Discussions of adoption often center on hope, joy, and building families. Though these things are a part of adoption, not all aspects of adoption are celebratory or positive experiences. For birth parents, adoptees, and even adoptive parents, there can be a level of trauma. For many adoptees in particular, this is something that isn’t discussed publicly and isn’t a part of the conversation of adoption at large we see in the media.
Through social media and other outlets more and more adoptees and birth parents have begun sharing their stories and perspectives. They speak at adoption conferences, write books, and have helped to pivot the narrative around adoption and who it affects and how. Thanks to these brave voices, we have grown to understand the unique experiences that adoptees and birth parents face.
Adoption, Trauma, and Adoptees
Though National Adoption Awareness month is to help foster children find homes and to share the nuances of adoption publicly, the less recognized Adoptee Remembrance Day takes place on October 30th annually to raise awareness about things like crimes against adoptees, to mourn and honor the lives of adoptees, and to share more information about adoptee suicide. According to medscape, “adopted offspring were nearly four times more likely to attempt suicide than non adopted offspring.”
Trauma is something people don’t always understand when it comes to adoptees. As an adoptive parent myself, I get asked often how my daughter can have any trauma when she was adopted from infancy. However, trauma is experienced immediately from birth for many adoptees.
In her article, “Relinquishment Trauma: The Forgotten Trauma,” Marid Dolfi explains that “the newborn child may become easily frightened and overwhelmed when the caretaker is not their first mother. The greater discrepancies between the adoptee’s prenatal and early life (sound of the mother’s heartbeat, language, sounds, facial features, smells, the personal gait of walking, level of activity) the greater stress on the child. When a child is not with their first mother day after day, the newborn frequently becomes anxious and confused causing the infant’s body to release stress hormones. Even newborns that are placed with the adoptive parent within days of their birth can feel traumatized.”
Though this is something that is not talked about often, more instances of trauma can be caused as an adoptee develops with difficulty in forming attachments, not feeling like they belong in their family or elsewhere, and in wanting to have a connection with their birth family that they are missing out on. Transracial adoptees can face further trauma from racial isolation and lack of exposure to their own race and culture and might struggle to fit in. Reading stories and hearing real lived experiences from adoptees can help understand this more. This article is eye opening to the life of a transracial adoptee.
Birth Parents and Trauma
Like adoptees, birth parents also struggle due to the trauma from creating an adoption plan for their child.
Childbirth alone can be traumatic depending on the situation. Up to 75 percent of parents will feel an emotional shift after childbirth and 15% will experience a more serious postpartum depression.
According to Psychiatric Times, “suicide attempts during pregnancy and after childbirth are increasing, nearly tripling over the past decade. Nearly 24,000 individuals are at risk for suicide. Suicide is already amonth the leading causes of deaths among new mothers, and pregnancy/post-delivery are considered risky times for depressive symptoms.” Imagine how difficult these feelings of depression and grief would be felt on top of postpartum effects if you had also made an adoption plan for your child?
Lindsay Arielle, a guest blogger for Considering Adoption, shares her own stories about being a birth mother. She notes that this trauma can even cause PTSD.
Finding Support for Those Affected by Adoption Related Trauma
Many adoptees and birth parents alike seek therapy and counseling to talk about their experiences and work with a professional to seek healing and understanding. Some adoption agencies provide counseling to birth parents and adoptees, so if you did work with an agency or a social worker, reach out to them first for support.
Birth parents may want to seek additional counseling as well and this site shares resources for that as well as ways to cover those expenses.
Many also find healing by talking with others who have had similar experiences to their own. The American Adoption Congress shares support groups in each state.
Regardless of your own experiences or our view of adoption, we all see and experience things through different lenses, so be sure to listen to the stories of others to provide support, compassion, understanding, and to help when you can.