Adopted Child & Adult Adoptee Research
Child Adoption The Intentional Psychological Burden
Research and Studies on Adoptees
There are vulnerabilities shared by all adoptees. In those most vulnerable, a distinct pattern of behaviors can be seen. Some have labeled this the "Adopted Child Syndrome." (Kirschner)Adopted 'children' are disproportionately represented with learning disabilities and organic brain syndrome. (Schecter and Genetic Behaviors)The secrecy in an adoptive family, and the denial that the adoptive family is different builds dysfunction into it. "... while social workers and insecure adoptive parents have structured a family relationship that is based on dishonesty, evasions and exploitation. To believe that good relationships will develop on such a foundation is psychologically unsound" (Lawrence). As John Bradshaw, the well-renowned therapist, says, "A family is only as sick as its secrets."
Mental health professionals are surprised at the alarmingly high number of their patients who are adopted. Studies show an average of 25 to 35% of the young people in residential treatment centers are adoptees. This is 17 times the norm. (Lifton, BIRCO--Pannor and Lawrence)
Adoptees are more likely to have difficulties with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder, infertility, suicide and untimely pregnancies. (Young, Bohman, Mitchell, Ostroff, Ansfield, Lifton and Schecter)
Adoptees are more likely to choose alternate lifestyles. (Ansfield and Lifton)
Alarmingly high numbers of adoptees are sent to disciplinary/correctional schools or are locked out of their homes [adoptive]. (Anderson and Carlson)
60 to 85% of the teens at Coldwater Canyon's Center For Personal Development, are adopted. That is 30 to 40 times the norm. The center is a private acute-care psychiatric hospital/school in Southern California. (Ostroff)
50 to 70% of the teens at The Haven in New Trier Township, Illinois, are adopted. That is 25 to 35 times the norm. The Haven is a resource center for street kids. (Henderson)
Secrecy erects barriers to forming a healthy identity. Sealed records implicitly asks for an extreme form of denial. There is no school of psychotherapy which regards denial as a positive strategy in forming a sense of self and dealing with day-to-day realities. (Howard)Adoption is a psychological burden to the adoptee. The effect of this burden is known, but the origin is confused. Secrecy plays a part in it, but Nancy Newton Verrier, Ph.D., sources the difficulties to the separation of the newborn from the mother. The Primal Wound is the most recent and revealing work done on the effects of adoption on the adopted. In the author's own words, "I believe that the connection established during the nine months in utero is a profound connection, and it is my hypothesis that the severing of that connection in the original separation of the adopted child from the birth mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound, which affects the adoptee's sense of Self and often manifests in a sense of loss, basic mistrust, anxiety and depression, emotional and/or behavioral problems, and difficulties in relationships with significant others (21)." Verrier has been criticized for her work, but her response says it all, "The only people who can really judge this work, however, are those about whom it is written: the adoptees themselves. Only they, as they note their responses to what is written here, will really know in their deepest selves the validity of this work, the existence or nonexistence of the primal wound" (xvii).
Secrecy, denial, and the primal wound have all played a role in the effect adoption has on the adoptee, but there is still more. Having spent nearly eight years studying and working as a volunteer with over 1000 people affected by an adoption (nearly all adoptees and birthmothers); I have seen the effects of adoption.
Humans have a basic need to feel they are individually whole, yet part of a whole. For the adopted this can be difficult. Often adoptees feel they do not belong (Kirschner). It is very lonely and isolating to feel different from those you should feel the closest to, your family. Edin Lipinski, M.D., brings insight to these feelings:
In an existential sense, the past is as important to adopted people as their future. It is the present that is most troublesome. Not knowing where they fit into the spectrum of happenings is a great problem for them.
|Adoptee Section||Birthmothers Section||References Section|
The pressure upon these mothers was one they could not stop. Sixty-nine percent of 334 birthmothers surveyed felt they were pressured into surrendering (Deykin). Another study reports forty-four percent of 350 birthmothers surveyed surrendered against their will. The study revealed the reasons for surrender centered around being single, poverty, young age, and parental pressure (VanKeppel). Some birthmothers told me they were shipped off to a home for unwed mothers, and told not to come home until they rid of the problem. For them there was no choice; they had no where to go.
The adoption experience for most birthmothers leaves a large emotional scar. According to the authors of "The Adoption Triangle: The Effects of Sealed Records on Adoptees, Birthparents and Adoptive Parents," most birthmothers expressed feelings of loss, pain and mourning that remained undimmed with time (Sorosky). A University of California, at Los Angeles, psychiatrist and author, Arthur Sorosky, M.D., likened the emotional scarring from surrendering a child to a psychological amputation (Sorosky).
The pain of the experience was hard to bear. As time went by the pain did not diminish, it increased. Robin Winkler, Ph.D. of the Institute for Family Studies, Melbourne, Victoria, reports that ninety percent of birthmothers surveyed felt deeply harmed by the adoption and the pain increased with time (BIRCO-Winkler). Drs. Harriet Ganson and Judith Cook found, "Birthmothers expressed deep anguish over adoption" (BIRCO-Ganson). Phyllis Silverman, Ph.D., who has studied birthmothers for twenty years, on behalf of Mary Beth Whitehead testified that ninety-five percent of the women she has studied found their loss shattering and worse than they imagined (Chesler).
The effect of the pain felt by birthmothers manifests itself in many ways. Sorosky tells us that most birthmothers do not enter psychotherapy because they surrendered a child; they push that experience to the subconscious. However, it often surfaces as the key to their inability to cope (Sorosky). Birthmothers seek therapy for numerous reasons:
Kaiser-Permanente Health Care conducted a study in 1979 of birthmothers who surrendered babies. Forty percent reported depression as the most common emotional disorder. Sixty percent reported medical, sexual and psychiatric problems. (BIRCO-Kaiser)In another study 20 of 22 birthmothers sought psychotherapy for problems including depression alienation, physical complaints with no biological basis, sexual difficulties and difficulty making commitments (Millen).Birthmothers were not prepared for the aftermath of the surrender. They were told by the adoption professionals involved that it would be over soon; they would forget the experience; go on with their life and have more children. It worked that way for very few, if any. In the thousands of reunions I am aware of, there is only one birthmother who does not remember the experience. That one was in an accident, resulting in full amnesia of all personal history before the accident.
Phyllis Silverman, Ph.D., interviewed fifty birthmothers and found many were not aware until years later they were grieving. "They all reported a sense of malaise. Still other birthmothers become weepy, restless, anxious and forgetful" (Silverman).
In time birthmothers do go on with the day-to-day tasks, but it proved impossible for most to pick-up where they left off before becoming pregnant. In Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, Betty Jean Lifton, Ph.D., describes what birthmothers were told. "The social worker said it would hurt for a while, and then they would forget, as if they had experienced nothing more serious than a nine-month stomach ache. They found they could not go back to the life they had left behind because they had become different people in the process of becoming mothers" (Lifton). Carole J. Anderson, M.S.W., J.D., in her booklet, Eternal Abuse of Women: Adoption Abuse, explains this in another way. "Adoption is not the end of a painful chapter, but the beginning of a lifetime of wondering, worrying, and missing the child. It is a wound that time cannot heal...it is a limbo loss" (Anderson). A limbo loss is what the families of MIA (missing in action) soldiers experience. There is no finality; not to know whether the loved one is alive or dead. Always waiting and hoping he or she will be found.
True some birthmothers did marry, and have other children. However, according to research, far too many did not have another child, 20 to 30% by choice (Anderson, Deykin), and others suffered a secondary infertility rate 170% higher than the general population (Deykin).
Ninety-six percent of birthmothers want a reunion (Ganson, Deykin).
|Adoptee Section||Birthmothers Section||References Section|
Anderson, C., M.S.W., J.D.. Eternal abuse of women: adoption abuse. Concerned United Birthparents: Des Moines.
Anderson, C., M.S.W., J.D.. CUB Communicator: Des Moines.
Ansfield, J., M.D.. The adopted child.
Bohman, M and Van Korring, A.. (1979) "Psychiatric illness among adults adopted as infants". Acta Psychiati Scand.
Carlson, J.. (1988) "Adoption and criminal behavior". Workshop American Adoption Congress, Calgary, Alberta.
Chesler, P.. (1988) Sacred bond: the legacy of Baby M. Times: New York.
Deykin, E., Ph.D.. (1982) "The post adoption experience of surrendering parents". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
Henig, R.. (September 11, 1988) "Body and mind". The New York Times Magazine.
Isaac, R. and Spencer, J.. (1965) Adopting a child today. New York: Harper & Row.
Kirk, H., Ph.D.. (1985) Adoptive kinship: a modern institution in need of reform. 2nd Ed. Ben-Simon: Port Angeles.
Kirschner, D., Ph.D.. (1988) "The adopted child syndrome." Lecutre. American Adoption Congress, Boston.
Lifton, B.J., Ph.D.. (1988) Lost and found: the adoption experience. 2nd Ed. New York City.
Lawrence, M., Ph.D. (1979) "Dishonesty as the best policy". Lecuture. American Adoption Congress.
Mitchell, J., M.D.. (1985) "Anorexia nervose and bulimia". U of Minnesota P.
Ostroff, R., (November 20, 1986) "A look inside America's hidden system of teen control". Rolling Stone.
Schecter, M., Ph.D., (1981) Lecture. American Adoption Congress.
Silverman, P., Ph.D.. (1981) Helping women cope with grief. Sage.
Sorosky, A.D., M.D., Baron, A., M.S.W, Panor, R., M.S.W. (1990) The adoption triangle. 2nd Ed. Anchor/Double Day: Garden City.
Sorosky, A., M.D.. (December 11, 1988) "Mothers who give up their children". Parade. Los Angeles.
VanKeppel, M.. (March/April 1988) People Searching News.
Verrier, N., Ph.D. (1993) The primal wound. Baltimore: Gateway.
Young, J.. "Steve Jobs: the journey is the reward".
Compilation. Adoption Reform Education Packet. Ed. Swanson, JoAnne. BIRCO: Gladstone, 1990. Interview and written response contributions from the following persons:
Ganson, H., Ph.D. & Cook, J., Ph.D.. (1986) "The open records controversy: a woman's issue".
Henderson, Paul. Director The Haven, New Trier Township.
Howard, M., Ph.D.. "The adoptee's dilema: obstacles in identity formation".
Kaiser-Permanente Health Care. (1979)
Lawrence, Margaret MacDonald. Psychologist and Educator.
Lipinski, M.D., Edin. President Canadian Psychiatric Association, Director Medical Services, Simon Fraser University.
Millen, L., Ph.D. & Roll, S.Ph.D.. (1985) "Solomon's mothers: a study in pathological bereavement".
Pannor, M.S.W., Reuben. Director Community Services, Vista Del Mar Child Care Services, Los Angeles.
Partridge, M.S.W., Penny. Adoption Forum
Winkler, Robin, Ph.D.. (1984) "Relinquishing mothers in adoption: their long term adjustment".