For adoptees, path to healing begins with rejecting secrecy
Abby Jacobson

For adoptees, path to healing begins with rejecting secrecy

A local consultant helps adoptees to ‘learn to tell their stories’ in a quest to understand their identity

BRATTLEBORO — Abby Jacobson wants other adoptees to have what she never did. That's why she has started her consulting practice to offer adoptees a safe and supportive place to explore questions of identity.

“My vision is to offer guidance to other adoptees, ages 16-plus, in order to prevent continued issues of low self-esteem, low self-worth, and an overall sense of loss of connection with others,” she said.

Jacobson worked for over 20 years as a licensed substance abuse clinician and psychotherapist. A diagnosis three years ago of cancer, now in remission, caused her to rethink what she wanted to do.

“I have started my business because, as a result of my own experiences as a foster child and then adoptee, I want to provide an opportunity for other adoptees to learn to tell their stories and to recognize how their unique perspectives help to form their identities,” she said.

Her mission is to “support adoptees during our work together to help them define what their identity means to them,” she said.

“I do not diagnose or advise or provide therapy. I do listen and am fully present in each session in order to help adoptees form their vision of themselves as an adoptee. I will provide referrals as needed.”

After years of secrecy, Jacobson is now very open about telling her own story, saying, “It's time to stop holding secrets. I know the damage that can do on so many levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual.”

She said she has no memory of living with either of her biological parents, who divorced when she was 1 year old. As others have told her, she lived intermittently with her mother.

The interruptions were the result of her mother's repeatedly receiving inpatient care for substance abuse and mental health issues. Her father was nowhere in the picture.

“At age 7, I was sent to a boarding school, where I was the youngest student,” Jacobson said. “Following that academic year, I was notified I would be moving in with a woman, another inpatient whom my mother had befriended during one of her hospitalizations. This woman became my unofficial foster mother.

“To my knowledge, I was never part of the foster care system. I learned quickly who was family and who wasn't. I was required to refer to this woman and her husband as my aunt and uncle, and to my foster siblings as my cousins. I was with that family until I was 12.”

When Jacobson turned 11, she learned her mother had given birth to a baby boy.

“It was at this point that social services became involved,” she said. “I was assigned a social worker who accompanied me on supervised visits to see my mother and half-brother, once a month for an hour each time.”

Social services told Jacobson's mother that if she did not willingly relinquish custody of both children, the state would mandate the decision.

As a result of this possibility, Jacobson asked her mother for her brother's birth certificate and his baby pictures.

“She gave them to me without any questions,” Jacobson said. “I already knew then that I would find my brother again some day, when he would be able to decide for himself as to whether or not he wanted to meet me.”

By the time Jacobson turned 14, her mother finally relinquished custody of both her children. Jacobson was adopted by her maternal grandmother, an intra-family adoption. Her brother was adopted outside the family.

Jacobson held onto her brother's birth certificate and baby photos for 15 years, through many moves and changes in circumstances. When she was 29, she located her brother, “and he's been in my life ever since,” she said, “now going on 33 years.”

“My grandmother's adopting me wasn't turbulent or tumultuous,” Jacobson said, “but it was a secret. The sense of identity and belonging wasn't there. I didn't have it for the longest time.”

“I'm catering to adoptees because I know this group,” she said, adding that the generations of adoptees in her family also include her maternal great-grandmother, mother, and her brother.

“I hope I can help others in the process of claiming their identity, a process that is especially difficult in transracial or international adoptions,” Jacobson said.

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