Trauma of Newborn Separations and Consequences of Closed Adoptions
Adoption was a social experiment in which babies born to unmarried mothers were taken at birth and given to strangers for adoption. It was claimed to be in the best interests of the child, who would be protected from the slur of illegitimacy and would have a better life in the adoptive family. Adoption enabled infertile married couples to have a family, and the State saved money on its welfare bill.
Adoption legislation was first introduced in the 1920s, but adoption was slow to be accepted, due to the belief that immorality and other evil tendencies were passed on from mother to child. After World War II, however, when environment was seen as more important than heredity in the development of the child, adoption became more popular. It was believed that mothers would not bond with their babies if the babies were taken immediately after birth, and the mothers were prevented from seeing them, and that babies would bond successfully with their adoptive families if they were placed as soon as possible after birth. All ties with the natural mother were then severed, the child was issued with a new birth certificate which showed him as being born to the adoptive parents, and the records were sealed.
Adoption was promoted as being in the best interests of the child. Mothers were expected to forget about their child and get on with their lives, get married and have children of their own. Adoption was seen as an instant cure for infertility. None of these beliefs was based on any scientific evidence.
In 1952 a British psychiatrist, Wellisch, drew attention to a problem of adoption - the lack of knowledge of and definite relationship to one's genealogy, which he termed “genealogical bewilderment”, and which could result in the stunting of emotional development in adopted children and could lead them to irrational rebellion against their adoptive parents and the world as a whole, and eventually to delinquency. Ignorance about their personal origin made adolescence more of a strain for adopted children than other children and genealogical bewilderment is a factor which frequently appears to be present in adoption stress.
Several other researchers found a predilection for impulsive behavior and acting out, antisocial symptoms in adopted children. (Simon & Senturia, 1966; Jackson, 1968) They were found to have serious adjustment problems in adolescence (McWhinnie, 1969), and all seemed to have a sense of abandonment by the birth parents irrespective of experiences. (Triseliotis, 1971) Triseliotis suggested that the wound could be healed in a loving adoptive family, but the scar always remains.
:xplode:The child who does not grow up with his own biological parents, who does not even know them or any one of his own blood, is an individual who has lost the thread of family continuity. A deep identification with our forebears, as experienced originally in the mother-child relationship, gives us our most fundamental security. :xplode
However it was not until 1991 that anyone writing about adoption gave any serious consideration to the traumatic effects of separating mother and child at birth. Nancy Verrier hypothesised that the severing of the connection between the child and biological mother causes a primal wound, which often manifests in a sense of loss (depression), basic mistrust (anxiety), emotional and/or behavioral problems, and difficulties in relationships with significant others.
Studies conducted on animals, particularly other primates, indicate that there may be a biological basis for what Verrier calls the primal wound. Reite in 1978 demonstrated that when monkey infants were separated from their mothers they experienced decreases in body temperature and sleep pattern changes, even when the separated infants were immediately adopted by another adult female. Reite suggests that these physiological changes are not due to the physical absence of the mother, but are caused, at least in part, by the perception of loss of the mother on the part of the infant, i.e., the cause is essentially psychological.
Separation of newborn babies from their mothers causes a high secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. (Bowlby 1980; Noble 1993) There is physiological evidence from studies of laboratory rats that the level of maternal care given to the infant influences its response to stress: the more care, the lower the levels of hormones like adrenaline in reaction to stressful circumstances. People who are highly reactive to stress are at greater risk for the development of depression, and drug and substance abuse problems, etc. Adopted people have a greater vulnerability to stress, and are also at greater risk for depression and drug and substance related abuse problems.
Studies in primates show that if an infant is deprived of its mother soon after birth, the infant's brain does not develop normally. For example, the number and sensitivity of the infant's brain receptor sites for endorphins - the internal morphine-like chemicals that affect mood - are diminished."
Vicki M. Rummig, author of "Adoption: Trauma that Lasts a Life Time," reports that, "When the adoptee is separated from her birth mother, she undergoes extensive trauma. She will not remember this trauma, but it will stay in her subconscious as she lived it." How long the newborn will live with this trauma is unknown since a baby's memory cannot be quantified. "An event from a person's infancy can and will stay with them through life," says Nancy Verrier, author of "The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child." It's no coincidence, Rummig suggests, that many of these children grow up to be emotionally wounded. It should be noted that Rummig herself was adopted as a baby.
Adopted children often go through a stage of feeling like an outsider. He may fantasize about the person he would have been had she not been adopted. He'll come up with ideas of what his birth parents are like and may even produce a ghost-like image of what his life and family would have been like. Rummig describes the experience that he and other adoptees have as "feeling like my adoptive family is in a big circle but I am on the outside looking in.
With the adoptee not having a role model who resembles her physically or psychologically, it is more difficult to define where her life shall lead. She may come from a biologically artistic family, but adopted into a scientific family. She may not only feel the need to follow in her adoptive family’s footsteps, attending similar colleges, choosing similar careers, but she did not have the artistic role model to show her that way of life. This further complicates the identity formation of the adoptee. “One’s identity begins with the genes and family history...” (Reitz & Watson, 1992, p. 134)
Adoptees also lack the ability to see their physical characteristics as they will present themselves in the future. A natural born daughter would be able to tell how big she is going to be, if she will have a tendency to be overweight, or if she is going to go grey early in life, but the adoptee is denied this genetic role model and will not know these things until she reaches that stage in life herself. This adds to the curiosity of wanting to know their genetic background.
Rachel says that families are a hall of mirrors, “Everyone but adoptees can look in and see themselves reflected. I didn’t know what it was like to be me. I felt like someone who looks into a mirror and sees no reflection. I felt lonely, not connected to anything, floating, like a ghost.” (Lifton, 1994, p. 68)
The adoptee will feel even more dissociated when conversations regarding other family members or peers births are brought up. She is missing the story of her birth parents meeting, her conception, her birth, and in some instances, sometime after her birth. It is often commented that the adoptee feels placed on this earth, not born or that they are some type of space alien. Non-adoptees take their own life story for granted, but the adoptee is acutely aware that theirs is missing. So now, not only does the adoptee feel dissociated from her adoptive family, but also from her peers, for she is different.
Adoptees are faced with a feeling of loss and grief that they are not allowed, by society, to actively mourn. “With adoption, the child experiences a loss (like divorce or death) of an unknown person, and doesn’t know why.” (Adopting Resources, 1995) She is aware that family members are lost to her, but is expected to not mourn the loss of this family member she has never known. She will often be chastised when asking questions of her birth family from her adoptive family.
The consensus among researchers is that adoption affects development throughout life, with the fact of "being adopted," creating unique responses to significant life-events, e.g., the birth of a child
In Western culture, the dominant conception of family revolves around a heterosexual couple with biological offspring. As a consequence, research indicates, disparaging views of adoptive families exist, along with doubts concerning the strength of their family bonds
The most recent adoption attitudes survey completed by the Evan Donaldson Institute provides further evidence of this stigma. Nearly one-third of the surveyed population believed adoptees are less-well adjusted, more prone to medical issues, and predisposed to drug and alcohol problems. Additionally, 40-45% thought adoptees were more likely to have behavior problems and trouble at school. In contrast, the same study indicated adoptive parents were viewed favorably, with nearly 90% describing them as, "lucky, advantaged, and unselfish."
Not all of these issues affect adoptees to the same extent. Some may spend a lifetime dwelling on it, others may not even appear to notice. This would be true of any group of people that lived through trauma, such as Vietnam War Veterans. It should be noted that adoptees are over represented in residential treatment centers.