Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Alternate Self

Adoptees who go in search are not sure just who or what they hope to find. They say they are looking for their medical background. They say they want to see their mother’s face. They say they want to know who they are. They say they want to know why they were given up.

They do not know that they are also looking for the alternate self they left behind –the ghost baby, who has not moved or grown in all those years. The baby who was born, but stayed with its mother, while they went forth in the world to be adopted. This baby will be waiting for them when they return to their original mother. They are and are not this baby.

“Mommy!” they’ll cry when they hear her familiar voice.
“Baby!” the mother will cry.
They know each other, this mother and baby, even if the adult adoptee and the older mother are like strangers to each other. .

This is the magical moment for adoptees to pick up where they left off. A second chance. They can take the name they once had. If the mother didn’t give them a first name, they can take her maiden name. They can go on from there to the alternate life with her – the life that might have been -- as if they have never been separated.

But they have been separated. The alternate self can be at odds with the adopted self, as each attempts to be the dominant one. During this struggle, adoptees can feel they have no self at all, each self having wiped the other out
And the alternate life can prove to be an illusion, as adoptees try to replace what is with what might have been.

Yet over time many adoptees succeed in the struggle, forging a new life together with the birth mother out of the traumatic shards of the past. The alternate self and the adopted self find some compromise and resolution in an integrated identity.

If adoptees are fortunate, their adoptive parents, who are like gate keepers with the power to block the way to the alternate life, let them pass through. Then past and present can merge, along with the ghost baby and the adult adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents.

A triumphal march together into the uncharted future.


  1. As someone struggling with rejection a second time around, your words provide a helpful framework in making sense of what I had, what I have, what I have lost, and what I hoped to find. My aparents have risen to the crisis and are providing support I never dared hope for. Being adopted is definitely a challenging, ongoing psychological process.

    I don't regret my search, though. Knowledge is both power and pain, and I accept that.

  2. "They say they want to see their mother’s face. They say they want to know who they are. They say they want to know why they were given up. "

    This was the reason I went.

  3. Or not, never able to view my adopters as gatekeepers which continues to give them the power.