Today’s blog post is written by a guest writer, Cathee Zimmerman Cooper, an adult adoptee from a closed adoption, who shares with us her experience as an adoptee and the advice she has for those who are parenting children through adoption.
Hello, my name is Cathee, and I am a domestic, closed adoption, adoptee. I was born and adopted in 1978, in Illinios, through an organization called Catholic Charities. I spent my first 2 weeks in a foster home because I had issues digesting formula. I was the second child adopted by my parents. My adopted brother is 3 years older than me. I was adopted by loving, kind, people who unfortunately could not bear children of their own. They had been married at least 10 years, when I came into their lives. Both of my adoptive parents were only children so I didn’t have a big extended family. Mostly, just us. When I was 9 months old, my adoptive dad got a job in Arizona, so we up and moved and I have been in Arizona ever since.
As an adoptee, my opinion is there needs to be more emphasis placed on understanding what it truly entails to adopt a child and the trauma that most adoptees will face at some point in their life. Many people decide to adopt for all the right reasons, but I feel like there are also some very grandiose ideas people have about adoption, and they are not always realistic. Loving a child deeply and providing them a loving home and family, does not erase that child’s past. Keep in mind me saying this, is only in relation to my own adoption and the time period when I was adopted. I would hope 44 years later things are, perhaps, done a bit differently. Maybe with more truth as to what one could expect. More openness.
My Adoption Over Time
I was told from as far back as I can remember that I was adopted. It was no secret. My parents made it seem so normal and to be quite honest, it never seemed to bother me, as a young child. I was loved and taken care of, and I didn’t know any different then what I had. As I have gotten older, I can look back and see how my adoption trauma DID have an effect on me. Though none of these feelings were ever shared with my parents at any point. I can clearly remember being very young and being afraid that if I wandered off from my mom, I would get left behind. Forgotten. I know now, those are not normal child issues. I can recognize that I had abandonment issues, even at a very young age. These issues have played out in different instances, throughout my entire life.
When I was young, I was good in school, had many friends, and a secure family. More than what some of my friends had with their bio parents. The real issues I faced, didn’t surface until I was a teenager. I started to realize I had no one who looked like me. Or shared any similarities with. I had no history or real background. My adoptive mom and I were nothing alike and I started to feel like my life was a lie. I started to rebel and try to find the real me. Not the one my parents had tried to mold me into. My parents and I fought constantly. In fact, they clearly did not like me at all. I had grown to have no respect for them, to me they were not my “real” parents. And on many occasions, I told them so. I didn’t care that it hurt them, because I was hurting. In a sense I was testing them and their love. And to my complete dismay, once I got to be too much for them, they were ready to ship me off to a girl’s home. In the instant I was told that, ALL trust for them was gone. How could they not see my pain? How could they not feel my struggle? Had they really thought they could just “buy a baby and mold me into who and what they wanted me to be”? Did they think that giving me a good home was all I needed? Did they not EVER think that one day they would have to sit and have a REAL conversation with me about my feelings about being adopted? Clearly, they did not. And to me, they were giving up on me. Again, someone was abandoning me. I never did get shipped off, but from that day forward I did not trust them. Not as a child should trust their parents. To me, they could decide at any moment they were done with me. And since I wasn’t their blood, they could’ve sent me away and wiped me from their life. I still wonder what changed their mind and why I wasn’t shipped off? Guilt? I wish in hindsight that they could have seen that I was struggling. Recognized the signs. Gotten me help or at least sat and talked to me. Honestly, talked to me. They never did. And still never have. My adoptive brother was a saint to them and I was clearly the ungrateful child.
People who want to adopt need to understand that adoptees come with their own trauma. It may not be there right away, but they need to recognize the signs if they do appear. Most adoptees suffer from abandonment issues and many of them, that I have met, “test” people. They want to test your loyalty. The abandonment issues sometimes are so deep that even the adoptee does not know why they are acting out or why they view relationships a certain way. With age comes knowledge and as a teenager you don’t usually know WHY you feel so alone and lost. It is very important that an adopting parent makes their adoptee feel secure and loved. And be open with them, even if it may hurt you to know they miss what their life could have been. These are normal feelings for an adoptee. Some adoptees test people, some are complete people pleasers even at their own demise. Which was my brother. His issues came out later in life. Nonetheless, his issues still came, eventually.
My Thoughts Today
I love my parents, and even after I found my biological mom just last year, I realize that my parents through adoption ARE my parents. No one can replace that. They have my past and my whole childhood. Through good and bad they raised me to be the independent, strong woman I am. Even if I became that, because I had to, to survive. They did their best and I believe that if they knew better, they would have done better. At least I hope that. My mom has never had an open discussion about my feelings about my adoption. We never discussed my teenage years. She seems to get emotional when discussing my adoption, and I feel like I have to hold back my feelings to spare hers. I always felt that if anything honest was brought up, it would hurt her feelings and she never has brought it up to me. We never discussed my troubled teen years in any depth. She still tells people what a “terrible teen” I was, and I have never understood how, even to this day, she cannot see the pain I was in. I also think it’s not worth bringing it up to her. Nothing can be changed at this point. She is now 77 and I feel like that window has long since passed. I know she loves me and that’s just what it is. I often wonder if maybe she never dealt with her own pain of not being able to have her own children. And she was very close to her own mother. A closeness we never had.
My Advice to Parents Considering Adoption or Already Parenting Adoptees
For people hoping to adopt, I just hope they have realistic ideas of what it looks like. It is NOT easy, but it can be beautiful, if, it is approached the right way. I believe that ALL adoptees come with trauma, but if you face difficult times with compassion, love and understanding I think you can have an amazing outcome and family unit. My advice, realize this little person has been through trauma, trauma you can’t see. Trauma you can’t know. They may not love the things you love. They may not be like you at all. Celebrate that. Make them feel safe and secure. And most important, listen and don’t judge. They have suffered great loss, even if you can’t see that. And if you have any grief over perhaps your own inability to have children, make sure you approach that separately. This baby is not your replacement for your own offspring, rather an addition to your family, an extra human for you to love and grow with.