Giving Up The Ghost

Ghost Child photograph by Shirley Sirois

When I thought the book I’d write would be a memoir, I read Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel. I am reminded of that with her recent passing. It is the only book by her, and maybe not the best known, that I have read by that author. She was only a couple of years older than I am now.

The relevancy of acknowledging her passing now is that Mantel suffered from endometriosis, which went long undiagnosed and instead, her infertility was assumed to be caused by her suffering a bad case of female overambition. Infertility often leads to adoption. Mantel did not adopt but she did remain childless and channeled her creativity into 17 books including the one I read as well as Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession and Beyond Black. Her ghost was from an encounter in her youth as described in that book which I read.

In a 2003 New York Times review of the Mantel book I read – LINK> Unsuited to Everything By Inga Clendinnen – it is noted – One ordinary morning when she was seven, she encountered a terrifying something ”as high as a child of 2” manifesting in the rough grass beyond the new house. ”Within the space of a thought” it was inside her, ”a body inside my body,” and ”grace . . . runs out of my body like liquid from a corpse.” Mantel acknowledges that after this event, she was always more or less ”ashamed and afraid.”

The ghosts of the never born, those babies lost in miscarriage, or those that die in infancy often haunt women who have those experiences. It can even become an inherited trauma as in the story LINK> Mothering Ghost Babies by Kao Kalia Yang. Her grandmother lost a daughter at 7 months of age to a sudden unexplained death. Her own mother was silent in the wake of all the ghost babies she delivered into the world. Her mother had six miscarriages, all little boys, all formed enough so the adults could see that they were baby boys, but born far too small, and sometimes too blue, and other times too wet with blood to survive.

Similarly, Yang’s baby died inside of her at nineteen weeks. My own daughter lost her first conceived baby that way. Like my daughter, she had to deliver a dead baby into the world. She notes that she thought back to her grandmother’s story, and that she was her mother’s love of the babies whose share of love she had taken fully and gratefully. She says, My baby was more light than substance. He was silent, but he sang a song full of sorrow.

Sometimes, a woman must give up the “ghost” of the child she will never have. I do not believe adoption is the way to attempt to replace the child a woman would have had. It often fails the “replacement” child because they are not the child the woman really wanted. And the adoptee fails the adoptive mother’s expectations of what her child should be. Women like Hilary Mantel who simply accept remaining childless (even if it is not what they wanted) should be appreciated compassionately.

Yes, Your Adoptee

In the blog below are excerpts from article by Sara Easterly in Severance Magazine on understanding how the effects of adoption trauma can look so good they get missed.

When I told her that I had promoted her piece, Sara wrote back – “may I ask you to more clearly distinguish my writing from yours? I’m not comfortable with the way our writing has been merged together without my words and thoughts in quotations.” I found it an awkward and complicated practice to pick out and put in quotes those words. Even so, I have done my best to honor her request, which means that to the best of my ability to identify them, her words are now in quotes. What her words made me think of in my own experiences with two adoptee parents are not.

If you find this now just too difficult to read, you can instead simply read her original piece – linked above in the words “Severance Magazine”. There is much more there than I chose to highlight in my own blog here. I regret that somehow something she considered very important appears to have been lost in my own effort to see my family’s lived experience within what she was describing.

“A common mistake adoptive parents make when hearing adult adoptees speak about adoption trauma is discounting their experiences because ‘times have changed’ or their adoptee hasn’t voiced similar feelings. Some parents will straight-up ask their adopted children if they feel the same way and then rest easy when their children deny having similar feelings. Differing details of adoption stories can be used as evidence of irrelevance. Adoptee voices that land as ‘angry’ are often quickly written off as ‘examples of a bad adoption’.”

The truth is that “real and proven trauma” is “inherent in adoption.” “Adoptees are unintentionally groomed to be people-pleasers.” I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced that quality being passed down to the children in my own double the adoptee parents family.

An adoptee will “strive to measure up, doing and saying whatever is needed, to keep” their “adoptive mothers” lovingly “close” to them. I know that my own mother never felt like she lived up to her adoptive mother’s expectations. The people pleasing is “simply a matter of survival.” 

Who knew ? My own “perfectionism” probably comes out of my parents’ own adoption trauma. It may seem like a positive trait that adoptees are often “natural leaders”. Yet it arises out of a sense that “nobody is” actually “looking out” for them due to that separation from their natural mother. I was once diagnosed as compartmentalizing, however, that too may have been passed down. Adoptees spend “a lifetime diminishing” their “feelings and disregarding” their own “deep pain”.

“Adoption trauma” “hides itself from the adoptees themselves.” I saw that in my own parents. No wonder I grew up thinking adoption was the most natural thing in the world. Infant adoptees experience of their greatest loss (both of my parents were adopted before the age of 1) is “preverbal, before” they “learned words for loneliness, isolation, abandonment, and hopelessness.”

Since “developmentally, most children won’t” “have the capacity to reflect upon” their own “adoption loss until much later in life”, the term in the adoption community is “living in the fog.” This mental perspective also passes down to the children, as I have personally experienced. It is “a state of denial or numbness” because adoptees are unable “to closely examine the effects of” their own “adoption”(s). Waking up often comes in sharing experiences with other adoptees. For myself as the child of two adoptee parents, I came out of the fog by being exposed to the experiences of adoptees. My mom had to hide her own feelings about adoption from my adoptee dad because he preferred not to look too closely at his own.

It is true that “some” woke adult adoptees are “angry”. “Society hasn’t made room for” their “voices” in the story of adoption, even though they are its “central players”. “Some” adoptees “have been let down by the people closest to” them. “Some” “haven’t felt seen or known”. “Some” “have been mistreated”. Some have attempted or succeeded at suicide only wanting “to stop the pain”. It is long past time “to shed light on adoption’s darkest manifestations”.

Every “adoptee” is “different”. “Each story is unique”. From my own experience, “listening to adoptee voices”, especially a diverse “array of them”, “is of the utmost importance” to developing a more accurate perspective on the practice of adoption.

It’s Complicated

I didn’t hate motherhood but circumstances robbed me of it with my first child. She ended up being raised by her dad and a step-mother, after I left her temporarily in the care of her paternal grandmother. This morning I was reading an edited extract from Undo Motherhood by Diana Karklin. Stories from women all over the planet about how motherhood was not a welcomed event in their lives.

At the time I left my daughter, it didn’t feel like it was because I didn’t love being her mother, I always did love that but was I committed to it ? Reading these stories today, I wonder at my lack of maturity and sense of responsibility at the time. I think I always expected to do something like my own mother did – get married and immediately have children, while going to work everyday to contribute to the family income. I was also into “having a good time” and all that meant as someone in their early 20s – whether in a marriage or not.

Even so, it’s strange that I married. During my senior year in high school, that had not been my plan. I was going to share an apartment with my best friend. The first time I went out with the man who I would marry and have a child with, I told my mom when I came back from that date that it was never going to work out. Then, he showed me a ring and asked me to marry him and so, I did.

I still think marriage isn’t a good bargain for a woman, even though I then married a second time and had two sons with the man who is my husband today. If anything happens that takes him from me and leaves me yet living, I cannot imagine marrying again. We have now been married a long time and so, this time it worked out but with a bump or two along the way – yet the marriage has been able to endure.

Reading the article in The Guardian today – “The women who wish they weren’t mothers: ‘An unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime’ “ – has given me pause in reflecting on my own life. Also today, in the Science of Mind magazine which shares the philosophy of a man named Ernest Holmes who created a practice based upon the philosophies of the world and developments in science, I was also given more pause to reflect on romantic love.

The author, Rev Dr Jim Lockard, reflected on what it means to be human and to have a spiritual nature. Our biological selves seek to procreate, as does all life. Our emotional selves seek connection and to give and receive love with a special other to experience a deep feeling of fulfillment. Our intellectual selves seek to find a partner to share our human experiences and to create a family structure. Our spiritual selves seek to link to another to experience the joining of spiritual identities in relationship.

Clearly on many levels, having children fulfills a lot of those aspects and qualities of life, as much or sometimes more than a romantic partner can. Just as The Guardian piece made clear – it is often our cultures that have set rules and expectations about our adult lives. Even as the rigidity of narrow gender definitions have been rapidly changing, with the overturn of Roe v Wade, many women feel they are being pushed back into another time that they thought was in the past. They may be forced into giving birth, due to whatever reason and circumstance, even though they aren’t craving to fulfill the duties of motherhood. Children do best when they are intended and wanted. When they are not – wounding and trauma are the result. Just as an unwanted pregnancy lasts a lifetime, regardless of how long that initial romantic relationship endures, or even how that one night stand or rape has become imprinted on a woman’s soul, what happens to that child lasts a lifetime as well.

The nature of falling in love is a mixture of biological urges, emotional longings, rational explanations and spiritual connections. To fall in love is to exist in instability and the projection of our unconscious expectations onto another person. Our sense of rational choice is diminished. Many women wake up one day to realize that they fell in love with someone their ego was imagining and not a reality the other person was able to actually be – long term. A man is often free to walk away, leaving a woman forced to carry the burden of their children for at least 2 decades – truly for both the mother’s and the children’s lifetimes. Whether a father does or not is never guaranteed.

Letting Go of Expectations is Liberating

Today I offer you a not uncommon adoptee challenge –

For so many of us, birthdays suck. And I’m realizing it doesn’t get easier with age. So many complicated emotions. For me this is the day I was born and the day I was separated from my birth mom. I‘m not resentful for the choice she made, she’s a wonderful human.

I think it has to do with expectations that birthdays are supposed to be happy. I never want to be the center of attention but if someone overlooks me, or my feelings, I get super sad. It feels like a rejection thing. I might prefer celebrating my adoption day… but that would be difficult to explain.. to people who could never comprehend.

I’m sick of crying every single birthday (and having to hide it) and faking it for the rest of the day. I’m (hopefully) going to have at least 50 more of these and I don’t want to look back hating every single one and dreading the next. Therapy is great (I’ve had awesome therapists for over 7 years) but certain topics like these don’t feel solvable in therapy. I wish I could talk to others that understand from life experience.

An inspirational message from Agape that I listened to yesterday focused on Expectations and how to make peace with them. You can watch the July 3rd 9am Service HERE (fast forward to the 37 minute point, if you want to only listen to her message).

Post Adoption Contact

Early on in my own trying to understand adoption journey (both parents were adoptees), I read a book recommended in my all things adoption group titled The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. I continue to learn almost every day and in this blog, I continue to try and share what I learn along the way. Today’s new concept was Post Adoption Contact Agreements. I already knew that open adoptions have been the more common approach over the previously totally closed adoption where often the child is lied to about their own origins and that lie is protected by closing and sealing the adoption records and changing the child’s birth certificate to make it look like the child was actually born to the adoptive parents. That was the way my parents’ adoptions were concluded, though thankfully, neither of my parents were lied to about having been adopted – at least that.

I have come across complaints that adoptive parents often renege on open adoption agreements. This is a reality, even today, even when promises are made to the expectant mother that she will be given updates, photos and even contact with her child post adoption. This is why my heart is more inclined towards doing what we can as a society to preserve children within the family they were born into. But it isn’t always possible and like war, adoption remains a reality that won’t end in my lifetime – if ever.

In trying to learn a bit more about post adoption contact agreements I did read In some states, when adoptive parents and birth parents sign an agreement called a “Post Adoption Contact Agreement,” it is filed with along with the adoption papers and becomes a legal, enforceable part of the adoption. However, in other states, it isn’t recognized as a legally binding contract. Therefore, the first thing to learn about is whether it will be enforceable in the state where the proposed adoption will take place.

According to one adoption attorney, Michael Belfonte, Missouri currently does not allow for enforceable post-adoption contact agreements. If either a birth parent or an adoptive parent breaks their post-adoption contact promise, there are no legal consequences that could be addressed in court. This is what he has to say about open adoptions –

You should not let this deter you from choosing an open adoption. In the majority of cases, both birth mothers and adoptive parents will keep the contact promise they made — as it’s just as important to them as it is to the other party. In fact, for many birth mothers, the possibility of an open adoption is why they made their adoption choice in the first place. They will want to see their child grow up and, more likely than not, will do everything they can to continue their contact.

Likewise, once they are fully educated about open adoption, adoptive parents will understand the importance of open communication for their adopted child throughout the years — and will do all they can to honor the choice the birth mother made and support her through her healing process. If you’re worried about a birth or adoptive parent continuing to stay in contact with you, there are some things you can do:

Choose a professional who will mediate post-adoption contact. When a parent begins to decrease the frequency of their contact, you may feel frustrated. Things can get complicated if you try to fix it by yourself, and you may end up doing more harm than good. If your contact is mediated by a professional, they will know the best way to speak to the other party about their lapse in communication and handle the situation going forward — without harming the relationship you already have.

Establish a solid relationship with the birth or adoptive parents. Open adoption can be more than just an agreement to send and receive pictures and letters every couple of months; before placement, it gives you the chance to get to know your adopted child’s birth parents or adoptive parents in a way that will be highly beneficial for the future. If you have the chance to build a strong friendship with the birth or adoptive parents before placement, it’s highly recommended. The more you understand, respect and trust each other, the less likely it will be that the other parents will break their agreement to keep in touch as the years go by.

Make your expectations known. While you cannot create a legally binding post-adoption contact agreement in Missouri, you can certainly create a written agreement that outlines contact expectations throughout your adoption process. In fact, this kind of written document is encouraged in any open adoption.

Remember, just because an open adoption contact agreement is not legally binding in Missouri doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful open adoption relationship with your child’s birth or adoptive parents. More often than not, a prospective birth mother chooses adoption because she can watch her child grow up through open adoption — and has no intention of ever going back on her open adoption agreement. Similarly, adoptive parents understand how important open adoption communication can be and will likely do all they can to honor your contact agreement.

However, if a birth parent does break their post-adoption contact agreement, it’s important that adoptive parents continue to send the pictures, letters, emails, etc. that you agreed to. In many cases, if a birth parent decreases their contact frequency, it may be because they’re at a difficult point in their life — and fully intend to return to their previous contact frequency as soon as they can. It will mean a great deal to them that you continue to honor your agreement and give them updates on their adopted child during this time.

On the other hand, if adoptive parents miss a scheduled contact with you as a birth parent, it’s important that you do not jump to conclusions about their intentions. Like anyone else, unforeseen situations can come up that may delay their contact with you. If you’re concerned about them holding up their end of the agreement, we recommend you reach out to your adoption professional, who can approach them professionally and non-confrontationally about honoring their contact agreement.

I find this law on the books in the state of Missouri dated August 28 2018 – it is vague however about enforcement in my opinion. Still this is an example of one state in which I happen to be living. You should look into the legal decisions in your own state before agreeing to an adoption based upon promises that it will be open and you will be allowed ongoing contact.

That Pesky Uncertainty Thing

Many hopeful adoptive parents experience the uncertainty of whether that unwed young mother they have matched up with to take her newborn after birth will back out. And some do experience that outcome after spending tons of money on baby stuff in anticipation. Many of these are angry. Why are your family’s hopes so high that another family must fail to satisfy their hopes ? Me. Me. Me. My family. My family.

Because newborns are a scarce commodity bringing in huge profits for adoption agencies and lawyers, the field is competitive and the effort expensive. Here’s one example of the perspective of a whole family of hopeful adopters.

First comment on the above – Your family needs to change their expectations, and their expectations are not your responsibility. Its NOT your baby. Even if you get the placement. If Dad steps up that would be the BEST thing for that baby ♡ if dad can’t and you get the placement then that’s great that you are so well prepared and your heart and your families hearts are so open for that baby! ♡

It should be the reality that the father has to be PROVEN UNFIT before that child is taken into care. The father should NOT have to prove he is FIT to get his own child back! The child shouldn’t be with the woman complaining AT ALL, if there is a dad coming forward. I don’t care what his legal record is, as long as he isn’t a child abuser.

The hopeful adoptive mother is already feeling this way, before she has the baby ? What about the father ? He has to get a lawyer to even get this child back-during FORMATIVE BONDING MOMENTS that no amount of money can bring back. She gets those moments – but why? WHY!?

If there are concerns the father can’t parent, then society should support him with the resources they would have sent the foster parents – parenting classes, therapy, any assistance for supplies/etc. There should be no need for him to have to fight for HIS baby, the fact this is even a thing is appalling, and sadly, this is not a one off circumstance.

One adoptee shared this sad story – My poor sister had her 3rd child stolen out of her arms in the hospital and had to go to court postpartum (like that is on any woman’s to do list after delivering a baby and should be bonding) to get her baby back. The effects of this on her mental and emotional health was awful to watch-and triggering (cuz you know, she didn’t have the support she needed already). I was an adult by this time and had been removed/adopted into another states system and seeing them steal my nieces and nephew and have our family have to deal with all the lies of the courts again, well it just sent many of us into dark holes for many years.

Another comment – Personally, I don’t believe that anybody should get into fostering with the sole intention of potentially adopting a child. From everything that I learned in my classes and have read, the goal should always be to have a child return to their biological family if possible. In the event that is not a reality, then bringing a child into your life is the most beautiful thing that you can do for them. I’m a little concerned that this person may have been one of those people who is only interested in fostering newborns/babies…because they hope to adopt one.

Sharing the attitudes, language and culture surrounding the adoption industry are a primary purpose of my own in conveying information like this.

My Life Could Have Been Different

Someone in my all things adoption group posted this – no biological, genetic offspring EVER HAD TO CONSIDER, what if they had been given away. Kept children never wonder if their life “would have been different if..” Not even IF it would be different, but HOW it would be different. No biological kept child will have a day where they realize that there was a whole other route that their life could have taken and that they could be a million miles away in a completely different situation and WHAT would that life be??

I replied – So, this touched something deep in me. I have. It came as a distinct understanding as I learned about my adoptee (both of them) parents original parents and the fact that my mom was an unwed high school student when she conceived me. Given how “normal” adoption was in my family – especially to my adoptive grandparents – how could it have been in the mid-1950s Baby Scoop Era, that my mom was not sent away by her socially prominent adoptive parents to have and give me away – just as she had been given away (and in truth, just as my dad had also been given away) – well, it is staggering to me that I wasn’t. Of course, with all I have learned about the traumas of adoption since joining this group, I am understandably grateful. Not bragging that I wasn’t, just realizing how I missed having that outcome by a hair’s breadth.

Yet, because of ALL of this, I have a satisfied feeling as I approach my own 68th birthday with both my parents now gone from physical life, that preserving me in my original family allowed me to care about reconnecting the broken threads of our family’s genetic, cultural, biological roots. Had I been given up for adoption, I doubt that would have ever happened.

If I had been given up, would I have had that same yearning as my own mother had to make contact with her mother ? To let her know that she was okay. My mom once said that as a mother, she would want to know what had become of her child. But by the time, my mom became seriously active in trying to make that happen, the information reached her that her mother had been dead for several years. Would my mom have searched for me, like she did for her mom ? Would my parents have been open to a reunion ?

I don’t know. Having adoptee parents is a rather complicated experience. While they were “good” parents – we were provided for, cared about, loved even – they were also strangely detached as we matured. I always knew I was expected to leave home after I graduated from high school. To become independent. After all, my parents were married at a young age and had to do adult things. So no wonder I did that – married, then had a child and went to work, even tried to pursue a higher education. I pretty much failed at all of that . . . but then I wasn’t the Super Woman the women’s liberation activists had made me believe I should be.

And I also think it was something to do with having those biological, genetic bonds severed that made my parents the kind of parents they were to us. Not judging them for that. They did reasonably well all things “adoption” considered.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

Developmental Trauma Disorder In An Adoptee

“All diagnoses are wrong, but some are useful.” George Box

The kinds of complex issues that adoptees face can be difficult to treat. A 2013 study found that fewer than 25% of adoptive parents who sought mental health services felt that their mental health professional was adoption-competent. The symptoms and issues that adopted children experience are typically not taught in most graduate school mental health programs. Adding to the challenges faced by adoptive families, insurance companies will not cover what is really going on with these children and their families because it is not correctly conceptualized, coded, and diagnosed.

Some common diagnoses used with adopted children include Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Affective Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Each of these may characterize certain symptoms that these children demonstrate, but none of them systemically addresses the developmental aspect of trauma that most (if not all) adopted children experience. None take into account the sad possibility of being traumatized by birth or foster-parents. “There is no diagnosis for children that more than partially addresses the symptoms associated with these impairments in self-regulation” according to Julian Ford, PhD, who is a psychologist with the University of Connecticut.

“Developmental Trauma Disorder” or DTD includes symptoms that differentiate it from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD more commonly associated with the “Battle-Fatigue” symptoms of WWI. Children are often traumatized in the context of relationships. Because children’s brains are still developing, this trauma has a much more pervasive and long-range influence on their self-concept, on their sense of the world, and on their ability to regulate themselves.

There are four diagnostic areas involved in DTD – [1] Exposure [2] Triggered pattern of repeated dysregulation in response to trauma cues [3] Persistently Altered Attributions and Expectancies and [4] Functional Impairment. Those who’s work has been focused on adopted children who have suffered various forms of Complex Trauma will recognize the manifestation of these. The American Psychiatric Association failed to include this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (also known as the DSM-V).

The problem with this oversight is that after experiencing chronic trauma, the current standard of clinical practice often reveals no diagnosis, inaccurate diagnosis or inadequate diagnosis…all of which leads to misguided or complete lack of treatment plans. Further, because there is almost always considerable dysregulation of body (sensory and motor), affect (explosive/irritable or frozen/restricted), cognition (altered perceptions of beliefs, auditory and sensory-perceptual flashbacks and dissociation) and behavior (multiple forms of regression), the diagnoses of bipolar, oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other anxiety disorders are made. Many of these disorders are co-morbid with developmental trauma disorder, as they tend to cluster in these complex families. But the importance is that the developmental trauma disorder would be primary and thus guide the treatment plan…and further, refine the inclusion (or not) of other co-morbid disorders.

Today’s blog was informed by an article Could My Adopted Teen Have Developmental Trauma Disorder? by Dr Norm Thibault, LMFT

Not Of My Blood

This topic comes up repeatedly in my all things adoption group. It seems that the incidence of varying degrees of abuse is more prevalent on the part of adoptive parents. Adoptees often wonder and theorize why.

It started with this insight – So many adopted people I know have stories of child abuse by both of their adoptive parents. What is the mentality behind this, what is the psychological mechanism that results in so many adoptive parents getting a child just to abuse them? I don’t think every single case is where adults actively seek out children so they can have someone to abuse, but it’s way too common to just be a case of easy hunting grounds. Is there something that happens inside of the brains of adoptive parents that turns so many of them into child abusers?

Although, anything conceivable probably exists, I do not believe most couples go into adoption with the intent of mistreating their adopted child. There is something else going on.

One thought was this – Humans developed over millennia to raise their own biological/genetic offspring. Our biology knows whether the child is our own or not. Adoptive parents are preconditioned by social workers and adoption agencies to have expectations that “nurture” will adjust the child to be the same “as if” they had given birth to the child but it does not work that way.

Until very recently, and to some extent this remains true, adoption in the modern western version is predicated on treating adoptive parents like they are the original natural parents. Birth certificates are falsified to support that perspective. Often, in the past, adoptive parents lied to the child about their origins. Thanks to more accessible, inexpensive DNA testing and well reported adoptee reunions with their biological families, this fantasy can no longer hold dominance in adoptionland.

Raising kids is hard! They test and exhaust us. This is especially true when there isn’t shared blood and genetics. The frustration isn’t tempered by biology and deep parental bonds. My oldest son was very challenging at the age of 6, when his younger brother had had the lion’s share of my attention throughout infancy and his first 2 years. I actually would say to him, it is lucky for you that I love you. If you challenge other people the way you have challenged me, you could end up hurt very badly or dead. It was my maternal bond with him that stayed me from actually hurting him, though my anger could surprise me.

One adoptee shares – I can only speak for my adoptive parents but I was property to them. I was meant to fulfill a role and anything out of line with that expectation was punished. I recognize that they knew what the social worker looked for and how the system worked, therefore they were very good at hiding it. No one would ever believe me. It was clearly easier for them to take their emotions out on me (an adopted child) than on their own biological children.

Another adoptee shares – When I started calling my narcissistic adoptive mother out on her shit, it caused a huge fight with my whole family against me. And one of my aunts basically said it didn’t matter how they treated me, I just had to suck it up, take it, and thank them, because they “took me in” out of the “goodness” of their hearts when they didn’t have to. This implied they received a free pass regarding how they treated me. Which is obviously wrong. I think that is the mentality that a lot people have, when it comes to adoption, especially among the older generations. Like you could have/would have had it worse if they hadn’t come along, so you should feel “lucky.” It doesn’t feel “lucky.”

What happens when adoptive parents finally achieve the birth of a biological, genetic child ? One adoptee shares – we were all adopted and it was a loving safe environment until I turned 8. Then they had their only biological child and the rest of us had to scramble and grab for pieces of affection. I don’t know if it was regret for adopting, the satisfaction of finally having what they wanted, something else or a mix of it all but whatever the case, we went from cherished to easily replaceable.

Another woman adds – I think can be twofold. Either one, or a combination of, the psychological effects of infertility grief and the impact on an adopted child of emotional neglect as a result of the adoptive parent being unable to meet the needs of a traumatized, adopted child. (Note all adopted children suffer adoption related trauma, ie a belief they were rejected by their natural parents.) Chronic emotional neglect (causes more trauma) and has profound effects on an adopted child. It is worse when the caregiver doesn’t recognize or acknowledge that they don’t feel the love and acceptance for their adopted child that they expected to feel. It’s all too common then to blame the child for not meeting the adoptive parents needs, rather than looking at the emotional content in the adoptive parent. Throw in a societal saviorism belief related to adoption and there are the frustrated feelings of believing they are entitled to a child they didn’t receive.

Another adoptee shares – My adoptive parents were very physically abusive. I don’t know any science behind it but my honest thought was always that because I wasn’t flesh and blood, they couldn’t love me the same. There was no genetic connection… I don’t really know …. but that is how it has felt. I don’t think they adopted me with the intention of being abusive, but they couldn’t control themselves. It’s like if my daughter has a play date and that child is being awful, I’m like their parent needs to do something before I do…I just don’t have a motherly connection to anyone else but my own children…and it might sound super messed up but its literally how I rationalized all the physical and mental abuse I suffered … They didn’t even care if they hurt my feelings. Just like I wouldn’t care if I hurt someone else’s kid’s feelings, if they were little assholes. Of course, I know there are people who abuse their biological children…but I always think that’s generational and based on some mental health issues. The reason anyone abuses a child is complicated.

Someone else shares their perspective – I believe most adoptive parents adopt as a solution to their infertility and to “save a poor baby in need”. They are fed rainbows and unicorn stories that convince them that they are wonderful people doing a wonderful thing and that the adopted child it will be just the same as their own baby. So they treat a traumatized child just the same as they would their own. Except it’s not the same. If they don’t allow the child to have feelings, go to therapy, etc as soon as the child acts out, they won’t understand why the child is behaving that way. Most adoptive parents signed up for the “cute baby and matching sweater” they see on Instagram. Instead they get a screaming demon !! The more frustrated the parents become, the more they refuse to acknowledge their adopted child has trauma. That inability to empathize becomes more triggering for the adopted child. The parents eventually snap under the pressure and enter a cycle of abuse because “we tried love and it didn’t work”. When all they actually tried was to force the child to bond with them and pretend the child is the same as a their own biological child. It messes with the brains on both sides and often leads to the point of violence.

And finally, this perspective – every adopted child has a job. It might be to fix infertility or it might be to take the place of a dead child. Whatever it is, as adoptees we are given a job with no description and unfortunately, we don’t know when we miss the mark until we trip over it. That accounts for a lot of disappointed adoptive parents. Just as the adopted child does not recognize any genetic markers in regard to physical appearance and personality – neither do the adoptive parents. So on top of the heartbreak of infertility comes the heartbreak, disappointment and anger in having to continue living with why you adopted the child in the first place.