A "good enough" mom muses about alpha moms, adoption, computers, the State Of The World, Internet quirkiness, and the Kosmik All
Just another brick in The Wall

I spent the day today with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The Dotter is sick (again!  Oh, how I yearn for warmer weather, when the preschool has open windows, and the kids are outside a lot, and there's less germ-sharing going on!).  When the fever medication kicked in, she was all charm and dancing and laughing and playing dress-up and enjoying a long, leisurely lunch with mommy where we held "races" eating our food, one bite at a time.  When the fever medication wore off, she was all, "Don't TOUCH me!!  NOOOOOO!!!  Ow, ow, OW!!!", weeping, alternating between shivering and being way too hot, and--in her instances of less misery--telling me I mustn't touch her because "You don't want to be this sick, Mommy!"

A throw-away line or two at the end of the birthday party post read:  "...she's hitting that subconscious wall related to her birth and abandonment.  (Yeah, yeah, scoff all you want, but she goes into a tailspin right around now for a few weeks every year.)"

There was no scoffing.  SBird, however, asked me to discuss my impressions of The Wall, so here goes.

There's a lady named Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound.  Her thesis is that any child who is adopted has a gaping psychological hole left by being abandoned by or ripped untimely from the birthmother.  I've never read the book, myself, but have read many recaps, summaries, references, etc.  Her premise seems to mire the adopted person in this psychological swamp that s/he can never escape (remember, though, I've never read the book).

There are people who have taken this idea and run with it, claiming that adoption is a horrible thing and should be outlawed.  Just google "anti-adoption", and you'll find them.

I don't agree with the implications--that everything "wrong" with an adopted child is the result of that original separation from the birthmother.


However.  There's plenty of evidence that those nine months in the womb produce some very strong bonds.  Infants recognize their mother's voices, smells, heart rhythms within hours after birth.

Imagine you are in the womb, warm and comfy and cozy.  Then, in a sudden flurry of pain and pressure and strangeness, you are thrust out of that warm coccoon into blinding light, piercing sounds, smells you've never smelled before.  But there is one thing out there (hopefully) that is familiar:  the body that you spent those nine months growing and developing in.  So you turn to the familiar, you cling to it as a foundation for exploring this strange new world.  You turn to it for food, for caressing sensations, for warmth, for that familiar sound, that familiar heartbeat.  It's a touchstone that you learn very quickly to rely on as your senses are bombarded and your neurons struggle to organize everything.

Now imagine that, one week after that traumatic experience (which everyone experiences), you wake from a sound sleep.  Your touchstone has disappeared.  The sounds, scents, touches that have been your whole world for the past week--your entire life outside the womb--are gone, replaced by...?  You search for it, you cry for it, but it's not there, and never comes back.

How can this not be traumatizing?

You don't have conscious memories of this--it's also well-established that the network of neurons making up conscious memory don't really firm up until about six months of life outside the womb.  But there's a helluva lot more going on in the human brain than conscious memories.  All of us have had moments where a momentary scent, sliding down the breeze, unlocks a complete snapshot of memory--emotions, pictures, "been-here-before" feelings.  Light can do this, too, at least for me--I can suddenly be transfixed by a particular angle of light, and know that the light was just this way at a certain time, and the emotions of that time wash through me. 

There are environmental cues to all the seasons, cues that we consciously learn, but that we also unconsciously pick up on.  So it's not an arbitrary manmade calendar that brings things up--it's a whole-body memory, linked deep in that primitive emotional center of our brain.

I was dubious reading about parents who adopted from China saying that their children always had emotional upsets around the time of their birth and/or abandonment.  "Oh, yeah.  Un-hunh.  We'll see."

But every year, right around the end of January/beginning of February, our dotter has...tantrums...night terrors..."issues".

She always talks in her sleep, but usually it's the typical pre-schooler type angst.  "Mine!" and "No, you can't have it!" show up from time to time (har!).  But the sleep-talking she does right around now, and the tantrums she has right around now, center more on things like "Dadddddyyyy!  No!  Don't go!" and "Mommy, mommy, don't leave me!"

They pass.  I'd say two weeks?  She's not crippled.  She's her normal self, with some stuff busting through.  And it's not something that will send her into a tailspin as an adult, unable to navigate her way through normal human relationships (like some people claim).  But I wouldn't be surprised if she has problems around this time of year for a long, long time.

Perhaps I was primed to think this.  Perhaps I subconsciously passed this priming onto OmegaDad.  Perhaps, for all I know, I influence OmegaDotter to behave this way, because I expect her to.  But he notices it, too.

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posted by Kate @ 2/05/2007 06:22:00 PM  
  • At 2/05/2007 08:52:00 PM, Blogger atomic mama said…

    Thank, OmegaMom. I too wanted to ask about the subconscious wall, but was too timid. Timidity might also be the reason why I have yet to crack the cover of the "Primal Wound" which has been sitting on my bedside table since I checked it out from the library a month ago... it keeps getting moved to the bottom of the pile.

  • At 2/06/2007 01:54:00 PM, Blogger SBird said…

    I haven't read TPW either, but I have read "Twenty Things Your Adopted Child Wants You To Know" (or something close to that), which summarizes the Villier argument and runs with it. Thank you for sharing your experience with the Dotter...I hadn't ever heard about the calendar associations, and that is important to keep in mind, and I'm glad I know about it.

    Sorry the Dotter is sick! Hope she feels better soon...we're having 75 degrees here today...woohoo.

  • At 2/06/2007 02:09:00 PM, Blogger SBird said…

    Whoops...I meant Verrier, not Villier. Villiers is a Renaissance writer. Um, yeah. It's the way the brain works that isn't conscious, ya know?

  • At 2/06/2007 02:19:00 PM, Anonymous Theresa said…

    I appreciate your description of the Dotter's behavior. I do worry how dd's early losses will affect her adult relationships. I still feel she and I have a push and pull kind of relationship-as compared to her feeling that her daddy can do no wrong-which I believe is related to me being the one to pry her away from her beloved foster mama at 12.5 months.

    We are just starting to delve into her initial loss of her birth parents at 3 days old. So far she seems to get it that she did not grow in her foster mama's tummy but in someone else's whose name we unfortunately do not know.

  • At 2/07/2007 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Sister Carrie said…

    My youngest daughter had a big upset every year for her first four birthdays. And then she didn't do it anymore. It will be interesting to see what happens with Dotter next year. And what happens with all of them in adolescence.

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About Me
Name: OmegaMom
Home: Southwest
About Me: Middle-aged mom of a 4-year-old adopted from China. Love science, debate, good SF and fantasy, hiking, music of almost every style. Lousy housekeeper. "Good enough" mom.
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