Afraid of Being Left Behind

Afraid of Being Left Behind

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

Afraid of Being Left Behind

By Melissa Miller

I was adopted on September 30th, 1981, when I was a little over three months old.   My parents, like many adoptive parents, tried for years to have a biological child, but it wasn’t meant to be.  I truly believe that it WAS meant for them to be MY parents.

Growing up, the fact that I was adopted was never a secret, but we didn’t really talk much about it, either.  It was just part of who I was.  I had blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.  But those were all physical traits – tangible, obvious.  Adoption was something different.  It wasn’t something I could see, or touch, but I felt it every day, just the same.

I have no doubt in my mind that I am where I am supposed to be, with my parents and my family.  They wanted a baby; I needed a family.  My birth parents were fifteen and nineteen, and luckily for me they both realized they couldn’t give me the kind of life I needed or deserved.

But (of course there’s a “but”!), no matter how wonderful my parents were, no matter how blessed my life was, I always felt…a little lonely.  Sad.  Alone.  Homesick.  Afraid of being left behind.  All of these feelings that didn’t make sense, I didn’t know where they were coming from.  I just knew that they were always there.  Sometimes they would stay buried, sometimes they would come bubbling up and take over and all I could do was ride them out.

For years I thought I was the only one who felt this way.  I didn’t know many other people who were adopted, and I didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.  I just thought I was weird.

Fast forward to 2010.  I was on and came across a story about a girl named Katie, who was teased for liking Star Wars.  It was a sad story that had a very happy ending.  It was by reading that story that I found Carrie’s blog, Portrait of an Adoption.  I started following her blog and read every post.  Since my mom and I have never really talked much about my adoption, it was very interesting for me to hear the perspective of an adoptive mother.

And then one day, I read her post entitled Separation Anxiety and the Adopted Child.  It literally took my breath away.  The loneliness, the vague unnamed fear…. it actually DID have a name, and other people felt it, too.  I may have cried, reading it.  It’s a definite possibility.  It was just so eye-opening.  Thirty years of feeling like a giant freak.  But maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t a freak after all!

Now, I will admit – I don’t know much about adoption and the psychology involved, other than my own personal experience.  I’m not an expert; I’ve just been there, been that.

Like I said, I have always, always hated being left out, or left behind.  Maybe not all of that has to do with being adopted.  But I would bet you all the money I have in the world that a lot of it does.

On a primal level, what kind of damage does being left, being abandoned, DO to a person?  Does it shape, color, define all relationships that person has for the rest of his or her life?

I have to say yes.

A lot of you will say (think), BUT! Your parents (my “adoptive” parents) wanted you so much! You weren’t abandoned; you weren’t tossed aside by the one person who is supposed to love you forever!

Well.  That’s mostly true.  My parents wanted a baby. They got me. And I’ll be the first one to say that all three of us were LUCKY.  I am so glad that I ended up where I did; where I am supposed to be.  My parents are wonderful people.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I started out as unwanted, a mistake.

I wasn’t supposed to happen.

And no matter how much love my parents bestowed on me, always in the back of my mind I know, I remember, I feel that I wasn’t ever wanted to begin with.

And every time someone leaves my life, that silent, primal part of me wonders if they’re ever coming back. I wonder what I did wrong. I wonder what’s wrong with me, why yet again I’m unwanted, and unneeded.

So if I’m a little (a lot) crazy…if I cling a little too tightly……if I love too much or if I’m too hard on myself…… I’m trying.  But, sometimes it’s a little harder for me than it might be for you.

By Melissa Miller


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    Melissa, thank you so much for sharing. Your story, along with the stories of other adoptees, have given me a kind of road map to help me navigate these very real issues as my son grows up. By telling your story you've helped mre people than you know, and that means you're VERY needed.

  • Dear Melissa, this insight is invaluable to me, as an adoptive mother of a 3 year old. I am amazed by your ability to introspect and understand.

    I am curious whether yours was an open adoption (doesn't sound like it, from your narrative). If not, have you had a chance to call/write/meet your birth parents? I wonder if being able to get their perspective and some answers would help alleviate some of the feelings of being abandoned, not wanted to begin with, left behind, etc. (I don't think it would get rid of these feelings completely, as you have so clearly explained).

    Of course, speaking for adopted children at large, I am sure there could be instances where contact with the birth family backfires and the children are left with even more of a sense of not belonging and feeling lost than they started out with.

  • Melissa, you share much of what a lot of adoptive children/adults feel. How can you feel any other way since in your mind, you were left behind at the moment of your birth. If you've been reading this column for awhile, then you know I am a birthmother ... I am the one who "left her child behind and moved on" ... only that's not how it happened and it's a rare thing if it ever happens that way.

    Here's what your birthmother and I have in common. We both loved someone and were young, inexperienced teenagers. We both made the choice to give life to our unborn children. We both listened to older and wiser people tell us that we were too young and inexperienced to be good mothers. We both were told another family would be better at being parents than we would be, due to our youth and inexperience. We both nurtured and cared for the child in our womb who would become the child of someone else. We both gave birth to someone we loved and wanted ... but couldn't keep. You were not abandoned, you were not unwanted and you were not a mistake. Believe me. You were meant to be born and your parents were meant to be your parents. You pay the price of thinking you weren't wanted and your birthmother pays the price that she's given away her first child ... it's the painful part of what is sold as a perfect solution. The parents who raised you needed and wanted you ... but they weren't the first people who did. You were not rejected ... YOU, as you, were not even really known yet.

    I hope you are able to do some research into the triad of adoption so you can discover even more about all three sides of the triad and the complex emotions that go with the process. It saddens me to read about your pain. You are not alone, as you know, and you don't have to feel this way all your life. Big hugs from a birthmother. Laurie

  • LaurieGayle, what a beautiful perspective and reaching out to Melissa from a "surrogate" birth mother! Along those lines, Melissa, one "gift" I can share with my adopted son is the knowledge that his birth mother wanted him, really wanted him. She was a drug addict who cleaned up her act when she found out she was pregnant with him, really took care of herself and him throughout her pregnancy, but unfortunately couldn't keep away from the drugs after he was born. So, my son was taken away from her and I cried tears of great sorrow on their last day together.

    LaurieGayle is right - it is rare that a birth parent simply "leaves their child behind and moves on...."

  • In reply to jiyer:

    This birth mom is crying because she misses her 'baby'. It's an open adoption, between family members, but at the end of the day she doesn't live with me, and as she profoundly hates talking on the phone, our contact is somewhat limited.

  • Thank you, jiyer, for your comment and for making sure your son knows he was loved enough for his birth mother to let go. It's a difficult concept.
    Our son was fortunate that his mother was a birth mother herself, so she really understood what it's like. She raised him to understand the love I had for him and the why of that love not being enough. Even with that, he had the feelings of not being loved enough, feelings that were soothed when we reunited. I am eternally thankful to his mother for how she raised him and the person he turned out to be.

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    Hi Ladies! Thank you so much for your comments. They really mean a lot to me.....Laurie, I didn't mean to imply that I though my birthparents just gave me up without a second thought. I think of them every year on my birthday and mentally tell them, "I'm OK, I turned out great, you made the right choice!" know, if telepathy really works.

    I was just writing about the dark side, the irrational feelings I get sometimes about the beginning of my life.

    I never for one minute thought it was easy for my birth parents. And if I ever meet them I fully intend to thank them. :)

    Love, Melissa

  • In reply to Melissa Miller:

    Melissa, I totally got that from your post, the fact that the feelings are irrational and simply there and define who you are in a lot of ways, whether you want them or not. That is why I think even if you meet your birth parents and they answer some of your questions, these feelings will not completely go away. Some things just can't be completely rationalized and "taken care of" that easily, I think.

    You know when my son was 2 and a half years old, my husband left for the first time to go out of town on a business trip. My son looked absolutely stricken when he asked me, "Mommy, why did Daddy leave us?" I had never seen my happy, bubbly, carefree son so sensitive, nor so melancholy, before - it was surprising to me. My telling him that Daddy was coming right back in a few days didn't help.

    That evening, when my husband called to say Hello to us, my son, who adores his Daddy above all else, refused to speak with him. He said, "Mommy, I don't want to talk to him - he left us." I sometimes wonder if his over-reaction has anything to do with his being adopted (and having lived in one foster home before coming to us). He is still too young to articulate that kind of emotion, but I wonder.....

  • Melissa, I think I understood what you were saying and I wanted the small child inside of you to hear the words I had to say. In my experience, knowing something intellectually and knowing something in your heart are often two different things. The mom in me was responding to the child in you, and the child in every adoptee, to say you were always loved. I'm pretty sure that telepathy works in some way. Just knowing you think of her and send her good thoughts is wonderful.

  • Melissa,
    Thank you for your story. As Merrin mentioned, this will help guide me as my daughter grows up. Your story provides discussion points as my daughter becomes age appropriate and for that I am grateful. I am truly thankful for all of the perspective you provided in your piece.

  • Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for your story, which makes SO MUCH sense to me. Though my family was very loving, I was terrified of being abandoned to the point where I'd sleep outside my parents bedroom door at night "just in case." I think my child mind believed that by sleeping there, or even in their room on the floor, I could prevent anyone from taking them.
    It wasn't until adulthood that I read about Separation Anxiety and Reactive Attachment. Learning about these issues was immensely helpful.
    I can still be anxious about abandonment, and have a deep-seated fear of "ending up alone" but truthfully? Pages like this are doing much to ease my fears.
    Try to remember that even though you came into this world unexpectedly, you came into it for MANY reasons, one of which was to be your parent's child. That makes you wanted.
    Also try to remember that at your birth you were not the fully formed, remarkable, beautiful, creative, resourceful, and amazing woman you are now. It wasn't "you" that was unwanted. It was the situation. This took a lot of processing for me, but I have come to understand that my being placed for adoption wasn't because my biological parents didn't want "me"; they simply weren't ready for the situation of being parents and did the very best thing they could for me.
    Also, without trying to get too heavy here, please remember that at the time of your birth (as opposed to mine) certain procedures were legal. How wonderful that your biological parents opted to give you life!! Such a beautiful choice.
    The world is a better place with you IN it.

  • In reply to CapeKat:

    I LOVE the point you make: it wasn't "you" that was unwanted; it was the situation. What a fabulous way of looking at it. I'm going to tell Katie that one day!!!

  • In reply to CapeKat:

    Kat, do you have a fan club? If yes, where do I sign up? :)

    I must say, though, I am in awe of all the inspiring writing from the gut that has come out of this "30 Stories" series. A real resource and treasure.

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    As a Single Adoptive Mom to a 6 year old little girl, I wonder if she has some of the same feelings you describe. We have an open conversation about adoption and how we came to be a family, but she doesn't put her feelings out there yet. Your post made something make a lot of sense to me though; She recently asked about her birth parents, (which I answer openly, up to the point she'll understand), and has recently been telling me "I love you", "you're my favorite person", a million times a day. I wonder if I added some insecurity to her when I answered her questions? I think I may have to rephase my answers a little bit in the future.

    All of the posts in this series have been so well written and thought provoking. And like Carrie, I love the point Kat makes: it wasn't "you" that was unwanted; it was the situation. I agree it's a fabulous way of looking at it. I'm definitely going to "steal" it and tell it to my Lillian one day. Thank you.

  • Melissa, my heart breaks for you! You do not know me so I have no idea how you will react to this, but it comes from my heart so I must say it: you ARE wanted! You were NEVER a mistake. You have always been a part of the plan, and I'm so sorry that your part was not like everyone else's and that makes you feel different or lesser in some way. We are all children of God - including you - you are a beautiful, unique person who was always meant to be right here and now. I have 2 biological children (the first named Melissa), and the second has made many poor choices that have helped me to see it is not this life that really matters. I hope you can find some solace in these words. You are loved, wanted, and planned. Your heavenly father loves you even more than your earthly parents! I am sorry for your pain and hope you realize many, many people respect you for managing what you have been through, even if we have not experienced it ourselves.

  • Beautiful stories all. I wish my mother had stayed. When I was 3, my mother abandoned me and my two sisters to run off with another man.

    My sisters and I have never been able to forgive her.

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    I really enjoyed this because it is exactly how I feel. No matter how loved you may be you still always come back to the feeling that you were never wanted. I have always felt this way. thanks for sharing!

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