First Manifestations Of Adoption Trauma – My Child’s Primal Wound

If you’re not part of the adoption fraternity, and perhaps even if you have been touched by adoption some way, you may not know about the primal wound.

What is the primal wound?

In its application of information about pre- and perinatal psychology, attachment, bonding, and loss, it clarifies the effects of separation from the birth mother on adopted children. In addition, it gives those children, whose pain has long been unacknowledged or misunderstood, validation for their feelings, as well as explanations for their behavior.

In short. It is the wounded soul of an adopted child, which occurs at birth and separation from his or her birth mother. A loss so deep that it forever alters how these children see themselves. 

No matter how perfect an adoption placement is, there is ALWAYS trauma.

Ava had an idyllic placement as far as placements go. Her birth mother loved (s) her deeply. She came into the world during a beautiful and peaceful natural birth, I was with her birth mother. It was a loving and beautiful time. 

But she STILL has trauma and the primal wound.

Walter and I have striven to create a loving, open environment for both our girls. A safe place for them to openly express their emotions and ask questions about their adoptions. No question is taboo, we have always been 100% open and honest with them. So imagine my surprise when Ava displayed behavior that is so typical of adopted children, especially those who felt they could not talk about their emotions surrounding their adoptions and their birth mothers? 

Here’s what happened:

A couple of days ago, we visited The Lighthouse Baby Shelter to make a donation. I took the girls with me (for a number of reasons which I’ll get into in another post at another time). We spent time in the nursery with the babies. When we left, there were a lot of tough questions asked. Ava wanted to know how those babies got there. Where their parents are, did their parents forget about them. And so, as best I could I explained it all to her. I explained to her that a mother NEVER forgets her baby. EVER. That one day, when she’s a mommy herself, she’ll understand a mother’s deep rooted love. She got quiet and I assumed she was processing everything.

Then yesterday, she watched the Christmas movie, Elf. 

On Christmas Eve in 1973, an orphaned infant boy stows away on Santa Claus’ sack. When discovered back at the North Pole, he is adopted by Papa Elf. Papa Elf names his son Buddy.

Buddy grows up at the North Pole believing he is an elf, but due to his human size is unable to perform elf tasks. When Buddy accidentally learns that he is human, Papa Elf explains that he was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and was given up for adoption without Walter knowing. Susan died and Walter works at a children’s book publisher in New York City. Buddy travels to find him, whom Santa indicates is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness.

Then last night….

We’d been having a family braai and Ava started to get quiet. She told me she wanted to tell me a secret but she was scared if she told me that I’d either get mad or she’d hurt my heart with her secret. It took a lot of persuading, but eventually, she agreed to tell me, only if she could whisper her secret in my ear. 

“I miss my tummy mummy!”

And then she burst into tears! Guys, my heart, it physically broke. It was a physical pain to see the manifestation of adoption trauma in my child. I had always naively assumed that because of the circumstance around Ava’s placement, she’d be spared the trauma, the primal wound. But there is was, in all it’s painful glory. I held her and let my big fat tears drip down into her hair as I reassured her that I was not mad nor hurt. That I thought it was normal and natural for her to love and miss her tummy mummy. That I loved and missed her tummy mummy and that she could tell me whenever she wanted to, that she missed and loved her tummy mummy. I asked her how long she had felt that way, her answer floored me:

“My entire life!”

She asked if she could meet her tummy mummy soon. She asked to write her a letter. She drew a picture of her family, that included her, me, Walter, Hannah, our 3 dogs and her tummy mummy wearing a crown. She asked Walter to help her write the letter, she dictated it and he wrote it and what she said astounded me. The emotional intelligence, the hurt, the longing, the love, the insight of a 7 year old!

“If you look around every corner, you will see me!”

Afterwards, she came to me and very maturely thanked me for listening to her and for not getting mad. She has been extremely affectionate and emotionally needy since then and I feel like it’s almost her way of trying to ensure that she will not be rejected by me because of what she shared. She has told me 100 times in the past 12 hours how much she loves me, how I’m the best mother she has ever had. While I love hearing those things, it makes me sad that she is fearful her perceived rejection and potential second rejection. The primal wound is deep in this one! 

We have decided to take her to see a Rachel Makoni who is a psychologist with a special interest in the needs of an adopted child. 

I am just so thankful that we have such an open relationship with Ava’s birth mother. That I was able to message her last night to tell her what was happening and to have input and her love and support as we navigate through this hurt and pain and help heal our child.

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  • Reply Luchae Williams

    Oh wow, I literally just cried fat tears over here, at my desk. I’ve always admired your relationship with your daughters (still do) and your willingness to be open with them about their adoptions. I can’t imagine what this season must feel like, but just know that I am sending you light and love, from my corner of the globe.

    December 21, 2016 at 10:40 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Thank you Luchae.
      It’s hard, I won’t lie, to see your child in pain and to know that there is NOTHING you can do to take the pain away. Nothing.

      December 21, 2016 at 10:51 am
  • Paula Gruben
    Reply Paula Gruben

    My heart is so, SO sore – for little Ava, for you, & your husband. Please just know – this is NORMAL. You guys, as her doting parents, have done NOTHING wrong. There is nothing you could’ve done differently. This is simply her reality, as an adoptee. The fact that she felt safe & secure enough in her relationship with you, to be able to open up & TELL you how she was feeling in the very depths of her tiny, fragile soul is a testament to what a great job you’re doing to keep the lines of communication open. And for this I COMMEND you. Honestly, there was NO way in a million years I would’ve been able to speak to my own parents about these kind of thoughts / feelings – which are so very COMMON for adoptees. Hence I never got the help that I so desperately needed. Hence all the awful acting out, because I knew no other way to show how much I was hurting inside. Parenting is not for sissies, & parenting an adoptee brings with it a whole new level of emotional complexity. I am so very glad you are going to take Ava to see Rachel. I *wish* I had had a Rachel to talk to when I was growing up. It could’ve saved me, & my whole family, a mountain of stress & heartache.

    December 21, 2016 at 10:55 am
  • Gaelyn Cokayne
    Reply Gaelyn Cokayne

    Wow. This is an incredible post on many levels. I’ve done a lot of research over the years into what happens to children who never form that initial attachment and bond with their birth mom’s, even though they’ve been physically with them, so I had an idea of what you were referring to. Having 2 adopted siblings I can identify on a personal level too. But as a mom? No idea. I’m sure it did stab you in the heart – not because of any insecurity on your part, but because your child was hurting. You and Walter have done an amazing job with your girls and I love that you’re so open about their adoptions. (My folks were the same and it’s helped my siblings so much over the years!) You’ve been on such a journey, and as the girls get older your journey will shift and change direction as their questions and fears change. But I have no doubt they will emerge strong and secure and confident. Thank you for sharing this with us, and I hope things settle over the coming days and the psychologist helps Ava navigate her “story”.

    December 21, 2016 at 10:55 am
  • Reply hopefulltreasures

    Wow! As a mom with an adopted child, this post has resonated with me. Thank you for sharing this painful, beautiful, love-filled experience. It’s helped me prepare for the day my little boy experienced this. Megan xx

    December 21, 2016 at 11:28 am
    • Reply Sharon

      I think the best thing we can do for our adopted children is to be prepared. I was naive and didn’t think it would happen. The Primal Wound was an incredibly difficult read and one I didn’t want to believe it. But now I see it’s true.

      December 21, 2016 at 11:32 am
  • Janet Murray
    Reply Janet Murray

    Very touching post and also very reassuring for many parents with adopted children. My son went through a very similar emotion when he was around 8. Unfortunately his “tummy mummy” is no longer alive but he does thankfully have a photograph of her. We often talk about how she must be watching over him as his special guardian angel and he knows that he can talk to her whenever he feels he wants to.

    December 21, 2016 at 11:33 am
  • Reply moonstormer

    *biggest hugs for you and Ava*
    you are doing an amazing job with your girls, and the fact that she could tell you about her pain is proof of your bond, but DAMN i can’t even imagine how hard it must be for all of you.

    December 21, 2016 at 12:49 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks Zoe. I am glad that she was comfortable enough to talk to us, but it is SO hard to see the depth of her pain and know there is VERY little I can do about it.

      December 21, 2016 at 1:04 pm
  • Susan Tozer
    Reply Susan Tozer

    That post is heartbreaking, but I have no doubt you and Walter will handle the situation with the maturity you’ve handled other situations so well. My heart is physically aching for Ava Grace and you. It’s awful seeing our children hurting. I had a bit of a ‘different’ thought after reading that post too. I wonder how children carried by surrogates feel as even when they aren’t related genetically they still had that connection during the pregnancy. Or is that an ignorant statement?

    December 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks for commenting Susan. I don’t believe that is an ignorant statement at all. I think there is SO much we don’t know about what happens in utero that we are only just beginning to understand just the tip of the iceberg. Up until just a few years ago, adoption trauma wasn’t even really recognized as a real thing and this has caused huge amounts of trauma and negative emotions for many adoptees. I have no doubt there must be some impact on a surrogated child too.

      December 21, 2016 at 2:09 pm
    • The Blessed Barrenness
      Reply The Blessed Barrenness

      Thanks for commenting Susan. I don’t believe that is an ignorant statement at all. I think there is SO much we don’t know about what happens in utero that we are only just beginning to understand just the tip of the iceberg. Up until just a few years ago, adoption trauma wasn’t even really recognized as a real thing and this has caused huge amounts of trauma and negative emotions for many adoptees. I have no doubt there must be some impact on a surrogated child too.

      December 21, 2016 at 2:27 pm
  • Reply Bridgette

    Sharon, while I feel the depth of your despair at not being able to erase this pain, I hope to remind you of how amazing you are.. the fact that Ava was able to communicate her feelings to you means that she feels safe, even though you had to coax her in order for her to open up, she trusts you. And that is going to make all the difference as she navigates this journey.
    As a adoptive mom of two biological siblings, I also have similar apprehensions and have always been as honest as I can..our children need us to portray this love story as honestly and openly as we can, and all I do is pray that I have equipped them sufficiently for the journey ahead. Wishing you and Ava’s birth mom much strength for this road, and to young Ava, much tenderness to that gentle soul.
    Be strong Sharon, you have travelled so far, you’ve got this too!

    December 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thank you Bridgette!

      December 21, 2016 at 2:51 pm
  • Candice Lombardo Nicholls
    Reply Candice Lombardo Nicholls

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am doing my best to prepare myself for everything my daughter will face. As an adoptive parent it’s hard to sometimes process all this so thank you for being so open so the rest of us can learn and share and relate. I often wish I had more contact with out birth mother just to share these thoughts and how we can both prepare out daughter for all the challenges she may face. Keep posting, it’s making a difference.

    December 21, 2016 at 2:43 pm
  • Reply Cassey Toi

    All of the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeg hugs for all of you.

    December 21, 2016 at 3:33 pm
  • Jolene van Niekerk
    Reply Jolene van Niekerk

    My heart broke for you and your precious little girl. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for both of you to go through. Kudos to you for being so open about adoption and that Tummy Mummy is available to you to speak to. Hugs to you both.

    December 21, 2016 at 6:59 pm
  • Reply stephanie videira

    u are a incredible mommy letting ur daughter express her feelings and just being there for her, letting her talk and being so honest with her, thanks for sharing this moment of ur family’s life with us xxxx

    December 21, 2016 at 8:55 pm
  • Reply Melanie Voordewind

    We adopted twice, Jano in 2005 and Liam in 2007, We decided to tell them from a very young age that we adopted them. I even write a little story and start telling them from around 2, we also talked very openly about our differeces.. Skin colour, hair etc. Jsno never showed any stress regards his adoption. One day I think he was 6 or 7 on our way to the shops he just burst out in tears and between heartbreaking sobs he said I miss my tummy mum in cape town. He never even see a photo of her or even asked me how she looked. He had no idee how she looked. But a part of him could not hold that in anymore it was bigger than him, it was bigger than us, that longing for her was raw.. I made him a promise that day, once he is done with school I will go with him to her, we will walk that path, no matter the outcome. We got photos of her and his bio brothers. We explain to him her reason and also her love for him. Last night on his birthday, just before bed he gave me a kiss and said.. Thank you mommy for adopting me… Liam is another story another time 🙁

    December 21, 2016 at 10:01 pm
  • The Blessed Barrenness
    Reply The Blessed Barrenness

    Don’t be scared just be prepared! ❤ Have you read Paula Gruben’s book Umbilicus yet? You really should. I reviewed it here:

    December 22, 2016 at 5:59 am
  • Reply Louisa

    Sjoe! BIG emotions here. I think you dealt so brilliantly with this (and obv there will still be lots of dealing with it). I’m having a little cry for you btw. I think it must feel like when N asks me about her dad.

    December 22, 2016 at 10:37 am
  • Reply Ailsa Porter (@1_alleycat)

    Really sad. Think about what my adopted daughter must have felt but she claims she is fine.Too late anyway!

    December 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm
  • Reply Mona (@Mona1mou)

    Oh my, I have no words Sharon. As an adoptee I can relate on so many levels with Ava. I’m now 50 and the pain at not knowing my birth mother has never left me. My heart and soul feel so broken.

    January 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Your comment made me so sad but even more determined to do right by Ava.

      January 4, 2017 at 8:35 am
  • Reply Modern Zulu Mom Blog (@modernzulumom)

    Tear-jerking. You’re such a phenomenal mom, I admire how you handled it – honest, supportive and just allowing her to be and feel what she feels.

    January 4, 2017 at 9:12 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks! It was incredibly hard, but I have to do right by her!

      January 4, 2017 at 9:46 am
  • Reply rumtumtiggs

    The fact that she could tell you speaks volumes about your relationship. You are managing this with so much love and care, that my heart breaks for other kids who never have a chance at a relationship with their “tummy mummy”, let alone have such a kind hearted other mommy.

    Thanks to your thoughtfulness and love, your girls have the best chance possible to heal from their hurts. You are an inspiration to all of us. xx

    January 5, 2017 at 8:36 pm
  • Reply azestylife

    Phew. I have no words, so I guess all I can do is send you all biiiig virtual hugs. xxx

    May 8, 2017 at 11:43 am
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