The idea of having anxiety relating to adoption is a concept that I largely avoided until about two years ago. I remember the precise moment when I realized that I was processing a situation the way that I was because of my adoption.
For years, I have relayed my adoption story with pride. (And I still do.) But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to understand more about the true meaning of what I was saying. Before, I romanticized the story and didn’t truly consider the words I was saying, for the sake of a good story.
In regards to my birth parents, we always talked about how they placed me for adoption “because they loved me.” Simplifying their decision this way was something that I never batted an eye at, and didn’t think about the possible negative repercussions.
That is, until I got dumped.
“If you love someone, let them go.” Right?
I’ve always been the kind of person that loves someone wholeheartedly. I have a tendency to bend over backward to make sure others are happy and their hearts are well-tended-to. My first romantic relationship was no different.
This Canadian chap had my heart basically from the moment I met him. He was funny, tall, blonde, and the fact that he was from a different country was incredibly endearing. He was actually my first boyfriend. When I was in high school, dating was very much discouraged, and it was largely enforced by the fact that I had been a high school pregnancy. There was a tangible worry by family and members from our congregation that high school pregnancies were genetic, so I kept boys and the idea of boys much further than an arm’s reach away.
So, when I got to college, I was finally able to explore dating. I met a guy my first weekend away from home, and I would spend the next month devoting every minute to him in thought or actually hanging out until we finally were “official,” as they say.
Our relationship was short-lived. Two months of what, in hindsight, was truly a meaningless relationship (that had some long-term, negative effects.)
When we started dating, I wasn’t actually sure if we were dating. He nonchalantly referred to me as his “girlfriend,” and I remember thinking, “Oh, okay. Cool. We’re dating. Neat.” In the spirit of uncertainty, that’s about how we broke up initially. Just a casual, “I don’t know what we’re supposed to be,” blah blah blah.
And my sweet, naive, 19-year-old self clung to him with everything I had. Sending texts or memes because we were “still friends.” And then we went on a walk around campus, not really saying much. But then at the end of the walk, outside my apartment complex, he said, “Because I love you, I don’t think I can be with you.”
I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, I just remember hearing those words so loud.
Because he loved me, he couldn’t be with me?
I immediately heard those same words rattle in my head, but this time it was in reference to my birth parents. Because they had “loved me,” they had placed me. Something in my mind shifted, and I had this overwhelming feeling that if people loved me, they would discard me. And then, of course, there’s the saying, “If you love someone, let them go.” Right?
I did a lot of self-discovery after that, trying to understand my worth and value. I had to understand more about what my birth parents meant by “because they loved me, they made the choice to place me.”
Fortunately, I have very open relationships with both of my birth parents, so I’m able to communicate with them regularly. I came to understand that the sentiment I had clung to for so long was so much deeper than I had credited it.
Because they loved me, they evaluated their situation and determined that it wouldn’t be the best for me. Because they loved me, they wanted me to be placed with parents that were financially and emotionally prepared to be my parents. Because they loved me, they wanted more for me than what they were going to be able to provide at that juncture in their life.
It was an if/then scenario: “if you love this baby, then you will place her for adoption.” It was a matter of responsibility they felt as my first parents to find a family for me that would be able to provide what they couldn’t.
I hadn’t ever really thought about it before. It took months after my relationship with my Canadian boyfriend ended before I realized that I could be loved by someone who would choose to be with me.
Nature vs. Nurture
When I was a senior in high school, I was a very public advocate for adoption. I would get myself into lengthy debates, touting the beauty of adoption. I would shut down any suggestion of negative stories, writing anything negative off with a simple, “I’m sorry you experienced that…. But my adoption was beautiful.”
I digress. (And cringe.)
I had a friend who was also an adoption advocate, but she was a lot more versed in the good, the bad, and the ugly of adoption. She posted one day that every person in the adoption community has experienced trauma.
I was so offended by that! I didn’t have any trauma! I was happy. My adoption was beautiful and wonderful. How dare someone suggest otherwise?
Looking back on my adoption journey, I think I recognized inherent adoption-related trauma much earlier than I realized.
I recall very specifically the first time I hugged my birth mom. My family wasn’t really the touchy-feely type. Quick side hugs occasionally, and that was basically it. I was always uncomfortable when relatives or friends would give hugs and would feel myself mentally preparing for it. That’s part of why the first encounter with my birth mom is so poignant in my memory.
We drove to her house as a family and knocked on the door, hearing her fumble with the baby-proofing to get it opened. I was instantaneously wrapped in her embrace, the floral smell of her hairspray enveloping me. I felt all tension subside. It was the first time I had experienced physical contact and thought, “Oh wow. This feels really nice.”
The same type of feeling was repeated two weeks later, when I met my birth father. He didn’t wait for us to reach the porch, instead meeting us on his walkway, squeezing me with a vigor I can’t begin to describe. But instead of shrinking under the grasp, I welcomed it, and found myself almost disappointed when it was over.
I didn’t let myself think much about these encounters, besides initial shock at my own welcome reception. When I did think about it in the months that followed, I came to a realization: I truly believe that there is a recognizable genetic tie between me and my birth parents, and somewhere, my subconscious knows who they are. It felt like there was a physical part of me that was waiting my whole life to feel their touch again.
I was horrified at myself for this assessment. I felt like I was betraying my parents! I thought about my realization occasionally, but continued to fight any thoughts or impressions that may not show a purely rosy view of adoption.
I did realize, however, the truth in the expression I’d heard countless times, “Nature vs. Nurture.” There were parts of me that were formed through my upbringing with my adoptive family. There were also parts of me that existed because of my biological background. That couldn’t be denied.
Anxiety is Natural
I don’t want it to seem like I’m dwelling on my first romantic relationship, but I bring it into this article because I learned a lot about how my adoption has impacted me mentally as I navigated the end of said relationship.
In the time following the breakup, I just kept wondering, if people “loved me,” why wouldn’t they want me around? At what point can I choose for people to stay in my life? Just two months later, I met my husband, and we quickly went from friends to dating.
All through our dating, I constantly wondered at what point he was going to leave me too. That seemed to be the trend, I thought. I wondered if I was lacking some characteristics that would make me worth keeping around. This led to a lot of tension in our relationship, which would continue even after we were married. I felt like my relationship with Nick was a ticking time bomb, and I was braced for impact at all times.
In relationships with friends, I’ve felt this way as well. A constant expectation for things to end. The realization that I was right after all, I’m not needed or even really wanted anywhere. Thankfully, I never felt this way with my adoptive parents or sister. I always knew that they loved me, so at least I had them.
But somewhere in the process of breaking up and moving on, I realized that I was thinking the way I was largely because of my adoption. I was clingy in relationships, romantic and otherwise, because I have self-diagnosed separation anxiety. There’s a piece of my brain that tells me that as long as someone is with me, they won’t leave me. If they leave me, they won’t come back.
The beginning of my relationship with my birth parents was pretty bumpy. Figuring out boundaries and expectations was hard, and feelings got hurt unintentionally more often than I would have expected. There were spans of time where communication would lessen for healing, and I was always worried that they wouldn’t want to maintain a relationship with me. Now that we had real contact, they had seen me for who I really was; surely they were disappointed and wanted to be done with me.
That was never the case. I just was too anxious to realize it.
The biggest turning point for me came when I had that realization. Admitting to myself that I had anxiety from my adoption was the first step in learning how to deal with it. Instead of believing the lies I fed myself about my value and worth, I reminded myself that those thoughts stemmed from anxiety. I had a lot more forgiveness for myself once I made that realization.
I wish that I could say that once I realized that I had anxiety and trauma from my adoption, I snapped out of it and have been happy every day since… but that is not the case. As I mentioned earlier, these triggers lasted well into my marriage. (And they still do.)
I have had to learn tips and tricks to cope with my anxiety. I talk myself through situations logically to avoid jumping to conclusions. For example, if my birth dad doesn’t call me every single day, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me anymore, it just means that he is busy. He has a busy job, a wife and kids, and he may not always be able to talk to me on the phone. If my birth mom doesn’t comment on or like my photo on Instagram, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me; she likely didn’t see it.
I have also learned how critical it is for me to take care of my physical health as well. I typically walk 2.5 miles every morning and do yoga immediately after. The days that I do, I am so much happier. The days that I don’t, I can feel an unmistakable darkness looming, closing in until I get outside and breathe in fresh air.
Additionally, I take medication for my anxiety. That has made a world of a difference. I don’t recommend that route for everyone, but it worked for me. There was a long process trying to find the right fit for me, but I think it was worth it once we found it.
The Bottom Line
Coping with anxiety in my adoption is something that I’m still working on every single day. And I expect that I’ll continue to work on it indefinitely. If you experience anxiety, adoption-related or otherwise, please give yourself grace. Understand that you are not alone and that there are excellent resources to learn how to navigate anxiety and trauma. Give yourself space to learn about yourself and what things help you to feel like you again.
All my best to you.Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.