The Second Rejection

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Your phone call takes too long to be returned. Your letter goes unanswered for an unnerving number of weeks. You concoct exaggerated scenes inside your overtime mind, clamoring to make sense of it all, to somehow feel sense of it all.

Ah, reunion.

Now that we as a movement have gotten past the reunion-as-panacea stage, we are beginning to address the very complex issues imbedded in the process, the relationship, the roller coaster experience that attends reunion. And the big old elephant sitting squarely in the middle of this room, the one almost everyone sees--or rather feels, trampling their already-bruised toes--but hates to mention for fear of making it real, is named Rejection. But whether we name it or not, it's very real.

For many adoptees, it's experienced as The Second Rejection. My friend Amy's birthmother, upon being found, said that she needed time to adjust. She told Amy to call her in six months, and upon doing so Amy found that she had moved to Germany. Amy has channeled her renewed feelings of abandonment into her own healing, thereby transforming what might have been an immobilizing turn of events, but she still knows frustratingly little about what's at the heart of her birthmother's rejection.

Dr. Randolph Severson explains that behind many kinds of reunion rejection lies a sort of grieving for the might-have-been. And people respond to that grief in different ways.

"I think there is a stage that some people go through where they feel rejected, really, by life. That all these things that could have been, or, along a different kind of life trajectory, would have occurred, simply aren't going to be--too much of life has already been lived. And people withdraw. The anxiety is just too great, the disappointment is too great."

This kind of withdrawal can happen on the part of the adoptee as well. "What a lot of adoptees seem to go through is a stage where they realize that the birthmother or birthparents are really not going to be able to answer to their wish when their fundamental wish is 'I wish none of this had ever happened to me.' "

Dr. Severson says that an underlying desire of many adoptees--subconscious, irrational, and understandable--is that through reunion they will somehow become un-adopted, become like everyone else.

"The second rejection sort of occurs when folks realize that this just simply can't happen. And sometimes it creates a little bit of a distance that the birthparent then complains about, too. It's like an almost impersonal rejection that occurs as a result of finding that the reunion simply can't erase, eliminate or undo everything that's gone before. The wounds still exist."

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