An Adoptee’s Reflection on Trauma, Love, and Adoption

Every Thanksgiving, one of the most wonderful and emotional traditions in my family is to light a candle for the people who aren’t there: for those who have died, who are alive but far away, who aren’t with us for whatever reasons. Sometimes the person lighting the candle says the names out loud of the people he is thinking about and missing. Sometimes the person just lights the candle, then smiles, or tears up. We leave the candles on through the meal.

Adoption, for all its joy, happens only through loss. Children have lost or lose their first family in order to be adopted. That can be necessary, if the child was in danger or had been abused or neglected to the point of needing a new family. But it’s still loss: loss of what could have been, or should have been, or would have been if only…

Adoptive parents, you can love your child deeply. Your child can love you deeply as well, and also feel grief and trauma that are real. It’s okay. It may manifest in different ways over time, in angry words or silent tears. There may be what seem puzzling outbursts at certain times of year—traumaversaries are real too. Join your child on the journey: encourage conversation, honor their grief, know that every child is different, love them, be silent with them, respect their realities at 3 or at 30.

I am a mother because of adoption. I love my children more than I can possibly put into words. Each of my children has been affected, in different ways, by the fact of being adopted. I am a firm believer that the stories (events, memories, traumas, happiness) they have lived through are theirs alone to tell.

My daughter Aselefech Evans has chosen to tell her truth today, to share her lived experience. This is a beautiful, poignant, and powerful essay. Please read, reflect, share.

The Unwanted Arrival of Trauma in Adoption

 

And maybe light a candle to keep warm the realities of those who are both present and absent in our lives.

October, Traumaversaries, and Hope

T.S. Eliot may have called April the “cruelest month,” but I am thinking October–6 months after April–gives that notion a run for its money. October holds Halloween, and the Day of the Dead. It’s when school kids (right up to college) often move out of the honeymoon start of school, and problems start surfacing. Trees in many parts of the world change their colors, and leaves drop off. Harvest season has ended, fields lie fallow, days get darker.

An Ethiopian adoptee, the British poet Lemn Sissay, wrote this on his Facebook page a year ago today, October 9: “When October arrives, part of me leaves. I want what leaves to come back.”

A year ago today, Fisseha Sol Samuel died by suicide at 20 years of age, near the soccer fields of his college campus. I send my heartfelt condolences to his family, left behind, grieving mightily, healing slowly.

In The Wasteland, Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire…”

Memory and desire. Loss and love. The powerful combination that can firmly glue and sometimes rip apart a family, a child, a beloved soul.

We celebrate or observe anniversaries of important events. Sometimes, less official but quite real, we experience traumaversaries:  a feeling of sadness, anxiety, and/or grief around the anniversary of a trauma (experiencing a deeply disturbing frightening event). I hear this term “traumaversary” fairly often in the adoption community. Adoptive parents note that their children fall apart (crying, overreacting, withdrawing) at a particular point of year because the children had experienced a traumatic event during that time, a year before, 10 years before. Often the body remembers, even as the mind seeks to forget, and an edginess or anxious vigilance can manifest on the anniversary. I know of a young adoptee who had a psychotic episode in October many years ago; every October the fear that it will happen again, the unsettling knowledge that it happened at all, permeates the month.

It’s hard stuff. And it is real. I offer these thoughts to assure people they are not alone in and on their traumaversaries, whether in October or any cruel month. There are resources, and there is hope. Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness, said Desmond Tutu. Sometimes we need to be the light for others; sometimes we ourselves need to look for it. The astronomer Pamela L.Gay, writing about Childhood’s Shadows, notes that “you can only be there for someone when they let you be there. You can only listen to someone who is willing to speak. You can not force yourself into any other person’s life no matter how much you may want to be there for them.

So I watch, and I wait for the moment when my extended hand will be taken. When you are ready for help, understand that I will still be here.

And on this October night, on traumaversaries, and in this cruel, crazy, beautiful world, may we watch, and listen, and extend our hands.

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Flower in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

A tip of the hat to Dr. Jason Evan Mihalko, who today tweeted the link to the “Childhood’s Shadows” post.