Over the holidays, I spent time with my extended family and a comment from a cousin got me to thinking.
First I have to tell you that I’m not new to adoption or to weird comments about adoption. I’m one of the old-timers, although in deference to my aversion to the adjective “old” used in any connection to me, I’d prefer to say that I’m experienced, or that I’ve heard it all.
Second, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my extended family loves all my kids regardless of how they joined our family. And third, I realize that these comments are not horrendous or mean or monumental in any way. In fact, it’s their very ordinariness that gave me pause.
“You Got Lucky”
Over dinner, a cousin off handedly commented that we had “gotten lucky” with our adoption. Now, in truth, I do think we got lucky. On most days I think I got lucky with all my children, with my husband, and even with my dog.
I mean “lucky” in the sense that I did nothing to deserve my good fortune. My kids, and marriage, and dog are all pretty good, and I know I have been blessed. Perhaps my cousin meant it this way as well, but I think what she meant is more along the lines of “You got lucky that your adopted child is so great since many of them have lots of problems.”
Adopted Kids Have Lots of Problems?
There seems to be a pervasive notion in our society that adopted kids come with lots of problems– that the act of adoption itself automatically causes psychological damage. I’d like to say that ignorance of adoption is the cause of this belief, but in fact, many professionals in the adoption community also subscribe to the idea that children carry a life long wound by being separated from their birth family.
I have interviewed a number of people on the Creating a Family radio show that say the child will carry this primal wound for life regardless of the child’s age at adoption or the circumstances surrounding the adoption. It’s fair to say that there is diversity of opinions on this topic. Check out:
It’s Not That Simple
At the risk of being called a Pollyanna or ostrich, I believe that the reality is not that simple. Many factors influence how adopted kids fare in life, including the age of the child when he was relinquished or removed, the care the child received prior to removal or relinquishment, the temperament of the child, the temperament of the adoptive parents, genetics, the preparation the parents received before adoption, and the post-adoption support that is available. I am convinced that these are just a few of the factors that influence the psychological health of adopted kids, and I reject the idea that all adopted kids suffer a primal wound that will influence or affect them for the rest of their life.
Adoptees as a Whole are Doing Pretty Well
When I say adopted kids are doing “pretty well”, I don’t mean that they have no problems or that they don’t have issues related to their adoption that they need to work through. The truth is that adoption involves both losses and gains, and most adopted children will need to address both in their life. All losses involve sadness, but this sadness does not necessarily cause psychological trauma or major issues in their lives.
Most adopted kids and adoptive families have the usual ups and downs of all families and the issues associated with adoption and first families are one of the many things that are handled as part of family life. The kids usually grow up to be healthy happy adults and are about as connected with their families as children born into the family. In other words, adoption works.
We Are Indeed Lucky
In an ideal world, no child would ever be conceived that could not be raised by their birth family in a healthy loving environment. But we don’t live in that world; we live in the real world of extreme poverty, poor decisions, addiction, incarceration, abuse, and neglect. In this world, adoption is the best bet for many children and there is no reason to believe that the very act of adoption will damage them. And yes, I suppose my cousin was right, the families that adopt them will indeed be lucky.
Updated April 2015. Originally Published January 2008.
Image credit: Michael Verhoef
Add Your Comment
I think you got lucky as well. There are many couples that never get matched, never get the chance to adopt a child.
There are simply not enough children for all childless couples to adopt. According the Child Warfare site, less than 12,000 infants are available for non-relative adoptions in 2014. And according to the US State Department, only 6,441 children were adopted internationally 2014.
Meredith, yes, we did “get lucky”. Keep in mind that there are also about 100,000 children in the foster care system currently waiting for adoptive families, plus thousands more who may need an adoptive family in the future, but need a foster family right now. If they are not able to reunify with birth family, their foster parents are usually given the option of adopting them. Foster Care adoption is not for everyone, but don’t rule it out before getting educated. See this infographic: You Gotta Be Crazy to Adopt from Foster Care https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/gotta-crazy-adopt-foster-care/
I’ve spent the week trying to track down the “100,000 children in foster care.” Calling my local CPS department, they state there are only about ~12,000 children in care. Of the 12,000, only 234 are current available for adoption.
I thought that was a weird ratio of children available for adoption. So I called our state capital and spoke to our state director for adoption. She stated that most of the children in care will not be placed for adoption and that the “100,000 children in foster-care” is often misquoted. They also don’t move children to adoptable status until an adoption resource has been identified. And unfortunately, they stated they have thousands upon thousands of adoption resources and fielding calls like mine is time consuming. 🙁 Basically they have all the adoption resources they need and they will call us if they need anymore. 🙁
I also asked about AdoptUSKids and other photo listing websites. Again she cautioned me that their listing were not current and the child may no longer be available for adoption. 🙁
All in all, a very depressing set of calls. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks after jumping through another set of hoops, I maybe able to see a list of adoptable children via the state.
I’m very glad adoption was successful for you!
You were very, very lucky!!
I just wish adoption worked as well for everyone else as it did for you.
Dawn, you know I think you provide the most unbiased expertise in adoption, fair play and voice to all. I know it’s a fine line to walk because you have to combine it all into the extreme differences between the three segments.
I do think you have down played this a bit too much. “All losses involve sadness, but this sadness does not necessarily cause psychological trauma or major issues in their lives.”
Would you have written the above, using those specific words – when talking about people dealing with infertility?
What I see is that as an adult – we are triggered by events, that then, cause us to have to reprocess with adult understanding, emotions, and reactions to what being adopted actually means. For some triggers – it is a blip on the minor side, easily pushed to the background like we’ve always done since we were small children, and, for some adoptees, that’s all they will experience in life. For others, triggers such as; moving out, relationships, birth of a child, death – including child or parental death, our own mortality, make us deal with the feelings evoked by the specific circumstances, that bring out so many unaddressed feelings, out into the open. Add onto that, some had never dealt with any of that as a child, and have to do that work as well.
Then throw into the mix the triggers that are just waiting to be uncovered when we even think about beginning a search, the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection, the fear of causing who you’re searching for – harm, the push and pull of that invisible rope called adoptee loyalty to those who took you in, your mom and dad – against the pull of needing to know for your well-being – that finally make you stand up, and say it’s time you focused on what you need, instead of worrying about everyone else being comfortable and happy. Once you make contact (if you are lucky enough) – that last aspect (adoptee loyalty) has doubled in magnitude because you now have two sets of parents – that instinctively – you want to put their well-being above your own.
And finally after reuniting, with all the pieces to the puzzle in front of you – you have to deal with the losses that being adopted created. I know with open-adoption, people will say that won’t be a problem – I do think the push/pull will still exist to varying degrees, the reality of what losses exist by being adopted, may be part of that through the adult mind, instead of the child’s mind.
I think by the very nature of being adopted we are often more sensitive to ensuring the adults in the room are okay (even when we are adults too) – why so many adoptees I’ve spoken to always start off with the “I’m fine” when asked about being adopted, many of us are, it is also true that we also have losses that aren’t part of that “I’m fine” statement. Being adopted is always going to be complicated.
It boils down to what you define as trauma…
TAO: I hear your point and it is well taken. I also think we have to acknowledge that many people have a belief that all adopted people have psychological problem and are “troubled”. I don’t believe that is the case and I don’t believe research supports that. How do we acknowledge the pain/trauma some adoptees feel without perpetuating the (in my opinion) myth that adopted people are inherently troubled.
Dawn – tell them that adoptees as a whole do not have psychological problems – yet – like everyone in the world, will have to deal with trauma, and sometimes it is because of being adopted – regardless if it is what happened before, after, or both.
TAO, that’s about the best summary that I’ve ever heard. Thank you for your wisdom.
You bring up a great point about triggers. While I am not adopted and can never understand what it’s like to experience it, I can talk about the things that infertility has triggered for me as an adult. Growing up as being learning disabled i experienced a lot of feelings of inadequacy and had self esteem issues. It lead to experiencing depression as a teenager. Infertility has brought back those feelings and currently has me back in a deep dark depression.
I think no matter what you are dealing with as an adult any trauma or experiences you faced as a child can be brought back as an adult.
I have two children who were born with vast amount of medical issues. I am also *lucky* to have them. In soooooo many definitions.