So JudiLynns’ comment has been bouncing around my head since the day she left it. Her questioning if I really believe in genetics, have I lost my mind suggesting the existence of a hair color gene and am I perhaps “copying” my daughter have prompted me to think once again about adoption, genetics and what is referred to by Stiffler (and other psychosocial studies types) as synchronicity.
For the blog record, I was joking about the hair color gene. According to many of my readers, my blog posts are emotionally heavy most of the time. Many of my readers have joked they need therapy or a good stiff drink after they read some of my words. I was attempting to be a bit lighthearted and fun while pointing out an obvious enjoyable similarity between my daughter and me. I have been a hair coloring fiend since my early teens. Imagine my amusement to see the same in the daughter I was not permitted to raise? Coincidence? Science? Or me “copying” a child I birthed but haven’t been in the presence of since she was three days old?
For purposes of this post I am going to loosely define genetics and synchronicity as I suspect some (maybe even Judy) are mixing up the two concepts. Others might find the discussion interesting.
Genetics is a science that deals with the structure and function of genes, their behavior, and patterns of inheritance from parent to offspring, and gene distribution, variation and associated change in populations. As genes are universal to all living organisms, the science of genetics is applied to the study of all living systems, from viruses and bacteria, through plants and animals, and naturally, to humans. When I refer to genetics in adoption, I refer to those aspects of an individual that clearly come from their genetic makeup or more commonly known as inherited. A predisposition for a disease like cystic fibrosis (CF) is an example of something that might be inherited.
CF is a disease passed down through families by a defective gene. Millions of Americans carry the defective CF gene, but do not have any symptoms. As a person with CF must inherit two defective CF genes — one from each biological parent it is highly unlikely a child will “get” CF from biologically unrelated adoptive parents. I happen to know a fair amount about CF as it is possible my two sons carry the gene while being free of the disease. Their aunt died of the disease when she was sixteen. My ex husband and I underwent genetic testing focused on ruling me out of the equation as the doctors assume my sons father is a carrier. This suggests that my sons as well could be carriers despite being free of the disease.
With this understanding of genetics in mind, I was indeed joking that my daughter may have inherited a hair coloring gene due to our striking similarities in that regard. How else could that have happened? If my daughter had been raised by me one could easily argue it was nurture, she saw me do it, wanted in on the colorful action, and decided to do same. The same argument could be made for her adoptive mother or father. Perhaps they also colored their hair every six weeks. As there is no documented medically inherited hair color gene, (as there is with CF) it assumed to not exist.
It is my folly.
Or is it?
Genetics? Coincidence? Me “copying” my daughter as Judy suggests or might there be something else at work here?
Synchronicity (again as defined by psychosocial types studying these things) is the “experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.” The concept of synchronicity was first described by Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung.
In her 1992 book titled Synchronicity and Reunion: The Genetic Connection of Adoptees and Birthparents, author LaVonne Stiffler details “coincidences” in adoption reunion. These events include dreaming of one’s child in specific danger, naming a later child by the unknown name of the firstborn, knowing the day of a mother’s death, vacationing in the same location, making identical purchases, and beginning to search at the same time.
Psychologist Jean Mercer, PhD, spokesman for science-based and humane psychotherapy for adopted and foster children, challenges Stiffler’s view of adoption and synchronicity in her blog post titled It Ain’t Necessarily So: Mistaken Conclusions From Adoption Anecdotes. In this post she questions the connection between mother and child, the “myth” that a mother has left her “stamp” on her child, as well as the longing an adopted child may have for their biological family. Mercer explains that “birth mother myth may be a remnant of the old conviction that a pregnant woman’s wishes and feelings would mark her baby both mentally and physically.” She cites the example of a mother wanting a particular food item and being told to eat it for if she did not, her child would “want”. She goes further to suggest that it is only a step from that food belief “that something happened during pregnancy that irrevocably connected the baby to the birth mother.”
Mercer doesn’t outright call a total foul on Stiffler’s work in adoption synchronicity rather she questions the suggested phenomenon and states “…we can’t build our understanding of the world on a mere assumption that the phenomenon exists”.
With all due respect to Mercer and her work, I will state I believe in the phenomenon but that is of course because I have lived it and can detail many “coincidences” between my daughter and me. That being said, if you are to follow Mercer explanation (and perhaps even commenter JudiLynn) I am making it up, copying my daughter or seeing things I want to see, not things that are necessarily there. My beliefs are, as stated by Mercer, nothing more than a “comforting pattern”. To wit, just as adoption professionals profiting from the sale of children will offer, there is no connection between me and my child.
Intellectually I completely understand how this could be suggested. After all, adoptive parents like to believe that the child they adopted was destined for them by god and magical thinking type forces. If one is to believe a magical connection between unrelated individuals, certainly they can also suggest a lack of connection between related ones as well.
ENTER FETOMATERNAL MICROCHIMERISM
Do you agree with Stiffler? Mercer? Jung? Your own experience?
What if I introduce the idea of Fetomaternal Microchimerism to you? Will that sway your opinion one way or the other?
Microchimerism is the presence of a small number of cells, genetically distinct from those of the host individual and an organ. The most common form is Fetomaternal Microchimerism (or fetal chimerism). Said in plain English, fetal chimerism suggests that a small number of my daughters’ very unique DNA cells stayed with me after I gave birth to her. These fetal cells have been documented to persist in a mother’s circulation for as long as 38 years and in some cases, forever.
Oh so many questions.
Fetomaternal Microchimerism could explain the mothers’ connection to the child but if no such cells stay with the child, how do we explain such events from the surrendered child’s point of view? Does synchronicity only apply to mothers and if so, how can you possibly exclude the child from that equation?
Research states that 50-75% of mothers retain fetal cells. It also states that maternal cells have been found in offspring though at a much lesser percentage.
Again, I ask, would the presence of these cells create the connection or “homing instinct” Mercer questions?
Moreover, if science has found the cells have persisted for as long as thirty eight years, might the connection be lost after some longer period, and if so, would that help explain why some older mothers claim not feeling/no connection for their child upon reunion?
Mercer suggests that “to understand whether there are special links between birth mothers and their separated babies, we need to look at a large group of such people and examine the experiences and narratives of all of them, not just those who have been reunited and are volunteering to tell us about themselves.”
While my blog readers will hardly qualify as the large group Mercer is after, I ask each of you to consider sharing your thoughts – for or against – nature, nurture, genetics or synchronicity. Perhaps in doing so, we can each add something to this growing body of work. Perhaps we will eliminate the need to continually question the existence or value of the mother-child bond.
At the very least perhaps we can demonstrate that the value of that bond is best determined by those connected by it.