There is a large body of psychoanalytic literature dealing with the particular difficulties adopted children have negotiating the developmental dilemmas of childhood. My profession's interest in the problems of adopted children is natural. Freud once remarked that the first question every child has is "where do I come from?"
It is a question that mankind has spent untold amounts of mental energy and financial resources attempting to answer. The answers range from the Religious to the Biological to the Cosmological; all offer powerful ways to understand our world and all leave unanswered questions (though there are those who insist all questions have already been answered.)
For an adopted child, the question raises vexing problems. On the one hand, there is the inescapable difficulty of coming to terms with their birth mother giving them up for adoption. It is inherent in the child's experience of being adopted to feel some level of rejection. When dealing with the usual developmental trials and tribulations and the usual inter-generational conflicts that all children must negotiate, the adopted child has more than the usual fodder for fantasies about how his life would be different (better? worse?) with their "real" parents. The lucky child raised by loving parents is able to resolve his ambivalence, in part, by recognizing that his adoptive parents are (psychologically and in every meaningful way) his real parents and that they chose him; if he can also accept that his mother gave him up out of love rather than our of rejection (hate) he has the best possible outcome for a difficult psychological task.
In the Boston Globe yesterday there is a story which, if only obliquely, deals with a child who is facing a uniquely disastrous array of psychological choices. [HT: Sigmund, Carl and Alfred]
March 7, 2007
BOSTON --A Boston woman who gave birth after a failed abortion has filed a lawsuit against two doctors and Planned Parenthood seeking the costs of raising her child.
The complaint was filed by Jennifer R_____, 45, last week in Suffolk Superior Court and still must be screened by a special panel before it can proceed to trial.
R____ claimed in the three-page medical malpractice suit that she found out she was pregnant in March 2004 and decided to have an abortion for financial reasons.
Last week I wrote about the unrecognized and unreported impact of our too cavalier approach to abortion on some of the individuals directly involved, and on our culture.
Susan, in Part IV, recognized during a six year analysis that an abortion she had during her teens had a long term impact on her that she was only able to become aware of, and acknowledge, with a great deal of effort. She also discovered that her mother had had an abortion when Susan was a young child and the reverberations of that abortion had a profound impact on her. The experience of losing a sibling to an abortion of choice is a deeply unsettling experience. It raises questions in the survivor's mind, such as, why was I born and not my sister?
Our culture has stressed that these kinds of questions are not to be thought of, let alone discussed, and a major point of my posts was to suggest that the discussion that was short-circuited so many years ago by Roe v Wade, needed to be fully engaged for the health of our culture and for the mental health of those most affected by abortion.
In the Boston Globe article, it is only in the penultimate paragraph that the child at issue is even mentioned:
R_____'s suit has no mentions of medical problems involving her now 2-year-old daughter.
Perhaps I am more sensitive to these issues than this reporter, but all I could do upon reading this was imagine the struggles this poor young girl is due for. She will inevitably know that her mother didn't want her, that her life was weighed against the cost to her mother's life style and found wanting. In fact, her mother did not even love her enough to decide to tolerate the discomfort of a pregnancy and then give her to someone who might have desperately wanted her enough to adopt her.
I completely understand that this can be seen, at its most charitable (to the mother) as a clear eyed attempt to secure her and her child's financial future. Raising a child costs a small fortune and many people decide to limit the size of their family for financial reasons, but children tend to be more concrete about such things and children are much more than financial decisions. Explaining to a child that you are suing your doctor because he didn't kill you is a difficult sell to a child. I fear this child will be scarred by the situation. If a mother faced with such a difficult situation were able to give any priority to the welfare of the child, such an unwanted child could easily be given up to people who wanted her. This child will likely be wondering just such things as she grows up and it is likely to impact on her in multiple, unforeseeable ways.
I have treated many people who have had to confront feelings of being an unwanted child, an imposition and intrusion on their parent's life. Often enough there has emerged evidence that their parent(s) did harbor significant ambivalence toward them. (While most parents do have some ambivalence toward the newborns who will fundamentally alter their life, usually this is of modest proportions and off-set by a surfeit of love; parents do not have to be perfect, just "good enough.") The recognition and resolution of such feelings is difficult and painful. It is hard to imagine the pain for a child who is forced to confront, in the starkest terms possible, that she was unwanted.