Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Adoption Reunion: Ecstasy or Agony?

This is the third of Evelyn Robinson’s books on adoption loss, and for many, may be the most valuable. Her stated attempt in this book is to provide a ready reference on adoption loss and recovery for those who do not wish to explore the subject in more depth, or who might be less inclined to read a more substantial or a more narrative book. She has accomplished that purpose.
The book is divided into three sections:
  • Adoption Loss and Grief
    • In this section, Robinson situates the grief caused by family separation in the context of grief reactions in general. She shows the similarities of this loss to other losses and provides some quick, short reference notes from other authors to substantiate what she says. She deals first with the loss of mothers, and then with that of those who were adopted. There is a succinct sub-section on the disenfranchised grief which adoption loss creates. FAQs in this section are those of mothers.
  • Personal Recovery
    • Personal recovery is defined as addressing the effects of adoption separation on individuals. She describes re-grief therapy and why it may help those suffering from adoption loss. The FAQs which follow this section are those often asked by those who were adopted.
  • Interpersonal Recovery
    • Interpersonal recovery addresses the long-term impacts on relationships between family members who have been separated by adoption. In this section, she describes the four tasks in mourning the loss that has occurred:
      • to accept the reality of the loss
      • to work through the pain of the grief
      • to adjust to the changed environment
      • to move on with life
    • She addresses the reasons that grief arises at reunion, and describes how it may manifest, including some of the complicated grief reactions that may arise. She also addresses reunion outcomes and why some mothers and people adopted may decline a reunion. Questions addressed in this section include those of adoptive parents and family members.
Each section of the book defines the topic in two sub-sections, provides some hopeful methods in a third and then in the forth sub-section, lists some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and Answers. For many people these questions and answers will form a ready set of notes for how to respond when the questions come up. We’re not all able to think quickly on our feet. I was personally impressed with the neutrality of her responses to what are often some offensive questions.

Robinson is able to re-frame many a question’s underlying bias to a more helpful way of looking at the situation. For example, when asked about the trauma that surfaces upon reunion, Robinson reminds us that the reunion did not cause the trauma; adoption separation causes trauma, and though it may have been repressed for decades, the surfacing of the trauma’s effects is the sign of unresolved grieving finally being recognized.

Both because of its succinct summary of main lines of research and its clear compassion, this is an excellent first resource for those contemplating or dealing with a reunion. It will form a valuable resource for those who deal with mothers and people adopted in reunion. I would recommend this as a foundational book about adoption in anyone’s library.

Reviewer: Sandra Falconer Pace
Christies Beach, South Australia: Clova Publications, 2009
Available from: www.clovapublications.com
ISBN: 78-0-646-51697-4


Anonymous said...

What is "re-grief therapy"? Sounds fishy.

AdoptAuthor said...

Excerpt from Adoption Reunion: Ecstasy or Agony? © Evelyn Robinson, 2009

Re-grief therapy and adoption

The process of re-grief therapy involves reworking, at a later time, a loss which had not been satisfactorily resolved. It has two goals; to understand why mourning was not completed in the past (operating on an intellectual level) and to help those affected to experience their grieving emotions in the present (operating on an emotional level). During the course of re-grief therapy people’s ‘frozen emotions are stimulated and reawakened’. As with regular grief therapy, the outcome of re-grief therapy is an increase in self-esteem and a decrease in guilt, as well as an increase in positive feelings about the lost person (Raphael, 1983, pp385-6).
I have chosen to apply re-grief therapy to reworking an adoption loss. In the case of adoption loss, I believe that, in order to understand the reasons why the mourning was not completed, it is important to understand first of all how and why the loss occurred. An informed exploration of the circumstances leading to the separation often results in the griever having more positive feelings about their adoption experience.
Exploring these issues can be instrumental in bringing the pain and grief to the surface and it can then be experienced. Pain is not necessarily a negative outcome and preventing people from experiencing pain is not always in their best interests. Pain is not always avoidable and it is sometimes necessary in order to produce something new. Childbirth, for example, is rarely accomplished without pain.
When people can understand the basis of their pain, they are in a better position to manage it. Patients would not feel confidence in a doctor, for example, who wrote a prescription for pain relief medication rather than first of all seeking the cause of the pain. Pain is a message that there is an area that needs attention. Experiencing the pain created by adoption separation can, in fact, be a way of creating a renewed sense of self.
Anger is a common response to a loss and frequently occurs with regard to adoption loss. Many people are angry that an adoption took place, but this does not necessarily mean that they are angry with any particular person. Re-grief therapy may cause suppressed anger to come to the surface. Anger can be destructive if it results in vindictiveness and cruel accusations. Anger can, however, be a productive and helpful emotion when it is understood and managed. It may be appropriate to talk to those involved in the adoption about one’s anger so that there is openness and honesty in those relationships. Telling someone about your anger is very different from expressing your anger towards that person.
Because adoption separation is a profound experience and because the emotions attached to it have often been buried for many years, re-grief therapy can itself be an emotionally traumatic process. It is wise therefore, to prepare oneself for such an undertaking and to remember that no matter how difficult it may seem, this process can lead to a personal recovery from the trauma of adoption separation. It takes courage to begin this process but the rewards can be great.

maryanne said...

Reading though this description of re-grief therapy, It is not really clear what actually is involved or how it works. It seems that some magical transformation is supposed to take place, but how this actually works has been left out.

I am deeply suspicious of prounouncements about the right way to grieve, or the notion that anything once long-past can really be redone...as in "re-birthing, re-parenting" etc. And now we have "re-grief".

Certainly there is much grief around surrender and adoption, and different people handle it different ways, at different times. What might be right for one may not be right for others. Some people experience deep grief at the time of surrender, others block it out and it comes out at reunion. Some grieve forever, some hardly grieve at all. Some are angry, some are not. Once again one size does not fit all.

I do not believe there is one prescription for grief, nor do I think that all need to go back into the depths of grief artificially in order to deal with the loss and sadness in their lives. I'm sorry, but this sounds like another simple and pat answer to a complex and personal dilema.

AdoptAuthor said...

Can you go forward - in a meaningful healthy way - without going back? If so, good for you! I haven't seen much evidence of it, but ...

I can tell you this: My youngest child is in in-patient treatment, once again, as I write for the same ghosts that plagued - and eventually took the life of - her elder sister. Her therapist asked me if the death of her older sister was ever grieved in any way and I had to tell her NO IT WAS NOT!

I myself created a memorial and so did some "ritual" as is done for all "normal" loses in most every culture, though no tone family was there nor sent a condolence card...nor has to this very day ever said the words: "I'm sorry for your loss." My children never had any any opportunity to engage in any way in any assisted grieving - or feel the loving support of friends or family.

And even I, who did what I could - I went to work after my daughter died. I could not take bereavement leave because it was a daughter that was not listed as a dependent child, or a relative in any way. I sat at my desk crying and told NO ONE why.

I know that this is not normal or healthy! I know that it SUCKS BIGTIME and that it has crippled me and harmed my daughter in untold ways.

So...if REDOING it in any way shape or fashion would be of help and save my child you BETHCHA I'd try it!!

The only other thing I can suggest to all who have concerns - or "grave suspicions" - is to contact Evelyn Robinson via Clova Publications which can be googled.

Otherwise, as with anything else in life, there is obviously no one-size-fits-all cure-all. Those who feel inclined to try such a therapeutic approach, there it is: spelled out and AVAILABLE. Those opposed, need not apply! Simple as that. If you're happy and you know it (and you need no therapy) clap your hands, nod your head, stomp your feet and thank your lucky stars! me, I'm angry as all hell!

Obviously this - nor any other technique is not going to bring my daughter back from the grave or repair any of our adoption losses. But it just might save my other child from falling down the same rabbit hole....and to accomplish that I'd try ANYTHING.

maryanne said...

I am sorry to hear that your daughter is in the hospital again and hope she recovers and is well soon.

Evelyn said...

I didn't invent re-grief therapy. It is commonly used in bereavement counselling. I believe I am the first person to apply it to adoption loss. I've been living with the loss of my son to adoption for almost forty years and have been involved with post-adoption work for twenty years. I know that re-grief therapy is useful to a lot of people - it helped me enormously. Of course, it's only one possibility, which is clear from my books.

Evelyn Robinson; author/counsellor/educator

AdoptAuthor said...

Thank you for your kind wishes...

maryanne said...


My son is 41, we are now in a tentative email relationship, and I do not feel grief any more about him because I know he is alive, well, has a good life with his wife, and is a great guy. I am grateful to have any relationship with him, and hopeful it will become more someday. Even if it does not, grief is for the dead, not the living. I grieve for my parents and others I have lost to death, not my son who is fine. I was extremely grief-stricken when I surrendered, and for many years when he did not speak to me, but that is gone now, because he is not gone nor beyond reach any more.

AdoptAuthor said...

MaryAnne -

I'd have to say that goes under the heading: If it aint broke, ya don't need to fix it!

For many mothers and adoptees, reunion does not undo the years of loss or the anger...

For others their moods ebb and flow depending on how their reunion is going - or not going - at any particular moment.

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget