Patricia: Part 6

Liz thoughtfully sipped her tea and thought about the progress her client, Patricia, had made over the past few months. Before getting to know Patricia, she would probably never have believed that she would find in her such a willing and able client. Patricia’s gutsiness and her agile mind combined to make her very determined, indeed. Still, several of her characteristics as a client were troubling, and tempered Liz’s admiration for Patricia with a more sober underlying assessment.

Patricia was as avoidant as she was determined, which combined to retard her progress and make it doubtful that she would complete therapy. Their closeness as partners in therapy seemd at times to make Patricia giddy, and when too much progress occurred, Liz could be sure that Patricia would later cancel appointments, bounce a check, or have some crisis that would delay one or more sessions.

And just in case a crisis or missed appointment wasn’t in order, Patricia made sure she was busy all the time. Though now nearing the end of her pregancy, her life was full of endless errands, projects, work-related tasks, parenting, and other activity that left her little time (if any) to reflect or to work on issues that had been raised in therapy. As a result of her compulsively busy lifestyle, Liz knew that it was unlikely that Patricia would make much progress at really reversing the destructive habits built during her crippled childhood.

“She’s still an orphan at heart,” Liz mused to herself, “a lost girl who never got what she needed–and is still paying for it–and perpetuating it.” If only Patricia would make healing her priority! Liz grinned wryly and said out loud, “Liz, now you sound like a therapist!”

Liz looked at her watch again and realized that Patricia was already 10 minutes late. She walked out of her office and asked the receptionist, Ashley, if there had been any calls. “No calls, Dr. Evans,” Ashley replied. “And no cancellations of any kind.”

Liz frowned. Not again. Patricia made time for what she wanted to do, whether it was PTA meetings or watching American Idol with friends. It was becoming increasingly clear that their therapeutic relationship wasn’t a priority, maybe because Patricia had received just enough help to begin to feel better about herself and her ability to give her children a better life than the one she’d had. After all, Patricia wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t keep addicts and alcoholics in her life; that made her a better parent than the ones she’d had.

This was the problem that many clients had: they got just enough help and relieved just enough emotional pain that they thought they didn’t need anything or anyone else. After only one or two months (or even years) of therapy or even self-help, they considered themselves finished. Rather than plumbing the depths and fixing what was truly broken, they did a slap-dash remodel job, made things look better on the surface–“like a home staging you see on a remodeling show!” Liz exclaimed to herself–and then they quit therapy and quit doing the deep work they so needed. They raised their children with the appearance of ‘normal,’ but because real health was lacking and so much was repressed and projected, usually the selfsame problems that had occurred in the family of origin resurfaced in the next generation. Even if Patricia managed to keep drunks and enablers out of her own life, she was almost certain to have a child who developed an addiction or who needed to enable an addict, because Patricia’s unhealed, rejected parts would demand reparation and finally become manifest in the very children she sought to save.

Carl Jung admonished more than once that those destined to fall into a pit ought to prepare themselves for it rather than falling into it backwards. “Everyone goes into the pit of self-discovery,” Liz mused, “but most don’t go there voluntarily.” Yet how much better it would be if they did!

celtic05 by you.

Liz picked up her desk phone and dialed Patricia’s work number. This was a young woman who could do this–she could make it! She could do something different than her parents and grandparents had done, if only she would stick with the grueling psychological work. But Patricia wasn’t at work, the receptionist said.

Liz called Patricia’s home phone and was surprised when a young child answered. “Is Patricia there?” Liz asked, and was answered with heavy breathing and the sound of little feet pattering along the floor. “IT’S FOR MOMMY!” the child’s voice cried, and after a moment a woman’s voice asked “Who’s this?”

“This is Liz Evans calling for Patricia,” Liz repeated. “Is she home? We had an appointment today.”

“Oh, this is her neighbor, Karen. But she’s not here. She went to the hospital this morning, she’s having the baby. Want me to give her a message?”

Liz’s heart sank. The baby? Already? She still had two weeks to go! Now what would happen?

“Yes, please tell her that Liz Evans called and that I’m hoping the best for her and the baby, and to give me a call when she feels like it.”

Dismay washed over Liz as she replaced the phone. Patricia was on her way to realizing that she could be a good person, and that she needed to heal and could heal. If Patricia stuck with her decision to give her baby up for adoption, she couldn’t possibly feel good afterward. On some level she might believe she was doing the best thing, but another fractured part of herself would also be a mother longing for her baby. Patricia would have to bury yet another part of herself, making it even less likely that she would be able to integrate all the disparate parts and find a cohesive whole in them, a Self.

Liz sighed, knowing she might never hear from Patricia again and knowing that whatever choice Patricia made about her baby boy would set into motion a lifelong chain of events. Liz had worked with enough families separated by foster care and adoption to know that, if Patricia chose adoption, it would not be as simple a solution for Patricia as she seemed to think it would be. And yet, if she kept her son, life would be even more difficult than it already was. Patricia was just as likely to have her healing thwarted by keeping the baby as she was by giving it up.

“Time will tell,” Liz said. “Time will tell.”

What is Love?

In the adoption world, at least, there’s a lot of confusion about what a real mother is. I believe that, at our cores, we know a real mother in relationship terms when we see one; to name just a few archetypal incarnations ranging from the mundane to the sublime, she is Harriet, she is Mrs. Cleaver, she is Olivia Walton, she is Celie in The Color Purple, she is Mother Theresa, she is the Virgin Mary. But, because many people are wounded in their families of origin and may even have the added insult of having been separated from their mothers and subsequently adopted (or raised by someone other than their mother), people can become muddled and confused about mothers and mothering. When that happens, it helps to have people who are clear about mothering to say, “This is the behavior of a real mother; that is not the behavior of a real mother.”

Having others in our lives is helpful if they will point us in the direction of truth, even if those others aren’t mothers, but are merely authors or therapists, best friends or sisters-in-law, grannies at church, bosses or other bloggers. People who point us in the direction of truth are helping us to find the way home. And if we never had a true home, a hearth from which to start our hero’s journey, then those who love us enough to help us may also show us how to establish the hearth from which we may leave.

What is love?

I think that any discussion of real or authentic mothering has to eventually arrive at love. What is love? Who is our real friend, the one who is really there for us, the one who truly loves us? Do we know it when we see it? I think, yes. We feel it, we feel deeply satisfied by love; and we feel calm and whole in its presence.

While it may sound odd that I would recommend a book about romantic love for those grappling with adoption issues, I do think that Robert A. Johnson’s book, We, provides an excellent overview of our flawed Western view of love, based on the oldest Western romance that we know of, Tristan and Iseult. Johnson writes this about real love:

Love is the power within us that affirms and values another human being as he or she is. Human love affirms that person who is actually there, rather than the ideal we would like him or her to be or the projection that flows from our minds. Love is the inner god who opens our blind eyes to the beauty, value, and quality of the other person. Love causes us to value that person as a total, individual self, and this means that we accept the negative side as well as the positive, the imperfections as well as the admirable qualities. When one truly loves the human being rather than the projection, one loves the shadow just as one loves the rest. One accepts the other person’s totality.

Johnson goes on to point out that love leads a person to honor and serve the other, rather than to use others for purposes of ego. Love compels us to be concerned for the needs of the other person, for their well-being, rather than merely on our own needs and wants. As the Bible says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

I wrote yesterday about why, in my way of thinking, it’s wrong for a birth mother to tell her adopted child that, if she had it to do over again, she would choose abortion rather than suffer the loss of her child to adoption. What a terrible thing for the adopted person to hear! Though the adoptees I’ve known who have heard this from their birth mothers extended grace to those mothers by sympathizing with their pain, they later confided to others just how deeply such sentiments had wounded them. They didn’t trust their mothers any more after hearing this, for if their birth mothers were given the same choice again, they would want to hear their birth mothers say, “I would do anything to keep and raise you, and be there for you and be your real mother.”

Adopted people also don’t want to be reminded by their adoptive parents, “You’re my child, you know; I raised you!” They don’t want to be party to the paranoia and fear of adoptive parents who never really stepped up to the plate emotionally in the first place, but who assert their parental rights later, when they are getting older and more needy and know they weren’t very good people, but want to continue to pretend that they were. Proving that they still aren’t very good people.

But whether we are orphans or not, injured by separation or not, what we really want is love, isn’t it? Don’t we want to know that sometimes we, and only we, are reflected in the eye of the beholder? Do we not want to be engraved on the palms of someone’s hands, the apple if the other’s eye? Don’t we long to be beamed at by proud parents, to be told that we are more than enough, that we’re blessings beyond measure?

Oh my God, yes. Don’t we? Yes.

Love sees the glory of the other person, and stands in awe.

Hearts Wide Open

I’ve had a mind to write about real mothers for some time now, which seems to follow logically on my series of entries about mothers as containers. Although real mothers are not defined by biology, I’m going to begin by writing about adoption, for few topics can be as useful (or incendiary) in teaching us about real love. One has only to read the story of Solomon’s decision recorded in 1 Kings 3:27 to see how real love works: a real mother will put her child’s life above her own. The real mother deserves love and loyalty, because these are qualities she has sowed into the life of her child. Since I believe in a just God and a just universe, I don’t see any way that a false mother can ultimately receive sustained love or loyalty from a child to whom she never gave these.

Although I’ve sworn off most adoption blogs, from time to time I follow adoption-related links I find on the blogs of people I respect. This gets me into trouble, as all too often such purposeless meandering takes me straight into the path of an adoption wreck, where I find myself rubbernecking at the carnage like the most gauche sightseer.

Take, for example, a line penned by an adopted adult in protest to an upcoming MTV airing of an adoption-related story:

Make no mistake, abandonment/adoption IS child abuse! As human beings we are all entitled to be loved and welcomed into this world by our mothers (and fathers), and then to be raised by them. [. . .] If you really want to do an adoption story, how about focusing on adult adoptees who are searching for their real families.

Or, this, written by a birth mother I respect, even love (insofar as it’s possible to love a person one merely reads) and whose blog I read regularly:

Adoption is harmful [ . . .] There is everything wrong with separation.

I have written before about why I relinquished. I haven’t really understood why women would now. There are so many options. Society is fairly accepting of single mothers. Abortion is legal and safe.

Leaving, for the time being, the issue of whether it’s better to abort one’s unborn potential child or give it up for adoption, I want to focus first on one of the questions most commonly asked of adopted people and adoptive parents, “What about your [or the] real parents?” This is an interesting question, because it equates biology with authenticity, even though many people raised by their biological parents share no emotional or psychological affinity with them; and many people who were adopted feel as though they were born into their adoptive families. In fact, we all know what we mean when we say, “She’s a real friend,” yet somehow we confuse ourselves when adoption is involved. We no longer know what a real, good, authentic mother or father is.

Why is that?

In spite of our confusion, the question is valid. We have many stories of people who say that they never felt at home in the arms of their adoptive parents, many stories of adopted adults who searched for and found their birth families, and in finding them felt for the first time in their lives that they had found a home, deep down in their innermost beings. I recently read the account of a reunion in which the adopted adult wrote so poignantly about her feelings about being with her birth mother and half sisters that I wept. I don’t doubt her experience for one moment, and I don’t know how any feeling person could, upon reading her sincere account.

What bothers me, though, is the one-sidedness of people’s judgments, of the stories they tell themselves to explain the “why” of these things. All is seldom as it appears or is assumed to be in adoption from any side. I’ve met few people who are adoption involved who are aware, awake, enlightened, open-minded, and brimming with love at the beginning of their adoption journeys; and so I find that many adoption-involved people are unbalanced and have perspective problems. In fact, what I’ve most often encountered in the adoption world are people oozing with gaping wounds-wounds of infertility, of estrangement, of failure and shame; wounds of “I didn’t know / I shoud have known / How could I not have known? / My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” and wounds of never having a home inside one’s heart or inside the arms of one’s mother. These are wounds of so much substance that it’s no surprise to me that many adoption-involved people never gain much perspective, but instead find it easier to hunker down into a mindset that provides the props that enable them to keep limping along.

But, oh, how I wish we would cast aside our crutches and run the way of love! I certainly do wish that we would open our hearts wide up, and stop restraining ourselves. If only we had more examples of unrestrained love, love with a wide-open throttle, as St. Paul implored:

Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections. Now in a like exchange–I speak as to children–open wide to us also.  2 Corinthians 6:11-13 (NASB)

 | Photos by Chinua |

Mother as Container | 3

I’ve been writing about the mother as a container. A reader asked me what motherly containment looks like, which was a very good question. I’ve elaborated on what I meant by “container” earlier, so if you haven’t read the previous entries and are interested in the subject, I hope you read them.

Babies Need Real Mothers

The first year of life with a mother who acts authentically is essential to normal developmental attachment in the human being. This is widely accepted and I’d think anyone a fool who disputed it. Certainly, a baby can recover from the loss of his biological mother-and, in fact, some mothers do their babies no favors by sticking around. However, mothers need replacements as soon as possible, authentic replacements who will behave like real mothers if the biological mother will not do. I should add that it also does a baby no favor if his replacement mother is a fragmented twit who is so overcome by her own need to get a baby that she can’t give the baby what he actually needs, which is a REAL MOTHER. I’ll write more about real mothers later; suffice to say that Babies Need Real Mothers.

Attachment expert Foster Cline said once in a seminar I attended that most children can survive one break in attachment from their biological mother; many can survive two breaks in attachment; few can survive three breaks in attachment; and no human child can handle more than three breaks in attachment with a primary caregiver.

Think with me for a moment about the many orphans and foster children in the world, and about the way America handles its children whose parents have left them; then perhaps we’ll understand why our prison system is expanding and exploding with inmates, male and female, who have experienced so many changes in caregivers throughout their childhoods. It is a statistical fact that an unmothered child is much more likely to end up incarcerated, addicted, or dead than a child who had a real mother.

My daughter and son-in-law and their newborn baby girl are in the hospital for a week due to a staph infection in the baby. Next door to them is a one month old baby boy whose mother abandoned him to the care of the hospital. We can hear his pitiful cries from our room, our room full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grannies, and (of course) mommy and daddy. Our little granddaughter is so loved, so held, so contained.

Not so for the little boy next door. He cries and no one responds. He cries until he exhausts himself. The beeping of the monitor is his only comfort.

I thought today that I should call the state and see about renewing our foster parenting license so that we can once again accept emergency foster children into our home. Then I realized that by the time the little boy crying in the room next door gets foster parents who will hold and comfort him, he may well be two or three or five or ten months old. My husband and I adopted several children who had lived in hospitals and suffered a unrelenting pain before they came to us. At the hospital today with my newborn granddaughter, I realized that what these abandoned, sick babies and children need is hospital volunteers who will come to them, hold them, look into their eyes, and comfort them while they are still in the hospital. How I wish my children had had that much.

Oh, it breaks my heart to think of the damage being done to these babies as we sit here in the luxury of our surroundings, our children nestled in the nooks of our arms, and we blog about what is wrong with adoption in America.

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