Vital Touch By Sarah Dalian

Vital Touch By Sarah Dalian

I’ve recently learned something that has sparked a lot of curiosity, and even a revelation.

When a baby is born, and it does not receive the vital touch that tells it it’s safe and protected, its body and brain begin to shut down*.

The first thing that happens to a baby when it comes out of the womb is it is given to its mother to be held.

So what happens when you are given up for adoption at birth.

Was I held by my mother in my first few moments of life? 

Did I receive that precious, nurturing touch? 

Or was I put into a holding crib and awaited my departure to the orphanage. I do not know.

But what I do know is that the brain is playable; it can recover, it can correct, it can transform.

I may not have been held a lot as a baby but look at me now. There is nothing I can’t do.

No matter the traumas we’ve endured, we have the ability to not only survive it but to thrive despite of it.  Our bodies and minds are not fixed objects, they eb and flow through our lives, and are always transforming. So use your gifts and super powers for the betterment of yourself.

*the importance and effects of physical contact on infants has been well researched. One example paper from the National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7502223/


Bio:

I am Sarah to most, Puma to some, and Dariya to my birth mother. I was born in Kostani, Kazakstan in 1997, and was given up at birth by my young and unsupported mother. Then subsequently placed into an orphanage, where I stayed for the first 4 years of my life.  One day, my Ukrainian adoptive mom and American adoptive dad came for me, and left with two other orphans to start a new family.  We were raised in Bloomfield Hills Michigan, which was thankfully an ethnically diverse part of the country thanks to the auto-industry attracting employees from around the world. Despite my adoptive sisters being from the same country as me, I was the only transracial one in the family.  I spent most of my life hiding my shame about my “otherness”, and my curiousity about my birth family.  That is up until a few years ago when I experienced an identity crisis and began working to re-discover myself.

The earliest photograph of myself, taken at the orphanage. Age unknown. 
 
Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication?

Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication?

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been celebrated every November in communities across the country. National Adoption Day, always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is November 18. I am an adoptive mom who is celebrating that there is now open adoption. 

Six in ten Americans have had personal experience with adoption, meaning they themselves, a family member, or a close friend was adopted, had adopted a child, or had placed a child for adoption.

For decades adoption was shrouded in secrecy, shame and sealed records. In the early 1990s a new way of adoption—called open adoption— slowly began to take hold. Open adoption means that the adoptive and the birth families are known to each other and can maintain contact. Every situation is different and contact can be limited to letters and pictures, or it can mean visitation between adoptive and birth families. Today, most adoptions are open. 

My husband and I entered into open adoptions twice in the early 90’s with little guidance available. We chose to invite our children’s birth parents into our home for visitation. Even so, we had a lot of fear and angst. After nearly three decades, we know now how important it is for our children to know and connect with their biological families. We were fortunate that this option was available to us. 

I will share some of what I have learned about open adoption from the lens of each of the triad members: the adopted child, the birth parents, the adoptive parents. 

The Adopted Child

It is appropriate to start with the experience of the adopted child. Keeping the child as the North Star helps to navigate the complexities of open adoption. 

I thought bringing my babies home from the hospital meant that I was starting with a clean slate.  I would do the nurturing and the loving and my children would grow up as if I had given birth to them. But adoption is never that simple. We are all a product of nature and nurture. The child comes with tendencies and abilities from their biological family. Connection to the child’s birth family and adoption story is an important part of an adopted child’s development and sense of identity. And if this biological connection remains a mystery, the child can grow up with a void. 

In our arrangement, my children grew up always knowing their biological families. While visitation was not frequent, it was enough to fill in some important holes. My children were able to see similarities in physical traits and tendencies with their birth families. This is often referred to as mirroring. Even little things like our youngest child seeing for herself how she shares the gift of gab— just like her birth mom—helped her understand herself better.  And our older child inheriting their birth mom’s tiny stature and artistic flair, was a form of validation as they grew. 

While my children experienced loss related to the ability to grow up with their biological families, they never had to wonder if their birth parents loved them. They benefited greatly by openness and love from their adoptive and birth families. As young adults they now have the ability to contact and visit each other. Last year my oldest child spent Thanksgiving with their birth family for the first time. Our other child, as a young adult, looks forward to visits each summer with her birth father and his family and especially loves time with her birth siblings. 

Sharing love with birth families has never taken away from the love and loyalty that my children feel for us, their parents. Having this birth family connection has helped them grow up whole. 

Birth Parents

When hopeful parents consider open adoption, they often have fears around having a relationship with birth parents. Will my child get confused about parental roles? Will the birth parents want to be too involved? Will it be safe for my child to visit with birth parents? 

Typically, adoptive families find that they can develop healthy relationships with the children’s biological families. It takes work, but when they develop trusting relationships, it benefits the child greatly. 

People often think that an expecting mom is making an adoption plan because she does not love the child, or she is just a teen runaway, or that she may come back and try to reclaim the child. In reality the typical birth mom is in her early 20’s and old enough to recognize that making an adoption plan might be the best choice for her own life and for the life of the child. Birth mothers are thoughtful about the choices they are making and have deep love for the children they place. Being able to have some form of contact with the child as they grow can be comforting and healing for all involved. 

Imagine how healthy it is for the child to hear their own adoption story directly from their birth mom or birth dad. Often open adoption allows for this in age-appropriate ways. 

Our children are now young adults and have healthy contact with both their birth mom and birth dad. When our oldest child turned seventeen, their birth parents reconnected after each being divorced, and married each other. Because we had maintained a lifelong relationship with both of them, our family was naturally invited to the wedding. It was wonderful for our child to witness their birth parent’s marriage. Imagine how heart-warming it was for these birth parents to have their child at their wedding. And when they had a baby, a full-birth sibling to our child, we were part of that celebration too. 

Our youngest child has a strong relationship with her birth father and says that hearing her adoption story directly from him gave her great comfort and understanding, and helped her to accept her adoption reality. Importantly, much of her birth father’s own healing was rooted in the ability for him to speak to her directly about why he made an adoption plan. 

My children’s birth parents did experience a tremendous loss when they relinquished the parenting of their children to us. However, when you ask them today, they our proud of the decision they made so many years ago. They reflect on the fact that it was a very hard choice and they are grateful for openness. Now they are rewarded with an extended family that includes their birth children.

Adoptive Parents

Like many adoptive parents, we entered into open adoption because we really wanted to be mom and dad. Beyond that, we had everything to learn. 

We had a lot of fear and angst. How awkward would it be to raise a child with the birth parents in the picture? However, the idea of openness began to make a lot of sense. Over time we discovered that we wanted more, not less, contact with our children’s birth families. 

Imagine being an adoptive parent and being able to ask your child’s biological family a medical history question. Imagine seeing the delight on your child’s face when their birth mom comes for an occasional visit bearing gifts and they spend all afternoon working on a craft project together. Imagine your child’s biological father coming to visit and playing soccer in the backyard with your child. These are happy memories for our family. 

We found that as the children grew, we became a busy family with school, sports and commitments with our own family of aunts, uncles and cousins. We vacationed and spent holidays with our own parents and siblings, as most families do. Staying in touch with birth families on top of this, required work. 

When we were able to connect with our children’s birth families it was clear that the children could never have too much love in their life. And feeling the love first-hand from their birth family was powerful. It in no way diminished the love our children had for us.  

Our family was transferred out of state when our children were only one and five years old. This meant that visiting with biological families required significant travel. We made it a priority to stay in touch and have occasional visits while the children were growing up. The important piece of our relationship though was not how many times we saw each other, rather it was the spirit of openness. The ability for our children to ask questions and get honest answers made raising them a lot easier. 

Adoption has changed in important and significant ways. As we celebrant National Adoption Month we can celebrate the fact that adoption has moved from the era of shame and secrecy to an era of openness and transparency. Keeping the focus on what is best for the adopted child, we can better understand the benefits of connecting that child to the birth families. Even if it is not possible to stay connected to a birth parent, connections with other members of the child’s biological family can help make that child whole. 

Open Adoption: Is it worth the angst, fear and complication? For us the answer is a resounding yes! Like most things in life worthwhile, open adoption is not easy and requires work and often professional help. For all members of our adoption triad, and most especially for our children, we would not want it any other way.  

 

Linda R. Sexton is an open adoption pathfinder, speaker, author, blogger and adoptive mom. Her award-winning book: The Branches We Cherish: An Open Adoption Memoir is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Request her as a speaker and sign up for her blogs/news at lindarsexton.com.

 

29 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adoption Entered my Life

29 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adoption Entered my Life

Written by First Mother, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. She originally began independently researching adoption issues in preparation of the successful search and reunion with her own son, Max, whom was placed for adoption in 1987.

This Grown in My Heart Adoption Carnival Topic was supposed to be “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Was Touched By Adoption”, but I can’t use the feel good wording of “touched”.
*

I was not touched by adoption, it’s more like torched, trampled, traumatized, terrorized, tortured, and torn apart by adoption.

Overall, I feel like I allowed the destructive force of adoption into my life.

maxbabybaloonAdoption was almost more like a crack that happened in my soul. A crack that I thought and was encouraged to believe would be temporary or always below the surface. Over time, the rest of life worked its way in, like water in cement, and caused the  

So that gives me number one on my list; the rest is really really easy and I can, also quite easily go on and on, but this carnival only called for the ten things we wish we could have known.. I think I just have to go over it.
*

  1. I wish I knew that relinquishing my child to adoption was not a one-time event that I would recover from by the most major life-altering “decision” that would alter the very course of my existence for the rest of my life.
    *
  2. I wish I knew that adoption would not be a decision made entirely by me and affect only me, but would have life-altering implications across the entire berth of my family. I thought nothing of how it would affect my mother, my brother, and of course my children, both the one that I relinquished and the children I had later on.
    *
  3. I wish I had known what I really was giving up when I relinquished my Max. I understood the concept of a baby, but I had no clue what it really meant to be a mother. I could decide to give up something that I never had to begin with.. or something that I never let myself have a chance to really experience.
    *
  4. I wish I had known that public assistance, social services, paternity, child support, and all manners of help in general was nothing to be ashamed of, to be afraid of asking for or receiving or something that made me less of a person. I still think about my adoption counselor explaining to me rather briefly how I “could” keep my baby and go on welfare and how very horrified I was of that thought and I never even attempted to consider it.
    *
  5. I wish I had known how it would feel to know for the rest of my life that I had assisted in denying a man the right to have a relationship with his only child. Had I thought through the ethical complications and moral obligation to the truth and this man’s rights, then I would not have to live with the knowledge of how I horribly and inexcusable wronged another human being.
    *
  6. I wish I had known that I was strong and capable and worthy of being the mother that I was meant to be. The normal self-doubts of a young person basically untried by life were not bolstered in the face of adversity, but rather exasperated and exploited.
    *
  7. I wish I had known that it was not my job, nor obligation to make another couple’s “dreams of a family” come true. I wish I had known that I should not have taken pride nor comfort or some sick sense of self-satisfaction by allowing other people’s needs to go before my own, not that I have an issue about giving of one’s self. I donate my knowledge, I give my time, I volunteer; but a child is not giving of oneself, an adoption is giving of another.. a child. I had no right to do that.
    *
  8. I wish I had known that my son’s parents would not be quite as grateful and thankful to me as I had expected, hoped or been lead to believe. I wish I was not quite as disappointed that they just won’t speak to me and I have the distinct feeling that they really would just like me to go back away. I wish that didn’t hurt.
    *
  9. I wish I had known that children really aren’t interchangeable. Just because one party wants something and another party isn’t so sure, doesn’t mean that we can switch things about and pretend we are God and it will work out OK.
    *
  10. I wish I had known that my son had basic rights to his family, his truth, his heritage, his father, his siblings, and me; more than I ever gave us credit for. To think that I could have thought so little of myself, my family, and all the individual traits and histories that make us unique and THAT could have been replaced with a one-paragraph bio and a few pictures is so insulting to every ancestor that breathed before me.
    *
  11. I wish I had known that you cannot re-write life as it comes to you. That we can’t cheat it and pretend that things happened differently than we would have liked. And sometimes, most times, given time time what seemed to be a disaster is actually part of making things work out exactly as they should, but we just don’t know it yet. I wish I had learned to just accept things as they come and live the hand that was dealt to me even if it meant being a mother at 19.. because I was a mother at 19!
    *
  12. I wish I had known that it was possible to love most fiercely and deeply someone that you haven’t ever really met. I wish I had known that I would know my son before I got to meet him again. That I would know his face and it would be so familiar to me. I would know his smell and I would need it to breathe. That I would know and understand how he felt, thought, and would react just because I knew…way before I ever knew.
    *
  13. I wish I had known how much it would suck to hear my other kids say things like” I forget what Max looks like”, or “I don’t feel like I have another brother,” or “If we got real poor would you have to give us away, too?”
    *
  14. I wish I had known that adoption, which was supposed to preserve my teenage way of life, turned out to be something that completely changed my entire life and here I am, over 20 years later and adoption is still a major factor in my daily existence, my thoughts, my dreams and, even worse, is also a factor in my whole family’s lives as well.
    *
  15. I wish I had known that genetics really play a huge portion of who we are and that things like our mutual love of pirates, combat boots, Mohawksand died hair, alternative music, god in the woods, being buried in plain pine boxes, Dr. Pepper, Boston cream donuts, thunderstorms, reading, and writing with these dern dots…. was all part of who he was before he was born. I wish I knew that my genes had carried more than the color of his skin and the familiar look of our feet and it was something that irreplaceable.
    *
  16. I wish I had known that not every adoptee thinks that being placed for adoption was the best thing since sliced bread, are not grateful, are not happier to have a bigger house, and sometimes, can be quite adversely affected by the whole experience. It was really hard to accept that the thing that I thought was “best” could have actually been much worse.
    *
  17. I wish I had known that there is no real “ready” to become a mother and that the mythology of motherhood as our society has crafted is a vicious losing situation. I wish I had known how easy it is for us to turn on each other and judge our fellow sisters because we are all so concerned about getting it wrong and not being the best supermom on the block.
    *
  18. I wish I had known that it was going to be crazy hard this way, being a birthmother, and that all the pain and sacrifices and sleeplessness would be coming to me anyway, but without the joys and pleasures of being with my child. I wish I had known that I would have wanted to make it work, that it would have been worth it to give up the fun.
    *
  19. I wish I had known that Fear is never a good basis for making a decision.
    *
  20. I wish I had known that the “scandal” was all in my head and that within six months no one would have cared much less remembered. I wish I had realized that my family would not have thought that I was a piece of poop for ver but would have loved and adored my baby as I would have.
    *
  21. I wish I had known that having a baby at 19 would not have “ruined my life”, that being a mother at 19 would not have “ruined my life” and that adoption, well it pretty much ruined my life .. or at least got closer to ruining my life s anything else ever did.
    *
  22. I wish I had known that school could have been put off a few years, but my motherhood was happening now.
    *
  23. I wish I had known that I was being exploited and enabled and I walked right into it.
    *
  24. I wish I had known that adoption was not glamorous or romantic, but that life being a birthmother pretty much sucks.
    *
  25. I wish I had known that the adoption agency really didn’t have my best interest at heart and they weren’t my best friends and I shouldn’t have worried about making them proud by being the “best darn birthmother” and following all the rules.
    *
  26. I wish I had known that putting everyone else’s wants and needs before mine for almost 20 years did not make me better, nor stronger, nor noble, nor brave and didn’t get me a key to heaven.
    *
  27. I wish I had known that a piece of paper would not make me an un-mother.
    *
  28. I wish I had known how much it would really really hurt and how, really, even after reunion, there is no normal and it is never over.
    *
  29. And then one final wish that I still have now; of all the things in my life and all the mistakes and bad decisions I have made, with all the missteps and situations that came to me, whether by my own hand or been done by wrong by someone else; I wish there was a way to change the past and make just this one thing all go away.
    *

I wish I had never let adoption into my life.

Celia Center Is Now On a Mission to Support Adult Adoptees of California Restore Equal Access To Their Original Birth Certificates

Celia Center Is Now On a Mission to Support Adult Adoptees of California Restore Equal Access To Their Original Birth Certificates

How do we Restore Equal Access For Adoptees in California?

By beginning a healthy dialogue of understanding, education, and compassion for all… so legislators feel compelled to restore adoptees original birth certificates without restrictions.

Celia Center is not a political organization, however we feel deeply for adoptees who have been “blindsided by adoption” in not knowing their genetic, medical, and birth history.

We are hoping to be a voice in California to be an influencer, to restore access to original birth certificates for all adult adoptees.

We support the inherent right of adult adopted persons to access and obtain these records regardless of when their adoption occurred.

We want to be clear, Celia Center does not support Bill AB1302.

We support opening a dialogue with fellow adoptees, first-birth parents and adoptive parents to help legislatures understand why this matters to adoptees. 

We want to be respectful and talk about the best ways we can have civil conversations together to restore access to birth certificates in an ethical, humane, and efficient way together as Adoptees, First-Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents. 


Let’s not split and divide on this matter, let’s conquer and side on this matter.  

 

Learn the Basics of Rights

 

Effective advocacy requires a basic understanding of rights. Here are some links to helpful background information and case law:

What It Feels Like to Be in Foster Care Event May 2023

What It Feels Like to Be in Foster Care Event May 2023

During May’s National Foster Care Awareness Month, on Thursday, May 18th we had a special screening of a film that educates what foster children go through and what it will take to make a difference in their lives.

Two Los Angeles Nonprofits, Angels Nest TLP and Celia Center Inc., co-hosted the “What It Feels Like to Be in Foster Care” event, which aimed to raise awareness and offer solutions for handling the foster care crisis in Los Angeles. LA is home to 33,000 foster children, the largest foster care population in the United States, according to the Children’s Law Center of California.

To better understand what foster children go through, the event will screen the foster care documentary, “Breaking the Cycle.” After the screening, there was a panel discussion with the film’s director, Angels Nest TLP Executive Director, Arzo Yusuf, Celia Center Inc. Founder and Clinical Director, Jeanette Yoffe, and Connect Our Kids‘ Outreach Director, Georgette Todd, who is featured in the film. Jeanette and Georgette grew up in foster care and are authors of books on the subject.

Also featured were special performances by Storyteller, Raymond McDonald, and Singer/Songwriter, Jenni Alpert—artists who have experienced foster care. A special thank you to Natalie Simpson for working the book table.

Here are questions that were raised during the event…

What are the Current statistics on Foster Care today?

There are over 391,000 foster children in the USA.

63% of the children who enter foster care remain in the system for up to 2 years, on average, they experience 3 placements.

Of the children in foster care, just 23% of those in care for at least 12 months received any mental health services. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Approximately 30% to 40% of children in foster care receive services through Special Education.

Recent studies suggest that up to 80% of children in foster care have significant mental health issues.

Foster Children have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, and more often had physical, learning, or mental health conditions that limited their psychosocial functioning.


Why do kids end up in foster care?

Physical, Mental, and sexual abuse, physical neglect, abandonment, orphaned by a parent, death of a parent, and/or unavailability of a parent due to alcoholism, drugs, or imprisonment and poverty.

Neglect is the biggest predictor for children entering the system, 27% in LA County of children are neglected.


What are the Mental Health Challenges of being in care?

There is a range of mental health issues that are evident among children in foster care clustered into 3 groups:

  1. Anxiety Disorders: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
    post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.
  2. Depressive Disorders: major depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation.
  3. Attachment Disorders: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders, conduct disorders, eating disorders, autism, and schizophrenia.

If Mental Health Support is left untreated what can this lead to?

Addiction: Sexual, Substance Abuse, or Obesity

Suicidal Ideation: Foster youth are 3-5 times more likely to commit suicide than same-age peers, two and a half times more likely to think about possibly committing suicide, and four times more likely to make a suicide attempt (source: National Center for Prevention of Youth Suicide).

Violence: Acting out, not being self-aware, and projecting out to the world how unsafe the world feels. Feelings that everyone is attempting to inflict more pain.

PERSONALITY DISORDERS, the most difficult to treat- become ingrained in the person’s psyche and need more specialized treatment i.e. Borderline Personality D.O., Narcissistic, Antisocial, Paranoid, Obsessive Compulsive, Avoidant Pers D.O., OR Dependent Pers

This is why early intervention is CRUCIAL. We believe all kids in care need therapy even if they APPEAR TO be OK “Just because they are not actively talking about their experience, does not mean they are not actually thinking about it.”


What do children and youth in care need?

Attachment, Safety, Stability, & Trust building.

Children in foster care can attach with a secure, regulated, and consistent attachment figure. The brain has plasticity. These children do have the ability to change with consistent, secure, safe attachment figures.

They need a stable parental figure who “will not give up” on them but stick with them. “It is through attachment that we achieve our basic sense of self.”

The stigma with Foster Care today is there is an assumption that Foster Kids will not get better, they are fated to “act out” but this is false.

We need to understand, and take responsibility and see that we need to change to better fit their needs and understand their “acting out” are learning to meet their “unmet needs” for attention.”

Using the trauma lens metaphor: When Foster Youth act out, we often see “What’s WRONG with them? Why won’t they behave like everybody else?” As opposed to seeing them through a TRAUMA LENS that asks and responds with: “What happened to them?”

Trauma is not set in their skeletal circuitry, when a child is able through a secure relationship, to heal their losses and create a narrative of their life with another person they can bear their past experiences.

“what’s shareable becomes bearable.”

One mentor can provide that “seed of resilience”, a sense of belonging, a person to turn to for help, guidance, and support.


What Needs to Be Done to Reduce Mental Health Issues in Foster Care?

  1. STABILITY of ATTACHMENT: Mental and behavioral health requires the presence of at least 1 nurturing, responsive caregiver who is stable in the child’s or teen’s life over time. this POPULATION needs more “time IN” with the child so we can learn to find out what’s going on in their life emotionally and psychologically. Attachment parenting is a must!
  2. STABILITY OF CONNECTION: Becoming a CASA Advocate, a MENTOR, a FOSTER PARENT, and extended Family Members need to get involved.
  3. STABILITY IN ROUTINE: Children and teens thrive when their families have routines, structure, and reasonable expectations; and parents display warmth and nurturance. Consistency and reliability breed security.
  4. STABILITY OF FAMILY CONNECTIONS: We need more involvement of extended families in their children’s lives, so they know where they come from and can integrate their ethnic, cultural, and racial heritage.
  5. STABILITY OF FOCUSING ON THE FAMILY’s STRENGTHS: We could partner BETTER with birth parents and older children/teens in foster care to identify family strengths that can become the foundation of healing for all.

What are the Future Calls to Action for the FOSTER CARE SYSTEM?

  1. Increase access to Mental Health treatment for youth in care/alumni via outreach, support and education.
  2. Extend foster care to age 21 to help ensure that young adult mental-health needs are met through state-funded mental health treatment.
  3. Provide thorough mental health screening, assessment, and treatment of children and adolescents in foster care on a yearly basis for all youth in care.
  4. Provide specialized universal Foster Care Competent trainings to ALL therapists working in foster care to increase their capacity to identify & treat these Mental Health challenges.
  5. Establish coordination and bridge collaboration among all systems involved in services of care: DCFS WORKERS, COURTS, SCHOOLS, GROUP HOMES, CORRECTIONAL

Assembly Certificate…
Presented to Jeanette Yoffe and Georgette Todd for lifelong advocacy  serving foster youth presented at the What it Feels Like to Be in Foster Care Event

The Parallel Universe of… Who am I? by David B. Bohl

The Parallel Universe of… Who am I? by David B. Bohl

What a question! Who am I? I used to have no idea. For most of my time here on earth, I have been living a double life. I was hiding parts of myself that I didn’t even know were hidden. Yet on the surface, nothing seemed amiss. And then, at the age of 45—after a medical emergency—everything fell apart and I was suddenly faced with… myself. Unfortunately, having been in hiding for so long I didn’t recognize this new self, or the potential I had to heal and come out of hiding. The potential to allow all the parts of myself to coexist in a way that was not confusing, or worse, destructive. The potential to be able to finally answer the question: “Who am I?” with authenticity

But let’s backtrack a bit. In the beginning, I am a newborn, and my mother has to relinquish me because she lives in a society that would discriminate against an unwed, young woman with a baby and because there’s no father to help either. Suddenly and immediately, I don’t have parents. I don’t even have a name! On my adoption papers, I am registered as “Baby Boy Bender,” an eerily apt last name that I won’t get to hold on to but that is already hinting at something about me.

I am adopted into a nice upper-middle-class family, and I am a great baby, sometimes a little shy and too unsure of himself, but overall, a happy kid. My adoptive mother and father love me and provide for me and two of my siblings—one adopted, one biological—the best they can. There are toys and good food, vacations, and sailing. In family photographs, we are often laughing, with maybe one exception—a portrait of me as a 6-year-old staring off into the distance. By then I already know that there was something terribly wrong with me. And it is confirmed years later when another photograph confirms what I’d known all along as there’s me as a 15-year-old staring off into the distance.

I’d found my inherent flaw as a six-year-old when I revealed to a group of friends that I was adopted.  Their faces registered shock and disgust, not awe. I’d always known I was adopted up until that point. I considered that a cool, unique fact about myself; my parents were never secretive about it. But there I was, learning that the world was going to judge me for things I had absolutely no control over.

What does judgment do to a person? It makes them feel shame.

I immediately felt that shame and it had plagued me for years, like a shadow that would not disappear no matter how much light I’d tried to shed on it. The photographs of me at 6 and 15, staring into the horizon, are photographs of a boy who was ashamed of who he was—even though he had no idea who he was! Some days I had an almost palpable feeling that I was living under a giant microscope; that everyone was watching me and they all had some kind of instruction manual that I was lacking. It seemed most people knew how to be around each other, most were feeling safe; they were making connections, and most of them were at ease. My almost constant state was that of unease.

My adoptive parents, albeit devoted and loving, didn’t pick up on my distress; they didn’t ask me questions, and they didn’t bring me to people to talk to—but why would they in the first place? I was good at hiding—I was becoming a pro at hiding. And if you were to ask them how things were, they would probably tell you that adopting Baby B. was a great success and that I was thriving. Admitting that there was something wrong would mean failure; it would mean that the adoption and their wishes to have a family were a mistake. 

As a teenager, I discovered alcohol which turned out to be an amazing social lubricant—that allowed me to go from shy and quiet to suddenly gregarious and the life of a party. It was easy. No more unease! And, best of all, it allowed me to make connections with people. I became popular, I had a wonderful girlfriend, great educational prospects, and eventually a lucrative career. I had a house, a wife, and two children. The feelings of shame haven’t disappeared, but I was able to mask them so much better with alcohol—it was a cure for all my woes!  What I didn’t know was that this “healing” elixir was also poisoning me—me and the very connections I was making.

Eventually, everything fell apart. And I had to find a new way to live—as a sober but still fragmented person. I recovered from alcohol but it wasn’t until I recovered those other fragments of myself that I became truly whole. It is not a coincidence that I’ve found true recovery after I had to address all of my biological and psychological mysteries: the seizure I suffered, the substance use, and finally, my own developmental trauma that stemmed from having been relinquished. In order to live, I had to figure out how to put all of the fragments together, eventually learning about the young woman who gave me up at birth, who herself had died from substance use disorder-related causes. My biological father is also no longer alive. But I have many half-siblings, half-nieces, and nephews. And I am still making new connections. And I’m making peace with those parts that were hidden and those I didn’t know how to address before.

Today, I work with people who will understand what I’ve just described—a community of other relinquishees, adoptees, and also those who struggle with addiction—not because their story is the same as mine, but because their feelings are. I am especially devoted to the intersection of addiction and relinquishment/ adoption. I write, and I speak publicly about issues unique to people like myself. I help others find connections that aid them in their own healing, and this is incredibly meaningful to me as I did not have the support I needed when navigating my own challenges.

This is why the existence of a virtual support group was so special to me—a much-needed group that I’ve helped to build and facilitate for the past two years called Adoptee Paths to Recovery. The feedback I’ve received over time was that having a community like that provides not only a place for people to make connections, but it has also helped them feel safe, heard, and validated. Where before so many of us had been living that sort of double life I’ve talked about—feeling shame and confusion, anger and pain—with support groups that assist people in investigating that intersection between addiction and separation from family, they no longer have to hide and can live authentically and healthily.

To me, healing, recovery, and thriving are about expansion.  When I first entered the adoption community years ago, I attended mainly adoptee-only spaces in search of safety and validation.  And that has served me well, as it provided me with the support and opportunity to continue to explore the impact of relinquishment in my life and across my lifespan.  Since that time, I’ve been honored to have been given opportunities to network throughout the greater adoption community whereby I engage with relinquishees, adoptees, foster alumni, donor-conceived persons, those with misattributed parentage, birth mothers and fathers, foster parents, relative/kinship parents, adoptive parents, and adoption child welfare and out-of-home organizations and professionals.  This has been part of my expansion. 

With that expansion comes a need to move to a virtual support group for all those in the constellation.  So today, I am letting you all know that I’m collaborating on a new group with Celia Center for all members of the adoption community experiencing and/or being exposed to addiction.  It is called the Addiction and Adoption Constellation Support Group, and we will meet every other Tuesday at 5:30 pm PST/8:30 PM EST beginning on January 10, 2023.  Registration is required, and you can find a link to that here. 

RSVP for the next group HERE

We will of course work to ensure that a welcoming and safe place is created for all. 

We hope you’re able to join us. 

Warm Regards,

David B. Bohl, M.A., C.S.A.C., M.A.C.

David’s Monograph Relinquishment and Addiction
David’s Memoir Parallel Universe