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"On Deaths and Endings: Psychoanalysts' Reflections on Finality,
Transformations and New Beginnings"

Edited by Brent Willock , Lori C. Bohm and Rebecca C. Curtis

Published by Routledge Ltd., Taylor & Francis Group: London

 

CHAPTER 11

SOMETIMES A FATAL QUEST... LOSSES IN ADOPTION

DAVID KIRSCHNER

  The quintessential adoptee, to quote an adoptee friend of mine, author/ psychologist Betty Jean Lifton (1988), was Oedipus. Had Freud been an adoptee, he would have known that the pivotal issues in Oedipus' complex were abandonment and loss, a need to reconnect with genetic roots and buried, dissociated adoptee rage. Oedipus' search for his past evolved into a fatal quest, in large part, because he was not told the facts of his birth that Laius, not Polybus, was his biologic father and Jocasta his birth mother. He had voyaged to Delphi to seek the truth from the Oracle, but was rewarded only with a cryptic message, that if he returned to his own land he would kill his father and marry his mother. The fact that he had been adopted by Polybus after being abandoned by Laius was kept from him, as the truth of their birth is often kept from most adoptees. The consequence was parricide and incest. We are left to consider the possibility that on a deeply unconscious level, Oedipus knew exactly what he was doing when he killed his father and took his mother to the marital bed: he was both taking revenge for having been abandoned as an infant and reconnecting with his genetic past.

  Abandonment and loss are core issues in adoption. Loss of the birth mother is a primal wound, says adoptive mother/author Nancy Verrier (1993), likely no less profound than loss of significant relationships through death, separation or divorce. In adoption, however, there is also a loss of origins, loss of identity and loss of a completed sense of self. All members of the adoption triad experience profound loss. Birth parents lose their children, adoptive parents lose their dream of a child they wanted to conceive, and adoptees lose their birth families. Unlike other situations of traumatic loss, the adoptee's need to grieve is too often not validated by society, or understood by the adoptive family.

  Speaking of adoption loss, Jean Paton, the grandmother of adoption reform (Paton, 1968) wrote me, when she was age 82:

I believe that there are two traumas in the average adoption life history. One relates to the rejections one has received in the search. The other

 

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