Mental Health and Regrets

An expectant mother says “I’m not sure with my mental health I can parent another child.” This is despite the fact, that she is a good parent to her first child and that child isn’t suffering. Does she really think giving away her baby is going to do wonders for her mental health? She may be the happy mommy for a while after doing, this with no regrets. But she can only lie to her self for so long. Eventually, she is likely to wake up and wonder wtf did I do?

One woman replied – I was this mother. I placed my 3rd. I had absolutely NO idea what it would do to me.. it absolutely broke me! I could barely function for almost 2 years. I don’t think people really understand what giving away a child means. Adoption is pushed as sunshine and rainbows in society, so I think we somewhat look at it in a positive light when we are contemplating making that choice. . But no it absolutely will NOT help your mental state in any way.

And she is alone, another one said – Me too. And yet another one said – Same with my third also. Fact is, it is the rare person who won’t realize they exchanged one set of mental health issues for another and this one lasts a lifetime for yourself, the child, other children, etc…Then this, my mental health took a nose dive after adoption. Mentally I always struggled but since then, I have been in and out of behavioral health facilities and have made 3 suicide attempts. Someone else thought – it’s a way to delay the trauma and people should be honest that all you’re doing is delaying it and compounding it later.

On that last note, came this reply – i think that also delays trauma for many in a different way, too sadly. Granted each can choose for themselves but I have supported friends who have chosen this route for a variety of reason and again, they weren’t supported after or informed of just what an emotional roller coaster it can take you on, for a VERY long time.

Now I get that’s not for everyone and some may not be as impacted by it, but my friends who have (and many were moms already) came to me and told me, they wished they had listened to me (because I told them – I’m not sure it’s going to help in the ways that you believe it would help) and many were seriously already struggling (hence not feeling able to add another kid) and they didn’t think they could nose dive further but many have. In fact, one reached out this week to me talking about how 2 years after, she still regrets it and wishes she had listened to me.

I believe support for people who go this route is lacking and very much needed – many are left to deal with it in silence and it’s a dirty secret and they have guilt and shame, which contributes to more issues they have in the long run because they don’t have a proper healing outlet to deal with all the feelings and even physical stuff sometimes after (my one girlfriend ended up with an infection and needed to be hospitalized which compounded the trauma).

Finally, this – If there are reasons causing these feelings they usually stem from trauma and lack of support – and if those were addressed, it would be still hard to parent (cuz lets be real – its hard!!) but when you have a better support system vs a system working against you (like Child Protective Services or whatever). I said to my original mom recently, what happened after Termination of Parental Rights ? She jumped at the judge when he said they weren’t her kids now, they were HIS. She spent the night IN JAIL after losing her kids. 

Separation – The Damage

Just a reminder that this situation continues and children who have been separated from their parents at the border are NOT being returned to them but placed for adoption.  The parents are sent back to their home country and the children are taken away from them.  This does lasting psychological damage that will stay with these victims into their adult years.

Millions of years of evolution have gone into erecting the deepest of connections: that between mother and child.

That primal bond—when forcibly shattered or disrupted—can be devastating for both parent and child, according to scientists.  Though experts have attempted to dissuade the White House from continuing this policy, children continue to not be reunited with their original parents.

Back in 2018, the American Psychological Association sent a letter to President Trump with this statement – “Based on empirical evidence of the psychological harm that children and parents experience when separated, we implore you to reconsider this policy and commit to the more humane practice of housing families together pending immigration proceedings to protect them from further trauma.” Many other organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have released similar statements.  All to no avail.  Falling on deaf ears and closed minds and hard hearts.

Back in May 2018, when Jeff Sessions was still the US Attorney General, he  announced that the Department of Homeland Security would refer 100% of illegal immigrants crossing the border for criminal prosecution in federal court. Any minors accompanying them were to be taken into government custody.  And that is precisely what happened.  Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, all migrants are being kept in squalid conditions on the Mexican side of the border which, as bad as that is, is still far better than taking children from their parents.

In the past, immigrants charged with this misdemeanor were able to stay in shelters with their children while waiting for further direction.  Under the current administration, they were separated – and even when President Trump issued an executive order in 2018 to end the separation of families at the border – nothing actually changed.  It was all a “for show” piece of paper.

It is a known fact that babies and other young children were living for an extended period of time in “tender age” shelters in South Texas.  Then, the government simply lost track of them.  Really ?  Hard to believe there is no record of their disposition – unless it was deliberately destroyed.  That would actually not surprise me at all.

“I would definitely consider [this] a traumatic experience with long-term consequences,” said Chandra Ghosh Ippen, associate director and dissemination director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco and the Earth Trauma Treatment Network.

When a child is separated from his or her parents under chaotic circumstances, a monsoon of stress hormones (like cortisol) floods the brain and the body. These hormones are important for navigating stress in the short-term. However, in high doses, these chemicals—if hyperactive for a prolonged period of time—can increase the risk of lasting, destructive complications like heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. In addition, multiples instances of trauma early in life can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On top of this immediate biological response to separation is the frightening experience of watching a caregiver undergo severe emotional upheaval.

“When a child sees a parent frightened, it is extremely threatening,” said Lisa Berlin, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and co-author on a study published in 2011 examining the effects of mother-child separation on children under two years old. Regarding that study, Berlin notes that some of the participants experienced planned separations that were done “in an orderly way.” By contrast, she says, the situation of the migrants at the Mexican border was “chaos.”

The conditions under which these undocumented minors were living were varied and unclear, but when ProPublica obtained an audio, it appeared that the children were under duress.

“It sounds like, from what we’re hearing, that there aren’t people there to help console them and help them self-soothe, which would be something that would be really key to help offset those biological responses [to stress],” said Erin C. Dunn, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Genomic Medicine.

The situation is a case study in what psychologists call “attachment,” and it’s the reason why children who are separated from their primary caregivers desperately need mental health counseling.

“In early childhood, young children believe that their parents can protect them from anything, and that’s actually what allows them to feel safe enough to explore the world,” Ippen said. “When that safe base is disrupted, you might see a child who is very anxious, or who is clingy, or you might see a child who goes off and recklessly explores the world. This is the crux of attachment theory.”

Attachment theory is a set of ideas developed in the early 1950s by British psychiatrist John Bowlby. “It’s an explanation of why we are the way we are,” Berlin said. “[Bowlby] said that a big determining factor has to do with how much we can rely on our primary caregiver when we really, really need them. We need them for physical safety and because we’re young and immature and we can’t make sense of our world without their help.”

A reminder. Thanks to PBS and NOVA for most of this blog with my own perspectives added.  This is also what happens to adoptees taken from their original parents and placed with strangers who raise them.  This is why adoption trauma is a real thing.

Trauma and Stress

The possibility of trauma passing down through generations as genetic mutations affecting health had reason to re-enter my awareness last night.

My mom was an adoptee.  I know for a fact she suffered because of it.  She told me so.  She died believing she had been stolen.  While her made-up story based upon other stories that were sadly all too real under the reign of the notorious Georgia Tann were not entirely accurate, I do believe deep in her soul “stolen” was not that far off.  She died believing it and now that I have her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, I know that her mother never intended to give her up and was trapped into an impossible situation.

She had left my mom at an orphanage in Memphis (Porter-Leath) for temporary care.  That was a decision point from which there was no return of the mother-child bonding for my mom and her mother.  My grandmother was allowed to see my mom one final time before she was ripped away and placed with strangers.  I have those black and white photos now.  The happiness upon seeing her mother again is evident in my mom’s body language.

The adoption file tells me she screamed all the way from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as my adoptive grandmother carried her home.  No wonder my mom felt stolen.  When they reached Arizona, she was drugged to calm her down.  Eventually, with no other choice, she adapted to her circumstances and coped.

Yet, the health impacts left her a medical basket case all her life and I believe her stress at conceiving me as an unwed high school student impacted my health.  And it may go on down the line to my daughter and granddaughter.  Medical science is discovering through research some truth to these theories on my part but they have a lot of work to do yet.

It does appear that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.  Some people are born with genetic vulnerabilities and circumstances can then cause those vulnerabilities to manifest as disease.  This is true for every adoptee, regardless of what the manifestations are or how minimally impacted that adoptee may appear.