My name is Samantha Tarling and I am adopted.
If anyone had told my Mum 32 years ago that rearing an adopted child would be different from rearing biological children, she, like many new and enthusiastic adoptive parents, would have said – “Of course it won’t be any different! What can a tiny baby know? We will love her and give her a wonderful home”.
Societal belief is that love conquers all.
However, as many adoptive parents would have experienced, it is often easier for them to give their child love that it is for us to accept it. For love to be freely accepted, there must be trust, and despite the love and security we are given, adopted children deep down often wonder if we are going to be rejected again.
My Birthmother, Jenny, was pregnant with me when she met my Mum, Wendy. They became friends and Jenny told my Mum that she was going to adopt me out because of family pressures of having a child out of wedlock. My Mum had been told she could not have children due to medical reasons so Jenny agreed to allow Mum and Dad to adopt me.
I was eight years old when my Dad told me I was adopted. I was devastated. How could my Mum not be my Birthmother? I cried for days. After the initial shock I did not consciously think about this news again until I was thirteen. I approached my Mum and she told me that Jenny was a very nice person who cared about me and enquired about me for a number of years and that she felt as though she did not have a choice about giving me up. I was still very bitter towards my Birthmother and called her some unsavoury names, periodically over the next year when my Mum and I were alone together. After these little outbursts of hurt and anger, my Mum always told me that Jenny was not the person I made her out to be.
It always made me feel safe and worthy and very loved when Mum told me these things about Jenny, because somehow, if Jenny was a nice person then I must be as well. When I was seventeen Mum gave me Jenny’s phone number and address. I called her. She was very shocked and scared about my contact because apart from her husband, nobody in her family knew of my existence. I had a burning desire to have contact with her and over the next year we talked quite frequently by phone and letters. Eighteen months later I went to visit Jenny and my other family of 3 sisters and 1 brother, for six months. We spent our time getting to know each other; yet, I did not let Jenny get emotionally close to me, for fear of her rejecting me again.
I also felt guilty that I was being disloyal to my Mum if I allowed myself to feel the emotional connection between Jenny and myself. I felt torn between fear, guilt and the instinctive need to be held by Jenny and know she was never going to let me go and that she really did love me. My fear of rejection again was far too great and I did not understand all these needy feelings so I put up my barriers to protect myself, but I was only preventing what I instinctively craved – a connection with Jenny, as between any mother and baby, physiological, emotional, spiritual and everlasting. To be separated from her has caused me lifelong issues of abandonment, loss, rejection, trust, loyalty, guilt, intimacy and identity.
My Mum tells stories of how when I was younger, I would throw tantrums and demolish my room through frustration and she would have to leave me there and go for a walk around the block. This frustration was something that neither Mum nor I understood. Something would trigger my rage – what was it? I was acting out in reaction to emotions that I could not identify. I was always telling my Mum that I could “do it myself”, whatever it was. She felt that I didn’t need her. In a way I did not need her, in case, she also left me. Somehow in her innate wisdom my Mum knew that my behaviour had nothing to do with my personality, but was my way of expressing my feeling, so she just hung in there and kept loving me. Looking back, we can see how counselling at this stage might have helped us to understand what was going on.
I can now identify why I had to be in control of my environment – I felt I had no choice and no control over being separated from Jenny and thus I needed to control environments to feel secure. I was confused as to who I was, where I fitted in and why I didn’t look like anyone (a very confusing issue for adopted children who are never able to look into the face of their own genes but most people, having grown up in their own biological families, would not appreciate how important it is). When I was 30, I began to consider contacting my Birthfather, Max. I made an appointment at Adoption Jigsaw to discuss searching for him. They had a number of services that I could tap in to, for support. I am still searching for Max.
Mum and I also started attending the Jigsaw Support Group; Mum no longer feels that she was not a good Mother because we now understand that separating a baby from its Birthmother has lifelong consequences for all parties involved. I am learning to heal the wound of separation by trusting that my Mum will not leave me or love me any less for being me and acknowledging my pain associated with being adopted.
I am also reaching out to Mum when I need her and allowing her to share my life emotionally, as well as learning about the fears Jenny faced which is helping to build bridges with her in my heart.
The manner in which Mum has responded to these problems has had a great deal to do with my developmental and emotional health. She has been honest and supportive even when her fear of losing me has been great. She has put my needs first and this is vital because how adoptive parents react to an adopted persons trauma has a huge impact on our healing.
Adoption Jigsaw offers one-on-one counselling, support groups, search and mediation service.
I have found the support group to be extremely helpful because I am with people who are a part of the adoption circle, Birthmothers, Adoptive Parents and Adoptees. We learn a lot from each other and it is great to know I am not alone and have others to share my feelings and thoughts with, who understand what I am talking about without having to fill in the gaps.