Years ago when I debated adoption advocate and adoptive parent of two "magical children"* from Peru Elizabeth Bartholet on PBS, she unilaterally labeled any and all research that showed that adoptees had more psychological problems than the general, non-adopted population "garbage." Yes, that is what she called it. And of course the three adoption attorneys coming in by remote camera sat there nodding in agreement. (This was the day Jessica/Anna was removed from the Deboer couple and returned to her biological parents, the Schmidts. It was quite a mob scene against me. Most of the world had been worked up into a pro-adoptive Deboer frenzy. However, Anna did just fine with her real family and has no memory of the Deboers.)
Bartholet has her own reasons for claiming adoption is honkey-dorey whenever a child is hungry in a poor place in the world (I'm over simplifying, but that is basically her message). But it is clear to anyone who can read that being adopted is no piece of cake and for many leads to real psychological harm. If it did not, there wouldn't be a zillion blogs and half as many books talking about the trauma of being adopted. What is ridiculous is that there is so little psychological research on the lifelong impact of being adopted. Adopted adolescents have been studied, but adults? Very little hard research exists because there is so much bias for the "good" of adoption in today's infertile middle-class society that few are considering what's wrong about being adopted.
BUILT-IN STRESS OF THE ADOPTEE'S REALITY
Yet in looking at the signs of a C-PTSD (Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and what might cause it, one can not help but recognize how some of the causes can be related to adoption and what adoptees experience; why is it then so noxious to some to see that their reactions are simply normal? Here is what caught my eye:
"When people have been trapped in a situation over which they had little or no control at the beginning, middle or end, they can carry an intense sense of dread even after that situation is removed."Adoptees have no control over their adoption, and they grow up with the sense that this powerless situation will never end. They may be told that they are "lucky," to have such great (adoptive) parents, and thus the message that they should feel grateful that they were "rescued" from some fate (their poor natural mother) quite terrible is imbued into their upbringing. Hell, that sounds like a terrible fate!
Here is what the adoptee internalizes: Your mother couldn't keep you (what is wrong with me?); here are these other people who will take care of you, and no, we can't tell you anything about your natural mother and father. Or where they are. Or why you were given up. Or where they are. Or what happened to them. Or if they are alive. You aren't supposed to know. It's better that way. We the state have decided this. A long time ago. Don't you love your adoptive parents who have done so much for you? What is wrong with you that you don't find this situation agreeable? You are ungrateful if you search for them. If you do, don't you know how you are killing your mother--the one who raised you! You are only trying to "get back" at your long suffering real parents, Mom and Dad. No, you can't know who she is anyway because "we" have to "protect" your natural mother because she may not want her life disrupted by you! Be rational. She has a right to live her life without being bothered by you. That's the way it is. Get over it.
EMOTIONAL BONDAGE WITH NO RELIEF IN SIGHT
In all states but a handful, adoptees may never be able to find their true heritage and family, even if they chose to. Even in many states that have liberalized their policies over the last decade--Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin to name three--they still have no control, because all the control lies in the hands of others--the birth parents whose names are on the birth certificate. It is totally up to them whether this information will be released to the person to whom it matters the most. Adoptees must have their permission to know who they are. Why should this group of people so discriminated against not exhibit, to a greater or lesser degree, the traits that are common to anyone who endures such extreme powerlessness over their own identities? The fact that their is no physical torture involved does not lessen the emotional bondage that adoption is, even adoption with loving, understanding parents.
This trauma is going to be experienced differently by different individuals, depending on his or her own makeup, a product of both genetic factors and environmental up until the adoption. Not everyone will exhibit the traits that make their lives, and the lives of others, miserable, and be diagnosed as having the classic C-PTSD. The responses will be seen on a continuum from slight to great. Think of it like PMS--for some, it's a slight irritation; for others, it's a full-blown nightmare and classified as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). I was one of the nightmare cases that went over into the PMDD scale until menopause; luckily I found blessed relief with high doses of progesterone for the last twenty years before menopause. But I digress.
Each individual is different--has a different nature, a different genetic predisposition--and thus has a different tolerance level to the trauma of adoption. What one person may be able to shake off, another person may not. Compare it to the reaction some individuals have to chemotherapy. For most, chemo will affect their cancer, and nothing else; for some, the chemo will set off a trigger in the brain and it will lead to serious dementia. It's now called "chemo-brain." This happened to a friend of mine, a highly functioning individual who held a demanding job. For the longest time oncologists did not want to admit chemo was causing irreversible and grave dementia, but eventually the cases piled up and it ended up on the front page of The New York Times.
While the effect of adoption on adolescents has been studied, the impact of adoption on the adoptee has not been studied rigorously or in depth because there is a bias against doing such research in today's adoption-centric society. People have said that so many other factors could be involved it would be difficult to tease out the "adoption" factor. I respectfully disagree. Perhaps the adoptees who become researchers and psychologists will have to take on this task themselves. --lorraine
And thanks, Von, for directing us to this information and furthering this discussion. Read her blog at Once Was Von
* "Magical children" is what Bartholet calls them in her book, Family Bonds.
See previous blogs for more discussion:
Why birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry
When birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry, Part 2
The [birth] mother and child reunion, Part 3
and the one that started this conversation:
and for more on C-PTSD, see: Out of the Fog
Adoption: Uncharted Waters: A Psychologist's Case Studies. . . Clinical and Forensic Issues, With Practical Advice for Adoptees, Parents and Therapists is a book that fearlessly goes into the grave damage that adoption can cause to some people. Betty Jean Lifton, Annette Baran, Joe Soll and others gave it their imprimatur with blubs on the back cover. BJ called it "courageous, ground-breaking." The author, David Kirschner, has been pilloried in some places for his views, BTW.