Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Startling Realization - Spouse Abuse?

The Challenge

I wasn't prepared to lead a support group for mothers of loss to adoption (commonly referred to as 'birth mothers' in the media) when I attended this American Adoption Congress conference. But the scheduled leader had been unable to attend the conference and I was asked to pitch hit for her.

The public speaking aspect didn't ruffle me, but I quickly realized I had to find a way of addressing the concerns of women in all stages of post-loss grief. In addition, there would be 'old timers' in attendance, who surely had heard and discussed it all before. But there would also be 'newbies' who were counting on taking something valuable away from this gathering, and I owed them something.

Was there a topic or theme that could give this particular group of attendees something they perhaps hadn't received from the rest of the conference? From the keynote speeches, the workshops, the printed materials in the book room? From the valuable interaction with one another?

The thought occurred to me that this might be a good time to explore a theory I'd formed over the years as I'd observed all stages of adoption search, reunion, and post-reunion. The goal would be to neither prove nor disprove my theory, but merely to start a vigorous discussion.

The Question

There was a good turnout for the support group meeting, and just as I'd expected, participants represented both long-time conference attendees and first-timers. I looked out over the faces in that room and wondered how the question I planned to pose would be received. Well, I plunged in.....here goes!

"I have a question for all of you. And don't feel obligated to participate. Raise your hand only if you feel comfortable doing so.

"How many of you have experienced what you'd consider some kind of abuse - physical, emotional, or sexual - from your mate?"

I had anticipated a small number of hands would go up. And I surely wasn't going to put anyone on the spot by questioning her about it. If someone did care to speak, she'd be given the opportunity, but it would have to be voluntary.

The Stunning Response

I could scarcely believe my eyes! There in front of me, a sea of hands shot up, as though they'd been waiting all day for the opportunity.

The discussion that followed revealed a tendency for many mothers to endure, or perhaps downplay, some form of abuse out of deep feelings of personal unworthiness. To some extent, they felt they deserved the treatment they received because of their internalized guilt and shame. Not on a conscious level, surely, but buried in the psyche where it can be sensed and exploited by others.

Perhaps, then, I postulated, this might account for the marriage break-ups that occasionally followed mother-adoptee reunions. Not that the reunion itself was a stressor or the actual cause of the marriage breakup. But that in reunion, the long-denied mother-child reconnection shed an almost holy light on her long-ago birthing experience, replacing the dark shadows of guilt and shame that had occupied that space. New-found self-confidence, fueled by elevated self-worth, no longer tolerated condescending or downright abusive treatment, and she felt emboldened to step out and away from it.

A lively discussion continued for the allotted time, with much agreement on my postulation. And although there is yet neither statistical nor academic-study validation of this theory, on that day and in that room at the AAC conference, participants felt free to explore and discuss their own feelings and situations after having raised their hands in response to my question.

I'll always wonder whether any of them experienced it as their own personal Liberation Day.

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