Relinquishment: Another Name for Betrayal

Imagine losing everything that you knew and needed to survive. Imagine losing smell, touch, sound, taste, and sensation that suggested to you that you are safe and loved and that nothing bad is going to happen. Then, suddenly, all of that is gone, replaced with different smells, different touch and taste and sensations that are unfamiliar and overwhelming. Imagine crying and feeling that your life is in danger, but the help that arrives has no clue how to rescue you. Their efforts only frustrate you more, and they only cause more stress. Imagine being taken from a place that feels warm, where the air has a certain quality you’re familiar with and going to a place that feels completely foreign and scary with the air that feels as if it could suffocate you instead of soothe you. Imagine never again hearing the voice that lulled you, that washed over you like goodness and helped you sleep.

Those things are impossible to imagine. It’s just as hard to imagine what a baby goes through when she’s relinquished by her biological parents. We are born into this world ready to receive all kinds of sensations – we are born with preference for our mother’s milk, we are born knowing the sound of her voices. Countless studies have shown that infants are quite aware of their surroundings, that they feel pain, distress, happiness just like any other person. Sure, no infant is able to name and identify those feelings, but every infant knows when there’s something wrong—that’s why babies cry, trying to get the world’s attention so that their needs are met.

Being taken away from your biological parents is trauma. There’s no doubt about it, and the idea that babies have no memory and therefore cannot really be affected by adoption is ludicrous. The memory lives in the body. It lives in all those losses that a baby experiences when she goes through relinquishment, and it lives on until it is recognized and properly addressed. Even the best adjusted relinquishee will have some form of trauma that will often result in coping mechanisms that are self-harming, such as addiction or failed relationships.

What happens to a child given up for adoption is the worst sort of betrayal. The guarantee of safety and love is snatched away in an instant and the world becomes a place that can’t be trusted. How could you possibly trust it when at your most vulnerable you were removed from the one person who was supposed to protect you and help you survive?

Photo by Mário Kravčák on Unsplash

It took me years to understand the complexity of my relinquishment. Early on in life, I’d felt misplaced and ashamed, but I didn’t know why I had those feelings, and I kept them hidden inside, practically choking on my emotions. I didn’t know why I felt as if I never belonged, why I couldn’t trust friends, or why I felt so desperately lonely even when surrounded by people who loved me. I didn’t know that what I was living was a result of having been given up for adoption as a newborn. Luckily for me, my adopted family loved and accepted me, and I had a great childhood, but it was years before I understood that what happened to me in infancy was the reason why I also struggled in life, why I sought solace in substances, and why I was at conflict with myself. It took me years to regain my identity and rebuild myself. Today, I understand feel compassion for what happened to me as a baby even though I cannot possibly imagine what that felt like, now.

 

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