Parallels – Adoption & Abduction

A chart created by The Bumbling Adoptee on Facebook caught my attention – “the loss and trauma associated with infant abduction and infant adoption run parallel.”

The author shows in graphic form the vast differences regarding societal expectations in each situation as regards the outcomes. The similarities are in the loss of the child’s original family and the fact that the child is then raised by genetic strangers.

Within adoption – most of the time the child’s original name is changed. Some are not even told they were adopted, only to discover it later in life with a heavy emotional cost. Many adoptees will never be able to find out anything about who their original family was.

A lack of important medical information is a major issue for a lot of adoptees – it was for my parents (mom and dad were both adoptees) and has been for me as their child too.

It is now being acknowledged more frequently, though sometimes minimized by profit motivated interests, that there is trauma whenever a child is separated from their original family.

In the case of adoptions by one race of another race, there is often a loss of culture and native language.

The child never had a choice but was thrust into the situation.

How is an infant abduction viewed differently in society ?

Their original identity will always be considered their real identity. The law will side against the abductor. There will be an attempt to reunify the child with their original family. It is seen by society as a tragedy instead of a blessing or even God’s plan. The child is considered a victim.

In adoption, the outcome is far different with loyalty to the adoptive parents expected along with gratitude. Often society does not acknowledge the trauma that the adoptee experienced.

To simply this – An abducted child is expected to retain fond memories of, and long for reunification with, their “real” families of birth, and reject the abductor raising them, while adoptees are expected to bond unquestioningly to non-related strangers, and in some cases are expected or encouraged to abandon any thoughts or talk of seeking out their roots.

A longer article is available from The Huffington Post – Adoption and Abduction: Legal Differences, Emotional Similarities by Mirah Riben.

Victims of Adoption ?

There is currently some upset about birth mothers on TikTok (which I’m not on). An adoptee frustrated with birth moms who have large social media platforms of 30K+ subscribers. Adoptees whose voices should be elevated above birth moms not getting nearly as many views. These birth moms think they know it all when it comes to adoption, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Adoptees are the experts. Period.

At the same time admitting that it’s great they want to help reform the system, but they are part of the problem. They participated and benefited from the system. They signed on the dotted line. But there are first moms out there that are using their platform to profit. A few advise hopeful adoptive parents about how to attract expectant mothers to choose them, in exchange for a fee. They are dangerous and should not be held in such high regard (for example, being asked to speak at paid events).

Another adoptee writes – First mothers who use social media platforms to center themselves as the victims of adoption. In doing so, they focus the attention on their own self, putting themselves out there as the experts in adoption, when the people who should be receiving the attention for lived experience, the true experts in the post-natal trauma of adoption, are the infant adoptees. I am a domestic infant adoptee. I am also a mother of loss to Child Protective Services. I was given very little choice but to sacrifice my parental rights to the machine. I am not the victim of the system: My *children* are the victims. They are the ones who will live every moment of every day of their lives with the consequences of decisions I made, forced or not. If I was to center myself, I would create a vacuum in which there is no room for my children’s experience, and so, I choose to step back and allow them to be the experts regarding their experience — even when it hurts me. The problem with these “loud” mothers of loss is that they cannot comprehend that it really isn’t about them at all: it’s about the person they gave away. And as much as I feel for Baby Scoop Era moms…. I stand by this perspective, even with those mothers.

Baby Scoop Era. Took place during the period of approximately 1945 thru 1974. A time when single mothers–along with and by US society generally–were brainwashed into believing that single mothers could not raise, on their own, a child, and thus large numbers of white babies (mostly, due to demand) were made available to adoption agencies and through them to adoptive parents to “grab”.

Also at the end of the day, it is the children who are the victims. They are the ones *most* hurt by being denied access to their parents, and when their parents aren’t helped as much as possible, it is the children’s loss. Nobody gives a shit about the mothers. For most mothers of loss, they are just vessels for the baby the hopeful adoptive parents want. For those of us who lost ours to the machine, we’re the monsters who abused or neglected our children. It doesn’t matter how loudly we advocate for ourselves or one another, there is still a LARGE contingent of society who is going to see us that way. We’re abusers. Neglecters. Terrible people who hurt children. We’re lying because we have a blood in this game. Believe me – NOBODY CARES.

When we flip that narrative and talk about the children, knowing that the system was MADE for them, to protect them. Then, when we point out that the system designed to protect them is failing them, by exposing them to new trauma by removing them in the first place, then placing them with stranger caregivers who are often more abusive than their families were in the first place, now we have people listening. I’ve been in this fight for long enough to know that as a mother of loss, I’m easily dismissed. But the moment I talk about what my loved ones are experiencing in the care of their kinship caregiver, people start to listen. Better services for families is better for the kids. But we have to put the children of loss center stage, if we’re ever going to make a difference. Because it is the adoptees and the foster care youth who are the ones who really matter.

Related Issues

Two articles came to my attention yesterday that I believe are related. One was titled The Baby Bust: Why Are There No Infants to Adopt? The subtitle was – Declining birth rates and other factors make it difficult for hopeful adoptive parents to create their forever families. In my all things adoption group, it has become obvious to me that many prospective adoptive parents have become more than a bit desperate.

I actually do believe that the Pro-Life movement is driven by the sharp decline in women either not carrying a pregnancy or choosing to be single parents. Our society’s norms have changed since the 1930s when my parents were adopted.

The other article was Why is the US right suddenly interested in Native American adoption law? In this situation, laws meant to protect Native Americans who have been exploited and cheated out of so much, including their own children, is being challenged by white couples wanting to adopt as being a kind of reverse discrimination against them.

So back to the first article –

The number of adoptions in general has been steadily declining over the years. U.S. adoptions reached their peak in 1970 with 175,000 adoptions tallied. That number had fallen to 133,737 by 2007. Seven years later, the total sank further to 110,373, a 17% decrease.

Reports of a 50% or more decrease in available birth mothers are coming from adoption agencies all over. As a result, some agencies have folded. Those still in operation are compiling long waiting lists of hopeful adoptive parents.

Even so, the demand for infants to adopt remains high. The good news is also that fewer teenagers are becoming pregnant. Teen birth rates peaked at 96.3 per 1,000 in 1957 during the post-war baby boom. However, with the widespread acceptance and use of birth control, there has been a dramatic decline in the teenage pregnancy rate.  This rapid decline in teenage birth rates was seen across all major racial and ethnic groups. 

Estimates indicate that approximately half of the pregnancies in the United States were not planned. Of those unintended pregnancies, about 43% end in abortion; less than 1% of such pregnancies end in adoption. Adoption is a rare choice. The pandemic shut-down also reduced places where meetings could occur that tend to lead to casual encounters, which often result in unplanned pregnancies.

On to that second article –

A 1978 law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act or ICWA tried to remedy adoption practices that were created to forcibly assimilate Native children. Last April, an appeals court upheld parts of a federal district court decision, in a case called Brackeen v Haaland, that found parts of ICWA “unconstitutional”. The non-Indian plaintiffs (mostly white families wanting to foster and adopt Native children) contend that federal protections to keep Native children with Native families constitute illegal racial discrimination, and that ICWA’s federal standards “commandeer” state courts and agencies to act on behalf of a federal agenda.

The thinking that non-Indians adopting Native children is as old as the “civilizing” mission of colonialism – saving brown children from brown parents. In fact, among prospective adoptive parents there is a dominant belief that they are actually saving children. Native families, particularly poor ones, are always the real victims. A high number, 25-35%, of all Native children have been separated from their families. They are placed in foster homes or adoptive homes or institutions. Ninety percent are placed in non-Indian homes. Native children are four times more likely to be removed from their families than white children are from theirs. Native family separation has surpassed rates prior to ICWA according to a 2020 study.

The fact is that there is a dark side to foster care. Some state statutes may provide up to several thousands of dollars a child per month to foster parents, depending on the number of children in their care and a child’s special needs. Why doesn’t that money go towards keeping families together by providing homes instead of tearing them apart?

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift Of My Parents’ Adoptions

If they were still living, today my parents would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. Their anniversary was always special to me because I was already there the day they married. My high school junior mom was pregnant with me. I believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to thank that my mom’s adoptive parents didn’t send her away to have and give me up. Just the fact that they got married in a church that my dad’s parents attended – the Church of Christ – and not in the church my mom’s parents attended – Episcopalian – speaks volumes to me.

I don’t think I would realize just how fortunate I am, if I had not learned the stories of my parents’ adoptions. When I was in junior high, I realized that there was only 7 months between my parents wedding and my birth. I was angry with my mom about that for a very long time and wouldn’t let her touch me. Strange I wasn’t as angry at my dad. I was a child and as a girl I had gotten all those good girl lectures and though I don’t remember it clearly now, it was probably my mom delivering them and why I blamed her and not him. I was probably only troubled by the perceived hypocrisy.

But they did love each other very much. They stayed married for just over 60 years. My mom died 20 days before their 61st wedding anniversary. At first, I didn’t think my dad would be able to carry on but somehow he mustered a bit of will to try. However, he died only 4 months after she did. That is how much not having her in his life anymore just made life no longer worth living. Not that he committed suicide but on New Year’s Eve he had a stroke. He came out of the hospital not believing it until he read the discharge papers. Then on the morning of February 3rd, he simply stopped breathing and let it all go with a slight smile on his face after a good night’s sleep.

Realizing the conventional norms in the early 1950s when my mom became pregnant with me (often referred to as the Baby Scoop era due to the high rate of babies surrendered to adoption) while researching all things related to adoption as I began to learn what my parents died still not knowing – who their original parents were as well as reuniting with cousins and one aunt – made me appreciate that I did not become another victim.

If my parents had not been adopted, I simply would not exist, nor would my two sisters. Our children, my parents’ grandchildren, would not exist. Though the circumstances that led to my parents’ adoptions were far from perfect, I can now say they were imperfectly perfect for my own self. My sense of wholeness has been restored. My sense of identity has been returned to me. And so much wisdom about all things adoption and foster care have made themselves known to me and that would never have occurred but for the gift (to me) of my parents having been adopted.

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.

Stress Responses

Some adoptive parents mistake their adopted child’s compliance with the situation as a good outcome adjustment.  What I have learned from adoptees that there is an even more intense reaction that is called fawning.  Think of the kidnap victim that eventually identifies with their captors – like Patty Hearst did.

Every adoptee is an individual and each responds differently to the circumstances of their relinquishment and their placement in a new home.

Fawning is best understood as “people-pleasing.”  Both of my parents were adoptees and I saw this kind of behavior in my mom and learned it from her.  This kind of behavior can endear one to other people but it is not always healthy to be this way.

People with the fawn response are so accommodating of other people’s needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships.  Fortunately, when that has happened to me, I’ve found a way out – even if it took some time to get there.

Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.  It takes some maturity to take one’s power back.

Sadly, fawn types are more vulnerable to emotional abuse and exploitation.  Abusers may suppress a survivor’s fight or flight responses by threatening punishment.  The appease response, also known as ‘please’ or ‘fawn’, is a survival response which occurs [when] survivors read danger signals and aim to comply and minimize the confrontation in an attempt to protect themselves.  I’ve been there, done that and I’ve seen my mom do likewise.

If you are an adoption survivor (adoption is definitely a form of trauma to a child), you are not alone in using this for safety. There is no shame in struggling with fawning. Fawning, like the other stress responses, is a self-protective armor. It has helped many adoption survivors live through being placed in a family that does not fit their nature naturally.