Deactivating Dysfunction

Many years ago, I was on the board of a fairly well known 501(c)(3) organization focused on educating the public on the realities of life as a first mother. My position involved assisting with member communications and website management. Our efforts, however noble they may have been, were continually dampened by personality conflicts.  This strong personality bucked heads with that strong personality. Meanwhile, not so strong personalities retreated to the corner and watched.  Tempers flared, feelings were hurt, and very little work was done.

Around the same time, a well known adoption activist outside our organization was publicly threatening to shoot one of the board members for disagreeing with said activist.  Out in adoption land two separate adoptee organizations were struggling with their own infighting.

Eventually, I resigned from the first mother organization.  While I fully supported their mission and wanted to help, I found them too focused on one upping and sandbagging each other.  I have that sort of drama in my own family. No need to volunteer for it.  After resigning and while pondering the various personalities, I realized that what each person wanted, no, demanded was to be seen and heard.  Every member was talented, educated, and committed yet we could not get out of our own way enough to do any real work. We lacked emotional intelligence.  Our overwhelming need, no surprise considering we had each been disposed of by our families in one way or another, was to be loved and cared for.

I reflected on this experience when Joyce made her ending comments to her keynote. In her case she was referring to the AAC Board. Admittedly, I do not know the details of what is going on with the AAC. I am merely a member who has heard bit of gossip or been invited to view scandalous and inappropriate (to me) Facebook pages.  I am in no position to comment or judge their drama but I do believe I am in a position to ask what can we do about it? This was the question I brought to Joyce following her keynote. Given her work with adoption traumatized individuals as well as her clinical experience and education, what would she recommend?  How can we solve this for AAC and other adoption reform organizations? I am generally more interested in solutions than I am in assigning blame or pointing fingers.

Joyce suggested (and I agree) that nearly every single person working in adoption reform comes to it from a place of pain, loss, and trauma.  This trauma gets in the way.  Okay.  What can we do?

Joyce had no clear advice. I questioned how organizations like Donaldson are able to perform. Are they not also populated with adoption impacted individuals?  Joyce noted Donaldson is staffed with paid professionals. They have a very different operating model for their organization versus a volunteer staffed organization.  Point taken.  Does a formal position and associated compensation make a person behave professionally?  I am going to guess the answer is “no”. Joyce and I were interrupted by a session starting and as a result we did not finish our conversation.  Others at the conference suggested that this is a phase AAC is going through and they have been there before and recovered from it.  They will again. I suppose that is reassuring but I still ask the bigger question.

Can we solve this for AAC as well as other organizations? If we do not, can we truly make progress if we are constantly bogged down by our shared trauma? It feels like two steps forward and three steps back every time an adoption reform organization attempts to make change.


AAC 2016 Prelim Thoughts

12376622_1681086562143092_8236663069099891707_nArrived home from American Adoption Congress late yesterday. Left Denver hotel at 3:00 am local time (yawn) and arrived in CT at 4:00 PM. Long day of travel but it gave me a good amount of time to ponder the conference and my various take aways. I am going to write about each of these this week. Below is a high level list outlining just a few of them.

The AAC “Drama”
Joyce Maguire Pavao ended her keynote on Wednesday with references to the infighting that is happening now within the ranks of the American Adoption Congress. I admit I cringed when she did. It felt like opening a can of worms and I questioned if the timing was correct. I later spoke to Joyce about this. She had stated that all of us in adoption come from a place of pain and trauma (true) and that impacts our ability to volunteer with organizations such as AAC. I agree and have said same myself years ago when Origins USA went through similar challenges. More about this conversation with Joyce in the days to come.

On Being Loud and Proud
There was a first mom in attendance that was heard repeatedly stating how “proud” she was of her decision to give her child to adoption. Many of us in the sessions with her cringed deeply every time she said this. We could not relate. Moreover, we found ourselves wondering how her child (she is not in reunion and is in a closed adoption) might feel to know their mother is so “proud” she gave them away. This person generated lots of discussion and debate amongst other attendees. I have never, not for one day, been proud that I abandoned my child to strangers.

Mitigating and Managing Collateral Damage
The session I faciliated along with my friends, Kathy, Susie and Rich was well attended. Based on feedback after the session I am under the impression it was well received. This pleases me. If only 1 of the 30 or so people in attendance think differently, we have accomplished our goal. The first mother voice was present and heard. That, in a sea of adoptee or adoptive parent focused sessions, was my ultimate objective. Let us not forget before an adopted child is stripped of their family and their OBC, a mother is stripped of a piece of her soul. Do better by expectant mothers and you do better for the children they give birth to.

Support Groups
I attended first mom support group meetings two days in a row. I strangely enjoyed them. I say strangely as historically I despises such things. Sitting in a room with others like me, listening to people cry about their experience, has never been helpful to me. Rather, it depressed me. I have this problem with empathy and I take on others pain. It overwhelms me. As such, I tended to avoid them. This week, I did not feel overwhelmed yet I did feel empathetic and wanted to hug a few moms in the room. I took this fact as a sign of growth on my part, that I have learned how to set some boundaries and not take on the pain of others while still remaining present with them. I was reminded of a phrase from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem The Invitation:

“I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.”

More to come here.

Post Trauma Growth
I spoke briefly with Amanda and Kat during a hospitality session. I mentioned to them a fact I have shared on my blog many times. That is, my ovewhelming desire to make myself better, smarter, prettier, more successful, more educated. I am never “good enough”. It is as if there is a wind up toy inside me that will not stop moving forward. I find this tiring and want to stop but do not know how. For years, I have suspected this was rooted in a desire to make myself presentable to my daughter should she ever want to meet me. I need to be “meetable”. I need to prove that I made something good out of our separation. It has been 30 years of this nonsense. It has been 10 years since I found her and she told me to go away and never contact her again. My daughter may never want to meet me. When will I get off this sick ride? Amanda said something to me that threw me back a bit. I am paraphrasing but essentially she said “If you do not accept yourself, why should your daughter?”. Ooph. Point taken.

I discussed this same topic in my session the following day. Kat spoke up and shared the concept of post traumatic growth with me. I found myself intrigued. Clearly I have some reading to do.

On the flight home my husband stated that I was good enough, more than good enough. While I appreciated his sentiment, that is not really the point. To be told you are good enough is not the same as believing you are.

Retiring from Adoption

I have been debating a “retirement” from adoption following my presentation at the American Adoption Congress in Denver this week. I shared this fact on my Facebook and all friends were quite supportive though a few remarked they doubted if it would be possible for me. One friend, who has seen adoption find me over and over again, suggested I could retire from it but it may not retire from me. Another friend suggested I would come back from AAC re-invigorated. First friend might be correct. I am hoping the second one is wrong.

I am not sure if I am completely retiring as much as I am stepping down or back another level. My daughter will be 30 this coming May. I found her over ten years ago. Prior to that I was obsessed with adoption search and reunion. Over the years that obsession has waned a bit by design and somewhat organically. I am very conscious each time I pull back a bit more. Early on I pulled back due to wanting a different vibe. I had taken what I could from the actively angry adoption community (and I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with angry, just that for me, it was a phase I needed to go through and then sought other voices). I then pulled back from friends who did not support my feelings or position. I pulled back again when my marriage fell apart and I realized how much my involvement with adoption had contributed to the demise of my marriage. Yet again I pulled back when my therapist pointed out my mothering style (or not) as it related to my sons and my adoption trauma. If I was to use medical terms, I might suggest I am administering a step down therapy treatment, that is, a staged reduction in the dosing and agents used to manage my adoption trauma condition.

These days I find I want to devote energy elsewhere. I would like to make real progress on this memoir I have stopped and started and stopped and started again. I am hoping I get into a local college’s Creative Writing program. If I do, I will need time to dedicate to my studies and my writing. On the less tangible side, I find myself so very tired of the chronic anxiety adoption causes me. I realize this may never go away. It has been 30 years after all. However, I feel in some ways I create it by actively seeking out adoption matters, by sharing them, by engaging in dialogue. I am curious if my anxiety will lessen at all if I take yet another step back and focus my energy elsewhere. My thinking is much like my friends, it may still find me but I can, and should, make better choices in self care.

At least that is my current thinking. As a Gemini (known to flip flop easily), I may indeed change my mind post Denver.