Parenting Adopted Infants Is Not As Easy As You Might Think

I am extremely fortunate to have two adult children I adopted at birth. Getting an infant in the adoption world is like hitting pay dirt. We thought it would make the adjustment less troublesome. But, it’s not as easy as you might think.

According to the Adoption Network, “only 4% of women with unwanted pregnancies place their children through adoption. One out of every 25 families has adopted a child which equals one out of every fifty children and of those 15% were infants.” With over 135,000 adoptions per year in the US, the majority (i.e.59%) get adopted out of the foster care system. Most available adoptive kids – are just that- kids older than several months and sometimes even several years old. We thought parenting an adopted infant would prevent many of the long-term emotional and psychological issues older adopted children struggle with.

The dominant emotions described by many adoptees about their own adoption are issues with separation, rejection, guilt, and shame. But since we adopted ours 2 days after their birth, we thought we had headed off these possible issues. But, we were wrong.

In our case, our children could not be more diametrically opposed when it comes to the issues surrounding their adoptions.

My 32-year-old daughter is a well-adjusted, high achiever and has no curiosity about her birth parents. She feels that getting involved in tracking them down would just cause unnecessary complications in her life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my youngest is a son and he exhibits many mental health and emotional issues and has tracked down both of his birth parents. He is in contact separately with both of them (they broke up 8 months after his birth).

As I have learned from doing much research, adopted kids can go either way – accepting they are adopted and happy with their family or they can feel like they don’t belong or that something is missing that they hope to find by learning more about their biology.

For one it is a simple fact of life and for the other, it is the source of much anguish. How can it possibly be so opposite when they come from the same adoptive family?

My daughter is a perfect blend of both my husband’s and my personality traits. She is extremely capable, loving, gets anxious about money (thanks to my husband), and coincidentally looks quite similar to me. On the other hand, my son looks nothing like anyone in the family, has many traits from his biological parents including ADHD, and an addictive personality.

His struggles are our struggles. Watching your child experience emotional pain and repeatedly doing self-harm is a living nightmare. When he is straight he is a kind loving person. But once he uses drugs he turns into an angry unreasonable man.

Amy with her infant daughter
My 2 adopted children as infants

What You Need to Know About Parenting Adopted Infants – It’s Not As Easy As You Might Think

What we didn’t know when we adopted our kids (26 and 32 years ago respectively) is what the newest research shows about infant adoptions. It completely contradicts our thinking it would be easier. Research now identifies “that as early as the second trimester of pregnancy, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing. In fact, the fetus is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptees, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often occurs in ways in which the mind and body of the newborn are incapable of processing. Childhood trauma impacts an infant’s physical and emotional growth. It colors how an infant views the world and others in it. “Source: The Center for Youth and Family Solutions.

According to Samuel Lopez De Victoria, Ph.D., your baby learned to be comforted by the voice and heartbeat of his mother well before birth[1] – a voice that was not yours. In the case of adoption, this connective disruption has an impact on the brain and body.

According to Paula Thompson – a writer for Birth Psychology, “these early experiences set our ongoing physiological and psychological regulatory baselines.”

It is not the adoption that causes the trauma, it is the relinquishment and the loss of the familiar that is traumatizing. Unfortunately, research has shown my son’s issues surrounding his adoption are more common than not.

According to The Center for the Treatment of Anxiety and Other Mood Disorders “When a child is not with their original mother, the newborn becomes frequently anxious and confused causing the baby to release stress hormones. Even newborns that are placed with their adoptive parents within days of their birth can often feel traumatized. Newborns know their mother is missing and they are being cared for by strangers.”

According to this source, further research shows, “that a child could inherit a predisposition for sadness or anxiety if their first mother was anxious or depressed while pregnant. And what mother who is about to give up their baby isn’t both anxious and depressed?

The Psychological Effects of Adoption on Adoptees

According to The Center for the Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders: the psychological effects of adoption on adoptees can include some or all of the following:

Loss – …”as the child matures and finds out they were adopted, that sense of loss becomes a theme running through their subconscious. As such, adopted children typically feel succeeding losses much more deeply than their non-adopted counterparts.”

Rejection – …”is part of the initial loss the adoptee experiences. In order to be adopted, they had to be rejected by their birth parents. “

Guilt/shame  – …”comes from the adoptee’s feelings of rejection. As we know, children tend to blame themselves when something bad happens, therefore an adopted child naturally questions what they must have done wrong (or what was wrong or “bad” about them) that made their birth parent give them away. Even if the adoptee knows the reason they were placed for adoption, they often still secretly harbor the idea that they were somehow “broken” or could have been a “better” baby, which is why their birth parents rejected them.”

Grief – …”is part of adoption because the child lost their birth parents. We see adoption as a joyous occasion for the parents who are adopting the child, therefore the thought is that adopted kids should feel thankful to have a new family. Grieving for what they lost doesn’t usually have a place in the child’s life – it is considered a rejection of the adoptive parents if the child grieves.

Additionally, children sometimes don’t feel the effects of their deep-seated loss until they reach adolescence or adulthood and have developed a high enough cognitive level to understand what the loss means to their life. In many cases, this leads to substance abuse, depression, or aggression “

Identity – “…is another loss the adopted adult must face. While they have been given a new name and identity by their adoptive parents, is it who they truly are? Or are they really the person they were before the adoption?

Intimacy “…is frequently difficult for the adopted adult because they have such deeply rooted feelings of rejection, guilt or shame, and don’t truly have an identity. Often people who have gone through these negative emotions subconsciously push others away to avoid experiencing another loss.

The Silverstein and Kaplan study notes that, “Many adoptees as teen[s] state that they truly have never felt close to anyone. Some youngsters declare a lifetime emptiness related to a longing for the birth mother they may have never seen.”

Mastery/Control -Lastly, adoptees often feel little control over their lives because they had no say in the matter of their adoption. Whether placed with their adoptive family at birth or as an older child, they were not given an option. As they mature, this can result in power struggles with authority figures and a reduced sense of responsibility.”

My son exhibits all of these issues. And now I feel like a bad parent for not knowing infants absorb the rejection, loss, and abandonment before they are even born. I thought we had circumvented all of these issues by adopting him when he was only 2 days old.

There are many resources to help adoptees overcome the issues surrounding their adoptions (see below). Now that I know the truth, I need to help my son (as much as he will let me since he is already an adult). It’s a little late for me, but I hope providing this information will help other adoptee parents to look for behaviors associated with trauma and provide the right resources to avert the possible devastating effects of their infant’s adoption.


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Published by Amy Sandelman Harris

My name is Amy Sandelman Harris - I am a woman of a certain age and I continue to live a full life. While now officially retired, I have decades of professional business experience. The increase in my free time allows me to read more than ever-- one of my greatest passions as well as do volunteer work advocate for causes, cook and overall live a slower life. Through this lens, I cover deeply personal stories and issues that most people are too uncomfortable to talk about as well as provide the very best online shopping resrouces. Everything is on the record. But the one thing you can count on is that I will always have the best online shopping tips around.

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