Interpreting within the color palette of adoption

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Adoption for me is a color palette. On each subject, there are multiple and diverse layers and perceptions. Seen from different perspectives and depending on the context, each time, many nuances of color become visible.

Understanding what the adoptee means by the words chosen can make it complicated for persons dealing with adoption, from personal or professional involvement, to understand how to listen to the experience. What happens to me regularly is that when I talk about my mother, I know exactly who I am talking about. From the context, the listener would be able to make out who I mean, my biological or adoptive mother. Yet I almost always have to explain.

From my own process and search as an adoptee, I can look back on an intensive and very interesting journey of discovery. The returns consist of: insights, perspective, awareness on my pain and the loss that came along with my adoption. In reflection of this loss, a deep desire has been released in me to be aware of what is WELL present in my life. Through images and metaphors and substantiation, I will take you through my vision and views on the subject of adoption.

Adoption themes or not
When the subject of adoption is discussed, themes of loss, abandonment, trauma, (dis)attachment and identity quickly come to the fore. Also, the approach in treatment, counseling and coaching focuses primarily on repairing the "damage" associated with the subject of adoption.
During the course of my adoption process, I regularly received questions from people around me such as, "What do you suffer from as an adoptee?" When I then shared about this, I often got a response like, "I suffer from that too, what makes you call this from your adoption?" My adoptive parents also kept telling me that things worked out anyway and that I didn't have to worry so much. I was welcome with them and seen as a full family member. These reactions had a twofold effect on me. First, I did not feel at all seen, heard or taken seriously in my feelings. The second effect was that I began to doubt whether the issues I was suffering from were related to my adoption. If many people who are not adopted also suffer from this, are the themes I am experiencing adoption-related? Aren't I just a little above average sensitive to these themes?
As I wrestled with these uncertainties and questions, I started thinking about what other differences there were. What is very specifically related to my adoption. And what then makes these themes different with me as an adoptee than with non-adoptees, because to my mind this relationship is there.

Tree without roots
During this period, the metaphorical image of a tree without roots emerged.
An important difference between me and the non-adoptees around me was that they had knowledge of their origins. They were able to refer the themes at play directly to their family and the family in which they grew up. In researching the origins of themes, unlike me, they could make comparisons with their parents, the family patterns, the genetically transmitted themes, even the systemically transmitted themes could possibly be examined and tested with living persons or lore stories. Unlike with me and other adoptees where there may be no information available or ever will be available.
Metaphorically; parents may look at their children and see mischiefs in their children. Chances are that these are recognizable behaviors for them, consistent with their own or their partner's behavioral tendencies. This is different for parents of children not of their own. There, only parenting-related behaviors (tendencies) are recognizable to parents. Conversely, seen from the children who are looking for where from their themes can be explained, only a limited number of recognition points can be found. These limited frames of reference have made me aware during the course of my adoption process, how much I could be influenced by the desirable filling in of my blanks. Also from the desire to belong somewhere. Maybe with my biological parents, maybe with my adoptive parents, maybe another person or group ... Something I can derive recognition from and can and do call my own. A tree without roots that I can move to experience connection to a "different forest" or explore if this might be my place.

Longing to belong somewhere
Sometimes, thanks to a search process, an adoptee can be put in touch with the biological mother/parents. I am privileged to have been able to meet my mother. This had the effect for me that in the first moment of contact with my mother I immediately felt "roots growing. I had a frame of reference in which to explore where my themes were connected. For adoptees for whom reunification with their birth parents is not physically possible, there may possibly be a desire to belong somewhere. In this, an adoptee may choose to fully embrace the adoptive parents and thus come to a choice. Also, an adoptee may become "lost" in not belonging anywhere.The desire to belong somewhere is mentioned as an important theme in developmental psychology.
The fact that an adoptee can or must choose where to belong and whether they want and can commit to something is special. For children growing up in their biological parents' family, this is not an issue at all. As I mention here before, an adoptee has (or feels like there is a choice to) the choice of where to want and be able to connect, or conversely, not want to belong.
Questions that might come into play for adoptees are: Do I find recognition, do I feel like a like-minded person, do I feel welcome and safe, and is something being added by joining in my adoptive family, acknowledging my birth parents as my parents, or when all of these don't work out do I join an alternative to this? A dependency relationship, a group of like-minded people who give me a place or other similar options.
One adoptee may experience an unconditional place in the adoptive family, while another adoptee may experience insufficient or no recognition or unconditionality in the adoptive family, leaving the adoptee with the desire or even a belief that no place is their own.

(Un)conditionality and gratitude
This brings me to the next topic that came up on my journey of discovery. For me, (un)conditionality and gratitude were also important themes in my process. Belonging somewhere also meant that I would be accepted unconditionally, in a way that parents can love their child unconditionally. A child's behavior, choices and actions may be disapproved or judged as unacceptable. Underlying this, there remains a foundation of love that the child can count on.
At this point, I want to note that I also encounter this unconditional connection from adoptive parents toward their adopted child in my practice. Even if it is to a certain point.

In my process I was regularly asked if I was grateful for the life I was offered I my adoptive family. I was also sometimes even told that I could/should be grateful for this place. My parents were small businessmen and entrepreneurs who taught me that you can achieve things with hard work. Even when I longed for material things, I was told that I could work and save for this. Less visible, but just as palpable, was the message that I could/should show my gratitude. I was too young to be able to ask my brushes how they experienced this as biological children in the family. The answer would have been interesting in the context of this research on adoption-related or general life themes.

Connecting as a professional
In the adoption process work, professional social workers may connect at different times. As I mentioned at the beginning of this writing, I see the various aspects of adoption as a color palette. Meanwhile, I have highlighted various facets of adoption, being aware that I am highlighting a limited part.
However, I would like to dwell on the aspect of experience and connection. In essence, with adoption, a separation takes place, a separation of mother and child at a stage where dependency on the child is absolute.
In my process, I was not able to allow a desire to explore my mother's separation until later in life. I experience that my mother has not kept her promise. She went through many steps to bring me into the world and "gave me away" almost immediately. In conversations with my mother, I understood that she wanted to give me the best opportunities in life. These perceptions of me and my mother are diametrically opposed. In initiating my search process, however vulnerable it felt at the time, I gave in to my desire to explore that separation. Because for me, this decision, although rationally explainable, was emotionally complicated to understand.
In some countries, there is an agency where adoptees and mothers who have relinquished their child can register. These search results can then be linked. In my case, my mother, years before I reached that point, appeared to have developed a desire to get in touch with me. With my registration, the match was quickly made.

In my process, several social workers are connected. In fact, I can see that my basic trust is not high. Taking the step to connect with a professional who may look into my greatest vulnerability was complicated. Through a social worker, I was referred to transactional analysis therapist. Subsequently, I came in contact with a systemic therapist and trainer, followed by 2 different psychologists, a hypnotherapist, a 4-year psychodynamic therapist training and a multi-year master coach course.
This part of my journey of discovery had two main motivations. The first was to find answers to questions I could not yet put into words. Naturally, I start at a therapist's office with a question or a defined problem. Then, perhaps that is followed up with a question and a proposal for treatment/guidance is made or the program of training begins. Within the trainings, my question is a learning question that allows me to explore where my answers can be found. In conversation with the therapists, questions were asked (often depending on the underlying movement the therapist was trained in) and possibly asked further, sometimes we just start as soon as I made it known that I had an adoption background. In the many sessions I have had the privilege of attending, I have experienced that, beyond the psychological current or approach, I needed to feel that I was truly heard and seen. Now in retrospect, after thorough self-examination, I have discovered that for me it is first and foremost about having trust in others. Being put up for adoption has had an effect on my self-esteem. With that comes into play for me the question of what part of me others are interested in. I am also curious about what others respond to and what they do not respond to.
Thanks to my work as, among other things, (adoption) coach and various roles within the Child Protection Council, I can establish that there is a color palette of perceptions, experiences and visions of how adoptees experience these themes. So I can only speak from my own experience here.

The professional as interpreter
Being heard and seen for who you are, beyond the themes that are with you, may seem like an open door and a given. Looking back again at the many sessions I have had the privilege of attending with various psychologists and therapists (including in the learning therapy session), I have too often experienced that the words I gave or the themes I brought in were guiding the sessions and I regularly did not feel that I was truly seen or heard as a person. Possibly this was also not the focus of the person who joined. And was fixing or healing the problem I came in with the focus.
Later, after I found my mother, the session focused on the effect of the adoption (divorce) and contact recovery. After finding my mother, I experienced a desire to repair this "break" to the extent possible. For my, it was insufficient that the professional who joined my mother and me was able to be multipartisan, have a completely neutral attitude, perception and treatment towards both of us.
In my earlier description of different experiences, in which, my mother wanted to give me the best opportunities, I felt given away. This is an opposing experience where both my mother and I can empathize well with the other person's experience. It does not take away all the underlying complex feelings for both of us. The desire to be able to have some form of a relationship again was essential for both of us.
Being able and allowed to express to each other how we both experienced it, without the other having to take responsibility, experience guilt. That the difference is diminished rather than polarized in not being able to hear or see the other as a person beyond the pain, the sadness, the frustration and possible joy.
For the professional who joins this process, I believe it is essential that this person take an interpreter as a role model. An interpreter's job is to truthfully transform the parties' languages so that both parties truly understand what the other party is saying and meaning without distortion. A professional who has even the slightest preference for my perception or my mother's perception will disrupt the process of recovery between my mother and me. For the professional who joins trajectories that are essentially about restoring contact, regardless of whether this is an (in)direct question, I believe it requires being an interpreter. An interpreter beyond where the parties come from, beyond the perspective they are on their way to. A translator so that the parties can hear and understand each other and themselves and from these insights and knowledge can make choices that fit this, especially given the diverse color palette that the adoption field consists of.

Vincent Albers
BUROVince commissioned by the INEA

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