Shadow adopted children.

I was struck by a post at Adoption Coach Blog [link]. The post discusses children who were not adopted, “shadow children”. I find the idea of adoptive parents mourning a child they do not adopt repulsive, quite frankly. But it made me think of the children that were passed over for me.

There was a baby girl from when my adoptive parents lived in Iran; she was named. The child’s mother died in childbirth, and the father was a desperate farmer who could not afford to raise the child alone. Some go-betweening took place, and my father agreed to take the girl. But then the girl’s father asked for money, and my father backed out. (Ironically, the formalized version of this exact same monetary transaction in Lebanon was okay.)

I also left behind twins in my orphanage; the nuns asked my mother to take them as well when she came to pick me up. She thought about it, but then realized she could not make the decision without my father’s okay. Unable to communicate with him in Iran, she decided not to take them.

I always wonder what happened to all of them. Anyone else haunted by such shadow children? Haunted by the vagaries of chance that our adoptions often entailed?

13 thoughts on “Shadow adopted children.

  1. Daniel, I read that post and was shocked and disappointed in how people are so selective in choosing children, aka matching. I have no memory of the little girl Cathy who was fostered by my adoptive parents – she and I shared a brief time together. There are no pictures of her, no sign she was even at our house as a foster child. Where she went is a mystery. All I was told, “She was not legally adoptable like you…” I still pray for her.

  2. Yes, though I was raised an only child, my adoptive parents asked me when I was a young child if I would like three older brothers. I said yes. Then waited. Nothing happened. They never joined our family. I never met them. And yes, I thought about them. They were in “6th, 7th, and 8th grade” my Mom said. A sibling group. They were never mentioned again. Where did they go? Where they okay? So, yeah, I think about why Mom asked me in the first place and didn’t say anymore after that. Funny, Dad never talked about adoption. Not one word. Mom hardly ever spoke about it, either. I certainly didn’t bring it up out of fear. Shadow children: good way to frame it.

  3. When I was 5 my parents considered adopting one of my two full siblings. This was a time when weekend trials were considered appropriate. I remember visiting a younger brother – his foster parents wouldn’t let him go. It turned out to be an abusive environment. I remember an older sister coming to our house but she had too much energy for my parents’ quiet lives. She was eventually placed in an abusive environment. I know both of my siblings now, and I believe it was a good thing they didn’t join my family. My parents wouldn’t have been able to handle two children and I had a pretty dysfunctional upbringing myself. All of us talk about “what if” a lot and there are no easy answers, no security. There is a lot of sadness. We all needed, and continue to need, one another in our lives. But its a difficult space to navigate – how do you make “you” and “me” “us”? And to what extent can that really exist?

  4. More for me are the possible homes – identities – that I might have had. I used to be called Charles Slade before I was adopted. I have the address (or some address) and a letter from the foster mom – who was also trying to adopt me. I’ve not been able to learn any more about the family, or my name, although I am hoping to find some information right now. Since my natural parents were called “Cabarrocas” and “Sato”, I know Charles Slade came from elsewhere. There are shadow identities caused by the vagaries of judicial decision making. Somehow I became “Diebel”.

    • A friend of mine in grade school talked about a foster home in which she and her brother lived. She had the name of Rose and then her name became Louise after her adoption. When we were kids, I didn’t think about it, but now I wonder if that was her name at birth. She didn’t say she lived with her parents, though. It was her point that she had a name and so did her brother, but that all changed when they became the adopted children in their new home. And the grown-ups wonder what the kids talk about in a huddle on the playground. Huddle=confiding in because no one else understands except another adoptee who also has a shadow self.

  5. interesting. and understood when the PAPs have met the child, fostered the child, been in country with the child.
    as for the loss when one is given a referral photo…well…that seems more of a stretch for me. because it is not final, only a picture. maybe the PAPs feel loss for that child, but at that point it is only an image of a child. an idea…albeit in hard copy.

    and that sort of thing is what is repulsive – because it is not about a particular child when it is just a picture of a child that has been
    assigned to you. in that case it is little more than an extension of the
    PAPs mourning their own dreams, their unresolved fertility issues, their adoption fantasy. it is again, the PAPs appropriating the loss that is adoption.

    the shadow of the ‘why me and why not some other child’…I don’t
    know. will have to put more thought into that, certainly I don’t have that experience as I was adopted straight from the hospital at 8 days old and those experiences are not mine…but it does sort of strike me that these shadow children are thought of as the ones who were not lucky enough to get adopted? that their lives were less secure because adoption did not happen for them? that seems like such an assumption.

    • Exactly. They’re not mourning the loss of that child, just the fantasy they’ve ascribed to that child. It’s ridiculous–and delusional.

      It’s like some pathetic woman referring to some guy she’s dated once as her husband. Or a first year med student referring to himself as a doctor. Join us here in Reality, won’t you, people?

      As regards your last paragraph, I was adopted domestically at only three months, so my experience was also quite different than those of most TRAs, but still, I’ve heard all my life about how lucky I was to be adopted. That I was saved from “languishing” in an orphanage. And that sort of thinking is ridiculous on SO MANY levels. Those who say that willfully set aside the fact that I was never in danger of such a fate and that it was my adopters who were lucky, since even then, it was a massive competition.

      I often answer very snidely that if I’d been truly “lucky,” I would have been sold to a cuddly couple with pool and a pony, instead of two hateful, abusive assholes with barely a pot to piss in. And while I’m being consciously provocative, the truth is that I do think about my shadow lives. I often wonder who I could have been. My shadow selves.

      Adoption is all about the shadows. Even under the best of circumstances, so much of it, TOO MUCH OF IT, lives in the shadows.

      • pool and a pony. LOL.

        This is perhaps how I kept it together in the face of adoption, crazy APs (alcoholic, emotionally abusive, multiple marriages)…I never think of who I could have been, I never believe that I was at risk of being aborted, because I believe that I am me, have and will always be me…that this me transcends nature and nurture. my fiction that kept me sane. If I worry about the shadows then I get into the game of what-ifs and, for me, that is of no help.

  6. Exactly: The AP appropriation of someone else’s loss after rejecting an already rejected child.

    I think I started thinking more about the twins especially because I am good friends now with an adoptee who was, we calculated, in the orphanage at the same time as I was. It’s strange, because she also works a graphic designer; we both grew up in NJ, so there’s a “similarity” from our acculturation. I’m convinced we are possibly blood siblings, above and behind the “brother/sister” relationship we have established for ourselves. DNA tests at some point….

    Mark, you bring up a good point as well. I’ve met adoptees with the same bogus last name, as ordained for us via a list at the orphanage. Searching for links….

  7. I was the last child the orphanage took in. Often have wondered how many others were turned away. The town in Colombia where I was born was very poor.

  8. My arents were due to adopt a boy before they got me, but apparently the bmom decided to give him to someone else instead.

    Have often wondered how/where he ended up.

  9. Like Catharine, I was adopted straight out of the gate, but my shadow self (shadow here in Jung’s sense) has always manifested itself as a missing twin. The worst thing about the twin would be that he turns out not to think “just like me” after all, &c. Maybe I blew up to 280 pounds, cuz I was trying to be two people at once.

    I have to say–and I’m not being a Devil’s Advocate by saying this–there is a serious and important disconnect between “mourning for the loss of a dream” and the specific, neurotic compulsion of cathecting that dream onto a child who might be adopted, a child who is overlooked for adoption, or (in the most obvious case) a mere picture of a child that one doesn’t get a chance (for whatever reason) to adopt.

    At the very least, when one feels the loss of a dream, however perverse, however misguided, the nevertheless reality is that it is experienced as a real loss. When it’s happened to me, a whole bunch of level-headed rationalism didn’t explain it away–an insight from a friend and then half a fifth of vodka did the trick. So I’m not going to be able to bring myself to be glad that someone suffers because their dream is denied or that they experience (are experiencing) the real and palpable reality of that lost dream. I’m going to hope I can be the friend with an insight and maybe a fifth of vodka, who can point out the compulsive chasing after the dream is making something literal that is actually an inner desire for something.

    Again and again I’ve seen in life how the “yearnings of our soul” (our spirit, our Self, whatever we want to call that place that is obviously not us, because it delivers to us images and desires and compulsions that throw our lives into chaos, or will if we follow them literally) turn our lives into chaos when we follow them literally. For those who are adopting for petty, dickish reasons–fuck ’em. But for those who experience the palpable loss of a dream, I’m not going to be unsympathetic, no matter how repulsive their grief is in a certain way. because my dreams might have been repulsive in a certain way to someone, and that is hypocritical, because we’ve all, I suspect, been in a similar boat. I’d rather help them try to understand that making their yearning (for a child) literal like they are (through adoption) is only going to be an awful destructive mistake, as it almost invariably is when one literalizes these kinds of yearnings.

  10. Just to clarify a bit, I can have empathy with someone mourning an intangible loss, of course, whether it is a dream, a hope, a wish, a desire. What I find repulsive is the equalization that would compare in such terms the tangible and intangible. Here I have a problem. It’s the same issue I have with the concepts of “paper pregnancy” “post-adoption depression”, and “grown in my heart”. Especially when we consider the luxury and privilege that allow for such reveries.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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