Adoptions Lucifer Effect

"Most of us have a tendency both to overestimate the importance of dispositional qualities and to underestimate the importance of situational qualities when trying to understand the causes of other people’s behavior." p.8, The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo

I am half way through the book by Philip Zimbardo titled The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. While I joked in a separate post that I purchased the book to understand how the broker who sold my child could have become so evil, the truth is that I bought the book in an attempt, a hope, to understand my own wicked ways.

The book focuses on two real life stories – The Stanford Prison Experiment and the heinous actions of the US military at Abu Ghraib.  The authors position in citing both cases is the related systems must be held responsible as much, if not more than, the individual perpetrators. The author was part of the defense team for soldier(s) in the Abu Ghraib trials and argued that others, higher up the chain of command, and the military framework as a whole, contributed to, and should also be held accountable for, the crimes those soldiers committed.

There is a great deal of research provided on situational influences versus dispositional. How our environment, our authoritative bodies, parents, officers, church, etc. can influence a normally good decent person to do something criminal – even when he or she knows it is wrong. The author provides a vast array of examples from history that illustrate  how presumably good people or causes can turn out to be quite evil.

I cannot help but reflect on my experiences as I read the book.

For more than twenty years, I felt that I committed a serious crime in surrendering my daughter. I mean, I knew it was wrong (why would others tell me to keep it a secret if it wasn’t something to be ashamed of?), I knew it was not what I wanted to do, yet I stifled my voice and I signed those papers and handed my infant child over to complete strangers. That to me is a criminal act (it would be if I left her in a mall but since I abandoned her in a hospital under the umbrella of "adoption" it is somehow legal and supposed to be morally acceptable.)

I feel I committed a crime against nature and against my child’s soul. As the years went by and I learned what was truly done to me by the brokers who sold my daughter, how I was lied to, coerced and intimidated with promissory notes and threats of lawsuits, about primal wound, and more, my agony increased. The older my daughter got, the more I matured, the more real the crime became. With my own maturity came a greater understanding of the crime I had comitted.

Being ignorant of the law does not make you exempt from it. Consider me guilty as charged. Yes, I am my own judge and jury.

Many feel that abortion is a criminal act against the unborn. I consider adoption, an adoption like my daughters, a criminal act against the born. If abortion is an act of murdering a body, adoption is murdering a soul – but only in part.

For me, the circumstances that lead to the surrender of my daughter to adoption was a crime and one far was worse than aborting her. For me, I feel that in effect, I did abort her. My actions, however misguded, forced her (and I) to walk around as living abortions. She, as a living aborted child and I, as an aborted mother. I aborted the child she was supposed to be and forced her to live a dual life. One with two sets of parents, two names, and a tremendous amount of conflict and anxiety.

When I ponder adoptees or first mothers who are struggling, the artist in me sees a person walking around with abortion goo all over them but smiling and acting happy about it. We are supposed to be so grateful that we were "saved" from that horrible life we would have had if we kept our children. Our children are supposed to be thrilled that they were abandoned and they should never, ever, point out the red elephant of adoption/abortion goo that dribbles down their face as if they were Carrie at the prom.

Go ahead, be shocked and horrified at my description.  It should show the depth of my own horror and what I have lived with for twenty years.  I did that. I caused that walking abortion for both of us.

But why? How? How does a honor student, smart girl, with "potential" from a middle class family make such a terrible decision?

I have worked hard for many years to manage my guilt and shame at doing such a horrible thing to my child. I have spent countless hours in therapy. I have read books. I have caressed, spoken to and danced with my inner child. I have attended support groups. I have taken anti-depressant medication. All this and more to manage the anxiety attacks,panic disorder, nightmares, flashbacks, irregular sleep patterns and corrosive feelings that attached themselves to my soul after I spent 5 months in a maternity home and surrendered my child to strangers. Why do I suffer this way? Why must I?

Because I did a bad thing. A very bad thing – a horrible thing. The church said so, my parents said so, the agency said so and most importantly, my heart said so.

Over the years people told me to blame the system not myself. To look at the forces that were at play and what was done and said to me. They urged me to look at how I was dehumanized, vulnerable, abandoned, and alone. They encouraged me to read up on Stockholm Syndrome and compare that to indivdiuals who are held captive in a maternity home with no familiar person or object around. Add the hormones of pregnancy and youth and please, good golly, Suz, forgive yourself.

I couldn’t.

Intellectually I understood their point and understood their attempts to make me feel better (and even make themselves feel better if they were part of the crime). Emotionally, deep inside my soul, I could never agree. No amount of reading, writing, Verrier or Fessler worship could lessen the pain. I should have known better. I should have been smarter, stronger, wiser. I should have used my voice.

This book has made me really see.

I had no voice. Sheet, I had no name. (I was directed by the maternity home director not to tell anyone my full name and not to ask anyone for theirs. We had babies – not names, not identities. We were not people. Maternity home version of "don’t ask, don’t tell". Walking incubators for someone elses child.). How could that shell of a person, the shell created by others have a voice?

Since starting to read this book, I felt something start to shift. I see now, I mean I really SEE and FEEL how I was part of a larger system. An evil system that dehumanized and deindividuated me.  Thank you, Phil Zimbardo.

I am only half way through with it. Even at this stage of the book, I see,and finally believe, how situational and systemic forces can indeed make good men or women do horrible things, I am finding it easier to look at all the factors that were involved in my situation. It doesn’t make it right – but it makes me understand it and hold myself a little less accountable.

I am taking notes as I read the book and intend to draw parallels to how the examples in the book (Stanford Prison Experiment and the crimes of the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib) share similar themes with woman who are sent away, reconditioned, asked to signed relinquishment papers and then left to blow in the wind as their heart bleeds for a lifetime. More importantly, I hope to highlight how the larger system of the adoption industry can make good people like me, do a horrible thing, like surrender a helpless infant to a baby broker.

Mama2Roo Made Me Do

β€œIt is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting!” – Agatha Christie

mama2roo challenged adoption bloggers to write something fun, something non adoption. I responded that I am hard core about keeping my adoption blog, well, adoption theme based. That, to me, is the purpose of a blog. It is topical, theme based.

I have once or twice posted a meme when I was challenged but it too ended up having an adoption theme.  I live and breathe this stuff. It never leaves me. Whether that is a result of the trauma and the life long wound, my choice, my calling, my passion, I don’t really know. It just is.

I thought about posting about a gift I got for Christmas (a mama2roo suggestion), or maybe my top five grooming products. (Does anyone really care if I wear O-Glow by Smashbox or love LipVenom?).  Even as I pondered the top gifts, they came with an adoption motivation. And even when I think about my favorite goodies provided by Sephora, I think of my daughter and if she would like them.  I cannot NOT think adoption. Perhaps I cannot NOT think about my daughter. That may be the more accurate statement.

But I will play as well as I can.

For Christmas, I did not receive many gifts. I don’t expect them. It is intended for the kids. I am divorced. The ex hub purchased two gift cards that were presented to me by my sons.  Perfect gifts for me. A Starbucks gift card and a Barnes and Noble gift card.   Couldn’t be better! Perfect for me. I spent the book store card the day after Christmas. Book stores are akin to a crack den for me.  I literally get high. I wander aisle after aisle. I inhale deeply. I ooh and ahh. I pick up more books than I intend to purchase and then I put half back. I admire cool stationery products. I play with the pens. I am in heaven. I groan, giggle and sometimes foam at the mouth. Like I said, book store = crack den.

I purchased three books;

  1. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Hitchens
  2. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Zimbardo
  3. Writing to Change the World by Pipher

I am going to fight the urge to explain why these books appealed to me. In summary, it should be obvious that a) I am agnostic and religion contributed to the loss of my daughter, b) the person who sold my daughter MUST be the devil incarnate and c) that well, I hope someday, my writing will change the world or at the very least make some sort of impact on someone’s life.

My parents gifted me with a toaster oven.  Huh? I have no idea why.

My mother seemed pleased with herself and asked if I liked it and if I had one. I responded "yes" followed by "no".  Perhaps she worried my ex took the toaster oven in the divorce?  Truth be told, I despise toaster ovens and it was a marital issue. I am sure that my ex was pleased when he moved out and could finally purchase one. (In general, I dislike counter top clutter and those oven thingees contribute to clutter).  It is a gift I hope to return and ideally will purchase more books.

How did I do, mama2roo?

Developing from the Negatives

"If you believe you can, you probably can. If you believe you won’t, you most assuredly won’t. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad.” – Denis Waitley

Many mothers I have met have assumed they would be welcomed by their child. Other mothers expect to be rejected. Still others aren’t sure what to expect but they do share one thing in common. They all want to be able to love their child and have their child love them back. And when we are not, when we are pushed away, rejected, we are often left with a feeling of "why should I bother?". Our children rejecting us, for whatever reason, can be very triggering back to the days when we were rejected and abandoned by our family and our children’s father. It is often hard to separate out the old rejection from the new. And we reject back, we project, we get all mixed up in this crazy dance that is often rooted in unrealistic, unspoken, expectations. 

Many of us, myself included, fight the urge to throw in the towel and flip the bird to our self centered children who we sacrificed everything for and have ached for years to find. Some of us do and still others, like me, hold on.  Do the ones who hold on find a way to manage what we get or do we change our expectations? Do we mature beyond that abandoned teenage girl and realize that our child’s rejection of us is not really rejection of US but the pain adoption has caused them? Do we realize that we are the physical manifestation of a pain they may not be able handle?

I personally don’t believe I can ever expect my daughter to view me, treat me, value me as a mother. In her emotional world I am nothing like that to her. I do however hope (expect?) that over time we can develop a relationship that is something between friend and mother and it might even be more valuable and special than what I would have had with her if I was viewed as her mother. I already know that she shares things with me that she does not share with her adoptive mother. I feel honored.

But, I have done this, and been able to do this because I was able to manage my expectations.

Let me explain by using a very recent example from my life.

Fresh off the heels of a very amicable divorce, I have spent a great deal of time pondering relationships, my role in them, my expectations, my thoughts on love and respect, courtship, friendship and more. I have spent countless hours in therapy with a very skilled professional discussing what brought me to my marriage to my ex husband and what took me out of it.  As a result, I have gained some very valuable insight into myself and what makes me tick and what makes my relationships work (or not). I am clearly still a work in progress but what I see developing from the negatives is an amazing wonderful picture of a pretty cool woman and wonderful mother.

Several months ago I met and began crushing on an amazing man. Academically brilliant, highly educated, well traveled and well spoken, I was hooked rather easily. I find intelligence to be incredibly attractive.  To move this gent higher up on a pedestal, he also possessed an incredible emotional IQ.  He had been through a number of challenges in his own life and, like me, had spent many hours in therapy due to PTSD.

I fell and I fell rather hard. I could have devoured him whole. Every phone call, email, personal interaction was like an IV line of a mind altering drug to me. I couldn’t get enough of him. Lust? Not so much. Not in the usual sense. It wasn’t really on a physical or sexual level (though the potential was there for me). It was something. I don’t know what it was but it was. But I had to have it. He made me laugh. He challenged me. He debated me. He validated me. He respected my pain and my trauma. He was skilled in repartee.  We had fun.

I must be clear and share a balanced view. It is important to the point of my story. There were also things about this friend that I was a bit uncertain about. Things I did not understand. Stories that did not quite make sense to me that made me a bit nervous. Decisions I may not have agreed with but hey, it was not my life. I have always felt that truly loving someone meant loving what you dislike about them and not what you like. The good stuff is easy to love. Its the not so nice stuff that poses challenges. I made note of the things that gave me pause and mentally filed them for future reference.

They did not slow the Crush Train. They were merely extra baggage in the caboose. I have my own. His seemed to match mine. I was okay with it.

Months passed and during this time frame we decided to be friends and not lovers or partners or whatever the younger crowd would call us these days.

At first, this really disturbed me. It actually left me in tears. He was romantically involved with someone else. He was sharing that with me and I was doing my best to be mature about it.  Alone, not seen by him, I was stomping my feet like an angry teenage girl. I was seeing things in a very black and white manner. Either I got all of him or I got none of him. At that point I could have walked away from him and gotten nothing or I could have re-evaluated my own expectations and walked away with something – perhaps even something more valuable.

And so I did.

Did I care he was off having sex with some woman? Nope. Sex is sex.  While I find physical relations and the typical "O" quite pleasing, I find orgasms of the soul even more appealing.

What I cared about was that he might be sharing all that wonderful stuff in his head and heart with someone else and there might be less for me. Worse yet, there might be none for me. He might never call me or email me again.

I thought more and realized that I wasn’t feeling like I had lost a lover or the potential for a relationship, I felt like I had lost my best friend. Still more thought and I realized that I was actually getting a better deal than the women he will date. He considers me one of his closest friends. Love, sex, flings, dating – they can be very fleeting and are rife with a host of issues that friendship is not. Once I thought about it this way, I felt wonderful. I am not losing a friend. I always had one and without the noise of the standard relationship issues, I may actually get more of him than I ever imagined. Be still my heart!

How the HELL does this story relate at all to adoption or reunion?

For me, it illustrates my point that it is all how we look at things.

If we want only what we want, and we don’t get it, then we often lose what we might have gotten. And what we might have gotten might be even better than what we wanted to begin with.

I couldn’t be my daughters mother in the traditional sense.

I was not deemed worthy or capable of raising her.

I lost a great deal. I suffered a permanent wound to my heart and soul.

So did she.

I can push to feed that fantasy of mine to be the mother I was not allowed to be. She can push back and tell me she has a mother, one who did not abandon her as a helpless infant. We can both walk away mad and hurt and try to prove who hurts more and deeper and harder.

Or we can re-evaluate.

There might be something bigger and better ahead of us.

Life is what we make of it. 

I don’t want to be stuck in what I lost. I know that all too well.

I want to focus on what I might gain. I want to continue developing from the negatives.

Whether or not my daughter ever chooses to embrace me, I still have this life of mine to lead and I want it to be as positive and successful as I can personally make it.

P.S. I mean really, what is a relationship? Who defines that? Is it fixed? Can it change with time? Do we all approach life with someone else’s view of what we should be and how our relationships should be? Is every couple identical? Every marriage?  Every mother daughter relationship?  Someone else decided for me, and I listened, what kind of mother I could or  should be.  I am not about to let them have that power again. Clearly I have more to say on this topic but that will be another post.

Bottom line, again, our lives are what we make of them –  not what others tell us they should be.  Don’t listen to the church, to the agency, to the preconceived notions of what should be. Listen to your soul. It might very well be orgasmic.