Invitation to Share Information on Adoptees and Suicide

I reached out to Forefront, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization here in Washington state, about depression, trauma, and suicide in the adoption community. I asked if they might consider highlighting adoptees in some way on their website, to provide information for them and their families.

Today I was invited to be a guest author for their blog, as well as to offer other ideas of how I think they could bring awareness to this issue on their website.

I am honored to do so, and am very appreciative of Forefont’s response and their openness to receiving and providing this information.

I want to open this up to adult adoptees to share in the writing of the blog post and the provision of information. It may or may not have been my status as an adoptive parent that opened this door, but I would like to go through it with the voices and insights of adult adoptees. I know so many who have amazing professional credentials as therapists and researchers, who have hard-earned experience with depression and trauma, and who have had loved ones attempt or die by suicide. Please: send me an email at Maureen (at) LightOfDayStories.com and let me know if you would be willing to help shine more light on the role of suicide, and suicide prevention, in the adoption community.

First/birth parents are welcome also, of course, as are adoptive parents, siblings, spouses/partners, and others. We need many voices. Suicide affects all of us, and we must work together on prevention.

Here’s some information about Forefront. Please check out and support their website.

“Mission: Forefront advances innovative approaches to suicide prevention through policy change, professional training, campus and school-based interventions, media outreach, support for persons affected by suicide and program evaluation.

Vision: We envision Washington State as a community where there is no suicide. To achieve this goal: 1) the public needs education that suicide is preventable including how to help those affected by suicide; 2) individuals in crisis have to have rapid access to effective treatment for behavioral health disorders; 3) strategies need to be implemented that prioritize emotional wellness and suicide prevention readiness within healthcare systems, schools and campuses, and by employers; and 4) progressive state policies that support the aforementioned conditions must be enacted.

Goal: Reduce the suicide rate in Washington State by a minimum of twenty percent by 2020. Once successful, Forefront will broaden its outreach to other states where the rates of suicide in the U.S. are the highest.

At Forefront, we know most suicides are preventable and that the time to act is now.”

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Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering

Update: For resources about adoption-related suicide awareness and prevention, here is information.

Just this morning, as I was getting ready to post this, I read on my Facebook feed about a 28-year-old Korean adoptee who died by suicide two days ago. I did not know her. She was the same age as my oldest son, and she had a daughter about the age of my granddaughter. May she rest in peace.

I am holding in my heart a 20-something-year-old adoptee, adopted with a biological sibling into a huge adoptive family (more than 25 kids). He is overwhelmed all the time these days, as a result of things he has done and has had done to him. He wants to go home, though he’s not sure any longer where “home” is. He is in great need of mental health services, and is intently resisting help. He is teetering on the edge of suicide.

Yes, I know most adoptees do well. But this one is struggling, and it appears to be the result of events after he was adopted. His adoptive family has abandoned him.

My two most shared blog posts (shared over 1000 times on Facebook) are “Does ‘Adoption’ Really Equal ‘Trauma’?” and “Fisseha Sol Samuel: Irreplaceably Marvelous.” Both deal with a hard side of life: trauma and suicide. The first post says, yes, adoption is trauma, and there is a spectrum of response to it. The second post was written last October following the suicide of an Ethiopian adoptee who had previously exhibited no symptoms of depression, and whose death was likely (we will never know for sure) the result of a sudden, triggering, traumatizing event in which he was overwhelmed and impulsive. Fisseha’s mother, Melissa Faye Green, has written several powerful posts as she sorts through her son’s death.

Here is an excerpt from my post about Fisseha:

“There is sobering research that says that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. It’s here in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not lightweight stuff, and even more startling in that the mean age of the 1000 participants was about 14. Out of the total group, which included adoptees and biological children, 56 had attempted suicide; 47 of those were adoptees.”

I am holding in my heart a 14-year-old Eastern European adoptee, who is too familiar with drugs and sex, who is loved deeply by her adoptive parents, who is in various therapies, who cuts herself and threatens suicide often. She can be a bubbly, sweet teen, and also a deeply frightened and frightening out-of-control mystery.

Yes, her struggle may not be the result of being adopted, but rather of what happened to her before she was adopted. She is struggling, and those who love her are deeply worried.

No one enjoys thinking of adoption as a trauma. No one likes to talk about suicide. And, I know: most adoptees–most people generally–don’t consider or die by suicide.

That said, let’s start thinking and talking about the link among adoption, trauma, and suicide. Let’s insist that suicide awareness be a part of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Let’s demand that anyone who claims “adoption competency” in their therapeutic practice is extremely knowledgeable about suicide. Let’s actively and shamelessly share resources to prevent suicide. Let’s request workshops like “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption” as a topic at adoption-related conferences. We need to stop whispering about suicide and adoption, and to speak about it with clarity and without fear.

I am holding in my heart a 16-year-old adoptee from India, beloved by her adoptive family, mentored by an adult Indian adoptee, raised in Minnesotan suburbs, who killed herself about a month ago.

Yes, she struggled, and also was offered and received help. She may be at peace now, though all those left behind are filled with sorrow and questions.

These 3 adoptees are among the reasons that we must talk about the role of trauma and suicide in adoption.

A few weeks ago, I was at the national conference of the American Adoption Congress. The main legislative advocacy effort of the AAC has historically been access to original birth certificates, a means of allowing adopted persons to know who they are, a basic human and civil right.

What is the connection between suicide and the AAC’s legislative efforts? Well, there may be a genetic component to the likelihood of suicide. Access to one’s medical and mental health history–too often denied to adopted persons–could be a matter of life and death. Knowing about a history of depression or other mental illnesses in one’s family could mean proactive treatment and interventions. It is yet another reason that closed records are unfair, untenable, and wrong.

Here are links to two medical journal articles:

Genetic and Familial Environmental Effects on Suicide – An Adoption Study of Siblings

Genetics of Suicide: An Overview

Many adoptees are adopted into families where the adoptive parents are well off financially, have attended college, and are in highly regarded professions.The adopted children go to excellent schools and often have wonderful opportunities. Still. Take a look at “Best, Brightest–And Saddest?”, in which Frank Bruni reflects on the “suicide contagion” among teens in Palo Alto and elsewhere who are under pressure to succeed academically in highly competitive situations. The article cites a CDC report that says 17 percent of American high school students considered suicide in 2012. Eight percent said they’d attempted it.

Suicide, of course, feeds on trauma and depression, and does not discriminate based on economics and education. While the “suicide cluster” among high schoolers in “epicenters of overachievement” is discussed in the New York Times’ article above, there has also been a similar tragedy–which has not made national press–among young people in Seattle. Three young men, ages 18, 18, and 20, who were students at the Seattle Interagency Academy (SIA), died by suicide, within a 4 month period in the last year. SIA works with at-risk youth, who have struggling families and who are often homeless or on probation. Listen to an excellent podcast with the SIA principal here.

Coincidentally, there was a string of 7 suicides by adolescents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota around the same time. No one is quite sure why this is happening, though bullying and grim prospects for the future seem to be significant.

I don’t know if any of these young people had spent time in foster care or were adopted. Certainly, though, their life paths echoed those of many young people whose families are struggling mightily, and those struggles are often the reasons that children land in foster care and/or adoption. Racism and micro-aggressions can significantly affect the mental health of transracial adoptees; I wrote about that reality here. Even adoptees placed as infants in same-race families can struggle with loss, grief, identity, and feelings of not belonging. It’s clear that many of these challenges manifest in adolescence.

This is all daunting tough stuff. I am seeking a balance: to acknowledge suicide prevention as a goal about which we can all speak in the adoption community, not over-reacting, being pro-active, and supporting each other. My next post on this subject will give some resources.

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Light Through Trees, Forest near Lake Langano, Ethiopia © Maureen McCauley Evans

Racism, Trauma, and Adoption: Wake Up

Racism, trauma, and adoption are far more entwined than many people want to admit.

As a white person, I will start by saying this: Racism is real, pervasive, mostly implicit, better than it once was, and currently is damaging our culture, children, and future, in a genuine and tragic way.

As an adoptive parent of children of color, let me say that if you adopt transracially, you must make every effort possible to raise your child in a home where he sees you have friends who look like him, where she sees other children and adult role models who look like her, where you understand racial microaggressions and are comfortable talking about them, and where your approach to the child’s culture of origin isn’t an ethnic restaurant on special occasions or just artwork, dolls, and music.

Enough.

Here are two Wake Up Calls, for adoptive parents of children of color, though truly for anyone who wonders about racism and its impact.

The First Wake Up Alarm:

A 69-year-old black man, walking in Seattle in July 2014, using a golf club as a cane, was arrested, because the police officer says he threatened her with the golf club. Problem: The police department’s own video shows no such thing.

While the incident took place last summer, the video only came to light yesterday. It was obtained through a public records request by the Seattle-based paper The Stranger. Read the article with the videotape here.

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I’ve long known about DWB (Driving While Black),  but OMWWB (Old Man Walking While Black) is a new one.

Racism in the Seattle Police Department has been well-known for years, and the department is under federal investigation. Read more here.

This could be your grampa. William Wingate is a US Air Force veteran. He drove a King County Metro bus for 20 years. He was walking in daylight using a golf club as a cane. He is not mentally unstable, nor was he threatening anyone. He never swung at the police officer. He needed help getting into the police wagon, since he was handcuffed, and almost 70 years old.

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William Wingate on the way to jail. Image taken from police videotape.

He was arrested and spent a night in jail, something that had never happened to him before in his life.

If the videotape were not requested by The Stranger, we never would have known what happened to this man.

The Seattle Police have apologized, as of yesterday.

For me, this is a tipping point. As if Ferguson and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin weren’t enough. For me, it’s seeing, on videotape, an old man, who’s clearly hard of hearing, being accosted and jailed for nothing. It’s all on the videotape. The officer said in her report she was fearful of being assaulted by him. The officer, Cynthia Whitlach, has been reported as posting racist comments on Facebook along the way as well, per this The Stranger article.

I have written recently about “Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges” and “Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere.” It’s a sad coincidence that this case of William Wingate–the man with the golf club–should reach headlines today.

The Second Wake Up Alarm:

Racism, both violent incidents and the accumulation of micro aggressions, is a form of trauma. Don’t believe me? How about the medical profession’s bible, the DSM?

Medical Daily reported in 2013 that proposed changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) could increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma in racial and ethnic minorities. In Psychology Today, Dr. Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and the associate director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, said that in “earlier versions of the DSM, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event. There had to be an incident of intense fear, helplessness, or horror for such consideration. For instance, if someone was assaulted in a racially-motivated event, then racism qualified as a sufficient trauma to be categorized as a cause of PTSD.

But now, under the new DSM-5 definition, the requirements for fear, helplessness, and horror have been removed, making room for the more lasting effects of subtle racism to be considered in the discussion of race-based traumas.”

That is an important and groundbreaking bit of news. Subtle racism can include microaggressions, which over time can erode people of esteem, energy, and hope. Microaggressions have been written about in many places, including American Psychologist and the Journal of Counseling and Development. The abstract for that latter article says that “This study examined the relationship between racial microaggressions (subtle and unintentional forms of racial discrimination) and mental health. Results from a large sample (N = 506) indicated that higher frequencies of racial microaggressions negatively predicted participants’ mental health and that racial microaggressions were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms and negative affect. Differences in the types of microaggressions experienced by various racial groups (Asian, Latina/o, Black, White, and multiracial) and counseling implications are discussed.”

Another perspective on racial microaggressions can be found in Buzzfeed. It’s received close to 3,000,000 views.

Add to that a discussion of whether adoption is a form of trauma. I wrote a post Does Adoption Really Equal Trauma? which has been shared on Facebook close to 950 times.

What happens to transracially adopted children, who may well have experienced trauma, and who are subject to racial microaggressions (if not explicit racism) as well?

The issue of trauma is a spectrum, and is influenced by individual experience and resilience. Not all adopted people, not all Asian (or other race) adoptees, and not all black people experience trauma or PTSD.

Some do, though.

For adopted children, especially but not only those of color, we need to have big, courageous conversations around racism. We need to be aware of trauma.

And we need progress in mental health and in adoption-related services.

We need more therapists of color, who have life experience with racism and with racial microaggressions, who can help their patients of color feel comfortable and safe in seeking help, and who can help educate their white colleagues as well. Can white therapists treat people of color successfully? Yes. But let’s get more therapists of color so that our children of color see themselves reflected in mental health professionals.

For adopted children, we need to value the life experience and perspectives of adult adoptees who are clinical therapists. There are increasing numbers of white, Korean, Colombian, and African-American adult adoptees who are doing excellent, important work in adoption.

We need more counselors and therapists across the board who are well-trained in adoption competency. One such approach is Training in Adoption Competency, affiliated with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

A quote from TAC:

“What are the core knowledge areas for an adoption competent mental health professional?

An adoption competent mental health professional understands the nature of adoption as a form of family formation and the different types of adoption; the clinical issues that are associated with separation and loss and attachment; the common developmental challenges in the experience of adoption; and the characteristics and skills that make adoptive families successful. An adoption competent mental health professional is culturally competent with respect to the racial and cultural heritage of children and families and the culture of birth families.”

Another strong training resource for professionals is Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao’s Certificate Program in Adoption Competency. My point: If you are an adoptive parent interested in therapy for yourself or your child, insist on adoption-competent therapists.

I don’t know if William Wingate, the elderly black man I wrote about at the beginning, experienced trauma. I’ve no doubt he has experienced racism. I wish him well, and I think he deserves much more than an apology.

For transracially adopted babies, children, and teens, who grow up to be adults, let’s talk openly and honestly about racism in the United States, and the intense damage it is doing to all of us. Let’s do that for all of us.

 

 

 

 

Romanticizing Adoption Is a Disservice to Children and Families

The romanticization of adoption is common, draining, and harmful. If I say “adoption,” and you say, “Awwww,” picturing cute waifs on a charming playground smiling with their  interracial family–well, you have bought into a Disney/Hallmark version. It’s unattainable because it isn’t real. Yet it’s rare for someone to say to a biological family what is all too often said to parents who adopt: “Wow, I really admire you. You’re a saint. I could never do that.”

That romantic view is pervasive and powerful, one that puts a burden on adoptive families and adopted children. It allows, even encourages, parents to embrace unreasonable expectations, and then pass them, unfairly, on to the child.

What happens when the child does not and cannot meet the romantic image?

Two unromantic realities that some adopted children deal with are (1) hoarding and stealing food and (2) difficulty with appropriate bathroom behaviors. These behaviors can be very frustrating to adoptive parents, especially those who have raised bio children, and who are used to setting limits and being obeyed.

Hoarding food, overeating, and stealing food are common behaviors for adopted children, at least early on after their arrival in a home with plenty of food. Hoarding food can give a sense of control to a child, a back-up in case the food disappears again. We might look at hoarding as survival skills for children who have, in their short lives, been deprived of food, been painfully hungry, or have been forced to compete or struggle for food. Or we can see it as defiant and selfish.

This was true for Hana and Immanuel Williams, and apparently for the two Barbour children: Allegations of hoarding and stealing food are part of these child abuse cases, and the children were viewed as rebellious.

In the case of Hana and Immanuel, the parents did not seek help; in the case of the Barbours, they ignored it. In both families, the children were abused and endangered.

For unprepared adoptive parents, the hoarding and overeating behavior can seem insolent and pointless. Maybe the adopted child snatches food from the bio child. Maybe the adopted child continues to steal snacks and perishable foods (sticks of butter, grapes, cheese, hot dogs) and stuff them in between mattresses or in coat pockets–even though he’s been told repeatedly not to, or has been punished severely.

Restricting food, as Kristen Barbour apparently did for the 6-year-old boy, and as Carri Williams did for Hana and Immanuel, is often an unsuccessful approach. Hana died from malnourishment and hypothermia. The Barbour boy was diagnosed with malnutrition and possible hypothermia as his body temperature was 93.6 when he was admitted to the hospital and removed from his adoptive home.

Food issues are challenging in our society, and we often don’t like to talk about them. They can be huge in adoption. A child who hoards and steals food, who overeats compulsively, who constantly asks for food even when he’s likely not really hungry–it’s not attractive behavior.

Even harder to talk about and even less attractive are toileting issues. Toilet training is a major obsession and developmental issue for us as parents, never mind for the children.

They can be enormous issues for adopted children, since peeing and pooping are self-regulatory processes that are affected by emotions, fear, trauma, genetics, a need to control an unsettling situation, and medical conditions. And we don’t like talking about any of it, so too many people, including children, suffer alone. The Barbour boy had lesions on his skin because he’d been made to stay in urine-soaked clothing. Immanuel Williams was sprayed with a garden hose, and made to sleep on the floor of a shower room, because he peed on himself.

Children often regress in toilet training when there is trauma in their life. Some children forget to take time to pee until it’s too late; some children hold poop in until it’s dangerous to their health. Boys take longer than girls generally to master the art of toileting. Did you know that some children who have been sexually abused defecate in their beds to keep predators away?

As a society, we generally don’t like to talk about urine and feces. As adoptive parents, we like to think that we can get these long-hoped-for, finally-arrived-home children to behave nicely and politely and appropriately. We want to be the Hallmark card.

That can be an absurd expectation, at least early on and sometimes years after placement in an adoptive home, especially for children who may well have experienced trauma.

Here’s a further complication. In addition to expecting the same behaviors from adopted children that non-traumatized, physically healthy bio kids from birth have, one of the biggest burdens in adoption is the wrongful expectation that the adoptee should be grateful for being adopted. It’s difficult being the child of a saint, I imagine. Gratitude is complex in adoption. So are the notions of “rescue” and “saving.” What happens when a child is not grateful for being adopted? (“We adopted you, and saved you from the hellhole you were in, and you steal our food and pee on the floor?”)

Let’s do a much better job preparing prospective parents for the scary things, many of which may not happen–but could. Let’s celebrate the joy of becoming a family by understanding that the child had and lost another family before this one, something that can create a trauma even for infants, and let’s be open to the child’s needs. Let’s emphasize the benefits of flexibility in handling children’s behaviors, and decrease the element of shame in seeking help.

Let’s stop romanticizing adoption, and Hallmarking adopted children and their adoptive parents. Let’s build families in a positive, healthy, and realistic way.

You can find information about adoption and hoarding food here and here, and information about adoption and toileting issues here and here, as well as many other places on the Internet and elsewhere. Finding information and community is key. There are plenty of solutions and approaches to hoarding and toileting that don’t involve abuse.

My post “Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”? may be of interest as well.

 

 

Interchangeable, Replaceable: A Reality for Adoptees?

We adoptive parents are often taught (and teach) that adoption is win-win: a child who needs a family gets one, and an adoptive family who wants a child gets one. And that’s often true. My own family was formed through adoption, and I love my children more than I  can say.

The story goes on, though, and this is where it gets complicated. For us adoptive parents to win, someone had to lose. Through poverty, illness, or a complicated (perhaps temporary) situation, someone had to agree to hand over their child, to lose their child, possibly forever.

That’s a painful reality for adoptive parents to face. It’s even harder, I would guess, for adoptees and for first parents.

Mila Konomos, a Korean adult adoptee (who loves and is loved by her adoptive family), has written a powerful, insightful essay about the loss, the complexity of it all. It’s called “I didn’t need my biological mother–I just needed a mother.”

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Adoption, Mila writes, too often suggests that adopted children are supposed to never look back. “I was supposed to be so grateful to have a family that losing my family was supposed to be a negligible event with very little effect on my life or identity.”

Adoption, she continues, “is built on the presumption that families are interchangeable or replaceable, that parents and children are interchangeable, and that ultimately, family has nothing to do with flesh and blood, or DNA and biology, but that it’s all about proximity, exposure, and amount of time together.”

She challenges us adoptive parents: “If the bond of one’s own flesh and blood ultimately doesn’t matter, then how much less of a bond, of a commitment, does friendship or marriage carry with it?”

Take time to contemplate that, as it is a hard-won and very real insight.

It’s a painful one for adoptive parents to consider. We go through a lot to adopt a child, we prepare to love them before they arrive, and we do our best to love them deeply when they are in our family. (Most do. I recognize this is not a universal truth.) It’s hard to think that we became parents of a beloved child because someone else had to give that child up. And it’s so important that we think long and hard about that truth.

Yes, of course, there are cases where the first parents were abusive toward, neglectful of, or dangerous to their children. I’m not arguing that adoption plans aren’t needed in this world. I’m joining Mila on the journey of acknowledging that adoption is rooted in loss.

I’m reading with eyes wide open her statement that “If you believe that…your role in a relationship is disposable, then you behave in such a way that those friendships and relationships don’t last, which you then use to confirm that indeed relationships do not last and that you ultimately do not matter.”

For some (not all) adoptees, that’s a complicated, lifelong challenge. I think of a baby who at four months learned to stop crying to have needs met, because those needs were not met in a loving way. I’ve seen this challenge manifest in an adult adoptee who, while charismatic, bright, and loved, often pushes his adult relationships to a messy end, in a self-sabotaging and self-fulfilling effort to prove that relationships don’t last. I’ve known adult adoptees who struggle with trusting that others will love them and not leave, who choose not to love so they can avoid being left, avoid being replaced.  Again.

Mila concludes her essay by saying that adoption has taught her “that family is inconsequentially interchangeable and replaceable. I’ve had to spend my adult life trying to unlearn this lesson and its implications, because I realize that ultimately (was) wrong. I realize now that flesh and blood connections absolutely matter, and when they are severed, there are serious psychological and social consequences.”

What’s the takeaway from all this? To me, as an adoptive parent, it’s this:

Listen to adopted children, and let them grieve the loss of their first family, in all the manifestations that grief can take. Talk about, wonder about, write letters to, connect with their first parents in whatever ways are appropriate for your family. I remember how one of my children used to weep hot tears on Mother’s Day, not being able to recall deeply important memories. We can’t always remove the pain, and it’s hard knowing that our actions are intertwined with the pain. Sometimes our best help is to let those tears flow, and not try to make them disappear right away.

Listen to adult adoptees, whether they are in your own family or they are writing and speaking out in various forums. Mila speaks of her struggles, and also of the love of her husband and the joys of her two young children. There’s a big picture here. It’s valuable.

As adoptive parents, may we revel in the joy of parenting, and become comfortable with the reality of loss and grief. But not too comfortable. May we be willing to lead or to follow, as needed, to help our children–whether 10 years old, or 16, or 30–understand who they are, where they came from, why they may feel replaceable, even as we could never replace them.

Adoption is not an end. It’s merely a part of a path that can be alternately convoluted and smooth, with very few signs to guide us. We can’t change the past, and we must not deny its realities. We must keep moving forward, together: adopted persons, adoptive parents, and first parents. That is the only way that we can effectively improve adoption policy and practice, and outcomes for children. Adopted children grow up! May we adoptive parents be their allies, always.

Please read Mila’s post carefully, wherever you are in adoption. This video of her reunion with her Korean mother is also evocative and valuable. Many thanks to Mila, and to other adoptees who share their journeys with open hearts.

 

 

 

Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”?

Yes.

To some people, this is old news (“The Primal Wound” came out in 1993.) To some, it’s a startlingly new concept. I’d argue, though, that “adoption as trauma” exists on a spectrum, as does trauma itself: some people recover well and easily, some people are forever wounded, and most are somewhere between.

A mainstream view is that adoption is a happy event: a child needing a family gets one. How, then, is adoption a trauma? That sounds so negative and scary, especially to an adoptive parent, and to an adoptee.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that adoption is all about gains and losses, joy and grief, a balance that shifts often throughout life. I also believe if we took a deep breath and viewed adoption as trauma—trauma that can be overcome, trauma that some people may experience to a small or large degree—we would be better able to help adopted children heal and grow healthy, sooner than later. I think we adoptive parents need to acknowledge trauma as part of adoption, not only for our children, but also for their first mothers (and fathers and grandparents as siblings).

I’m hardly the first to be aware of this, or to write about it. In candor, though, I’m just beginning to fully understand and accept it. Adoptive parents who have worked hard to bring a child into their lives through adoption don’t want to think that this action is in fact rooted in trauma.

I wrote in February about a yoga retreat I attended, all about healing from trauma, through yoga, writing, and nutrition. I shared a list of items that cause trauma, and I suggested that they all describe reasons children are placed for adoption.

Much research acknowledges that separation from one’s mother is trauma. Think Harlow and the baby monkeys; think Primal Wound. In the case where the separation is the result of neglect, abuse, or death, the trauma is intensified. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a report called “Helping Foster and Adoptive families Cope with Trauma.” Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, a birth mother and powerful writer of the blog “Musings of the Lame,” wrote about the AAP report in her post “Assume There Is Adoption Trauma in Adoptees.”

We are hardwired to need and depend on our mothers for survival. If there is an end to that basic relationship, children suffer—even if they are infants, even if there is a new (loving, overjoyed) mother or mother-figure.

So it’s not only neglect or abuse that contribute to trauma, though please don’t minimize those challenges.

Adoption itself is trauma.

If we acknowledge that separation from one’s mother is a trauma, then we also must recognize that separation from one’s child is a trauma. When my granddaughter turned 6, I couldn’t help but think that was the age when her mother (along with her twin sister) arrived here in the US for adoption. I thought about their Ethiopian mother, and the loss of her 6-year-old twins.

Part of that thinking acknowledged the total lack of any counseling, follow-up, or therapy that is provided to many first mothers (and fathers, etc.), in the US but perhaps even more so around the globe. Providing equitable services to adoptive and to first parents must become a priority in adoption policy.

Some people, adoptees or otherwise, heal just fine from the trauma of separation. Some struggle with trust issues throughout their lives, and have a hard time beginning or ending relationships. Some are challenged with depression, anxiety, and more, throughout their lives. I want to stress that point: there is a spectrum of resilience among adopted people, and no doubt among first parents. The spectrum does not negate the need for equitable, timely services.

If adoptive parents could accept trauma as part of their newly adopted child’s reality, might they approach attachment and bonding differently? Might they see some of the post-honeymoon (the time after the adoptive placement) behaviors as grief, due to trauma? Even infants grieve.

What if pediatricians gave new adoptive parents brochures about trauma, as well as developmental checklists?

What if agencies had prospective families listen to experienced parents whose children have struggled, instead of the parents with the cute toddlers? What if agencies had adopted adults speak of their experiences around trust, stealing, lying, and depression, as well as identity and race? What if agencies acknowledged the need to provide equitable services to international first parents, to help them deal with their losses and grief?

What if we normalized trauma, as an inherent part of adoption? What if we accepted that possibility calmly, and gathered resources for our children?

I would have done a few things differently when raising my children, had I been more willing to consider trauma when they were little. Maybe I could have made their paths smoother.

Deanna Doss Schrodes is an adoptee, Christian pastor, and the writer behind “Adoptee Restoration.” Corie Skolnick is a therapist and author. Both Deanna and Corie are contributors to the excellent anthology, Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, edited by (adoptee, expat, writer) Laura Dennis. Deanna and Corie had a conversation via Deanna’s blog, about the subject of adoption and trauma, and it’s well worth reading and contemplating (“Ask a Therapist: How Is Trauma Part of Adoption?“).

It’s coincidental that Claudia, Deanna, Corie, and I should be writing about adoption and trauma. As I noted at the start of this post, we are hardly the first to consider it.

Still, here we have agreement among a birth/first mother, an adopted adult, a therapist, and an adoptive parent on a significant adoption issue: adoption is a trauma. Imagine what would happen if more of us talked together about challenging adoption issues.

Tremendous fights and fractures are occurring in the world of adoption right now, in terms of policy and of whose voices are being heard. Adoptive parents and prospective parents continue to dominate. It’s rare we (adopted adults. first parents, adoptive parents) all sing from the same song sheet, and there are lots of people with lots of microphones singing many different tunes. Still.

Acknowledging that adoption is trauma, understanding that trauma manifests differently in different people and over time, and allocating resources for treatment and support: that would be a positive step toward healing.

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