Is it possible to have a good adoption? It’s a fairly charged question and there are outspoken people on both sides of this. There are many justifiably angry adoptees who suffered terribly in the adoptive families they were placed with, there are justifiably angry birth mothers who were literally forced to give up their children, and there are angry HAPs (hopeful adoptive parents) who feel that adoption is a wonderful thing and that love conquers all.
Am I going to answer this question once and for all in this article? Not at all. But an interesting comment came up regarding this recently in a Facebook group I belong to. It’s a support group for adoptees who are working through the repercussions of being adopted and in some cases, being in reunion. The commenter made a very interesting and valid point when he said, “I don’t have any trauma, my adoption was and is fine.“
I have two comments regarding this.
The first is that I would have to question whether the commenter is still in denial; what we call the adoption fog. In my own case, I spent a vast majority of my life, not looking too closely at my life and my problems with any significant depth. I felt that adoption, although a fact of my infancy, did not have any effect on my current life. My ‘issues’ were a product of my personality and of family dynamics; issues probably common in many other families. I hadn’t yet discovered the shared experience of so many adoptees that allowed me to connect the dots when looking back on my life.
Before I was ejected from the fog, I would have responded in much the same way as the commenter did. Now I recognise shared themes of abandonment, attachment, trust, and more in my past and current decisions and reactions. Recognising and accepting that I have adoption issues is not a crutch for me to lean on, it’s not something to shift blame onto, rather, it’s the source of a personal clarity that I’ve never experienced before. It is a solid and foundational foothold for me to use as I scale the cliffs of my psyche. It is something tangible for me to grasp onto and use to help me deal with my past and my problems as I strive to become a better and more whole person.
I’m not going to dismiss his comment though, by assuming that he is in fact, still in the fog. I don’t think that’s fair; I don’t know him, his story, or his experience.
And as I said, he makes a very valid point; his adoption may very well have been wonderful. But this brings me to my second point and the main point of this article:
Adoption itself may not be a trauma for everyone, but every single separation of mother and child is, without question, a devastating trauma.
We need to seperate the trauma of separation; which every child experiences, from the experience of being raised in an adoptive family. The trauma is in the separation. How deeply the trauma affects the life of the child is very much dependant upon the adopted family life the child is raised in, and how the child is able to deal with the grief of their separation
There are many factors in the adoptive family which can either increase or minimise the child’s separation trauma.
- Bonding with adoptive mother. According to Nancy Verrier in her landmark book, The Primal Wound, while the adoptive mother can never completely replace the child’s original mother, she can (and must) create a bond with the child and become their rock of safety and trust. If this doesn’t happen, the child will be prone to experiencing trust, attachment, and abandonment issues to often great degrees.
- Understanding parents who let the child grieve and are up front with the fact that the child is adopted. (no secrets) It is natural for separated children to mourn the loss of their parents no matter what their age. This is NOT a failure of the adoptive parents; it is human and natural. Keeping knowledge of the adoption a secret serves the interests of no one but the adoptive parents. It is WRONG! Reading the overwhelming sense of betrayal and anger in the accounts of adult adoptees who discover the secret of their adoption is heartbreaking and frustrating. In this modern age of DNA testing, it is impossible to keep adoption a secret. I won’t even go into the immorality of it.
- Allowing the child to question their origins and to search for them if and when they are ready. There is no such thing as a blank slate. A newborn may not consciously remember being separated from his or her mother, but they were there and personally experienced it. It is forever seared into their unconscious mind.
It is a fact of life for every adoptee that they will always have two mothers and two fathers. It takes two people to encompass each of these roles for adoptees, so it is only natural that they crave to know both sets of parents.
So, yes, I agree that is is very possible to have a wonderful experience being raised in an adoptive family, but that doesn’t negate the trauma experienced by the child when he or she was separated from their mother. I disagree that there was no trauma.
I very strongly believe that this trauma, most often experienced as a sense of loss or unresolved grief, is one of the primary motivations behind the desire of adoptees to search for their birth parents; regardless of how they consciously perceive it.
To search for something means that something is lost or missing.
Not every adoptee searches. I will venture that the reasons they express for not wanting to or needing to search may not be their actual reasons. I can’t begin to express the deep, primal fear that begins to awaken at the thought of being rejected a second time. It is so deep and so primal that there is often a fear of that fear. It prevents a great many adoptees from even recognising what they are really afraid of. When we are told everywhere we turn by society that family is everything, imagine for a moment what it must feel like to be rejected and abandoned by your family as the first act of your life. Imagine what it must be like for those children abandoned at ages old enough to remember it.
And then try to tell me there is no trauma.
I don’t think it’s difficult to understand why the fog of denial sets in and for some people, never goes away. It takes incredible courage to face a fear like that.
So, dear commenter, I partially agree with you. Maybe your adoption (adopted life) has been wonderful. Maybe your adoptive parents were able to really minimise the effect of your separation trauma, but I don’t believe you for a second when you say that there was no trauma to begin with.
I don’t think it’s humanly possible.
So where did we land on the question, is it possible to have a good adoption?
I think that the only people really equipped to answer that question even within the adoption triangle, are the adoptees. And the thing about that is that every single adoptee will have their own way of answering that question based on these three criteria:
- the adoptee’s adoptive family life
- How the adoptee has been able to personally deal with the original trauma of being separated from their original mother
- How deeply in or out of the fog they are.
I need to stress in closing, that this is NOT the same as asking, “is adoption good?”. That is a totally different question which requires a far greater amount of thought and consideration, and usually requires a book to provide an adequate answer.
Speaking of books, please don’t just take my word on this. Educate yourself! Here is a really good start:
The view of an adoptee:
Lost & Found: The Adoption Experience. By Betty Jean Lifton
Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. By Betty Jean Lifton
The view of an original mother:
Books by Evelyn Robinson
The view of an adoptive mother:
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. By Nancy Newton Verrier