I will admit, when we first headed down the adoption path, I was naive and in emotional pain from a long and grief riddled infertility journey and I just wanted a baby. I just wanted a child, I just wanted to be a mother and forget the pain and the grief of the previous 7 years.
But as I have matured into my role as a mother via adoption, there are less and less stars in my eyes and I have grown and matured in this roll, I see things a little differently. Perhaps I see things more realistically and there is one part of this journey I was totally unprepared for. One part of this journey I feel that is not discussed by anyone. Not the social workers who screen adoptive parents and birth parents and not other adoptive parents either. And I understand why, nobody wants to dwell on the negative but the fact remains it is there and I wish I had been better prepared for it.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about the trauma caused by the severing of the emotional bonds between a birth mother and her child. I’m talking about the long term effects that trauma will have on the child. I’ve seen it now, first hand, in both my children. And I’ve seen it in varying degrees in all of my friends adopted children too.
It is very much a real thing and shouldn’t be avoided or ignored.
Yesterday we met with the educational psychologist who did Ava’s assessments last week. She was the ideal candidate for us having done her theses on the long term effects of trauma and attachment post placement. When we’d had our initial interview with her, she had immediately flagged Ava’s birth as a potential problem. Ava was born silently. She did not cry, or squall the way most new born’s do, she came into the world dead silent and staring. She did not cry for more than 24 hours post birth, she remained purple for nearly an entire day post birth due to the lack of crying. On the second or third day, our social worker called us to say we had to wash her hair or do something that would make her cry for her lung development. She was silent. What we didn’t realize at the time, is that she was probably deathly afraid. I’ve realized you cannot downplay the effects of the severing of that bond between her and her birth mother.
Walter and I decided to go ahead with her assessment after reading this article a few weeks ago: Study Finds Adopted Children Do Worse In School, Despite Having “Better” Parents.
We told Tina, the educational psychologist about it and she conferred, agreeing with the general sentiment and saying if there is no attachment, there can be no learning. She also explained to us that every adopted child will manifest varying signs and symptoms of rejection/abandonment spectrum. And Ava is no exception. Even though being abandoned was not the case with either of my children, and most of the adopted kids I know, that perception remains with me for most of their lives.
What came out broke my heart yesterday, while Ava does not have attachment issues and she is fully bonded to Walter and I, she is fearful of rejection and being abandoned and will over compensate for this, constantly looking for approval and acceptance fro the people around her, sometimes not in the most appropriate ways. She will tell tall, imaginative tales to make herself seem likable and interesting, she will over attach to easily to people, for example, 5 minutes after meeting Tina, she asked if she could sit on her lap. She lavishes affection and love on the people around her, sometimes even waking either Walter or I up in the middle of the night, just to tell us she loves us. She tells me about 100 times a day she loves me, at the most random times. While she comes across as a confident child she is not, she is lacking in self esteem and fearful of being rejected of abandoned by the people in her life.
And interestingly, we went through something similar after Hannah was placed. We spent a few months in OT with Hannah post placement as her signs of fear and trauma were much more exaggerated, clearly she was operating higher up on the spectrum Tina poke of.
And this is normal for adopted children. I know adopted children who cry in animated movies over a baby bird being left by it’s parents, needing constant reassurance thereafter that mom or dad will not leave them, I know adopted children who have all kinds of sensory issues, after my discussions with Tina, I realized that I didn’t know an adopted child who was not emotionally affected or physically manifesting the trauma of placement in varying degrees, some as extreme as selective mutism.
Am I saying don’t adopt? Hell no. As long as we live, there will be children who need loving families and birth parents who need assistance.
But what I am saying is be aware. I wish I had been.