Family Preservation

I am a huge fan of prioritizing family preservation. Today’s blog is courtesy of a comment by Ferera Swan along with the graphic image I share.

Sometimes there’s an assumption that advocating for family preservation means “forcing a mother to parent” when that’s not what it means at all. Family preservation means keeping a baby in their families of origin even when a mother is unable or unwilling to parent.

There is plenty of available research and shared lived experiences to support that permanently separating a baby from their mother causes lifelong trauma. Extending that separation to maternal and paternal family members compounds that trauma. Adoptees also often grow up without genetic mirroring and in racial/ethnic isolation, fundamental factors that contribute to mental/emotional health and development.

Biological relationships are the birthright of every human being and should be prioritized and preserved over the interests of others.

Mother/child separation, if necessary for whatever reason, should never be a permanent decision made for the child (unless made by the child) and reunification should always be the first priority.

In the event a mother does not wish to parent, all efforts to keep the child within their families of origin should be made.

Adoptees are at least 4x more likely to attempt suicide than those who remain with their biological families. Please listen.

#adopteevoices #adopteerights 

Adoption-Related Complex Trauma

Also called Cumulative Trauma – The research is definitive. Adopted kids are not only traumatized by the original separation from their parents, they may also have been traumatized by the events that led to them being put up for adoption. In addition to that, foster care itself is considered an adverse childhood experience.

I recently wrote a blog titled “It’s Simply NOT the Same.” Though the traumas may originate similarly, the outcomes are not the same because just like any other person, no two adoptees are exactly alike. That should not prevent any of us from trying to understand that adoptees carry wounds, even if the adoptee is unaware that the wounds are deep within them.

It is not uncommon for an adopted person and/or the adoptive family to seek mental health services due to the effect of the adoptee experiencing traumatic events. Unfortunately, for psychology and psychiatry clinicians, adoption related training is rare. In my all things adoption group, the advice is often to seek out an adoption competent therapist for good reason.

“What does an adopted baby know ? She knows her mother, she knows her loss, sadness and hurt, she knows that those who hold her today may be gone tomorrow and that she will be the only one left to pick up the pieces that no one seems to think are broken.”
~ Karl Stenske, 2012

The reasons a child is put up for adoption or relinquished are many – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, often compounded or driven by a lack of financial resources (poverty) or no familial support to care for a child. Becoming a single parent may simply seem too daunting to an unwed expectant mother. Sadly, for some, a chronic/terminal illness or certain diseases may lead the mother to believe she cannot provide proper care for her baby. Certainly, prolonged substance addiction and/or severe mental health issues (which may be related to addiction) can cause parental rights to be forcefully terminated by child welfare authorities. Adoptees who come out of the child welfare system (legal termination of parental rights by a court of law) cannot legally be returned to their birth families due to safety or other reasons that are considered serious.

Adoption is not always a success. Disruptions and dissolutions do sometimes occur.

Disruptions can happen after the adoption has been finalized when the adoptive parents then experience difficulties with their adopted child. The adoptive parents may have difficulty finding support and the resources they require to deal with the issues that come up.

Risk factors leading to a higher rate of disruptions are: older age when adopted, existing emotional and behavioral issues, having a strong attachment to their birth mother, having been a victim of pre-adoption sexual abuse, suffering from a lack of social support from relatives causing the adoption to occur, unrealistic expectations surrounding the adoption and the child on the part of hopeful adoptive parents, and a lack of adequate preparation and ongoing support for the adoptive family prior to and after the placement.

A devastating occurrence is a dissolution or breakdown. This applies to an adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child is severed, either voluntary or involuntarily. Usually this will result in the entry or re-entry of the child into the foster care system, or less commonly a second chance adoption, or even the private transfer of the child from the adoptive parents to a non-vetted receiving parent.

Adoption has been subject to both positive and negative assumptions related to the practice and this is of no surprise to anyone who has studied the practice of adoption for a period of time.

There are 6 main assumptions about the practice of adoption –

[1] Adoption is a joyous event for all involved – known as the Unicorns and Rainbows Fantasy in adoption centric communities; [2] adoption parallels genetic birth experience and a biological family life – which close observation and mixed families (who have both biological and adopted children often belie); [3] once adopted, all of the child’s problems disappear and there will be no additional challenges – rarely true – and often attachment or bonding fail to occur; [4] creating a family through adoption is “false,” only biological families are “real” – this goes too far in making a case because many adults create chosen families – the truth is as regards children, family is those persons we grow up with – believing we are related to them – in my case, both of my parents were adopted and all of my “relations” growing up were non-genetic and non-biological but I have a life history with them and continue to have contact with aunts, an uncle and cousins I obtained through my parents’ adoptions; [5] the adoptive life is better than the biological life the child had or would have had – never a known assumption – more accurately, the adoptee’s life is different than that child would have had, if they had not been adopted; and, [6] closed adoptions are in the best interest of the child – this one was promoted with the intention of shielding adoptive parents from original parents who regretted the surrender, from the child who might yearn for their original family and often in some cases to shield a person operating unscrupulously, such as the baby thief Georgia Tann who sold ill-gotten children. Popular media has reinforced both the positive and the negative messages about adoption and many myths and stereotypes regarding adoptive families and birth parents are believed in society as a whole.

The term “adoption-related complex trauma” is rarely used in discussing symptoms and behaviors. It is more common to see terms such as “developmental trauma” or “complex trauma” to describe the psychological effects found within the adopted population.

The terms complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder have been used to describe the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an personal nature such as sexual, physical, verbal abuse or of a societal nature such as war or community violence. These exposures often have occurred within the child’s caregiving environment and may include physical, emotional and/or other forms of neglect and maltreatment that begin early in childhood. In the case of infant adoptions, the trauma is non-verbal but stored in the body of that baby – not conscious but recorded.

Some of this content has been sourced from a long dissertation titled Treatment Considerations For Adoption-related Complex Trauma. Anyone interested is encouraged to read more at the link.

Grief That Never Ends

Ferera Swan goes on to say –

Adoptees are often challenged to defend our perspectives on adoption, our very lived experiences invalidated by those who have never lived a day of adoption in their life. This very interaction is a reinforcement of our trauma, yet people wonder why so many adoptees come across as “angry”. Not only have we lost our mother, we’re now being challenged to explain all the mechanics of how it can possibly still affect us just as profoundly as adults—even when the research on maternal separation is crystal clear.

In general, the public tends to reduce this experience to mere “emotions or feelings” adoptees have about adoption, when a significant part of our trauma also involves what happens on a biological, neurological, and developmental level as a result of maternal separation. Just because most people can’t authentically fathom this kind of loss doesn’t mean our trauma isn’t real or valid.

Instead of attempting to compare our loss with other things—nothing compares to losing your mother—or listing all the reasons why you think we should be grateful (that’s not what grief has ever been about), please have the courage to listen to what we have to say.

She says in a comment –

You are absolutely welcome to share any of my public posts. I’m so sorry that your relatives have approached your trauma in such dismissive, harmful and hurtful ways. I can relate to severing ties with those who prefer our silence—we learn a lot about our relationships when we begin speaking our truths.

A commentor had said –

It will be interesting to see how many of my relatives respond with memes about gratitude and the importance of growing up and getting over things. Sometimes the responses are about unconditional love (which has been weaponized in my family). at least a few will pass it by without any comment, because pretending unpleasant things don’t exist is another favorite tactic. Maybe someone will pause to think. I have broken with a number of people in the last couple of years. I finally stopped being so afraid of rejection that I remained silent.

Finally, one commentor noted –

The laws of secrecy and lies that punish a child for the benefit of the adults is ridiculous when we become of age.

Adoptees are treated like second class citizens who have less human rights that most people take for granted.  Time for a total change in how we care for vulnerable and at risk children.  And mothers should receive full support to remain with their babies whenever possible.

You can keep up with Ferera Swan at her website – fereraswan.com/swanproject/heartbroken-infants