Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adoption Trauma: Real or Not?

Jane
Because we’ve had more comments on The Trauma of Being Adopted than any other topic, I thought I’d try to gather a few more facts. I looked at an article referenced by one of our readers, Behavior Problems and Mental Health Contacts in Adopted, Foster, and Nonadopted Children* and articles we posted earlier, Adoption and Mental Illness: The Facts Ain’t Pretty** and At Last, Respect: Amherst Establishes First Chair in Adoption.

What did I find?
General agreement that adopted children are over-represented in treatment programs. They are more likely to have behavioral problems and are twice as likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or oppositional defiant disorder as their non-adopted peers. Behavior Problems concludes, however, that just five percent of adoptees account for the higher rate of behavior problems among adoptees. The other 95 percent are doing just fine. (I’m not sure I’d want those odds, but they are better than winning the lottery.) The authors explain that problem behavior on the part of the five percent may be due to bad genes, prenatal substance abuse by mothers, or negative pre-adoption experiences. (Cherchez la femme!)

One analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that "international adoptees have more behavioral problems than the nonadopted controls, although the degree of dysfunction was small. On the other hand, when compared with domestic adoptees, international adoptees had fewer total behavioral problems and fewer mental health referrals." ***

Interestingly, in spite of the claims of adoption apologists, none of the researchers reported that those adopted domestically as infants fared better than their non-adopted peers. In fact, none of these esteemed academics seem to have asked the question.

I then decided to examine the truthiness of the assumed benefits: Being adopted as a newborn into a stable two-parent home averts a life of "degradation" which would inevitably result from being raised by an unwed mother. What I found is that while adoption may be a miracle, its benefits for those adopted domestically as infants appear to be a mirage. Adoption may be the only social institution that is justified because it does not cause a lot of harm.

Although I could not find the total number of American adults living today who were born to single women, I extrapolated data from the Centers for Disease Control and concluded that 20 to 25 percent of the population was. **** Only a small fraction of these babies born to single mothers--about one to two percent--are surrendered for adoption: In 1990, about 16,000 of the 1.2 million and in 1980 about 19,000 of the 665,000. It’s a good thing that 98 percent of the moms were willing to keep their misbegotten babies since it’s unlikely that even Edna Gladney could find the millions of couples that would be required to adopt them.

The US adult population is about 240 million which means about 48 million to 60 million American adults were born to single mothers. If being a nonadopted but illegitimate individual results in dysfunction, we could expect a substantial number of these to be in prison. The actual prison population is about two million. And of course, some inmates were adopted. Critics like George Will will point out that children from single parent homes are more likely to be on welfare or drop out of school. The solution to these social ills, however, is more financial support for low income families and better schools. As the numbers show, it is impossible for the US to adopt its way out of social problems.

Meanwhile, we know that adoption causes trauma in adoptees and birth parents although, as with any trauma, people are affected differently. The very existence of adoption therapists, of adoptee and birth parent support groups, of activists seeking to open adoption records, is proof that adoptees and birth parents are affected negatively by adoption. To put it another way, I challenge anyone to find a support group for adults dealing with the loss associated with not being adopted, a retreat for women grieving over not giving up their babies, or a children’s book about how it feels to be raised in your own family and not in a family of genetic strangers.
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*Ann E. Brand and Paul M. Brinich, "Behavior Problems and Mental Health Contacts in Adopted, Foster, and Nonadopted Children," J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. Vol. 40, No. 8, pp. 1221±1229, 1999.
** Arlene Kaplan, "Adoption and Mental Illness," Psychiatric Times, Jan. 26, 2009
*** Laurie C. Miller, MD, "International Adoption, Behavior and Mental Health," JAMA, Vol. 293, No. 20 2533, May 25, 2005
**** In 1990 28 percent of babies were born to single women and in 1980, 18.4 (The “illegitimacy” rate has increased to about 40 percent in 2007, resulting in over 1.7 million new bastards.)

35 comments :

  1. The University of Kansas has received a grant to help foster children with mental health challenges: http://www.news.ku.edu/2010/october/7/fostercare.shtml

    Tom McDonald, KU Professor of Social Welfare added, “Yet, there’s good evidence that those children can be best cared for in those families of origin if the families themselves get the support they need.”

    It was heartening for me to read that the KU Social Welfare is now accepting of natural family reunification.

    It's not always the answer but probably more often than not.

    Great post Jane.

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  2. I invite you all to join my new support group "Survivors of not being adopted by rich people and being raised by very ordinary natural parents."

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  3. Isn't the premise of adoption that if a child is placed shortly after birth that there is no difference between being raised by one's biological parents or being raised by non-relatives? I say "ha"! I've heard many people say "I'm so glad I wasn't adopted".

    I remember the "Teen Mom" Lori saying that she didn't want to give her son up for adoption because she didn't want him to go through what she did being an adoptee. Also if you read Melissa Gilbert's autobiography she stated that when faced with a problem pregnancy, she wouldn't even consider adoption (she's an adoptee).

    Oh heck, since there is no trauma, why aren't all babies just given to The Donald (and his current wife) and then they will get all the "advantages".

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  4. Yep it's all there.Adoption harms!If it didn't, why would the WA Government be apologising to mothers and adoptees in a few days?
    Posting a link, hope that's ok.Have a great day!

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  5. "The authors explain that problem behavior on the part of the five percent may be due to bad genes, prenatal substance abuse by mothers, or negative pre-adoption experiences. (Cherchez la femme!)"

    I find that truly interesting, considering that there is no such thing as a "bad" gene and that not every adoptee with issues was exposed to substance abuse or bad pre-adoption experiences.

    The brush that paints the adoption world is one that is truly filled with rainbows and crap...after all, the things left out were the ones that made it truly bizarre.

    Things like the fact that children raised outside of their natural families, even if never adopted, almost always have trust and abuse issues that have nothing to do with their families. Or, perhaps, the simple report I found on abuse and foster and adoptive homes, that states a child in an "abusive" natural home is better off and less likely to become a prison statistic than the adoptee or foster child left in care.

    OY! Can we all stand up, look around and pick out the foster children? Adoptees? I doubt it, but if you were to come to a counseling office, I am betting that if the waiting room has 12 people in it, the average number of 8 will be either adoptees or foster children.

    Good grief, no trauma....yeah, ok, and I would love to buy that new bridge in New York!

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  6. Jane says: "The very existence of adoption therapists, of adoptee and birth parent support groups, of activists seeking to open adoption records, is proof that adoptees and birth parents are affected negatively by adoption."

    It is proof of nothing. There are also women's issues therapists, women's support groups and women activists. Is this proof that individuals are affected negatively by being a woman? No.

    Adopted people are a minority, at just 2% of the population. Every minority group in America-GLTBs, disabilities, ethnicities, religions - all have specialized therapists, support groups and activitists. I would argue that a lot of so-called adoptee "issues" are minority issues.

    And no, you won't find support groups or books dealing with issues stemming from not being adopted. When does a majority faction ever do this?

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  7. Anonymous,

    You wrote "I would argue that a lot of so-called adoptee "issues" are minority issues".

    I disagree with you 100%. I am also a member of a minority and have never had issues with it or needed any help dealing with it. Adoption is completely different. Adoption has been a very painful experience, my minority status has not.

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  8. Anonymous,

    You said "And no, you won't find support groups or books dealing with issues stemming from not being adopted. When does a majority faction ever do this?"

    Perhaps because it isn't traumatic to NOT BE ADOPTED...perhaps you think it is cool to be given away and so called chosen? Or are you saying ALL babies should be removed at birth and given to the qualified couple at the top of the list?...

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  9. Loved your comment, Sandy.

    And another thing, I would be overjoyed to have NOT been adopted. While I have zero desire to change my other minority status.

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  10. Robin,
    You don't mention what your "other" minority status is, but I am happy to hear that you are comfortable with that part of yourself. I am sure you are aware that many minorities (racial, GLBT and other) don't feel this way and wish they were different, or simply resent unfair labels and discrimination. Hence, the need for minority therapists, support groups and activists.

    Speaking only for myself, being an adopted person is something that I don't want to change. I feel comfortable with this part of myself, very peaceful. So you and I differ. But you need validation for your pain or you wouldn't be posting, I don't want to minimize the pain. This is a very complex issue for you and for many adopted people.

    Like you, I have also heard people say, "I'm so glad I wasn't adopted," also, "I hope I never have to adopt a child." I attribute these types of comments to ignorance. I have ceased to let them rankle me. They can't make me feel that I am damaged for having been adopted. I'm the one that gets to decide.

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  11. Dear Anonymous:

    Are you for real?

    You do realize that you, or anyone else who is "being an adopted person," can not change that. It's not like turning in a hat you bought but don't like.

    It's great that you don't feel damaged, but do you never wish you were not adopted, but knew where you came from? Or maybe you do.

    Know where you came from.

    Given how you feel, it's interesting you are even reading this blog.

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  12. Joanie,
    I am certainly for real. I never wish that I were not adopted.

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  13. I don't think people say "I'm so glad I wasn't adopted" because they think of adoptees as damaged goods. But because they realize the enormous loss and accompanying sadness that come from not knowing one's ancestry, genealogy, roots. These are important facets of human existence that adoptees are missing (or have to fight like h*ll to find out).

    It doesn't seem strange that unless one comes from an abusive family that s/he would prefer to know and be connected to their own clan. Many non-adopted people have expressed that they can't fathom not knowing who created them and brought them into the world.

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  14. Thank You Robin,
    you captured the truth of the statement about adoption among the non-adopted. We get it, what it would be like to have such a sense of loss in our lives, and that is what the statement--I'm glad I wasn't adopted--means to the world.

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  15. Well Lorraine,

    "What it would be like to have such a sense of loss in our lives." What sense of loss? I don't really feel the way you suggest. I'm the one that gets to decide how I feel. I understand others feel differently, but that does not invalidate my personal sense of completeness.

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  16. Anonymous,

    You are one of the lucky ones. It sounds like you would fit in at one of the pro-adoption websites. I'm sure the PAPs and Aparents would love to hear from you. Maybe you should mosey on over.

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  17. I don't want to go into all that I have felt/encountered/thought over these last nearly 18 years, but rest assured that I can tell you...adoption impacts the entire triad. To what extent and type, and trauma...varies over time. I think the bparents and adoptee endure the most. So much to feel, to think, etc. Even a child placed immediately after birth (as mine was) would still...years after (and hopefully in this era upon being told) wonder 'why'? the ever proverbial question.

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  18. ""adoption impacts the entire triad. To what extent and type, and trauma...varies over time""

    How is an 'adoption' traumatic for those who adopt????? I am bewildered.

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  19. I'm writing from London where the emphasis is on keeping children together with birth parents and family. Teen and single parents are supported by welfare and housing benefits.

    Children of neglectful or abusive parents are placed with birth family members before foster parents and so much time and chances are given to parents to show they cam successfully parent that the child languishes in foster care for years and is damaged beyond repair.

    It doesn't work. We have the majority of children being fatherless and its associated issues. Children in care do so badly that just to stay alive to adulthood without being an addict is an achievement.

    I agree with the primal wound - but I also think that babies should be taken from unfit moms into adoption sooner so that they may break the family tradition of addiction, crime and being in care.

    I think also that if you support single and teen moms you encourage that behaviour and this leads to more children living in poverty - whic starts the cycle again.

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  20. Chris - they have infertility trauma.

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  21. I agree Chris. Aparents get to make a choice as to whether they want to adopt or not. No one is ever forced to adopt. Even if they have an infertility problem (and not all Aparents do), there is no social pressure to adopt. I don't see any trauma here.

    The adoptee on the other hand, has his/her life dramatically changed and never has any say in the matter.

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  22. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author) was a single mother in Scotland on benefits. I'm sure glad her daughter wasn't taken from her.

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  23. In response to our writer in the UK, the US has been trying for the last ten years to go in the direction she suggests: removing more children from their families and terminating their parents' rights sooner so that the children can be adopted more quickly and at an earlier age.

    This hasn't worked. Children still languish in foster homes. There is a shortage of good foster homes and good adoptive homes. Children are placed in homes where they are abused all over again. Children who grow up in foster homes frequently end up in prison.

    Research from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform has demonstrated programs that work for troubled families. Although these are less expensive, they are not used as much as they could be because of opposition from foster parents associations. I encourage our readers to check out the NCCPR website, www.nccpr.org.

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  24. @Anon said.. "Chris - they have infertility trauma"

    Infertility may be a 'trauma' to the person who is infertile, but is not 'adoption' 'trauma'. One is a physical act (however it came to be), the other is a calculated legal transaction, a chosen act for those who wish to adopt other people's children. Infertility 'trauma' and adoption 'trauma', is like mixing avocados with watermelons. Is not one and the same type of adoption 'trauma'.

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  25. I can never understand why this is an argument. I mean I get the motivation, some people want to comfort themselves at the expense of adoptees, that is par of the course. The depth of the arrogance and unkindness still shocks me.

    Although why I allow myself to be shocked by it is silly.

    I mean why does it matter if it is supported by "scientific evidence " or not. Why isn't the self-reporting of so many adoptees enough information for people to pause and think, "wait a minute"?

    Anon is correct in the strictest sense that all support groups "prove" is that there are support groups, however it is a hell of a big hint that all is not fine in adopto-land. If you are too dense to make that connection that is not something I can help you with.

    @ super complete and happy anon adoptee, so what who cares? I used to say the same thing and really changed my tune. Also, you know what, I got divorced twice and don't even care. Really don't. I feel wholly glad and gay and complete and not upset about divorce at all. I am happy to be divorced. Super happy.

    I don't go to groups for people going through divorce and they do exist, or blogs about divorce and say, "yippee! divorce! this means you get to go on dates and have people buy you dinner and not do the dishes afterwards" Because not everyone is so happy to not have to deal with domestic drudgery as I am, some people don't even consider it drudgery.

    Some people find divorce very painful. I can respect that, why can't you respect that adoption can be hugely traumatic for some people. It was for me. It is for others.

    It can be hugely traumatic for people who don't wish they weren't adopted. I usually wish for money btw, I can't recall ever wishing I wasn't adopted. It would seem silly to me to waste a wish on adoption when I could spend it wishing for money.

    I wouldn't be who I am, I don't want to wish myself away. I love the people in my family, I can't wish them away. But there is nothing wrong with not feeling the exact same way I do.

    Enough people have found adoption painful/harmful enough that to ignore the reality of it is criminal and negligent as well as big-fat-and-jerky. Sadly, this abounds.

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  26. you know, this has been a burning question for me for... well, since my a-Mom took me to a psychologist because I wanted to know about my natural family and after meeting with me three times he told her there was nothing wrong with me (she on the other hand declared him a Quack!)... where is the scientific evidence that adoptees were born with these problems/issues and/or that their Natural Mothers had any problems or issues that were not normal before they had to surrender their child??

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  27. I think the problems are inherent in adoption, per se. And that "open" adoption cannot fix them or eliminate them.

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  28. If I say adoption was traumatic for me, and then the recipient says they know of an adoptee who is happy and wouldn't have wished her adoption turned out any differently, then I am seen as the defective one who just can't look at the glass half-full and it is so dismissive.

    I know adoption isn't traumatic for everyone. I know.

    But when society automatically sides with the adoptees who wouldn't change a thing and implies that the ones who do feel grief are "defective" or not grateful enough, well, it is extremely insulting.

    "Every adoptee's feelings and experiences are different."

    Yeah, well, only in theory. In spoken society, it's a whole 'nother story.

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  29. I agree with Mei Ling about the argument of disparate adoptee experiences being used to divide and conquer. If there are a multiplicity of experiences (and there certainly are), opponents to the idea that adoption trauma exists can dismiss those who feel pain with a condescending wave of the hand: "Well, that is *your* experience, but it's unscientific and anecdotal. This happy person over here cancels you out, and you can't speak for anyone else." It's not really about acceptance and understanding, or the sense that there may well be constellations of people who *do* feel in the same way.

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  30. Mei-Ling:

    Great comment !

    Whenever I talk about this with one of my friends, she counters with the oh-so-nice adopted nephew, who could not be polite, etc., and this other one who is in college in California. I have stopped trying to talk to her. She only hears what she wants to hear.

    But since adoption in the last 20 years has become so popular among the adopting class of people I know, stories about unhappy, troubled kids are beginning to burble up. And adoptee parents saying to their friends: Why didn't somebody tell me?

    I want to say, tell you what?

    But do you feel that society as a whole sees anybody who is troubled by being adopted as "defective" Or, just as bad, "not grateful enough..." That's hard, thoughtless and cruel.

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  31. I agree, Mei Ling. There is definitely a form of pressure on adoptees to agree that being adopted is just fine, not a problem. However, whenever someone tells me that there is something wrong with me for having issues with being adopted, I simply ask (in a nice voice), "How would you know? You're not adopted." I have often found that this causes the person to think more about the issue.

    And Lorraine,

    Regarding your statement:

    And adoptee parents saying to their friends: Why didn't somebody tell me?

    I think adopted children are held to a higher standard. It's as if since the aparents went to so much trouble to get us (or rescue us?) that we should be perfect. Aparents seem more resentful of their kids' problems than bio-parents.

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  32. Robin: I couldn't agree more.

    Some adoptive parents want their children to be trouble free, and do expect them to be ... well, let me say it this way, when their biological children screw up they are less likely to say: Why didn't someone tell me? Adoptive parents are fine with the kids when the kids are fine and dandy, but if they screw up, then..it's a different story. They take credit for the good and push the blame onto us and the unknown when things are not so rosy.

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  33. Every adoptee's experience is different. When a child is adopted at an older age, 3-7, etc, they have substantially more emotional baggage than a newborn adoptee may have. (I was 7). If an adoptee comes into a family that's not emotionally prepared or educated to handle their adoptee's needs, the child will suffer... long term. I don't blame those that adopted me for their ignorance in raising a baggage-laiden child like myself. Nothing could have prepared them for the complex trauma I had already experienced in my biological family and the foster care system.

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  34. Every adoptee's experience is different. When a child is adopted at an older age, 3-7, etc, they have substantially more emotional baggage than a newborn adoptee may have. (I was 7).

    If an adoptee comes into a family that's not emotionally prepared or educated to handle their adoptee's needs, the child will suffer... long term.

    I don't blame those who adopted me for their ignorance in raising me; a baggage-laiden child.

    Nothing could have prepared them for the complex trauma I had already experienced in my biological family and the foster care system.

    As an adult adoptee, I take full responsibility for finding my own happiness. I'm in control now. :)

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  35. As an Adoptee, I can speak for US. I have never known another adoptee who didn't have some lasting effects of the adoption. Anyone reading this looking for answers needs to watch this lecture first... then come to your own conclusion about what % is traumatized. Just becasue you aren't in treatment YET, doesn't mean you haven't been traumatized... My whole life i've been told that none of my probelems have to do with my adoption... my feelings have been denied and minimized... This has got to stop!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3pX4C-mtiI

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