Adoptees & Divorce

By Patricia Ann Knight Meyer | Adoption

Dec 22
Had I known my adoption reunion would lead to my divorce, would I have done it anyway? To quote Anne Sexton, I sit here “on the spike of truth,” and I say ‘Yes, I would have.’

I can confirm that yes, there are significant divorce risks in reunion and many hurdles for the married adoptee – this is a bitter truth. Reunions don’t kill marriages, but any weak spot in the marital bed will be tested under the weight of it, and the swells of emotions that rise from reunion can wash away the foundation of your marriage like a high-tide upon the sand.

Perhaps those who have walked the reunion road are wary to share these truths because we understand the importance our search and reunion played in the journey to our true, genuine, magnificent selves. I have heard it said, “It is not what you find, but that you find.” But perhaps we journeyed adoptees avoid discussing the harsher consequences of search and reunion for fear we might scare adoptees away from their truth – a discovery most of us say we would take on again and again.

“I fear if I keep looking for my family my husband and I will end up divorced,” she whispers over the phone with the most confused, scared, conflicted sound in her tender voice. “He asks me, ‘Why can’t you just be happy?’” She sighs as though she has tried at “just being happy” and failed a million times.

I sit on the line frozen, the words I want to find drip off my tongue and hang like icicles on my teeth. What to say?

It has only been weeks since that day. The day I sat with my iPhone in hand watching my husband’s iPhone move about the Travis County Court House on a mission to divorce me. We had downloaded the Find My Phone app, so if either of us ever lost our phones the other’s phone would show us right where it was. That had only been a few months ago, but today 150 miles away from home, this Find My Phone feature was my only window into his world. It was nothing more than intuition that said, “Wonder where he is right now?”

He had asked me to leave home three weeks before, a trial separation. I had asked for the truth about this sudden disengagement. The truth I was told was that I was “unhappy, insecure and untrusting,” that my husband needed a break from me. It was during this sudden bizarre separation, that I watched him travel about his day without me, and then he was THERE, at the court house.

Maybe I was acting like an insecure untrusting wife, common character traits any good adoption book will tell you most adoptees possess, but I had other reasons to worry as well. I had felt him distance himself since my birth father had entered the picture. I had been consumed in the happy haze of reunion road, but when the fog lifted I found my husband’s heart had traveled away, down a dark path – one that perhaps led to the comfort and attention of another? I did not know where he had gone.

After witnessing the court house visit, I rushed home the next day, all 150 miles from my little Fourth of July forced solo-vacation, through our front door, into to our empty bedroom. Surely he had been at the court house doing something in regard to his child support decree with his first wife, but then I saw it, his wedding ring burning a hole atop his dresser. Backing out of the bedroom I turned to find a poisonous buffet of legalese spread across the kitchen table: D I V O R C E petition, a will I was written out of, and a passport application. Only a month before had we not been out looking to buy a new couch? Planning our wedding anniversary?

And I fell. I fell forty-two years back into that cold as stone cradle, the one with silent nurses and bribed doctors making rounds about me. The one where the man in the dark suit stood above and judged, ‘yes she can go’ – the man who made plans for me, pulled together the papers of my life, determined my fate, signed the deal and filed the papers that would mandate my destiny – again I have no voice? No say? No choice? Unheard? Signed, sealed, and delivered out alone into the world again. Who gives a shit about what you wanted … or thought or felt … the lawyers are in charge and off you go! This news of the divorce seared my soul, a branding iron upon this adoptee’s heart.

Not again! Why am I not good enough? Why am I being disposed of? Why do I have no say over this? Do my voice and feelings count for nothing. Nothing?

And again here I sat ‘on the spike of truth.’ Rejection and abandonment burst and spiraled like fireworks and I fell back into the cradle — a long child’s cry goodbye.

“I can’t get him to read the books,” she sighs, and I imagine her holding herself with her arms, hands at opposite elbows pulling herself in close, embracing her core, comforting that fearful child who longs to seek and fears repercussion. “Even in search I feel myself becoming more like me,” she says as a faint smile spreads across her teeth. I hope she continues her search, and I remind her she is the only one who can make that choice.

There are repercussions to searching, they tell you. Not in such stern words. They are constructed to sound kinder and more supportive, “You never know what you might find; Are you prepared to deal with rejection? What if you find they are dead or don’t want to meet you? Have you considered how your adoptive family might feel about this?” Well meaning, fear inspiring, to keep your expectations in check.

But there are other repercussions as well. I must not tell her, or should I, that as an adoptee finding her true self will by nature lead her away from her false self. It will make her ask for things she needs, wants, deserves — and can shatter who and what she thought/thinks she was/is/needs. Should I tell her this discovery can help you see even the small lies in the life you have weaved – the worn threads in the apron you wear as you dance about the kitchen being what everyone expects of you, the codependent chameleon role you so happily clung to your whole life.

That the man you love may not change with you or understand your needs.

“I could not get my husband to read the book’s either,” I say, and an icy dagger falls from my mouth and melts on the tension in the line, “he never understood me and now he is leaving.”

I rage in my head! If spouses and family would read the books they would know that we must go on this journey, that we are naturally less trustful of a world in which the most important people have left, that we must feel in control of our destiny, and that can equal even what kind of tea we drink or the movie we see.

If family and spouses would read the books perhaps they would understand that we love deeply, that we attach profoundly, that we fear abandonment like death; that what we love it seems can be taken by a thief in the night in a heartbeat — so we cling perhaps a tad too deep. Our loved one should know these things.

The books explain that we are faithful and dedicated, and we desire above all family and a sense of belonging. That when we fear abandonment or rejection we will crawl up into a ball until we are coaxed out and reassured again and again that we are worthy. But we will never leave, we commit deeply and devoutly.

I reassure her, “Reunions don’t necessarily destroy relationships but they shed light on what is already weak. They demand the best of you both.” It’s because most adoptees will start asking for what they need and then conflict ensues. Who is this new person? What do they need? “If the marriage has the strength to work through the conflict, if the spouse will read and go to adoption-related therapy, it can be a difficult but wonderful and bonding thing.”

I won’t tell her about the many adoption-reunion-touched marriages I am watching pulled at the seams, the spousal jealousy, the adoptive and birth families’ inability to relate and their insecurities, the  fraying of family ties with the constant weathering reunion brings.

I said I would have lost my marriage, rather than never find myself, that is true; but I will never say it was even slightly an easy thing to do, nor do I think I have yet to fully feel my self-worth, but I sense I am on the correct path. Even though it is a path I did not choose, I can see it is mine to walk now, and I have great hope for where it will lead.

I wish there was more study of, articles about, and support around divorce and adoptees. I look online and find many stories about how divorce of adoptive parents affects adopted children, but what about how adoptees cope with the rejection and abandonment, self-esteem and attachment issues that divorce brings up for us? How do we fight the feelings of being discarded, rejected, and abandoned once again?

I believe for those who are brave enough to find their answers on their adoption journey there is a healing and strength of self that will eventually carry us through. I wonder what it must be like to meet and marry once you know your truest self, your whole truth, your you-est you!

My first marriage in many ways constructed a place for my adoptee self to fit in. It promised that fantasy family, it offered the illusion of everlasting love and acceptance. But although I lost my adoptive mother to death during my marriage, my daughter to adulthood, and my husband and my role as step-mom to divorce, I have begun to attain a truer sense of belonging than I have ever experienced before; I am coming away with a stronger understanding of what family should mean and be and is.

My reunion gave me a more profound bond to my adoptive family, two new birth families and a deeper understanding and patience with who I see in the mirror.  But still, only eight months separated and not even divorced yet, I struggle daily with the pain of rejection, abandonment, isolation and self-worth — the slicing open of the adoptee’s wounds inherent in divorce.

I hope we see and read more about this topic in the future. Please share your experiences; I would love to hear them.

Note to Readers: I must apologize for the 8-month absence of my blog posts.  I did not want to blog while coping with the difficult emotions of divorce. I wrote today’s post about 4 months ago and have now decided to post it (with revisions). Today, the date of my actual birth, I am beginning my blog again. While I have always celebrated Jan. 5 as my birth day, I learned three years ago it is actually Dec. 22. Unlike Jan. 5 the day my birth certificate says I was born, and a day full of happy memories of birth days past, Dec. 22 for me is a bitter-sweet day. It is the day I left my natural families and joined a very special one – so it will always be a day deserving of my heart-felt recognition. I choose to honor it this year, as well as my profound personal growth in the last year, by resuming my blog.

About the Author

~ “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland I am this: Reunited Adoptee/Daughter, Inspired Writer/Author, Wanna Be Yogi/Techie, Advocating Adoption Reform/Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Walker, Hungry Organic/Optimist, Lover of Coffee/Wine/Cheese, that’s me.

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