The following adoption reunion story is by guest writer, Margaret Watson, who holds a Bachelor of Arts (Welfare Studies) and a Certificate of Somatic Psychotherapy. She has worked in community justice, social welfare, human rights, advocacy, disability, and health services, as a Tribunal Member on NSW and Qld disability Tribunals. During the past 10 years, Margaret continues to work as a Counsellor, Advanced Practitioner for Post Adoption Resource Centre in NSW, Australia. She first learned of her adoption at age 40, which was a traumatic life event leading Margaret to immerse herself in successful searches and reunion with biological family. She is passionate and committed to working with all parties impacted by adoption, encouraging clients to develop and grow away from the “false self” created by adoption.
Margaret's Story Continues
While I continued to make progress in becoming stronger in my life and person, there were still times I was easily overwhelmed and catapulted into the quagmire of grief and loss feelings.
I spent almost 4 years in therapy, intensely peeling away the layers of “onion skin” surrounding feelings, events, behaviours, my interpretations and reactions to life events. My therapist was “the good mother” – always holding the therapy space for me, never judging or criticising, just gently allowing me to feel the intensity of feelings, work through them and arrive at self-awareness that these feelings were reactions to situations and events – that they were not “me”.
The aim of the therapist and myself was to not allow me to wallow in the depths of feelings, to face them, feel and work through them and arrive at a place where I could live in the world without being consumed by them.
In the beginning days of therapy, we went deep into feelings of aloneness and solitariness I had experienced since childhood. While these had somewhat diminished as I grew into adulthood, I had again experienced them intensely through the abandonment and rejection feelings resurfacing on learning of my adoption.
One such feeling had resettled on me and was uncomfortable and frightening. This was a feeling experienced during childhood – of waiting and watching – for what or whom, I could not identify. Along with these feelings was a sensation of deathly silence and aloneness. Through therapy, the feeling was traced back to early non-verbal stage of my life. My therapist and I believed it emanated from being left in the hospital nursery for 6 weeks following birth, waiting to be claimed. My basic needs of feeding and changing would have been attended to. However, what of the human need for skin on skin, to be held, nurtured, made to feel safe, content and loved, attach and bond to primary and consistent caregivers?
Following this revelation, for a time I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of sadness for my “baby self” who had endured that deprivation so soon after entering this world. Working with that in therapy, I also came to see and acknowledge that experience as the seeds of my independent nature which has accompanied me through life. It created a survival instinct at its highest necessity. The scission caused at birth by separation of mother and baby, creates an ongoing neurological, physiological and psychological impact for the baby who has lost forever, it’s opportunity for natural bonding, symbiosis and attachment with its biological mother.
Sadly, for the mother, she re-enters the post birth world with empty hands and a broken heart when her child is taken for adoption.
In 2005, I attended two workshops conducted by Nancy Verrier, a leading American psychotherapist on adoption issues who was visiting Australia. During question time at one of the sessions, I raised with her the feelings of “waiting, watching and deathly silence” I had experienced. Nancy acknowledged this as a “rescue fantasy” – waiting to be rescued from an annihilating situation which the baby endured.
Having this reality acknowledge and validated was reassuring, especially when a few other adopted individuals later approached me to say they had experienced similar feelings throughout their lives.
From my experience, all too often, adopted people can become chameleons – being unaware of their own values, desires and standards, adjusting their behaviours and opinions to match those close to them, in order to be accepted and ward off the fear of abandonment and rejection. Also often retaining relationships that may not be desirable or healthy for them – and I acknowledge having done that in my life!
My therapy concluded when I felt I had “grown up and out of”, the wounded being I was. When I felt I had arrived at a solid inner core of feeling, knowing and being my true self, I felt free and strong enough to fly into the world with a new lease of life and powerful sense of being. My therapy was based on somatic integration aspects. The aim is to feel the feelings, deal with them, face their impact and then integrate the sense of self, free of connection to damaging and painful feelings. Our bodies store in our muscles, tissues, and fascia, the cellular memories of every emotional event in our life.
I then decided to train as a somatic therapist, learning and understanding the vagaries of our human structure, personalities, defended behaviours and accessing stored cellular memories to clear emotional blocks.
Since 2013, I have worked as a Counsellor, Advanced Practitioner at the NSW Post Adoption Resource Centre. This has been an incredible and humbling privilege and the most satisfying work I have ever done. To have adopted people, mothers, fathers, siblings and extended families open their hearts and share lived experiences regarding the impact of adoption on them, has been humbling and illuminating. Current research has revealed that adoption is trauma, and that trauma has an intergenerational effect on the members and families of mothers and adopted people. Adoption forever changes the trajectory of that baby’s life who is removed from its biological history and blood connections.
Now, 32 years after my adoption revelation, I look back and marvel at how far I have travelled. For several years, the geographic landscape was terrifying and unknowing. As I grew in spirit and sense of self, I reclaimed my confidence, sense of purpose, trust and belief in life and myself. Without giving myself the gift and commitment of therapy, I would not have developed into the person I am currently, nor found the level of contentment, self-acceptance and inner peace I have today. The therapy often exhausted and angered me, I resented the amount of money I spent on it yet remain grateful that I made that choice which worked for me.
Choices in my life are my responsibility and I own them all. Deal breakers for me are toxic, dysfunctional people or relationships which have no room in my life along with lies, secrets, dishonesty, duplicity, betrayal or abandonment by others or self-abandonment. I maintain and create healthy boundaries in all aspects of my life.
Self-acceptance, authenticity, honesty, integrity, openness and compassion for others are important in all aspects of my life. I have embraced that in being adopted, many impacts have affected me spiritually, psychically and emotionally. I am grounded and rarely become reactivated by adoption issues, unless inequality, unfairness or harm to others is involved.
As part of my healing journey, I decided to write a memoir of the process from all aspects. Mainly it was written from the emotional and somatic aspects that I experienced. On first learning of my adoption, I searched for any reading material specifically on the revelation of adoption in mid-life. Such writings were non-existent, so my memoir “Surviving Secrets” was birthed and finally published in 2009/2010. Writing this was also cathartic due to the length of years over which the memoir evolved.
Over an 8-year period, I was fortunate to spend months at a time in a rainforest on the far north cost of New South Wales, minding a friend’s property in their absences. From there, I came and went to work, edited the manuscript, continued my reading work, had friends visit, walked daily in the rain forest and marvelled at the bird life, natural elements and abundance of wildlife, including wallabies as regular visitors grazing on the lawns. I loved the powerful electric storms that thundered over the valley, the constant wind in the pine trees, hooting night owls and ducks on the dam. I tended the garden which rambled magnificently over 5 acres and spent peaceful times meditating in the temple on the property. Being in nature greatly contributed to my healing.
I loved hours, days and nights of solitude on my own, with only night noises for company. I nurtured my inner child, ensured her safety and protection and watched her grow and heal into the woman she is today. I paid attention to my intuition, spirit and energies. I played music loudly and danced energetically by myself. On full moon nights which bathed the trunks of the Kouranga gum trees in a magic, silver light, I sat outside watching and loving the clarity of the sky peppered with stars. When the wind was high, the moon seemed to chase scudding clouds across the vast expanse of sky.
Sometimes I cried for past pain and losses, of dashed dreams of my family unit which had been so important to me and the emotional impact for my sons. This was more shedding of my woundedness and very cathartic. I also realised that I could no longer rescue, protect and heal others – that was their personal journey and responsibility, as was mine. I became more assertive, stood up for myself in a respectful manner towards others and said goodbye to the “good girl” that was created to survive and appease in my adoptive family.
In 2019 to locate my father, I did DNA testing. I had no idea how to interpret the results and was fortunate to find someone who did. My mother had provided me with my father’s name however, I had been unable to locate him via paper records. Centimorgans of shared DNA and not names are how DNA matches’ work. The bonus of an Ancestry tree in existence containing the name and person being sought assists with matching. Fortunately, my DNA expert was able to match me with a tree containing my father’s family. He died 6 years prior to me learning of his adoption. I was able to connect with first paternal cousins who were surprised at my existence, however made me welcome and included. They have provided photos, stories and insights into my father’s gregarious personality.
As I complete this article, I can honestly say I love my current life, marriage of 6 years, a strong sense of self and where I have landed in life. It has all been hard won and I am proud I survived the journey. I cannot change my hi(story), yet I choose to create a life where I have hopefully been able to shine a light for others on this journey via my book and how I am and live in the world.
I have chosen to live victoriously and not as a victim of my story.
The soul usually knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. - Anonymous