Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ROUND TABLE: Adoption Trauma

Today's #FlipTheScript Prompt: 

Nancy Verrier coined the term “primal wound” to describe the pain infants and very young children experience when they are permanently separated from their biological mothers. Others have said that some adopted children may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent study also found that adopted people are more likely to attempt suicide.

Talk about your thoughts on trauma as it relates to adoption. Do you believe adopted children suffer a primal wound? Have you struggled with anxiety, depression, or other issues as a result of your adoption? Do you think trauma in adoption can be avoided, and if so, how? If you have ever sought counseling for issues related to your adoption, talk about how that experience went for you. Did you have difficulty finding a qualified therapist? Did you find therapy helpful? How can counselors and therapists better support adoptees?

Rebecca Hawkes: I have experienced depression and anxiety. I am also aware of a tendency toward hyper-vigilance, and I have experienced fight-flight-or-freeze responses to triggers that, upon examination, usually seem to be rooted in some aspect of my adoptee experience. Of course, I have no non-adopted self to use as a comparison. Can I be absolutely certain that I am as I am because of adoption? No. But I do know that I respond best to treatments that are body-based (mindfulness, Somatic Experiencing), which to me suggest the likelihood of pre-verbal trauma.

Elle: If you ask me adoption will always cause some kind of trauma. It seems as if some aspects of stigmatization might be avoided or not as severe if adoptive parents (APs) chose open adoption instead of closed. Not that that doesn't affect an adoptee for life because it does.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety as well as shorter episodes of PTSD in relation to my own reunion.

Also I deliberately decided to stop going to therapy. My APs insist and urge me to seek help. I don't understand the need to speak about something that I never will accept or be alright with.

Once adopted you cannot undo it, even if you manages to do it you would have wasted lots of time and tears.

Adoption is and should never be considered a quick fix. One problem might be resolved but adoption also creates many problems too.

I wish APs and professionals would take responsibility for the altered life and reality their adopted children are forced to live with.

As a transracial adoptee I think APs shouldn't add to further trauma or stigmatization by insisting that the adoptee's ethnicity change with their adoption, meaning that an adoptee's native tongue changes into that of their APs. Some APs insist that the need to speak the mother tongue is no longer needed. Some European countries have laws to help first, second, and third generation immigrants keep their mother tongue. Why not adoptees? (These laws are interpreted differently depending on in what muncipality you live. In some adoptees actually can study their first mother tongue in others it can be harder.) For many adult adoptees the only link to birth culture could sometimes be the first mother tongue. Also, it can be useful if you know your original mother tongue if you want to pursue a birth family search or insist on a reunion.

If professionals and APs truly want to gain a better understanding they should ask someone who lived it, not just read about it or heard about it from someone else. For example someone like me is considered a first generation immigrant. My future children will be second generation, my grandchildren third generation. It takes five generations for an immigrant (from adoption or otherwise) to be seen as a citizen. And the adoptee's birth family will also be affected. Birth parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, spouses, inlaws, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. And of course the children to an adoptee. That's how far it goes.

Karen Pickell: I related very much to the theory of The Primal Wound. I’d experienced a traumatic event—my relinquishment—when I was too young to be able to express how it made me feel. I could not speak as an infant, nor did I even think in words. But I’m certain I knew my own mother’s voice and scent. I’m certain I knew who was my mother and who was not my mother. And then she was gone. What could I have understood as an infant about why she was gone except that I needed her and she was no longer with me?

Then, I was kept in an infant home for several months until I was adopted. I have no idea who took care of me there or if I bonded with a caretaker. Maybe I didn’t bond with anyone there, so I felt completely on my own at one month, two months, three months old. Or, maybe I did bond with one of my caretakers and then once again experienced the trauma of separation when I went to live with my adoptive parents.

These experiences were never discussed in this way when I was growing up. No one ever talked to me about my own birth story. Yes, I knew the bare facts, but that’s not the same as having a conversation about what it must have been like to be an infant living in an institution without a dedicated parent, or what it must have been like to experience multiple transitions during those first few months of my life.

For literally decades, my infant grief remained buried within my psyche.

When I was in my late twenties, I had a breakdown of sorts. I became so physically ill I had to take a leave of absence from my job. I was seeing a psychologist during that time, but I never told him I was adopted. I’d sit there on the couch in his office thinking "all this may have something to do with my being adopted" but I would not say it out loud, not to him or to anyone. It was only after I reunited with my birth family several years later that I began to allow myself to process my adoption grief.

As Rebecca pointed out though, it hasn’t been straightforward identifying the source of some of my personal struggles. Deanna Doss Shrodes recently wrote about what she calls “double whammy adoptees,” and I am one of these. My adoptive mother was and is mentally ill. Being raised by a mentally ill parent creates all kinds of issues on its own. Add adoption to the mix and things really get complicated. I’m now forty-seven, and I’m still trying to sort it all out.

I’m interested in learning more about the body-based treatments you mentioned, Rebecca. Do you have any links to resources you could post?

Rebecca: Sure. Here are a few to couple to start with:
Somatic Experiencing

Also, here's a blog post I wrote about using Somatic Experiencing and Mindfulness to manage one of my primary trauma symptom—chronic pain: Learning to Inhabit My Body