Parenting An Adopted Infant Is Still A Challenge

I am extremely fortunate to have two beautiful adult children I adopted at birth. Infant adoption is rare since most adoptees come out of the Foster Care System and are therefore older. We pursued infant adoption because we thought it would head off some of the complications associated with adopting older children who may have suffered trauma during their time in Fost Care. But, new research shows that parenting an adopted infant is still a challenge.

According to the Adoption Network, “only 4% of women with unwanted pregnancies place their children through adoption. One out of every fifty children are adoptees and of those 15% were adopted as infants.” With over 135,000 adoptions per year in the US, the majority, or 59%, get adopted out of the foster care system.

The dominant emotions described by many adoptees about their own adoption are issues with separation, rejection, guilt, and shame. But since we adopted our infants right out of the hospital when they were 2 days old, we thought we had headed off these potential issues. But, we were partly 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 son 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) and it has given him closure on some of his issues surrounding his adoption. There are groups to help adoptees find their biological parents like Birth Parents Search on Facebook.

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 biological parents.

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.

Amy with her daughter when she was just 2 years old
Amy Sandelman Harris with her son
Amy with her son when he was just 3 years old

What You Need to Know About Parenting Adopted Infants – It’s Still a Challenge

What we didn’t know when we adopted our kids (32 and 26 years ago respectively) is what the newest research shows about infant adoptions. According to the “The Center for Youth and Family Solutions” 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, 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.

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 – a voice that was not yours. 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 ” See my post on addiction here.

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). My hope is that providing this information will help other adoptive 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

Welcome to my blog. I use my voice to affect change through philanthropy, advocacy, and activism. My blog posts revel about real life experiences meant to inspire people to make a difference.

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