The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma – Judith Lewis Herman, M.D.
Thorn seemed concerned in her recent comment to me that I might not understand what she was trying to convey in relating my coming out to her own partners issues with coming out as a lesbian.
I can assure Thorn that I did understand (largely due to the fact I read her blog and converse with her elsewhere). I often cite the parallels of coming out as a gay person and coming out as a mother who surrendered/abandoned/relinquished/insert your own politically correct word here.
I agree with Thorn’s sentiments entirely and even her suggestions on handling the challenge (NB: I have not come out yet with fiance’s sons). Yet I find I want to clarify or reiterate something and note how coming out as a mother traumatized by adoption is slightly different from coming out as a gay person. There is a double whammy effect to coming out as a mother.
When I out myself, there are at a minimum two major challenges at hand. Challenge number one, that is similar to gay outing, is the sharing of the knowledge it self and dealing with possible repercussions. It is blurting out my scarlet letter status and then waiting for backlash. It is preparing myself for possible judgment and maybe doing battle with public stereotypes. It is listening to the ignorance that is perpetuated by adoption media and myths. (As in how fabulous my daughter went to such a good college cuz like, you know, she could never have done that if she had been raised by me.) It is arming myself against Catholic or conservative views and preparing to debate how for me, surrendering my child, was not a selfless act but rather an act of self-destruction encouraged by many. Had I been attempting to kill myself, I would have been stopped. Since I was only giving away my first born child to strangers, I was given the go ahead.
While I am preparing myself for the standard outing (which I am pretty good at handling), I am simultaneously battling challenge number two – reigniting my trauma (this part I rather suck at handling).
It is difficult to explain but at times like that I am two people. I am the frightened, pregnant, seventeen year old girl with hormones raging through her body. I am that girl filled with fear and sadness and anger and shame and guilt. I am also, at that same time, my present day self. It is a battle of wills. The seventeen year old me wants to run and hide and fights against the 42 year old me. (DON’T LET THEM DO THAT TO ME AGAIN. DON’T LET THEM TAKE MY BABY) While I battle the stereotypes noted above, my mind is assaulted with flashbacks of maternity homes and giving birth alone. It is remembering all the lies that were told to me to coerce and intimidate me into signing a single sheet of paper and forever change my life path and that of my daughters. This often toxic combination of intellect and emotion can cripple me and render me speechless. At best it leaves me in a puddle of tears.
This is where I believe (Thorn and others are welcome to correct me if I am wrong) the coming out is different. I became a mother traumatized by adoption with the help of others. I was not born gay. I did not know for years I was gay and decide to come out. I did not become pregnant and carry my child to term (when abortion was indeed an option) to have her given away to strangers. I did not live most of my life knowing I would lose my first born child. While the act coming out for gays may be traumatizing, my situation is reversed. My trauma act caused my need to come out.
In her book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman states that psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force (parents, church, agency workers, doctors, hopeful adoptive parents who deserve the child the mother does not). Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary symptoms of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning. Herman notes a few experiences increase the likelihood of harm. I have excerpted a few below.
1. Being taken by surprise (as in being surprised by pregnancy, surprised your boyfriend left you, surprised your parents sent you away to live with strangers)
2. Being trapped (as in a maternity home)
3. Being at the point of exhaustion (as in after labor and then asked hours later by that overwhelming force to sign a document and give away your child)
4. Being physically violated or injured (as in having poor medical care that you “deserved” because you got pregnant or in having your vagina sewn up incorrectly following delivery to insure you “won’t do that again”)
When I “come out” all the feelings above do too. In summary, when I “out” myself I out not only my status but my trauma. I am not sure that gay’s have the same challenges in this regard.
I encourage dialogue.