When Adoptions Fail

Joyce Maynard with the two Ethiopian daughters,
ages 6 and 11, she adopted in 2010. 

Famous moms like Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Charlize Theron make adoption look easy. In as many as a quarter of adoptions of teens, and a significant number of younger child adoptions, the parents ultimately decide they don’t want to keep the child. But what happens, and who’s to blame, when an adoption doesn’t work?

Writer Joyce Maynard revealed on her blog that that she’d given up her two daughters, adopted from Ethiopia in 2010 at the ages of 6 and 11, because she was “not able to give them what they needed.”

Other cases have been more outrageous, like the Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old adopted son on a plane bound for Russia in 2010 when things went south. Recently she was ordered by a judge to pay $150,000 in child support.

In the adoption world, failed adoptions are called “disruptions.” But while a disruption may seem stone-hearted from the outside, these final anguished acts are complex, soul-crushing for all concerned and perhaps more common than you’d think.

On her blog, Maynard wrote that giving up her two adoptive daughters was “the hardest thing I ever lived through” but goes on to say it was absolutely the right decision for her – and the children. Yes, she has been severely judged by some people. She says, however, that “I have also received well over a hundred letters of a very different sort from other adoptive parents – those who have disrupted and those who did not, but struggle greatly. The main thing those letters tell me is that many, many adoptive parents (and children) struggle in ways we seldom hear about.”

Statistics on disruption vary. A 2010 study of US adoptions found that between 6 percent and 11 percent of all adoptions are disrupted before they are finalized. For children older than 3, disruption rates range between 10 percent to 16 percent; for teens, it may be as high as 24 percent, or one in four adoptions. Adoptions can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to become final – and that window is when most disruptions occur, experts say. While some families do choose to end an adoption after that, those cases are rarer (ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent, according to the study).

Disruption rarely occurs with infants. It occurs more often (anywhere from 5% to 20%) with the older children. That is because the complexities of parenting a child who already has life experiences and certain behaviors is more complicated. When a child is rejected and traumatized early in their development, it changes the way they function and respond to people. Older children – especially ones who have been neglected, rejected and abused will often distance themselves from other people and develop a hard-shell.

According to the study, the older the child is at the time of adoption, the more likely the adoption will fail. Children with special needs also face greater risk of disruption, particularly those who demonstrate emotional difficulties and sexual acting out. Certain types of parents are more likely to end up giving up adopted children. These include younger adoptive parents, inexperienced parents, and parents who both work outside the home. Wealthier parents and more educated mothers are also more likely to disrupt an adoption. There is less tolerance, if someone’s more educated or they make more money,

What happens when a parent decides to give up an adopted child?

If a child has been adopted legally, then it’s like giving up a birth child. The parents who adopted the child have to find a home for the child or some other resources. That could be the adoption agency or the state (who would most likely put the child in foster care). If the parents decide to end the process before the child has been legally adopted, the child would then likely go into foster care. International adoptions follow the same rules, except the adoption agency usually notifies the country that the adoption has failed, however, returning the child to their country of origin is never an option.

If an adoption fails before the parents become the formal, legal parents of the child, the courts usually aren’t involved. If the adoption has been finalized, however, then the parents must go to court. A dissolution – sometimes referred to as an annulment – takes place after a child is formally adopted by a set of parents. The law treats these situations very seriously. States vary on their handling of these situations. Generally speaking, a parent will petition the court where they adopted the child asking to un-adopt them.

Disruption is never easy for the child. It takes an extreme toll and can cause lifelong issues of distrust, depression, anxiety, extreme control issues and very rigid behavior. They don’t trust anyone; they have very low self-esteem. They’ll push away teachers and friends and potential parents and if you put them in another placement and they have to reattach again and then if they lose that placement, with each disruption gets tougher and tougher.

If you are a hopeful adoptive parent – be careful what you wish for. Some adoptive parents believe are will be able to help a child and sometimes, to some adoptive parents, this means changing the child. They believe that if they just love the child enough . . . Truth is, it takes so much more than love. It may be harder to handle than you ever thought possible in your fantasy dreams.

Inspired and borrowed from Today’s – It Takes More Than Love.

Surrogacy Controversy

I know of more than one family who used a surrogate to build their family. Because I do believe in the mother/child bond beginning and developed during pregnancy, I do have concerns about separating this infant after birth from their mother. With changing perspectives on LGBTQ rights, some an now arguing that having a female mother is not really important. Certainly, there are cases of maternal abuse where a child may have been better off without that mother. I won’t argue that specific point.

So without getting into those hot button issues, I wanted to know about any reasons that surrogacy might be considered controversial.

I go into this at a website that could be biased – American Surrogacy. With that awareness, I still read their perspective.

As my graphic illustrates, there is more than one type of surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is the most common type of surrogacy today, in which the surrogate has no genetic relationship to the baby she carries. The other type is Traditional surrogacy which is considered rare in modern times. In this type, the surrogate’s own egg is fertilized using sperm from an intended father or donor via IVF or intrauterine insemination in a lab.

Surrogacy can also be categorized by the financial arrangements made between the intended parents and surrogate. This is known as Compensated surrogacy in which the surrogate is compensated for her time, energy, sacrifice and participation in the surrogacy process. Something similar happens in Egg Donation where the egg donor is compensated for similar reasons. In Altruistic surrogacy the surrogate is not paid a base compensation beyond reimbursement of her medical and legal expenses.

There is no shortage of people ready to point out reasons why surrogacy is “bad” or “wrong.” However, when examining the arguments against surrogacy, it’s important to keep in mind the various types of surrogacy; not all of these arguments will apply to every type of surrogacy completed today.

One argument is that a woman is “selling” something intimate as a physical service. As explicitly noted in my graphic – many critics of surrogacy argue that intended parents who “use” surrogates are interested only in their reproductive ability. The practice is seen as womb renting, especially when the woman carrying the pregnancy is in a financially disadvantageous position to the intended parents. This is also an argument used against egg donation. Some argue against it for religious reasons – Many religions emphasize the importance of a husband and wife conceiving naturally on their own. For this reason, any kind of assisted reproduction is sometimes viewed as going against religious beliefs.

Regarding the compensation argument – it is noted that – a significant commitment of time and personal care is required of a surrogate.  There are protections in place to ensure vulnerable women are not forced into surrogacy in the United States. If a surrogacy professional is enlisted, these do require a woman to be able to support their own self and if relevant, their family, without state assistance before being allowed to be a surrogate. Surrogacy professionals work closely with intended parents and surrogates to ensure the rights and interests of both are protected and any legal risks have been eliminated.

Given my own personal perspectives on bonding in utero – this site caught my attention too.

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women. The intended parents may not feel the degree of control with a surrogate carrying their baby. Surrogacy can also bring unexpected challenges for the surrogate mothers. The female body experiences numerous changes when pregnant, both physical and mental, thanks or no thanks to the hormones that bring about the miracle of life. So, like any mother, surrogate moms bond with a child in their wombs often experience emotional pain when detached from that child after birth—even if they knew and intended all along to give up the child to the intended parents. 

Surrogate moms face increased pregnancy risks if they are carrying multiple embryos, which is often the case in order to ensure success. Multiple births come with an increased risk of Caesarian sections and longer hospital stays.

A report conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry received some buzz after suggesting surrogate children face increased emotional risks. Researchers found that children who were not gestationally carried by the mother who ended up raising them faced increased psychological adjustment difficulties including depression. As I have personally suspected, similar to babies whenever, whyever, they are separated from the mother who gestated them.

Preventing Adoptee Suicides

I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.

Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.

You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.

There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.

Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.

If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.

So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.

4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”

One adoptee describes their own experience this way –

“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”

Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.

Another adoptee notes –

“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”

It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.

If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.

My Unorthodox Life

This program is being discussed in my all things adoption group this morning. It is said that “The whole storyline was so upsetting. The adoptive family is awful.” And also this, “One of the characters is looking for his “birth person” and is scared to hurt his adoptive mom by calling her his birth mother. Adoptive mom says stuff like “I thought I’d be dead when you start looking” or “Can’t you ask your private investigator to ask questions to her rather than make contact?”. So much insecurity, jealousy and emotional blackmail.

One adoptee notes – My adoptive mom did the exact same thing . As if it’s about HER “trauma“ (which honestly is self inflicted).

And there is this about the show – The adoptive mom also got pregnant shortly after adopting, and begs him to not change his name, even though she falsified his birth certificate! She’s like “I want you to stay happy,” when he is obviously depressed, tormented, hasn’t dated anyone in years, etc. The biological son (his brother by adoption) is calling him an idiot for doing it because “we have the best parents in the world” and “you’re the one who started this problem.” Then hangs up the phone on him. They are doing all they can to sabotage any reunion. His poor birth mom. He doesn’t even pick up on the fact she wanted to keep him.

I haven’t see this one but last night we suffered through A Serious Man – written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. All we could figure out by the end of the movie was that it was the Coen’s revenge on their Jewish upbringing. I kept thinking – if I was Jewish, it might make sense. There is no adoption thread in that movie.

In my mom’s group, there are more than the usual number of Jewish people. So, I have been exposed to some of their experience. The one that stands out large for me is the mom who had famously large breasts and then developed breast cancer. She had boy/girl twins the same age as my youngest son. Though she had a great attitude going into the experience, she died rather quickly. I was somewhat impressed by the way her Jewish community was there for the whole family throughout that ordeal.

My paternal grandmother died of a heart attack the day she was to be released from the hospital following breast cancer surgery. She was originally from Long Island NY and my understanding is that there are a lot of Jewish people there. I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew. I suspect I may have gotten that from her. Another mom in my mom’s group lives in the town on Long Island with the same name as the surname of my paternal grandmother – Hempstead. The family goes way back with historically significant sites in New London, Connecticut (a diary covering a period of 47 years from Sept 1711 to November 1758 by an ancestor, Joshua Hempstead, is still in print).

Heal Yourself First

Couples need to heal from their infertility and come to grips with not being able to conceive a child before inflicting themselves on a traumatized adoptee. Much of what you will read in today’s blog comes from an adoptee writing on this issue – The Importance of Fully Grieving Infertility. I have chosen what I share here selectively and have added my own thoughts as well. You can read the original blog at the link.

Receiving a diagnosis of infertility is a devastating loss. It’s natural to feel angry, sad, disappointed or a combination of a bunch of different feelings. You may want to start the process of becoming a parent through other means as soon as possible, in an effort to fill that aching, empty space in your heart.

Please don’t start the process of adopting a child until you have fully grieved your infertility, let go of your initial dream of having a biological child, and are truly ready to adopt.

Why? Because, when you pursue adoption, your infertility journey will affect more than just you.

Adoption is not a solution for infertility. Pretending it is — without doing the hard, personal work — will just set you and your future adopted child up for failure.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again from your infertility counselors and adoption professionals. But I think you should hear it from an adoptee — someone who will be forever changed if you are unable to move forward from your losses.

As an adoptee, I’ve watched infertility take its toll on my parents, friends and family members. Even just having seen the effects secondhand, it’s clear that this is often a diagnosis that causes lasting emotional and psychological damage.

About 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. That’s a lot of people walking around with a lot of pain in their hearts.

This is a loss, and as such, you may experience the stages of grief. As hard as it is to believe, this is actually a good thing, because it means you are processing your loss and are on the road to the final stage: acceptance. And only once you feel acceptance should you start considering adoption.

If you don’t resolve your experience with infertility, it could cause serious mental, emotional and physical harm to yourself and to those around you. You may start to resent your partner, your emotions might develop into depression, you risk not feeling able to find happiness because of the lingering hopes and dreams of “maybe we’ll still get pregnant,” and all of that stress can take a toll on your physical health.

Unresolved issues can affect all of your relationships — the relationship with your partner, with yourself, with your friends (who all seem to easily have children) and eventually, upon your adopted child. Moving forward into adoption under these circumstances may feel like you are “settling” for your “second-choice” way to build your family, and that’s not fair to the child you may adopt.

I don’t write this blog to promote adoption (I think it is all around a harmful choice). So I can hope that adoption isn’t your own answer for building your family. I do know that you staying stuck in grief isn’t good for you or the ones you love either. You may ultimately decide to live child-free. What is important here is seeking a good quality of life by working through your feelings and letting the unproductive perspectives go. 

Adopting a child does not fix anything. There is no replacement for your original dream of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. When you’re an adoptee, viewing the world’s preoccupation with having biological children is hard. It’s probably hard for couples who discover they are infertile. That is one of the reasons it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you will never have a biological child. It is unfair and unrealistic to believe any infertile, potential adoptive set of parents will no longer experience grief over not having biological children after they adopt. One of the reasons I don’t believe adoptions are actually a good thing. Honestly (and adoption is ALL over my own birth family – both of my parents were adopted and each of my sisters gave up children to adoption – I wouldn’t exist but for my parents’ adoptions and even so . . . my perspective has changed over the last several years, obviously).

Epigenetics At Work

Adoption does not just negatively affect the adoptee emotionally. Adoption affects their children … for life! You know, the hopeful adoptive parent’s and adoptive parent’s future grandchildren! It has nothing to do with how great an adoptive parent you are to that child. Separation trauma is imprinted in our brains and that experience changes our DNA.

So if that trauma from being separated from your mother, then later in life resulted in you having anxiety, bouts of depression, anger issues or any other mental health challenge, rest assured you likely passed these traits onto your kids.

Adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents: This is NOT ok. It is NOT ok to screw up future generations, just because you want to build your family but can’t you can’t conceive naturally, are infertile. That is some serious selfish crap.

Your choices affect not only your adopted kids, but their children – your grandchildren, even your great grandchildren. These issues are not coming from their biological genetic family – as so many adoptive parents prefer to project the causes onto other people. They are coming directly from the act of adoption. You, the adoptive parents, contributed to this in a very big way. You bear responsibility.

Sit with that.

Rant aside – here’s an example –

My grandfather was “adopted” but I put it in quotation marks because he didn’t know that he was adopted until after his adoptive parents passed and my father was a young adult. Our family does *not* talk about it. But my brother and cousin and I all have a difficult time with believing in relationship permanence. We constantly expect relationships to just pull a 180 on us, despite not being able to point to any particular extreme example of this in our own lives. Alternatively, my grandmother and uncles grew up in a group home. She later went on to teach there. When I think of my “heritage” that’s usually the first place that comes to mind. Those were the people at my family reunions who could tell me what my grandmother and great uncles were like and if I was like them. There’s no one to do that for my grandad because his entire community and a family betrayed him. When people ask me about the origins of my last name, I don’t know what to say because “I don’t know, they were some random awful people that found my grandfather and then lied to him for his whole life” is not the answer people are wanting to hear.

Another person had this comment –

Adoption trauma snakes its way through both the biological families and the adoptive families! ADDRESSING this truth is minimized and rarely talked about – except in adoption loss circles! I’ve been in reunion for 18 years – lived adoption loss for 50 years! I know what I am describing!!!!!The loss of a newborn baby to an agency, which then hands the baby to complete strangers is heinous! Heinous! The families affected by the loss of myself as a newborn babe are broken. Words to process the loss are hard to find. Generational affects are serious – tragic.

A more graphic description – I feel the darkness of adoption loss, coercion and money exchange for a newborn babe creates a ”creepy crawly rash of the mind” inside any person involved in the failure to protect the sanctity of the mother/child primal bond. To deal with that ugly rash – to hide it – to pretend it’s not there – to fully look at and accept what the loss of a child’s mother means to satisfy the need to feel normal (gotta have a babeeeee) would take more courage than most people can muster. Falling on the floor courage – the darkness is heavy. The rash can not be seen. The truth cannot surface. To witness the fall to the floor? Can’t unsee it – ever! Life changing. Instead….pretending adoption is just grand – best – needed – soothes that itchy rash but cannot heal the source of it.

Another story – my parent was adopted in a step-parent adoption (yet raised by biological mom), and their adoptive parent did absolutely everything to keep the other biological parent and half-siblings connected… and before this was a societal discussion. It could certainly be described as the closest to “ideal” an adoption can get. Although, there was literal abandonment on several occasions by my biological grandfather — who was adopted in a closed infant adoption. (My parent was their first child, and first biological connection.) By the time I was born, I grew up with biological and adoptive grandparents in equal measure. I just had two sets of grandparents. But I always felt something was off. I always felt “different” from my cousins (from my parent’s half-siblings), like something was wrong, but everything was fine….? It’s hard to describe even now. Learning about the effects has allowed me to understand my parent’s experience so much better and see parts of them more clearly than I did before. I showed me the ways that adoption trauma had snaked through my family and impacted my life and nervous system even though I had no first hand experience with it. And I can see the impacts even down to my daughter (who is 3 generations removed from the original trauma).The impact of generational trauma should not be underestimated!

Surprising Pandemic Effect

Domestic Infant Adoption and Foster 2 Adopt websites are full of complaints about a shortage of newborn infants put up for adoption this year.

Why might that be?

Simple to explain considering the governments willingness to actually financially support struggling citizens thanks to a pandemic. Extended unemployment that can be claimed by parents without daycare. Extra Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT), small stimulus checks, the availability of food banks and free school breakfast/ lunch meals delivered and extended to homes with school age children and the stopping of evictions….

A truly ‘small amount’ of help can make all the difference to a mom in an overwhelming situation….

Most domestic infant adoptions are poverty driven. Single mom’s and two parent families facing joblessness, homelessness, poverty, lack of daycare, depression and helplessness will sometimes give up a child that they would otherwise LOVE to parent.

Many of these struggling families, with just a fraction of the ‘Go Fund Me’ money that hopeful adoptive parents frequently raise to fund their adoption expenses …. would be enough to allow these mom’s or parents to continue to parent their own natural children.

Clearly society can do better than we have been doing in the past. We’ve proven it. Now as a society, we need to prove we can continue to do as much to help families succeed. It is in the interest of stable citizens raised well that we should.

If You Can’t Do This, Why Can You Do This ?

It is well known that simply being adopted is a risk for mental illness impacts like depression, anxiety and suicide. What is less often discussed is whether or not people with a history of mental illness should adopt. Adoptees deserve the best possible care and that means anyone who has had a history of mental health illnesses shouldn’t be adopting. You can’t own a gun, if you suffer from mental health illnesses. You can’t work certain jobs. Your restricted from other things. So WHY should you be allowed to raise someone else’s children ?

Understandably, many adults with a history of psychiatric illness prefer to adopt rather than have biological children. They may have concerns about psychiatric destabilization during pregnancy or that they may pass some genetic factor onto their unborn child. Certainly, if they are currently under medication, there is a concern about the impact of that pharmaceutical on the unborn child.

Child adoption laws vary from state to state. Although some licensed adoption agencies sympathize with potential adoptive parents with a history of mental illness, the law usually considers the following factors:
• the potential adopter’s emotional ties to the child
• their parenting skills
• emotional needs of the child
• the potential adopter’s desire to maintain continuity of the child’s care
• permanence of the family unit of the proposed home
• the physical, moral, and mental fitness of the potential parent.

Interestingly, an adoptee put forth this perspective – my adopted mother has always been open about her struggles with mental health (and the therapy and meds she uses to manage them) which in turn made *me* feel safe in coming to her with my struggles and she supported me as I sought therapy and medication as well. Mental illness isn’t some character flaw, it’s no one’s fault, and it shouldn’t be an excluding factor in and of itself. Plenty of biological parents have these issues as well. As long as a person is taking care of their mental health, whether it’s therapy or medications, and isn’t dangerous to themselves or others, it’s no one’s business and it isn’t relevant.

And this one offers an even broader perspective –  I’m an adoptee, and an adoptive parent. I’m also a therapist. I also have a managed anxiety disorder. I think asking people to have their mental illness well managed is one thing — and requiring psychiatric approval (from their therapist or whomever is overseeing their care), and there’s certainly diagnosis’ that should be precluded (likely anything progressive or personality wise). But most people could fit in to a mental health diagnosis at one point or another in their life. How people manage that mental illness and cope with it is the bigger picture.

One woman wrote – I do not think mental health illness = abuse but I do think abuse= mental health illness. I think you must be mentally ill, if you are abusing children.

One woman admitted –  I had no idea how my depression would be exacerbated by raising a family — and a adoptive one at that. Rather than restrictions, I think that there should be a medical screening process to ensure health (was this part of it? I don’t recall). Let a doctor decide limitations if need be. And I believe that there should be a foster parent mental health class that really discusses what it takes, the triggers, pitfalls etc. My own mental health was the thing I was the least prepared for. That said, I am receiving LOTS of support as are my children. We are ok and sometimes thriving, despite world events. But it took a while for us to get here. And I’m divorcing as part of this, because my soon to be-ex wasn’t mentally healthy enough to do this. It’s a lot.

And there was this from personal experience – My adoptive mom had a medicine cabinet full for all her needs. Depression, anxiety, sleep, ADHD, a few for physical like thyroid and I’m not sure what else but know it was about a dozen pills a day. My adoptive mom should’ve never been allowed to adopt me. She’s a batshit crazy narcissist. She needed all of us kids to have meds too – so I was flying high being treated for ADHD despite not needing it. She was a nurse who worked for our family doctor, so getting us diagnosed with anything was quite simple. To clarify I don’t think her being a shit parent was due to her possibly having depression or anxiety, honestly I’m not sure she even had those types of issues but she had something that made her think she needed meds for everything and that we did too. She should’ve never been able to adopt me.

In disputing that abusing is a sign of mental illness, one commenter add this – Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues, researched this very topic some years ago. “I found that about half of abusers appeared to have no mental disorders. The other half had various mental disorders, including but not limited to psychopathy, narcissism, PTSD, depression and bipolar disorder.” However, she adds, “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness.” While there is certainly an overlap, it is not always a guarantee, and it’s dangerous to make that assumption.

Another one pointed out – not all mental health diagnosis’ are created equal and many are managed well with medications. Also many people have mental illness and have not been diagnosed. Would people be forced to get a psychological evaluation ? And often among couples one partner has no diagnosis’ and so, a child can still be parented well.

One adoptive parent wrote – I absolutely agree with the idea that hopeful adoptive parents should be held to higher standards. I’m not sure how that would play out with mental illness but I do think hopeful adoptive parents with mental illness should have clear treatment plans and a consistent history of following through with their treatment plans. They should also be able to demonstrate the length of time they have been in stable mental health.

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

There is a Chinese proverb that states that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name. The term ”adoption” does not do this but rather disguises a series of complex, developmental traumas that begin with relinquishment and continues on, sometimes through challenging episodes of care, to the adaptions necessary to attach to the adoptive family. The legacy of this trauma for the relinquished child is a conflict between wanting to connect and fearing connection. This is often experienced as a hyper vigilance that has an enormous impact on relationships and functioning which can disrupt the ability to be present, with feelings that one is both “too much” and “not enough”.

It is hard to imagine a more devastating wound than a child being separated from its mother at the beginning of life. Trauma is an event that overwhelms ordinary human responses to life and as early separation is a relational trauma it manifests later in life as problems in significant relationships and, more often than not, in attempts at self-regulation through chemical and process addictions.

The impact of trauma on functioning is both physical and psychological: heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline raise anxiety levels leading to difficulties with concentration, while lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, making feelings of shame harder to manage. The trauma victim becomes reactive rather than reflective and experiences disabling feelings around issues of belonging and abandonment. A hunger for attachment means that the capacity for intimacy is compromised by intense and contradictory feelings of need and fear. In relationships there is a belief that they cannot be accepted for who they are and the sufferer is left literally in two minds; at best indecisive and at worst questioning their sanity.

Unlike the computer, the human brain starts working before building is finished. There are 100 billion neurons at birth waiting to make connections based on instructions from life experience. In the first years of life explicit memory systems have yet to be established and the adoption wound is stored, like other early attachment wounds, in implicit memory systems. The unconscious remembers the relinquishment as devastating and makes a mental note to avoid any similar experience at all costs. The conscious mind cannot recall the experience and so has no defense against the old lie that what cannot be recalled cannot have impact. Furthermore, because adoptees have no pre-trauma personality that they can refer to, they develop a false, core belief that their post-traumatic coping behavior, along with the associated shame and anxiety, is in fact their personality.

It is important to understand too that politics and the establishment play, and have played, an enormous part in the psychological wounds of relinquishment and adoption. Traditionally the world of adoption has referred to “the adoption triad” comprising the adopted child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents. However, this term is also misleading and disguises the fourth party in the adoption quartet: The establishment and the adoption business.

The establishment has legislated the assigning of a new identity and the erasing of the birth identity so that it is often not legally recognized. It is as if the adoptive family owns the adopted child. This is a particular issue for trans racial adoptees many of whom, as well as experiencing disconnect between racial self-identification and the racialization of the receiving country, would struggle to obtain a passport from their, or their birth parents, country of birth. Needless to say this has associations with the historic relationships between colonizer and the colonized.

The business of adoption and the industry that facilitates relinquishment and placement comprises state organizations and religious organizations as well as “kidnappers” and “baby finders”. The impact of some of these practices is being revealed.

It is clear that many adoptees have been struggling with a sophisticated, developmental trauma that has been hidden from them and those around them. In many cases it involves a series of traumatic experiences involving attachment changes that are experienced as life threatening. This trauma is hidden from consciousness both by the brain that remembers but cannot recall the events, but also by society that views adoptees as “chosen” and “fortunate”. If mental health is dependent on a commitment to reality, then it is vital that we call these traumas by their proper name. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that change and recovery begin with acknowledgement and continue with the taking of personal responsibility for solutions. Victims don’t recover but those who dare to take uncomfortable, therapeutic actions certainly can.

Inspired by a blog written by Paul Sunderland titled “Relinquishment and Adoption: Understanding the Impact of an Early Psychological Wound”.

Schizophrenic Identity

Lately, I’ve been reading a book with the title Healing the Split by John Nelson MD. The subtitle is “Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill”. It is a topic of interest to me. I’ve not read very far into the book and it is a lot of pages but it seems worth the time. I give it approx an hour a day but am taking notes, so I don’t go very far but do have lots of time to digest the content.

This caused me to think about how it might apply to adoptees. It cannot be anything but a bit odd to know you were born to someone else – not the parents who are raising you. And that you had a different name at birth but the people who are raising you changed your name. You have no knowledge of genetic relatives, no natural mirror of your self that most people have their whole lives and no family medical history of any quantity or quality to convey to your doctor.

It is known that adoptees in general suffer more mental health effects than the general population and given what I just outlined above, it can come as no surprise that an adoptee might. While genetics always contributes some vulnerabilities in any person, adoptees have slightly more mental health problems – such as depressive symptoms, bipolar disorder, higher neuroticism and loneliness. Researchers into the impacts have found a slightly elevated genetic risk of depression, schizophrenia and neuroticism among adoptees. Personally, I believe this could be the result of conflicted feelings in the gestating mother. Not that I am a scientist or expert in this field.

The adoption of children may be a fundamental method of building families for some couples. However, adoptees often face subsequent adaptive challenges associated with family stress at the time of birth and during the adoption process. How could it be otherwise ? The main factor in these effects is both environmental and genetic.

It is known that psychiatric disorders, which includes depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are, to varying degrees, inheritable. The good news is that adoptees in a study reported being happy and satisfied with their lives. When compared to the general population, the study participants were more likely to be male, to smoke, have less education, attain a lower income, and to experience more stressful life events. 

Research found that genetic risk and adoption are both predictors of psychiatric problems. So, importantly both adoption and genetic risk contribute only a small amount to the individual differences in mental health. It does not surprise me that there are many factors that contribute to the development of mental health problems in any individual. It is also not surprising then that adopted children may face both special environmental and genetic risks which lead to adjustment problems and potentially mental illness.