I am going to try and summarize a complex situation which could apply to others who might be reading my blog.
So a 17 year old got pregnant. A relationship that had lasted almost 2 years had broken up about a year before she got pregnant but they were still ”seeing each other” on and off. He wanted her to terminate, citing that he had a very traumatic childhood and was not ready to bring a child into the world, much less with someone he no longer wanted a relationship with.
She decided against it because she had previous losses and suspected infertility due to PCOS. As soon as she saw her baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound screen, she knew she didn’t have it in her to terminate. That child is now 4 years old and carries the woman’s maiden name.
So the father then shamed her for her decision and told her she would regret it, tried to convince her to “at least put the kid up for adoption so it has a chance at a good life” and she honestly heavily debated doing that as they weren’t the only one to shame her and try to convince her she couldn’t be a good mother. She was very lost, confused and scared but ultimately decided she would keep the baby and try to give it the best life that she could, prepared to do it all on her own.
Before giving birth, she met someone. She had a gut feeling that she was capable of having a healthy relationship with this man. He there for her throughout the pregnancy, cut the umbilical cord and helped name the baby. After getting married to him, she discovered that she was again pregnant. She thought about changing her first daughter’s name but wondered if that was the ethical thing to do because she technically had another parent.
Recently, she reached out to her daughter’s estranged father and discovered that they had both changed exponentially. However, the father still does not think it’s a good idea to have contact with his daughter. He thinks his presence would somehow “mess up” her life because he still has personal issues he needs to work on. Her father is indigenous and this mother doesn’t want her daughter to grow up not knowing half of her lineage. She feels that her daughter is missing out on the rich and beautiful culture that she descends from. She says that he is not a bad person at all.
One commenter said – You are asking the right questions. You’re approaching this with humility and a desire to uphold what is best for your daughter, even if there are “easier” solutions that others are pushing for. Consider allowing her to decide when she is of age, whether she would like to be adopted by her stepdad. Adoption can be a good choice WHEN the adoptee’s needs, desires, and AGENCY are fully recognized and active. It’s as big a choice as marriage (perhaps more so!), and it is a decision that no adult should make for her, especially since she may want to consider tribal affiliation in the future.
My baby girl turned 21 this year. It’s been another one of those weeks that I go through every year. There is a five day span before and after her birthday that lays me out. September 11th 2001, the actual day of the tragedy, happened only the day before I went into labor. I was 19 years old on the couch at my parents’ house. I had been crying for 12 hours because I felt like I was bringing my baby into a terrifying world and I didn’t feel like I was “enough” for her, alone without a partner. I woke up at 5:30’ish am on the 12th, went into labor and had her 24 hours later, on the 13th.
We signed relinquishment papers on the 14th, which was also her birth dad’s 21st birthday (quite a poignant year, this year, and that’s how old she is now plus she’s never met or talked to him). I signed surrender papers at the hospital in Georgia, he signed at the adoption agency office in California. The 15th was my leave-the-hospital-without-my-baby day. My arms empty, everyone looking at me being wheeled out of my hospital room with balloons and flowers but no baby in sight. It was like she had died. I had five days of trauma, on top of trauma, on top of trauma, compacted tight.
Without fail, every year since then, my body implodes on itself for those 5 days, and usually, by the 16th, like clockwork, I’m good.
Know this – the body never forgets. Even decades later. No matter what I do to prepare myself every year, I get annihilated physically, emotionally, mentally. My body will never let me forget those five days. I wrote this to her on her birthday.
Dear Wandering Wildflower,
You bloom wherever you blow Cleansing the air around you Seeking out the sun Reveling in it Dancing in the showers Gaining strength from the chaos Finding solace in the shade
There was more. She said it made her cry and was exactly what she needed to read, regarding where she’s at in her life right now. That was exactly what I needed to hear and it warmed my mama’s heart to no end. I wish things could have been different for her and I. My love for her is endless.
A Former Foster Care Youth, then Adoptee writing her thoughts… contemplates – Am I the only one that struggles with going back and forth with being – glad my parents gave me up and then, at the same time sad that my extended family didn’t keep me ? I can’t imagine the person I would be, if I was raised by my biological parents… if I were to guess, I probably wouldn’t have finished high school and would be living off welfare. But being given up also caused additional trauma including feeling unworthy, unloved and abandoned. I was sexually abused in the first foster family I was placed with. Then, the second family had so many foster kids, I never got attention. The family that adopted me did so because their biological daughter passed away at 20 years old, so they took me in. I always felt like I had to be who she was… Then again, my adoptive mother did teach me to be a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need to depend on anyone including the government, financially. So I think, there are pluses and minuses in being given up and adopted. However, I also think, if my biological mother had received the help she needed, mentally and financially, maybe I would not have had to go through any of my imagined or my real outcomes.
I am not an adoptee myself but I have thought about such things. Both of my original grandmothers could have raised my parents had they had the proper support and assistance. I have no doubt about that. My mom may have grown up in more poverty because her adoptive parents were financially very well off. This did allow some benefits and privileges for my mom and for me and my sisters. I’m less certain about how my dad may have turned out.
His original mother was unwed and had an affair with a married man. I doubt he ever knew he had a son as his extended family here in the United States and still living in Denmark did not know he existed. DNA proved my relationship to them. My paternal grandmother did go on to have other children but also a rather difficult life as I have been told. No doubt he would have been loved. He was very important to his adoptive mother as well who had a huge influence on the outcome of my own life. She was a strong woman in her own ways.
I grew up with good adoptive grandparents, aunts and cousins and I am grateful for all of them. Learning about my original family has had a bittersweet effect on me. It has left me more lonely in odd ways – not part of the adoptive or the genetic families – in reality. More alone than I was before I knew . . .
Please bear with me (not to be confused with the mammal but in the sense of enduring any clumsiness in my delivery), if this blog seems to lack cohesiveness. Many times my day seems to develop a pattern and it informs my thoughts and my emotions as diverse elements seem to play off one another. So that happened today and it started as soon as I sat down at my computer. I will do my best to make sense of the notes I jotted down for you, my reader.
I spent most of the decades of my life with no knowledge of my familial roots due to both of my parents having been adopted before the age of one under sealed (closed) adoption files. They died clueless really but I had always thought after my mom had been denied her own adoption file (related to the Georgia Tann scandal in Memphis) that maybe after she was dead I would be able to get what she had not been able to obtain. All the state of Tennessee did for her was break her heart with news that the woman who gave birth to her had died some years before.
My day began with several links from a Facebook friend. She has been grappling with the admission that defines her as a NPE. In genetics, a non-paternity event (also known as misattributed paternity or not the parent expected). This happens when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father. Often an inexpensive DNA test at a matching site reveals that. The primary effect is a feeling of betrayal or having been lied to. Late discovery adoptees (meaning they didn’t know they were adopted until well into their maturity) experience similar feelings.
“The place where it’s interesting is what it takes to get from one stage of your life to another. The trick is finding a way . . . ” ~ Susan Rigetti in a Time article about her new novel, Cover Story. To which I add, to get there. In my own journey of genetic biological discovery, my past, present and presumably now future have come into harmony. And it feels so very good. For me, it has been entirely worth learning what I learned and brought me a surprised gratitude to understand that I could have so easily been given up for adoption by my unwed (at the time of my conception) high school student mother.
One link was a YouTube by Thich Nhat Hanh, he addresses ancestors one never knew. And he points out something quite obvious, some people in contact with parents still living don’t really know them. My parents, like many, did not share a lot about their lives. I am grateful for what they did share. He is correct that each of us is a continuation. As that, we have an opportunity to transform the negative and develop the wonderful.
One link related to a practice referred to as Emotional Genealogy. It is what we have inherited from those who came before us. It is the stories about our ancestors, and what their lives were like. It is the connection we have, with or without our awareness, to our grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents…going back two, three, four, five and sometimes more generations. It is the emotional traits that were handed down within our family lineage: the optimism, grit, rage, pain, inaccessibility, kindness, cruelty, avoidance, violence, tenderness, fear. It was noted that what is not transformed, is transmitted down the family line.
We owe our existence to those who came before us. Simply put, if they hadn’t lived, we would have no life. And simply put, the realization I arrived at was that if my grandmothers (because in each case it was the mother, the father did not have an actual say in the circumstances – whether my grandparents were married or not – there was one case of each) had not given up my parents to a different set of parents to raise them, I would not exist. That is a fact I can not get away from. I value the price that each of them had to pay. It is considerable, as I have learned from others that are part of the adoption triad of adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents.
In my own roots journey, my family found over time that they didn’t come from the town or country that we (and at least I) had thought they originated from. For example, my mom was adopted in Memphis TN but was born in Richmond VA. My dad was not Hispanic and left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army. Yet because he had been adopted in El Paso TX I thought that. The crazy thing is that I also knew he had been born in San Diego CA. Go figure. When we lack complete information we fill in the blank places as best we can. And while I struggle with acknowledging double the usual set of maternal and paternal grandparents, I do know that because my adoptive grandparents cared, they deserve to be remembered.
Some people find out after twenty or thirty years that what they felt and suspected was true. Always know that intuitive knowledge IS knowledge, and it is a resource to be treasured.
My image at the top of this blog may still seem out of place but it is not to me. Robin Easton writes – “your exquisitely beautiful sensitivity. I see this refreshing trait expressed through you in so many ways: in your wisdom, your creativity, in the ways that you face life’s challenges, and in the ways that you help me walk through this life. Thank you, for such a sacred and intelligent gift.”
Whatever you know about your family can help you develop emotional intelligence. Make the effort.
What happens to an expectant Mom, who’s coerced into relinquishing her children for adoption ?
Simple answer… They are kicked to the curb !
If the vultures are nice, the expectant mother lives out her last month of pregnancy in a room or apartment that was rented for her.
If the poor woman was living with the hopeful adoptive parents, now that they are adoptive parents, the original mom is not allowed back into the home. Maybe, they will moved her somewhere else, but only if they are nice adoptive parents and then, only until the end of the month.
Maybe, she will be given a bus ticket, when leaving the hospital – or given $500.00 bucks to begin a new life going forward.
If an agency is involved, she may be told she can see an agency therapist or counselor for a couple months. Beware, the only reason why that is offered, is to make certain the natural mother doesn’t change her mind and ask for her own child back.
Why do some people find this so damn shocking ?
The natural mother has served her purpose ! Private couples and private agencies have NO use for the original mother after the paperwork is signed. Is this wrong, abusive, selfish, and self serving ? Absolutely and this is how expectant mothers who chose adoption are treated every day!!! Natural mother’s are promised the world and are then shit on. In foster care cases, they will receive even less consideration.
One true story example – my brother’s mom lived with us. I was 6 and loved her. As soon as she gave birth, I never saw her again (on purpose, I did run into her a few times as an adult) and even at that young age, I was heartbroken for her and couldn’t understand how they could separate them. I was sure she was always going to live with us.
Another true story with a very unusual twist – the children of the family I lived with, asked if the baby they were now seeing was mine. Kids know. I actually babysat them afterwards. It’s how I found out when she was 18 months old, that my daughter was in the ICU.
Yet another example – I lived with a friend of the adoptive parents until my baby was born. Then she (the friend) picked us up at the hospital, dropped me off at my mother’s and took my baby away. It was the last time I ever saw and held her.
Lastly, one adoptee discovered – I just realized the words “natural mother” are very triggering for me. I literally got sick reading those words, not because of what was said related to what I was reading but because my abusive adoptive parent would say “you’ll turn out just like your natural mother.” and “Your natural mother was a bad person.” etc.
Unwed expectant mothers considering adoption need to be aware that promises made to them pre-birth may not be honored after the child is born and relinquished to the adopting parents.
Every MPE (misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage) story has a starting point. The discovery comes entirely by surprise for many, whereas it confirms others’ long-held, conscious or subconscious, suspicions. If there truly is one, the typical story involves submitting a direct-to-consumer/recreational DNA test yourself or being contacted out of the blue by someone who has. Mine has a little of each with an added twist.
One afternoon, a friend of mine called me with what he described as “interesting news.” He told me that he and his older sister had taken DNA tests and found something unexpected. He informed me that both had discovered the man they thought their father wasn’t. Their research afterward led them to believe that my father was their BF (birth father). Additionally, they had reached out and somehow convinced my father to submit a DNA test. The results confirmed their research findings. “We,” he informed me, “are half-brothers.” He sent me a screenshot of the DNA evidence to prove it. Because I was already aware of two other half-siblings from my father, this news honestly wasn’t that surprising. I remember laughing with him about the strangeness of our new situation.
What my friend didn’t know, however, is that many years ago, I had also taken a DNA test from the same direct-to-consumer company, primarily because I was ethnicity curious (as both of my own parents were adopted – this was originally my own motivation). When I told him about this, he informed me that I wasn’t on his match list and followed with the question, “You are the adopted one, right?” “Adopted? I was not adopted.” I quickly replied. Confused, he told me that my father had told his sister I was adopted. He must have misunderstood. I was 58 years old and was confident that I wasn’t adopted. My birth certificate listed my father and mother. I had seen it many times. I called his sister to see where this part of the story originated. She repeated her brother’s claim that my father had told her I was adopted. Further, she explained, he had married my mother, knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child.
When I learned the adoption news, I was more than two hours from home and my laptop. I wasn’t laughing anymore. My head was now cloudy and confused. The drive home was a blur. “Could this be possible?” I asked myself, “Was I adopted?” Once I arrived, I quickly checked my DNA matches. Neither my father nor these two new “half-siblings” were there. As I surveyed my 80,000 + matches, none matched my surname. I found that it was 100% confident regarding the connections tied to my mother. However, most of my “close” matches were surnames utterly foreign to me.
It was true then; I had been “adopted” by my BCF (birth certificate father). But, unfortunately, my mother had taken her secret to the grave. My BCF had told a stranger rather than me. I found out I was an NPE from a friend who was a completely unrelated NPE (nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event). My friend was right about the adoption but wrong about the two of us. We were not related. In a nutshell, that’s how my story began.
Life does not prepare you for such moments. As abrupt and shocking as it was, this revelation explained so much. My physical appearance, personality, and temperament differed significantly from my father’s. I was athletic; he was not. We had little to nothing in common and even less to talk about. We have not spoken in many years. Those who knew both my father and me well commonly joked that I must be “the milkman’s child.” My wife has known my father for more than 30 years and never once thought we were related. I laughed these comments off, but I really couldn’t disagree. The differences were problematic to me. I knew enough about genetics to know that much of what defines our identity, the sense of who we are, is inherited. I feared that I would start to see undesirable attributes of my father revealing themselves in me one day.
The realization that I was adopted lifted an incalculable weight from my shoulders. The fear that I would someday become my father was a burden more significant than I had previously appreciated. Yet, strangely perhaps, as the reality set in, this genetic enlightenment was validating and liberating for me. The truth had freed me.
You can read the rest of his happy ending family reunion story here – Mark Overbay.
Yesterday would have been my parent’s wedding anniversary had they still been living. I discovered when I was a middle school child that my mother conceived me out of wedlock. On their anniversary I would joke about taking a chance on them when I wanted to be born into this this life. That was because my mom was only a junior in high school and my dad had just started going to the university for higher education when they discovered my presence.
It took learning about my original grandparents (both of my parents were adopted) before it started dawning on me what a miracle it was that I was not given up for adoption. My mom’s adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. Adoption was the most natural thing in the world within my family. My dad’s parents were humble entrepreneurs making draperies for wealthy people in a little shop in their home. They were also very religious. I’ve been going through old family letters (at least 30 years old) to clean out the clutter. Every letter from my dad’s adoptive parents has some religiosity in it.
During my own journey to know my actual roots (my parents died knowing next to nothing about their mid-1930s pre-adoption parents), I did realize how amazing that I was not also given up for adoption. I believe my mom’s adoptive parents would have been in favor of it. Somehow, I do believe it was my dad’s adoptive parents that preserved me in the family, though I cannot know this for certain. What I do know is that they took my young parents in for awhile and put me in a dresser drawer for a bassinet. I also know that when we were pre-school, we were living in an apartment of a 3 residence dwelling that my paternal grandparents owned.
My parents were high school sweethearts. It may be that they would have married anyway or maybe not. My dad could have fallen in love with someone else at the university or my mom with someone else in her high school. I did find preserved loved letters from that time among their belongings but did not keep them. I had read the story of a woman who’s mother had destroyed her own such letters. This person lamented that but her mother said they were personal between the two lovers. I didn’t read my parents’ letters though I did see one note by my mom worrying about how my dad would take the news that she was pregnant.
Sometimes I wish I had kept those letters. Sometimes I wish I had kept some of their early photos but I am getting older as are my two sisters and I thought I would just divide it up and turn it over to the grandchildren instead. I exist and I grew up in a loving family and that is enough I suppose.
Adoptee reunions with their birth parents happen almost daily it seems to me in the adoption related groups that I am a member of. My adoptee mom wanted such a reunion but sadly hers never happened (when she tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, while denying her that information which would have brought her so much peace, they told her that her mother had died several years earlier).
This morning I’ve been tracking down the story of the daughter that Joni Mitchell gave up for adoption because she wrote song lyrics about that experience in Little Green a song on her album Blue which is 50 years old today.
Born with the moon in cancer Choose her a name she will answer to Call her green and the winters cannot fade her Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer He went to California Hearing that everything’s warmer there So you write him a letter and say, “her eyes are blue.” He sends you a poem and she’s lost to you Little green, he’s a non-conformer
Just a little green Like the color when the spring is born There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow Just a little green
Like the nights when the northern lights perform There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes And sometimes there’ll be sorrow
Child with a child pretending Weary of lies you are sending home So you sign all the papers in the family name You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending Just a little green Like the color when the spring is born There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green Like the nights when the northern lights perform There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes And sometimes there’ll be sorrow
Both mother and daughter were searching for each other when a series of coincidences finally brought the two of them together. It would be a very typical adoptee search and reunion with her birth mother if her mother had not been so famous. Most adoptees do not have to deal with that kind of media frenzy. It would be a typical adoptee reunion with her birth mother leads to a reunion with her birth father but for all of the fame involved. And it would be a typical adoptive parent anxiety about losing the child they raised if not for all the media frenzy that followed. On Joni Mitchell’s own website you can read the details in Joni’s Secret: Mother And Child Reunion and fully appreciate the complications.
My all things adoption group seeks to encourage young, unwed mothers like Joni Mitchell was to keep and raise their children. This is because, like Joni, adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Joni’s problems were poverty and the baby’s father being unready to parent and so abandoning them. Within 3 years, Mitchell had a recording contract, a house and a car, and could have raised her child but it was too late by then. The adoption was closed and so when the daughter began her search, she was only given non-identifying information, which is typical as well.
Things actually went surprisingly well considering it was way back in 1997 when the reunion occurred. Like my good luck in uncovering my own original grandparents, something of their stories and connecting with biological/genetic cousins and an aunt, it was as though one door opens and the pieces begin falling into place. And as like attracts like and as intentions seek to fully fulfill the desire that gave birth to them, sometimes in the adoption world we get lucky.
It is somewhat interesting and all too typical that the adopted person also has their own struggles that somewhat mirror their birth parent. Kilauren claims that she did not find out she was adopted until she was 27. “She knew when she was a teenager,” her adoptive mother, Ida Gibb says. “Her friends told her. But maybe the full significance didn’t sink in.” Kilauren’s adoptive father, David Gibb says, “The mistake we made was in trying to say she’s not adopted, that she’s one of us and let’s forget the whole thing and put it away somewhere, because we wanted her to be part of the family.” Then he adds: “People are born. They are a life. They belong to nobody.”
Kilauren’s biological parents, Joni Mitchell and Brad MacMath, were both art students in Calgary when she was conceived. They moved to Toronto during the pregnancy and discussed settling down but as he says, “We were not communicating.” and he moved from Canada to California. Mitchell says her main concern at the time was to conceal her pregnancy from her parents. And what would her parents have done ? Mitchell’s mother, Myrtle Anderson says, “If we had known she was expecting a baby, we would have helped. I’m sure we would have encouraged her to keep the baby, but we didn’t know anything about it until several years later when she and Chuck (Mitchell) separated and she was home and told us about it.”
Like many birth mothers, Joni Mitchell regretted losing her child for 30 years before the reunion finally occurred. Like many birth mothers, she might see a couple with a daughter about the age hers would have been at that time. Toronto music manager Bernie Fiedler who was a friend of Mitchell’s remembers being with her at the Mariposa Folk Festival about four years after Kilauren’s birth. “There was a couple with a little girl wanting to speak to Joni. We went over and talked to the girl, who must have been 4 or 5, and afterwards Joni turned to me and said: ‘That could be my daughter.’ I will never forget that. She was obviously suffering tremendously.” Kilauren (at the age of 32) ended up separated from the father of the son she is raising. Broken relationships seem more common with adoptees, and often with their biological parents as well, than within the overall population in general.
The thing about adoption is that it changes trajectories. Joni Mitchell may not have become as famous as she did had she kept and raised her daughter. Her daughter’s life would have been different had she not been raised in the well to do home that she was. Both mother and daughter suffered and that is always the case (whether acknowledged or unconscious) when that separation takes place. It is always the case as well, that no matter how loving the adoptive parents are or how good of a childhood that adopted child has, a yearning to be made whole again is universal. Not all reunions go well and this one has been bumpy like many of these are.
Typically, the adoptive parents feared this as well. Losing Kilauren to her birth mother “was our greatest fear,” her adoptive mother Ida Gibb said. “It was a nightmare that this would happen to us when she was little and when she was a teenager. Now, it is easier to take. But it’s still hard.”
My 67th birthday comes up in 2 days now. The image here is from early in my marriage, before our sons were born. We will celebrate 33 years this June.
There is so much I am grateful for but first and foremost it is that I was not given up for adoption. I could have so easily been lost to this family I grew up within. My mom was a 16 yr old high school student in El Paso TX who found herself pregnant with me and unwed. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces that year. They are both deceased now. When I was cleaning out my parents belongings to ready their house for sale, I discovered that my mom had kept every love letter she got from my dad during that time. I also found a note where she was worried about telling him she was pregnant.
Both my mom and dad were adopted. That is why I think it is a miracle I was not given up. My mom’s adoptive parents were well to do, had made a lucky early investment in Circle K just as the stores were beginning and on top of that my adoptive grandfather was a bank vice president. My adoptive grandmother was a socialite. I believe it was actually my dad’s adoptive parents who were always poor, entrepreneurial sorts who made custom draperies for a living, that preserved me in the family and supported my dad in marrying my mom.
Because I was preserved my two sisters were born. Maybe they would have been or maybe my parents would have gone their separate ways but that is not what happened so it is a moot point. I believe I have now fulfilled my destiny in this life. Within a year of my parents deaths (they died 4 mos apart after more than 50 years of marriage), I had uncovered who my original grandparents were. I have met or made contact with an aunt and some cousins for each branch of my grandparents families. I am the only link between them because the four of them went their separate ways.
My maternal grandmother remarried but never had any other children. My maternal grandfather also remarried but didn’t have any more children with his third wife. Yes, he and my grandmother were married at the time she conceived my mom. It will always be a mystery why he left her 4 mos pregnant and why after being sent from Tennessee to Virginia to have (and probably expected to give up) my mom, he didn’t respond when she returned to Memphis and tried to reach him. Her desperation led to Georgia Tann getting her hands on my mom . . .
My paternal grandmother had a hard life growing up. My dad was conceived with the assistance of a Danish immigrant who was married to a much older woman. He probably never even knew about my dad. My grandmother simply handled it as the self-resourceful woman she was. She did remarry twice and had 3 other children. At the time my dad died, her last child (my aunt) was living only 90 miles away, totally unknown to my dad.
I celebrate that I am alive and I am happy to have now become whole in ways my parents (who died knowing next to nothing about their origins) never were. I had to wait over 60 years before that happened for me. It is true that, if my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would simply not exist at all. Even so, there is much wrong about the practice of adoption (I write about that here all the time) . . . including that the state of Tennessee denied my mother access to her own adoption file in the early 90s. No one told her when the law was changed for the victims of Georgia Tann to be given access but because of that law, I now possess all of the documents in her adoption file. In her file there were black and white pictures of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at Porter-Leath Orphanage. It was to that storied and respected institution that my grandmother, in desperation, turned for temporary care of her precious baby girl. The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother by alerting Georgia Tann to my mom’s existence.
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 –
 Adoption is a joyous event for all involved – known as the Unicorns and Rainbows Fantasy in adoption centric communities;  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);  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;  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;  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,  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.