Why Some Adoptees Are Not Ready for Reunion

As an adoptions psychotherapist and an adoptee, I want to help bring more awareness and understanding to a very painful, and sensitive circumstance in adoption, the initial separation of mother and child, and the core vulnerabilities that develop for the child placed for adoption, which can hinder having a successful reunion.

A phrase I often use, in the Adopt Salon Constellation support group I facilitate in Los Angeles is “it is not a rejection of you, it is a reflection of them.” This candor is in no way meant to diminish, depersonalize, or take the grief and loss away. It is meant to help gain objectivity, separate from re-experiencing this “primal wound of rejection” and help reframe, rethink, and gather from a distance, the various elements that form one’s experience. This is helpful for the birth family and adoptive family if either party is not ready for a reunion.

Adoptees thematically have a high sensitivity to any perceived sense of rejection. Why? Because of the initial separation trauma from their birth mother, which feels like a death. However not acknowledged by society as it becomes disenfranchised grief.

As children grow up, they try to make sense of why they are not with their “families of origin” and question over and over, “How could a mother give away her child? There must be something wrong with me?” A core belief system develops which concludes  “I am not good enough. I was not wanted. I was rejected.” This system of rejection is downloaded into the psychological and emotional psyche of the adoptee and becomes the “core of who they are” thus causing strain in future relationships that remind them of this primal wound.

Adoptees can anticipate a rejection in an instant, by misperceiving new situations as possible further rejections, unless deemed otherwise. And to subject oneself again to the “threat of their existence” is a “life and death” situation. And in human experience, the avoidance of such a painful occurrence will be its culprit.

To move through this threat of rejection, it is very important for the adoptee, to gain an understanding of their birthmother’s circumstances at that time, so they can be sympathetically aware of what led their birthmother to make such a difficult decision. And most of the time, adoptees don’t have this information.

However, once there is a discovery, adoptees can see their birthmother’s decision was not based upon them as a person but based on a multitude of psychosocial stressors occurring in their life at that time that had nothing to do with them, i.e. lack of family support, mental health support, parenting support, childcare, and/or financial stability.

Having this information can help the adoptee externalize, and hold a knowing internally “…your birthmother could not parent any baby born on your birthday, this decision was not about you, it was about the circumstances in her life, which were not able to support her in doing so.

I also recommend taking planned, concrete steps in reunion. Reunion can catapult a strong desire to “jump into the deep end too quickly without realizing it’s depths” which if not handled carefully can emotionally drown anyone. Both the mother and child will regress in reunion, meaning they will go back psychologically to the time of the initial separation trauma and want to repair what has been lost.

They will need support from an adoption competent reunion therapist, who is able to facilitate healthy steps, boundaries, and consistency to initiate repair in the relationship. Such as exchanging initial handwritten letters, providing an opportunity to ask questions back and forth, enable understanding of each other’s life circumstances, perceptions and intentions.

Most importantly, if an adoptee is not able to have a reunion, a birth mother must be assisted in following the adoptee’s “reflection” as psychological and emotional protection of the initial rejection and recognizing this as such. In doing so, the birth mother will affirm her child’s “reflection as valid” and as a sign of their existence. “I see you, I hear you, and I can understand how painful rejection must have felt like for you as a child.” This holding of understanding is the most validating act a birthmother can do for her child and ultimately their relationship moving forward.

Here is an excerpt from my birth mother’s diary, found at the psychiatric women’s’ mental institution in Buenos Aires she lived at for 40 years:

“I will never understand what happened to me there in New York. I came here to change but it was impossible. I did something, but I did nothing. And if good or bad I would like to know something about you to calm my worry.

Perhaps I’ll forget the tragedy and give myself the same welcome back to reality after many years, many years. Because my life stopped in that reality. My children left my life that I could not fix by myself, and I did not know what to do. Because the reality of the tragedy was stronger than me. I sank into the conflict without being able to get out and for almost 40 years I went by remembering those years, moments when I left.

And over my remembering everything wherever I went from day to day.  And the years passed one by one, day by day. Because it was not me which had left their lives. I would not have done that. All these years, they wonder, how: what happened to me and why I couldn’t do anything, or when was the moment, nor later when I came.

Everything had become unreal. Well, my life disappeared then, but in my mind, they remained with me, they were always with me.

…I hope that where-ever they are, they are with good parents. They are well and will travel through their lives as it well should be… 

One day I went to work at a boutique where there were also children. We made clothes for children. It particularly pleased me much, more than better, to work there. Perhaps it was being near children? Because I always had the feeling that something was heightened around me. Contact with these other children gave me moments of comfort. Perhaps it was a false feeling, or would it be a recalling of my feelings? As if I was going to forget my children when they were always present in my memory and in my heart. As if they were in my life now. I’ve always loved them very much. ~Celia”

Jeanette’s one-woman play about growing up in foster care and adoption is available on Amazon!

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Jeanette Yoffe, M.F.T.
Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T., is the clinical director of YoffeTherapy.com Yoffe’s desire to become a therapist with a special focus on adopted and foster care challenges derived from her own experience of being adopted and moving through the foster care system. She is also founder of Celia Center, the non-profit she named after her first mother, Celia. She leads a support group called Adopt Salon Los Angeles, which brings together members of the constellation, those involved in an adoption and/or foster care placement. The center ignites strength and community, education and awareness, openness in adoption, and healthy reunions while bridging compassion and understanding for all. Jeanette wrote a one-woman play about growing up in foster care and adoption called, “What’s Your Name, Who’s Your Daddy?” which is available on Amazon and Audible.


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