Adoption: The Double-Sided Sword


Everything about adoption is double-sided, like a sword. And, like a sword, the issues of adoption cut both ways and they cut deep. Excalibur, the sword of the legendary King Arthur, was pulled from a stone–by Arthur–after dozens of unworthy men tugged and yanked but could not get it free. Like Excalibur, many of the issues surrounding adoption are stuck hard and deep and are nearly impossible to budge. The search for birthparents, medical histories, and understanding each other within the adoption triad all come to mind.

Now that we have the metaphors firmly in place, let’s explore the realities of the experiences of the people within an “adoption.”

For the adoptive parents, it is the act of acquiring a child, a child they have long waited for and are eager to love. This is the side of the sword that shines brightly in the sun–the side we all smile at and the side that warms the hearts of people not within the adoption triad. It is the fairytale side, the happy side. The side we all, including the adopted person, are expected to rejoice in.

For the birthparents, it is the act of relinquishment. It is the act of giving up a child, a child they have either carried themselves in their own body for nine months or whom they have helped to conceive. This is the side of the sword that is dull and tarnished–the side we do not think of, the side that is full of pain and guilt and regret and, sometimes, shame. It can also be filled with relief, but that relief may still be tinged with sorrow. This is the side that we all, including the adopted person, are expected to ignore.

For the adopted person, it is the dual acts of being abandoned and then received. This reflects both sides of the sword–the dark and the light. But for me, and for every adopted person I have ever known, the sense of abandonment is stronger than the sense of reception, no matter how loving the adoptive family. There is always a darkness inside, a sense of loss, because you were, as an infant, left behind, abandoned. This has been referred to as the “primal wound,” posited by Nancy Newton Verrier in 1993. This is the side of the sword we adoptees know very well because it is in our bones and in our blood, but non-adoptees might be completely ignorant of because they have not lived it. Their bloodline has not been severed.

I read a blog post yesterday in which adoption was described as “a monster.” I both agree and disagree. There it is, the double-sided sword again.

The part of me that agrees feels as the author felt–that in order for an adoptive family to be created, another family has to be destroyed. That is monstrous. That is the dull and tarnished side of the blade. That is the side of the blade full of grief and pain and feelings of abandonment and original trauma. I, personally, will never be whole, I know that. The monster took away my chances of ever reaching completeness the day I was born.

The part of me that disagrees is perhaps swayed by the fairytales and my own experience. The shiny side of the blade gave me my Dad–my best friend. My Mom loves me. I was given every material thing I ever needed as a child–summer camp, horseback riding, fishing. I have been more than blessed as an adult by the generosity of my family. I have aunts and cousins who are dear to me.

But I am still an adopted person. More importantly, I am still a relinquished person. And that blade cuts deep.

So, if I exhibit a sense of loss–or a fear of loss–or appear to have a basic mistrust of others, perhaps it is not such a mystery after all–it is the primal wound. Perhaps if you think back to when I was a tiny baby, alone, it will make sense to you.

When you think of the word “adoption,” please remember “relinquishment,” as well. The two go hand-in-hand.

Like a double-sided sword.


The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier (Amazon).

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