Adoption is a delicate, complicated, and beautiful process with several points of view and experiences that can impact many aspects of a person’s life. This blog aims to highlight the common emotions and experiences of the adoptee, the biological parent choosing adoption, and the adoptive parent’s experience.
Being a parent is often reflected as one of the most rewarding, impactful, and demanding jobs. You are responsible for this tiny human’s physical and emotional well-being as a parent. While you can do your very best and make changes that impact you in your own life, you will inevitably make mistakes because none of us are perfect. Despite that, biological and adoptive parents, many struggle to find empathy with themselves. We begin our discussion with attachment to understand this concept better and how it relates to adoption.
Attachment begins in the womb, meaning that in addition to the fact that children depend on their caregivers for sustenance, parents are responsible for the first time a child bonds to another human being. Attachment styles become present in times of stress very early in life. Infants and children look to their caregivers to soothe them and provide safety. This early attachment creates a blueprint for how a person feels (or doesn’t feel) connected to others.
There are wide-ranging views of adoption; some make it out to be a fairy tale, and others reflect on its similarity to human trafficking. Many often forget that trauma is associated with adoption; in some ways, it is unnatural. When adopting a puppy, they typically aren’t taken from their mother before eight weeks for adjustment and bonding purposes, but with people, we seem to have a bit of a blind spot. Even though many adoptees find themselves in “privileged homes” with a significantly better life than the situation they were born into, this does not mean that the body doesn’t store that trauma from being separated. With all of this in mind, research findings that adoptees have a higher incidence of depression, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar are unsurprising. Research also shows that adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Shared experiences of an adoptee:
Hypervigilance- feeling as if danger is always around the corner and always being on guard.
- Abandonment issues– Fear of being left or relationships taken away; this may also include self-sabotage when someone is getting close.
- Self-esteem issues- struggling with perception of self and doubting self-worth
- Disenfranchised grief – You are grieving the possibility of knowing your family even if their adoptive family situation is favorable. A typical shared experience is sadness over not having a family that looks like you or not learning the key components of your genetic history.
Giving a Child Up for Adoption: Biological Parent Perspective
There are several reasons and situations a mother considers adoption, each with different judgments and stigmas attached. These often leave the biological parent to cope with those judgments and the mental health challenges and hormone changes that come with giving birth. Those going through this decision frequently feel sad, anxious, shame, and relieved, sometimes all at once.
With all the stigmas, it is often overlooked that attachment between mother and child and having to separate is also a trauma for the biological mother. While there are different adoption situations (open, closed, limited, etc.), this decision’s finality can feel overwhelming. Each person’s story is unique, and this blog aims not to speak with finality or generalization but to offer a perspective of some familiar feelings noted by others. Below are some considerations:
- STIGMA: Adoption is a selfish decision where a parent runs away from their responsibility
- FACT: Adoption occurs for many different reasons that are personal and specific to the person
- FACT: There can be a sense of loss in realizing their child will go elsewhere to be comforted, praised, and supported in their life and that they may not be part of that journey.
- FACT: There can be relief in knowing a child will be safe, happy, and well taken care of
Over 18,000 children are adopted domestically in the United States each year. It is imperative to note that with this decision comes a great deal of thought and responsibility that stays with the biological family throughout their lifetime. Biological mothers need support, not judgment, from their loved ones through this decision.
Adoptive Parent Perspective
Becoming an adoptive parent can be challenging and rewarding, requiring patience and persistence. Many adoptive parents share stories and reflect on the miracle that was their child but doesn’t get as many opportunities to discuss the feelings that arise along the way. Below are some everyday experiences shared around the process
- Identity around being a parent: For mothers that struggle to conceive naturally, navigating what it means to be a parent outside of genetics can be challenging. There are also expectations that parents build around how parenthood should go.
- Role of the Birth parents: Depending on the type of adoption, biological parents can have different parts in a child’s life or no role at all; adoptive parents are responsible for supporting their child in managing these feelings while navigating their own opinions.
It is essential to recognize that guilt, frustration, and anxiety are completely normal in this process. Manage expectations around this process and remember that no one is perfect and struggles. Also, provide learning opportunities and, if needed, seek support so you can control your emotions.
Explaining Adoption to Children- Adoptive Parent Guide
Explaining the birth story and how a child got adopted can be stressful for adoptive parents as they try to navigate when and how is the right time. How this message is delivered can significantly impact how they view themselves and what it means to be adopted. The delivery of this message also influences how they interpret messages they receive about adoption outside the home.
It is strongly advised to share adoption early as soon as the child can understand. Discussions about this and the language used should be age-appropriate and happen at various times as more information becomes relevant to share. Beginning this conversation early in a child’s life allows for normalizing and building a trusting relationship around it. Many adoption sources advise that hiding this information can be harmful, cause distrust, and negatively impact self-esteem. If you are preparing to have a conversation about adoption with your child, here are some tips:
- Maintain a positive tone- use terms such as “chose adoption” instead of “put up for adoption.” Reassurance is also imperative here. Letting them know that their life with you is their home, that they’re loved, and that they can’t be unadopted if they misbehave can help build secure attachment.
- Be ready for questions- Remember that while this might be a challenging conversation for you, sharing this with them sends the message that if they ask about their identity, they will hurt you and that it is wrong to have curiosity. To have this information puts you in a place of power. As their parent, you are their tour guide through life, and if you express that this is painful, it can cause guilt in your child and lead them to believe that their life story comes with a threat to your relationship.
- Validate their responses– Delayed responses are standard as a child processes what this information means. It also means they may return with more questions or ideas about learning. Be open to this process; it’s their right to know as much about their story as possible.
- Use Transition Objects- several adoption books are used to explain adoption stories. Another option is to create a Lifebook for your child with this information mapped out. The more precise, the better.