adoptee · Birthmother · Educational · trauma · Uncategorized

Why Say Adoption is Trauma?

Miriam James

What is the point of acknowledging that adoption is trauma? Is it to say adoption is therefore bad and should not exist?
No, it’s more constructive than that.

What is meant is actually that relinquishment and abandonment are trauma. Separation is trauma. We get confused when we talk about “adoption” because what we probably have in mind is the taking in of the child. Many versions of the idea that a child adopted at birth will experience no differences than a child raised by its biological parents have been perpetuated through the years and circles and so the point of asserting that there is a trauma even in infant adoption tells us several things:

1. We cannot help someone if we don’t know what’s wrong. Some balk at the idea that they should treat an adopted child differently because they think you’re saying you should love them differently. Really what is meant is that just like if you were parenting a child who was experiencing PTSD, you’ll need to discipline and love them with that in mind. Their needs and sensitivities may be exaggerated and the only way you can meet those is by understanding the problem. So in this way, saying ‘adoption is trauma‘ is not to “bash” adoption, but to equip adoptive and prospective adoptive parents to help their children.

2. If trauma is inherent in relinquishment, we need to consider that option carefully. The trauma of abandonment may outweigh the damage that would be done in an abusive or toxic home, and that would be a case in which we would want to take the lesser of two evils (in terms of effects of trauma, not parenting; I’m not calling adoptive parents a lesser of two evils, rather what happens before the adoptive parents even enter the picture). I think we can generally agree on that, though the line might be confusing. My concern is the many, many, women who are being encouraged to, or are wanting to, choose adoption because of the inconvenience, scariness, or unexpectedness of pregnancy and parenting. College students, young women, single moms, etc. I think we need to be careful about championing the “giving the child more opportunities and a better life” when there is no real need for adoption. We begin to border on classist ideals when think that way. And because expectant moms aren’t told of the inherent trauma or the possible ways in which that might manifest, rather are only considering the ways in which an adoptive family would be better, she’s not making an informed decision and we’re unintentionally encouraging unnecessary trauma on a child. So, if we respect the trauma and have a family-first perspective, then we will exhaust every option and encourage keeping the mother and child unit intact first, even if we’re prospective adoptive parents being matched. First and foremost our responsibility is to try to keep the family together. Many times, apparently contrary to popular belief, expectant moms are choosing adoption out of love and fear and inadequacy. They’re not choosing adoption because it’s too late to get an abortion, many don’t even consider abortion but rather are torn between the desire to parent and the sense of their inability to do so. It’s clear many of us forget this demographic because our conversations run on the assumption that expectant moms “are graciously giving up their children since they don’t want them and they bravely chose life rather than death“. So to us the “trauma” of adoption is worth it since this child has no other options. But is that even true? We can all agree that sometimes adoption is necessary – and you know the extremes – but we can’t assume that if we’re matched with an expectant mom that she’s truly seeking adoption out of necessity. Less than ideal circumstances does not equal necessity.Sometimes women need the support and encouragement to realize that it really will be okay, their life really won’t be ruined, their child won’t have an awful childhood just because they won’t necessarily have material or financial abundance. That the negatives of their circumstance does not outweigh the trauma of separation.

3. Stating that adoption is trauma is not to pathologize the adoptee or suggest that all adoptees are angry and preoccupied with their state of being adopted all day every day for all their life. Disrupted attachment or unattachment instead permanently affect how our brain works, how our limbic system develops and interprets the world. This can be debilitating and have devastating consequences, or it can be as “mild” as ADHD (with which 90% of adoptees are diagnosed) or codependency or over-acheiving. And that’s assuming they’re adopted into a stable family -which isn’t actually a guarantee, something an adoptee once referred to as the “double whammy”). Anyway, trauma doesn’t mean that they are perpetually depressed or “crazy” or should be pitied…or that their adoptive parents should be pitied. I think sometimes people turn to infant adoption to avoid those problems, but it doesn’t work that way. By acknowledging the needs of the child, and by taking a seat and learning from the past of closed and secretive adoption practices, we now know that even children adopted at birth *need* an atmosphere of openness in their home about adoption, about their birth family, about their cultures, about their feelings. And not just openness in the sense that you tell them they can always come to you with their feelings, but openness in the sense that you purposely start regular conversations or make regular comments acknowledging their truth and reality so that they can believe you when you say it’s not a taboo subject.

It’s not EITHER adoption is trauma OR adoption is good.
It is BOTH relinquishment is trauma AND adoption can be good.

When done ethically. Conscientiously. And honestly.


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