Adoption Trauma in Adoptees

When I gave my son up for adoption I was led to believe that he would have no feelings of abandonment.  I was led to believe that he would be “as if” born to his new parents.  It was my understanding that it would be best to sign the relinquishment papers as soon as possible (here in Connecticut you can not sign until 48 hours after the birth).  I wanted him to bond immediately with his parents so that he would not feel abandoned by me.  I thought that “trying to parent” him would be detrimental to his mental health.  I did not want him to go to cradle care because I wanted him to feel safe with his new parents.  I was led to believe that if I did not sign at the 48 hour mark, there was no guarantee that he could be adopted by anyone and he might be forced to live in foster care.  I assumed that he would have no emotional attachment to me, his mother.  It turns out, I may have been very wrong.

The Separation of Adoptee and Mother Can Be Traumatic

Karl Stenske has written a thought provoking article at Adoptive Voices Magazine, entitled, “Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know?”  Here is a little about the author:

Karl Stenske shares a rich and compelling story as an adoptee. Being one of the many who had a great adopted family, he never thought being adopted had a big effect on his life. But at 37, Karl began to unravel the true impact adoption did have on his life and the lives of those who loved, and tried to love him. A sought after speaker and educator, Karl offers insights into the wounds created when any child is separated from his birth mother. In The Hidden Life of an Adopted Child: Understanding the Impact of Adoption, Karl explores the traumatic experience suffered by that separation and its influence on self-esteem, value, worth, and identity.

His article describes how adoption is not only a trauma to the birth mother, but also to the adoptee.  We have no way of knowing this because a baby has no language.  He can’t tell us what he is feeling except by crying or lack of crying.  It stands to reason that if a baby knows their biological mother through smell or their voice that if they are taken away from their mother they would mourn.  It must be traumatic, being taken away from everything you have ever known.

Stenske also goes on to explain that many adoptees carry this trauma with them throughout their lives.  Sometimes without ever realizing that their fear of abandonment, depression, relationship issues, low self-esteem, etc. could stem from the original trauma of being given up for adoption.  It is troubling to learn that the incidence of attempted suicide is higher in the adoptee population than in the general population (7.6% vs. 3.1%) as reported by a 2001 study*.

Adoptee Trauma Must Be Part of the Conversation

It concerns me greatly to hear Stenske’s point of view.  Concerns me because as a naive 21 year old who was told my child would have a better life I was not told about the potential for a negative impact on my son.  The entire premise of giving my son up for adoption was based on the notion that he would have the best life possible, much better than what he would have with me.  If that wasn’t the truth, than I would never have considered it.

Information on the life long negative impact of adoption trauma to adoptees must be presented to expecting mothers considering adoption.  A person considering adoption must be made aware of all the facts of adoption, not just the sunshiney picture of it most agencies and adoption counselors like to present.

*Slap G., Goodman E., Huang B. (2001). Adoption as a risk factor for attempted suicide in adolescence. Pediatrics Aug,108(2)E30.

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2 comments

  1. zygotepariah

    “The entire premise of giving my son up for adoption was based on the notion that he would have the best life possible, much better than what he would have with me.”

    I’ve often wondered . . . do adoption workers have crystal balls? Perhaps have to take a “Seeing the Future 101” course? How can anyone possibly say that something will be better than another *at that particular point in time*?

    My a-parents divorced when I was eight. I saw my a-father every second weekend — maybe — if his scheduled allowed it. My a-mother found work and was not home when I got home from school. I was a latchkey key being raised by a single (adoptive) mother. Yet as long as it all looks so good on paper at the time of the adoption, huh? Also, apparently I could live illegitimately, but not be born illegitimately. What?

    And I find it despicable the things first mothers were told. I was adopted at the end of the BSE in 1971. My 18-year-old mother wanted to keep me. I know. I’ve met her. She refused to sign the consent forms for four months. She didn’t see me during this time — I was in foster care while she went to high school — but she kept hoping her parents would change their minds.

    When she finally visited me at four months, she told me the workers told her she better hurry up and sign the papers because I was getting to be too old, and that since adoptive parents wanted newborns, no one would want me.

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