thoughts on The Primal Wound (part 1)

I finally got a copy of the “essential” book for adoptive triad members: The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. I’m only on chapter 2 and I’m already profoundly affected, not because any of the theories or conclusions drawn are new to me, but mostly because I know in my heart without certainty that it is true. My daughter experienced “the primal wound” at 5 weeks of age, perhaps even sooner after birth if her first mom wasn’t around much. This wound is not very evident right now, for her as an infant and toddler, but I know that someday we will be exploring it together, and then as she enters adolescence and into adulthood it will become hers and hers alone. It will steer her inner life, it is a part of her very being.

I know this because I have seen things from her that I knew, in that deep mother-intuition way of knowing, were coming from a place of loss and trauma. Like other adoptive mothers in the book who report that their child will say, “I want my mommy” and push their adoptive mothers away (at the ages of 2 and 3), I have witnessed my own daughter push me away, inexplicably, when normal hurts cause her to insist on comfort from me. She did this after a visit to her biological aunt. She was inconsolable, crying, and pushing me away whenever I attempted to touch her or offer comfort. It’s not because she didn’t want to be comforted. It’s because she was missing comfort from, and needing a connection with, her other mother. She rejected me on the playground in favor of a stranger who looked like her birth mom… not because she doesn’t love me or need me, but because being around someone so similar to her first mom made her need and miss her first mom, and therefore I could not comfort her. I just couldn’t.

Being an adoptive mom is hard in this way. I want to be the everything that a mom is to a child, but I can’t be. I am so much, yes. I am extremely important, I am her mother in a dozen essential ways, but I’ll never be everything she needs for a sense of well-being. That hurts. It hurts so much. I want her to be whole and healed and to have the magic touch, the power to soothe every ache. But I don’t. Instead, parenting my daughter requires me to equip her with the skills and resources to deal forevermore with the hurts that can’t be healed, the hole that can’t be filled.

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Categories: adoption, parenting

2 Comments »

  1. Do you think that losing Avalom equips you in a way to empathize with M’s loss? Just as she could not replace Avalon, you cannot replace her birth mom, and yet there is still a full and complete joy in your relationship with her, even though you have both experienced such profound grief. Will you ever talk to her about that connection? Or do you find the losses to be too different?

    • In some ways I feel it’s really different, because death is involuntary and the choices her first mom made were not. As an adult I can understand why Cindy failed to parent in so many ways, but even when M is grown and can understand intellectually, no one can ever truly understand why the mother who birthed them didn’t do everything they had to to make things right. My daughter did not fail me, she didn’t choose to die or choose not to fight to stay alive.

      So yes, I think initially a child desperately needed to bond with a primary caregiver and I desperately needed to bond with a child and be a “mother”, so we fit very well together and fulfilled each other’s immediate needs. I do think someday I’ll bring that up, or we’ll talk about it. But I will never do so without stressing to her that I understand the deep psychological wounds inflicted on her during her most crucial years of development… and yes, the loss of a child is a hurt that never heals, perhaps one of the largest. But I was a well-adjusted adult who could grieve and cope and somehow get myself through it. She was vulnerable in too many ways to count.

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