly enough. But I don't feel welcome. I feel unwelcome. And totally unsafe. It's like it's her or me. I can only exist away from her.

Will summarize the rest of Ferenczi's (short!) paper soon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Other, New Blog

Decided it was time to spin-off a new blog. This one about dealing with narcissistic parents.

Why? Because more than half of you who stop by do so after Googling, "narcissistic parents" and, increasingly, "elderly narcissistic parents."

I figure these poor people don't have time to wade through adoption related issues although, as some of you have revealed, you're dealing with the double whammy of being adopted and having narcissistic adoptive parents. And then there are those with a trifecta of misfortune. Adoption plus self-centered aparent plus self-absorbed birthparent. And yeah, those people exist. (Besides me)

I'll probably be posting here less while I get the other blog going. You can find it at

I'm still waiting for my copy of psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczii's, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct" paper. I'll be sure to blog about it and post as much of it here as is relevant.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Plight of the Aging Narcissist

Soon, when I have some extra time, I'm going to spin-off a new blog about dealing with narcissists. Until then...

My adoptive dad called the other day from the assisted living facility I forced him into two years ago.

The people he called his friends, mostly made at church after amom died, quickly stopped calling him. None visited. An old friend of amom used to call him, but he gave her the brush off because, he said nastily, she talked about herself too much. I know what this means. She was either not sympathetic enough or she insisted on having her fair share of the conversation. This is intolerable to him.

I am now his only contact with the outside world.

Having distanced or discarded or infuriated most of the people he's come into contact with, the aging narcissist is a very lonely person.

I can sense adad's loneliness snaking across the phone lines, but there's nothing I can do about it.

When he calls, I imagine dialogue on a page.

Adad: Nina? The reason I sound so sleepy is that damned nurse keeps waking me up to give me my medicine. I have no idea why she can't give it to me earlier like a normal person. But she hates me and has it out for me. I have no idea why.....

Nina: (I resist pointing out that it's because he called her a fat assed, ugly, lazy fool) Oh, that's too bad-

Adad: (interrupts) This place is going downhill. The food is terrible and all they've got now is second class workers....(and so on)

Nina: That's too bad. Do you think-

Adad: (interrupts) It rained all night here. I really loved listening to the rain. It didn't thunder, though. We finally got the rain. I didn't think we were going to get it. Those weathermen always exaggerate. They kept talking about a big storm. But it was no storm. Just some rain.

--Silence--I'm waiting for him to finish. He's run out of things to say.

Adad (peevishly/aggressively): Well? How are you? How is Bob? How are the girls?

Nina: Everybody is good. The storm hit really hard here. Poor Bob got stuck-

Adad (interrupts): That's nice. Some idiots here decided to run out in the rain and they all got wet....(and so on)

That was an actual conversation by the way. I thought I'd entertain him with the story of my husband nearly getting blown off a train platform, but nope.

Sometimes, adad will pause, then say, "Tell me something!" because I've given up talking and I'm just waiting for him to start up again. I gave up talking years ago. Maybe it's more accurate to say I never talked at all. This is what my husband says. That adad dominated every conversation and I just sat there and nodded. When he visited, I had to shut myself in my bedroom with a pretend headache just to get away from his constant chatter.

So now there he is, lonely, practically begging for me to talk, but I can't...because even when I do, he'll interrupt and not let me finish. Yet he longs for contact. Some reassurance there is another warm body on the other end of the line. Reassurance that he is not alone. So to keep the conversation going he'll say, "Tell me something! Anything!" But he's incapable of listening. He's incapable of connecting to others in the most basic, human way.

The best thing about putting him into the assisted living facility is confirmation that he is an extremely difficult, self-centered person. The head nurse says he's one of neediest, demanding residents they have. To boot, he's a troublemaker. And a loner. If he can't be the center of attention, he retreats in childlike fury to his room. This was all music to my ears. I was not the crazy one!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Talking to Mother and Fading Away

After the shock of meeting my first mother for the first time ten months ago, I called her.

It was a pleasant conversation. She always seems very happy to hear from me.

I'm now mostly over the intense feelings of grief (and anger) I finally allowed myself to have over being given up for adoption by a 37-year old woman who'd already raised three children.

So now I'm a bit more detached. In a good way. That emotional detachment allows me to be a better observer of the dynamics of our relationship. Mostly, she does the talking. Sometimes, she (unintentionally) says things I find hurtful. For example, she likes to recount with pride her determination to give me up for a better life, against family pressure to keep me. It's the language of martrys. Except she seems to forget I didn't get a "better life," just a different "bad" one as I was placed into an extremely dysfunctional, emtionally neglectful home. In our most recent chat, she said she'd always wanted girls (not boys) because girls are so cute. Obviously, being a girl wasn't incentive enough for her to keep me.

So for the last year or so, I've been saying I don't feel "safe" around my mother. I just don't.

I get very nervous when I think of talking to her. I get all cold and clammy, as if it's possible I might just pass out. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I'll wake up and the first thing that pops into my head is, "I can't believe she gave me up!"

And here's what I just noticed. When I was talking to her, I felt like I was fading away. Like my voice was getting weaker and that if I held up my hand, I might to able to see right through it. Suddenly, I wasn't myself. She'd ask me a question and I wouldn't have an answer. All I could do was listen, passively. It was like she existed, fully, and I did, but weakly. Just hanging in there. When I am in contact with her, I am diminished.

This is a sensation that I have, in the past, blamed on her being self-centered. It's sort of like the feeling I get around my full blown narcissistic adoptive father. But it's worse. Much worse. It's a horrible, terrible feeling...that I might just disappear.

Before I called her, I blogged about this and Anonymous Bob left a comment telling me about psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi's paper entitled, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct (or Drive)" and suddenly, the lights went off.

Is THIS what is behind the sensation that I am there-but-not-there when I am with my first mother? That I am reliving not being wanted? That after 47 years, I can feel what I felt in utero? That I can only respond to her, not as an adult, but as an unborn baby incapable of speech or thought or opinion?

I am NOT looking for sympathy. I am trying to understand not only this feeling, but my lifelong struggle with not feeling fully a part of this world. I'm trying to understand my past struggle with psychosomatic ailments. I'm trying to understand my lack of sustained motivation and inability to meet long-term personal goals. Why I'm terrified of rejection. Why if when I do encounter rejection, it feels like annihilation.

Many of these "issues" can be attributed to being raised (or trained) by narcissistic parents. But they could have started with something else. (And made worse) With not being wanted.

Today, I'm going to the library to see if I can track down Ferenczi's paper.

More later.