Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know?

The Psychology of Adoption Trauma and the Primal Wound

; the psychology  of the mother and child bond and the trauma of separation after birth in adoption

In her preface to The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier states her naivetée when adopting her daughter. She was like most others; undermining and discounting the very child that she was promising to love and care for. She believed that her own adopted daughter would never know or be negatively impacted by being adopted. After all, what can a tiny baby know? They are too young to remember any of the trauma. They just need love.

Admittedly, I too, even as an adoptee, thought this way. It was my perception that adoption does not have much of an impact on those adopted at infancy because, what does a baby know? Though I personally have spent a lifetime dealing with depression, fears of abandonment, relationship struggles, anger, low self-esteem, somatic complications and a myriad of other issues, I never related them back to being adopted. I just thought I was not very valuable or worthy, but didn’t see the link. I didn’t see what now seems so obvious.


The Mother and Child Bond and the Trauma of Separation

As a result of my research, I, among other scholars in this relatively new field of attention to the psychological and physiological impact of adoption, will argue that the relinquishment or separation of child from her birth mother is a traumatic event that deeply impacts the adoptee, creating special needs that must be addressed throughout the adoptee’s life.

I will often use relinquishment and adoption in somewhat synonymous terms. Understanding the definite differences between the two, I will continue to refer to adoption as a trauma recognizing the true trauma is at the point of relinquishment or maternal separation. However, subsequent actions do have the potential to exacerbate that trauma experienced.

Adoption is a trauma that happens to a child. The child is torn away from her biological mother, placed in the arms of strangers and is left with questions, doubts, fears and anxiety with no way to verbalize, express, mourn or contextualize those feelings. Though the common misconception is that a child won’t remember any of it many psychologists believe, with evidence to support, that children remember their birth and the following events, including relinquishment and adoption, up to the age of three.


Responses to the Adopted Child’s Trauma

At this age the only tools a child has to deal with this separation trauma is through crying or reaction to physical touch and anger. These tools can manifest in overt expression or a marked lack of expression. A baby may cry in response or rarely cry and be perceived as a good and peaceful baby, when in reality she is hurting. She may respond by recoiling from human touch or may become too attached to the sensation and have difficulty learning boundaries. A child may express her anger through yelling, kicking, screaming, crying or withholding emotional expression.

Every adopted child, allow me to reiterate, every adopted child falls into one of two categories. She either acts out and is difficult or is quiet, adaptable and compliant. Of course the degree to which each adoptee acts out or becomes compliant is individual.

Some who act out will go to the extreme of running away from home, threatening their adoptive parents, rebel academically and even attempt suicide. A 2001 study shows that of teens in grades 7 through 12, 7.6% of adopted teens had attempted suicide compared with 3% among their non-adopted peers. The compliant adopted child may become a model citizen in school as well at home or she may just kind of fade into the background, trying not to be noticed or cause trouble. Either way they are both reactions to the trauma of being adopted.

The adopted child who acts out, is, in essence, attempting to initiate some form of rejection from parents, teachers, peers and others in order to prove that she is unlovable or she finds herself rejecting these same people prior to being rejected by them. This type of child is obviously troubled and it is easy to identify as needing help. However, parents and therapists often try to counsel the child into acting more appropriately, instilling tough love or even unknowingly furthering the child’s abandonment issues by sending them to boarding school, camp or other such institutions. Rarely do adoptive parents and counselors see this behavior as a reaction to her adoption trauma. They are never truly treating the source of the wound.

For the compliant child the situation can actually be much more devastating. As a compliant child who is either not causing problems or actually well engaged and visibly successful, she is not seen as having any problems at all. Parents see this child as well adjusted to life, including being adopted, and with no outwardly troubling signs of concern, this child is often overlooked and not given any form of counseling or assistance in dealing with life or emotional wounds. It is difficult for anyone to see that the child who is often referred to as, “mature for her age” or “pleasant and articulate,” is actually in equal distress to the child who is acting out. Both are hurting, both are devastated by the trauma of relinquishment and both have no way to articulate, understand, contextualize or grieve the loss they have endured.

These two behavior types present themselves at various ages, though adolescence is the most common time for them to reach their strongest levels. Additionally, some may actually experience both behavior types, switching from one to the other depending on their environment or transition back and forth throughout maturity. Also noteworthy is that no matter the age of adoption, infant through teen, all adoptees essentially suffer from the same issues.


Adoption Psychology; What is Birth Trauma

Relinquishment in the adoption process is a traumatic experience to a child. I am working with the definition of trauma as defined by the 2000 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders where a person experienced an event that threatened their physical well being and that person responded to that event with fear, helplessness or horror. It is important to recognize that in adoption the birth family and the adoptive family are allowed to choose, however to the child adoption is something that happened to them.

When I shared with my adoptive mother that I was studying adoption and its related impact, along with her warmth, support and encouragement came the words I knew she thought, but never thought I would hear. She said, “What does a baby know?

She had spent some time talking about my adoption and sharing a little bit of added information I don’t recall previously knowing. After being relinquished I lived in a foster home with an elderly couple for two weeks prior to my being placed. I had yet another piece of the puzzle and another incident of attempted attachment and abandonment in my life. She went on to say how she didn’t think a baby would know any better and that all I needed was a loving home. “What does a baby know?

This line of thinking was not her fault; it was the prevalent school of thought regarding adoption and was widely professed by the “experts” of the time.

In speaking with friends and acquaintances alike about my studies I find I am often challenged in the legitimacy of my work. I share my findings regarding the two behavioral patterns and am met with the challenge that, “every kid goes through that.” I am met with resistance from people who claim that I am finding an excuse to be a victim and dismiss ownership of my behaviors. Explaining about the bonding of mother and child on a cellular level and the evidence of an infant recognizing its own mother at birth, I am challenged with skepticism and, as if we have all learned the same response, “What does a baby know?”


The Importance of Maternal Infant Bonding

Mother child bonding research shows that, at birth, a baby is able to recognize her mother’s voice. Within a few days of birth she will recognize familiar faces, voices and smells and be drawn to them. With research showing that babies do have a memory, in contradiction to long held beliefs, it becomes unreasonable to assume that a baby would not remember or recognize (at a visceral and thus almost imprinting level) the loss of her mother upon separation through adoption.

I have not undertaken an exhaustive study in the area of what newborn babies are aware of immediately following and the days after birth. Therefore, I will not try to answer, “What does a baby know?” However I will answer, “What does an adopted baby know?” She knows her mother, she knows her loss, sadness and hurt, she knows that those who hold her today may be gone tomorrow and that she will be the only one left to pick up the pieces that no one seems to think are broken.

About the Author

Karl Stenske shares a rich and compelling story as an adoptee. Being one of the many who had a great adopted family, he never thought being adopted had a big effect on his life. But at 37, Karl began to unravel the true impact adoption did have on his life and the lives of those who loved, and tried to love him. A sought after speaker and educator, Karl offers insights into the wounds created when any child is separated from his birth mother. In The Hidden Life of an Adopted Child: Understanding the Impact of Adoption, Karl explores the traumatic experience suffered by that separation and its influence on self-esteem, value, worth, and identity. Read more about Karl on the Contributors Page.

Comments (225):

  1. When my daughter was born, they did the usual taking her to the nursery to be cleaned up and assessed. They got me settled into my room and after a while I heard a baby crying coming down the hall. Up to that point I had only heard her squawk once; nevertheless I recognized her voice. The nurse opened the door and began to wheel her bassinet through and I said her name and immediately my daughter quieted. She hadn’t even seen me yet and it wouldn’t have mattered if she had; her first look at me was through eyes that had had ointment applied, and her vision would have been blurry anyway.

    They know. It’s only silly grownups with no talent for observation who don’t know.

    I’m raising her, by the way. It was her big brother I lost to adoption and he was almost three when he left me. But that is a whole ‘nother story.

    • Dana- Thank you for sharing. I would love to hear your story.

      • Hi Karl,
        i have had 2 experiences loving (or trying to love!) adopted men. my first was my first love as a teenager. we were together over 2 years and i thought of him for a long time after that, particularly after the birth of both my children by another man many years later. my (negative) recollection of him is he was rather passive agressive, pretty critical towards me, not affectionate at all, and he always gave me the feeling that he loved me much more than he was either willing or able to show me. he was adopted as an infant.
        i am now in my forties and for over six months now i have been seeing another man who was adopted at the age of 2 years old. together with my first love, he too is not at all affectionate, also gives me the feeling that he loves me much more than he is either willing or able to show me. VERY critical towards me. i also know he “spies” on me in small ways and needs to control me.
        the far greater problem is that he no longer wants to have sex with me! how do i know if it’s an “adoption” issue or that he just doesn’t like me anymore?? i don’t think he knows for sure either. he says he loves me and that he’s never had this problem before but from the stories he’s told me in the past, he’s never had a really healthy and stable sexual relationship. moreover, i am the first “mother” he’s been with besides his ex-wife whom he left when their only daughter was about 1/2 years old.
        does he “hate” yet “need” mothers?? should i stick by him? should i run??
        if i knew he really & truly loved me i would stick by him. i just don’t want to wake up one day and realize he never loved me and i just wasted my time and broke my heart…
        what should i do??
        sorry to bother you about this i just don’t know who to ask who has firsthand experience…

  2. Beautifully written, Karl! You mentioned that “within a few days” a baby recognizes faces, voices, smells etc. I’d like to elaborate on what I read about smell:

    Somewhere around the fifth month of gestation, a baby’s olfactory nerves develop in his nose. From then on, the amniotic fluid passes over these nerves constantly, making him keenly aware of the smell of his environment – his mother’s smell. This is why, after birth, he recognizes his own mother’s milk in preference to any other.

    A baby knows and recognizes familiar sounds from his months in utero, too. I worked with an adoptee once who had been adopted by college graduates who were determined to get him properly educated and aimed toward a profession. But all he wanted was to do when he grew up, he insisted, was “drive an 180-wheeler.” His parents finally gave up on college and let him take a commercial driver course. Happy as a lark, he eventually set out to find his birth parents and discovered – to no one’s surprise – that he was from a family of truck drivers! In fact, he had been exposed to those glorious diesel sounds in utero when his mother rode along with his father during her pregnancy.

    • Jo, Thank you so much. I like your story about the truck driver. When I was a kid my parents wanted an athlete and they got a performer.

    • I absolutely agree about babies’ senses and their link to adoption. I was taken to the orphanage when I was a day old. My birthmother never got to hold me. After two months I was adopted by fantastic parents. Last summer I found/met my birthmother in Colombia and the funny thing about hugging her for the first time was HOW GOOD SHE SMELLED! It wasn’t the kind of smell that comes from perfume. It was HER smell. Like I’d been searching for that scent my whole 28 years and finally I was home. She’s amazing and my parents are super supportive and awesome. My life hasn’t been easy, but it’s a dream come true!

  3. Ooooops! That was 18-wheeler – not 180-wheeler!

  4. Dana is so right. Their smiles are gas… and all the other sillyness that ‘authorities’ make up to calm their guilt. But one part of the story is not true. Many many many natural moms
    “birth” moms fought with every muscle to keep their babies. The sale was more important
    to the social worker than a woman’s life. the agency, lawyer judge and buyers are the ones with a choice.

    • Mine was an open adoption and they promised on god i get to see my son but he turns 2 Jan 10th and i haven’t seen him sense the hospital.
      I ask god why i did such a great thing for someone and they are so cold and uncaring we gave them something they could never have for 15 years now we have to try and pick up the pieces of our broken hearts.
      I have dreams of him saying i love you mommy.Dose he dream about me and miss me as much as i do him? would he know my smell and the sound of my voice? Can he love them more then he would love me cause of what i was forced to do for money?

      • I was one of the forced adoption children in Australia during the late 1960’s and am still suffering from the trauma of separation from my birth mother over 40 years later. Of course a child knows and misses its birth mother – I have always felt an important part of me missing my whole lifeand shut down emotionally. I outwardly played up and caused trouble from the trauma and pain. In high school I broke down talking to my sympathetic English teacher who tried to offer some support – I best described the pain back then as a large black hole in my stomach where my umbilical cord was – an unfillable void.. That is what I still think and despite having my own family to fill some of the void, my birth mother will always be missed and grieved. This is my personal experience.

      • have you gone back to look for him? i wonder what would do if you tried to fight them breaking an oral agreement?

  5. Bravo! …from a fellow compliant adoptee.

    • Thank you so much!!!

      • This makes very interesting and thought provoking reading. I was taken from my birth mother when I was around 6 weeks old. Don’t remember having any of the feeling u wrote about but was told that on the way back home with my adoptive parents I started crying. My mum told my dad to stop the car as I was crying and she didnt know what to do with me. According to my adoption file it took about 3 days for me to settle down with them so maybe I was aware of being separated from my birth mum. We are now happily reunited but that is another story.

        • I am also adopted and recently found my birth mother. I have been looking for other people that have been reunited with their birth mom and was wondering if you would mind talking to me about your experience.

  6. Bravo!…from a fellow compliant adoptee.

  7. […] Stenske has written a thought provoking article at Adoptive Voices Magazine, entitled, “Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know?“  Here is a little about the author: Karl Stenske shares a rich and compelling story as an […]

  8. I started doing the same research (repercussions of separation) in ’98, and began writing about it soon thereafter. The anger and dismissals were deafening. It’s not just that people have accepted for so long that babies remember nothing; it’s that, given this new information, it’s too painful for people to attempt empathy for the baby. It’s terrifying. No one wants to be complicit either in creating that terror or having been a silent witness to it.

    My younger (unrelated) adoptive sister was the compliant one, and I guarantee she suffered more than I. She died from complications of MS at the age of 35. Unrecognized early trauma kills. I was the “acting out” one. At the age of 59, I suffer from a smorgasbord of diseases – not the least of which is cachexia, which will kill me. So I have lasted longer, but not before pissing off every single human being who tried to love me. And not before years and $$$$ trying to get help. Almost no one is trained to deal with this – at least not for adults. There is much more qualified help for young children.

    • Julie, Thank you so much for sharing. I am so sorry for the pain and struggle you and your sister have lived with. You are correct, there are few who are actually trained to help with these struggles. But there are some who do and are great resources. Please feel free to connect with me and check back on my site, as I will be adding resources of therapists specifically trained to aid in adoption attachment issues. I am happy to give referrals if you are anyone you know wants the help!!

    • May God be with you and all around you to comfort you!

  9. Mr. Stenske, thank you for writing this. Can you tell please tell me what study you are referring to here: “A 2001 study shows that of teens in grades 7 through 12, 7.6% of adopted teens had attempted suicide compared with 3% among their non-adopted peers.” Most of the studies of which I am aware show that, overall, adopted children are all well adjusted as their peers, and, indeed, adoptive families are more likely to seek counseling for children who joined the family via adoption than are those with what I call ‘homemade’ children.

    • Hi Lisa- Thank you for asking about this. Here is my resource.

      Rostler, Suzanne. “Suicide Attempts More Common Among Adopted Teens.” Suicide and Adoption. Web. 18 May 2011. .

      I would love to know what studies you are reading that are sharing that adoptees are as well adjusted as your peers. I am sure that they are the same studies I found while doing my research. Sadly, I find that those studies are missing certain vital criteria and establishing their baseline as well as their selection group. I do not fault the studies, they are good and well intended. I welcome any and all research into this field, even and especially that which is contrary to my findings.

      So setting aside all of the research, including mine. It is not my goal to prove a point. It is my goal to bring the discussion on the impact of adoption to the surface where, adoptees, birth families and adoptive families can safely discuss their experiences and feelings without the shame, guilt and dismissal of their feelings as has happened for too many decades.

      I too would have fallen in the category of equally well adjusted as compared to my peer group. It was not until many years later and with the benefit of hindsight that I was able to put together the fractured pieces of what I once thought was a normal life not impact by adoption.

      Thank you so much for being a passionate part of this discussion.

      • I was adopted at the age of two months, after being in foster care. My adopted parents were not nurturing. My father was resentful of my existence as I was not his natural child and he saw me as a refection of his lack of perceived masculinity, and thus we spent very little time together and did not communicate. My adopted mother was worse as she believed in stern corporal punishment. She always told me that by the time I’d turned 5 years old, it was hurting her hand too much to spank me anymore so she began using large wooden spoons, chalkboard pointers, and then yardsticks. Whenever she was too stressed ( roughly once or twice a month, I’d get chased down and beaten without remorse or any apologies until I was big and old enough (age 14) to take the stick from her hands. I began to feel more unwanted and alone. I had no brothers or sisters. I always wanted my real parents to come back for me but of course that never happens. I was told by my father, at age 16, that I was causing too much strife at home for my mother, so I had too leave home for good on my 18th birthday as they would then no longer be legally responsible for me. I felt abandoned by two families and 4 months before my 18th birthday, I cut my wrist open in an attempt to stop all the feeling, as I hated myself and everyone else.
        My question is: have there been studies or statistics on adopted and abused children and their outcomes in life?

    • There is also this:

      There are so many studies showing links between adoption and trauma, adoption and PTSD, adoption and unresolved grief, adoption and attachment issues, adoption and identity issues, adoption and abandonment issues, adoption and incarceration, adoption and alcohol/substance abuse. There are studies on the rate of substance abuse among adoptees (14 times higher than expected, see ), and within the last year, I’ve seen recovery centers implementing programs SPECIFICALLY for adoptees after realizing that they comprise 15-20% of their addicted patients (Morningside is one, see ).

      I could go on and on.

      It is beyond me how at this point in time, anyone can even try to claim that adoptees are “as well-adjusted as their peers.” Seriously. I find that mind-boggling.

      • I am a birthmom 53, soon it will be 2 years since my birthson, 35 completed suicide.
        We had been in reunion almost 8 years. He was going through a midlife crisis, we had talked for 3 days before he asked for help. In my eyes, the ER dropped the ball. I am so saddened by the information that I shared with ER, and the lack of understanding about adoption issues and grief. I could write for days.. It’s exasperating! I am hopeful to see people speaking out about it. My bson and I sharedopenly many thoughts about adoption and reunion. It was hard to re-read his thoughts in his journal. I only wish I had the ability to turn back the days. He blessed me with the words. “pass on to others what we have talked about” in his suicide notes. I have a birthgrandson, soon 18, his upcoming reunion was part of the 3rd generation of adoption loss. I don’t think my bson felt he could handle reunion on both child and father emotional levels. That’s the heaviness of my grief. I feel I know too much. God, save the children.

    • Also, please read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new 2013 guide, “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope With Trauma, in which parents are instructed to, “assume that all children who have been adopted or fostered have experienced trauma.”

    • Lisa Ercolano, I tried to reply to you before with links to various studies, but my comment never made it through moderation. I’ll try again, without all the links, although I don’t know how we’re meant to discuss studies without being able to share them.

      There was the following study in 2001:
      Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide During Adolescence
      Slap G, Goodman E, Huang B.
      Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229-3039, USA

      There are many studies showing links between adoption and trauma, adoption and PTSD, adoption and unresolved grief, adoption and attachment issues, adoption and identity issues, adoption and abandonment issues, adoption and incarceration, adoption and attempted suicide, adoption and suicide, adoption and alcohol/substance abuse. There are studies on the rate of substance abuse among adoptees (14 times higher than expected, according to Substance Use Disorder Among Adoptees: A Clinical Comparative Study; Westermeyer J, Bennett L, Thuras P, Yoon G.; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA), and within the last year, I’ve seen recovery centers implementing programs SPECIFICALLY for adoptees after realizing that they comprise 15-20% of their addicted patients (Morningside Recovery in Orange County, CA, was the first I saw, but there are now more).
      I could go on and on and on.
      I don’t understand how at this point in time, anyone can believe that adoptees are “as well-adjusted as their peers.” Seriously. I find that mind-boggling.

  10. […] don’t talk about how a baby KNOWS it’s mother by birth and WANTS her. Not another caregiver, but it’s own biological […]

  11. […] any form of counseling or assistance in dealing with life or emotional … … Follow this link: Adopted Infants Know They've Been Separated from Their Mother … ← Mysophonia – Does Your “Hi Hater” Make an Occasional […]

  12. I so appreciate your writing and your viewpoint. Babies know so much more than they have ever been given credit for and that knowledge has an impact on them for a long time. Even prenatal environments can have lasting impacts, why not early infanthood?

    However, one problem people may have with your theory here (which I assume is what is guiding your research) is that you are assuming that there are only two ways to deal with trauma. Those two ways are also a Catch-22: avoid one, automatically fall into the other. Indeed, the trauma literature would support as major categories internalizing and externalizing behavior, but to establish such well-defined behavioral and emotional response patterns as you have would require allowing for the possibility that the adoptee might not fall into one or the other. In order to be scientifically establishing something as it sounds like you are trying to do, you have to be open to your hypothesis being proven wrong.

    I hope as your research continues that you let your passion guide you – it is leading you somewhere very important – but you also listen to other _researchers_ who question the legitimacy of your work on its grounds as research. Some of them will undoubtedly be challenging you on non-scientific grounds (like your motivation to study this, which is irrelevant to the truth) and some may be simply threatened by your insights. But some might be speaking some truth – in order to test scientific theory, the theory itself has to be falsifiable. Falsifiable doesn’t mean it’s crap – that means it’s theorized as the truth against an alternative truth that you prove incorrect through observation or experimental means. It will make your argument so much stronger, and it will help adoptees if more serious, quality scientific research supports what you know as truth – adoption is a trauma and adoption needs to be avoided and the trauma addressed when it is not.

    • Agreeing, Thank you so much for being a part of this discussion and bringing to light the importance and value in solid research and theory when academically and scientifically approaching any work.

      The piece you just read is a small piece of my work at large and I am sure that upon reading the entirety of my book (due out soon, sorry for the shameless plug) you would be able to see the balance of differing opinions and many of the broader concepts you are discussing. With that said, my work is decidedly unscientific and does not have the intention or desire to be so.

      My work is to uncover the pain, struggle and unspoken feelings that adoptees, birth mothers and birth families and adoptive families feel and must work through. I have studied trauma from more angles than would interest anyone and still consider myself far from and expert on the generalities of trauma. However, I have a pretty strong grasp on trauma as it relates to adoption and attachment. Trauma response is wide and varied by person and by situation, however within that vast field of reaction there are patterns and consistencies that develop. It is the recognition of these common themes and nuances that not only allow the diagnosis of trauma but set the basis for treatment. The broad brush strokes I paint of the two trauma responses are broad by intention; it is within those two areas individually, as well as where they overlap, that specific/personal trauma response and treatment is identified.

      As far as having my hypothesis or work open to challenge or discussion, I am open, welcoming and rather enjoy the discussion. As I stated my passion and work is not to defend a theory or even proven findings on trauma. My passion is to bring the discussion of the impact of adoption to the forefront where genuine and honest healing can begin.

      I humbly thank you for being such a vital part of that discussion.

  13. I strongly disagree with this article. As an adoptee myself, I have no void or feel any negative effects from being adopted. In fact I am thankful for the choice my birth mother made, I consider it as a gift and blessing to have been adopted. I have spent the last five years advocating for children lost in the child welfare system, and the abuse and neglect those children experience is what real trauma is. How dare we as adoptees compare what some might suppose as traumatic to be like that of abused and neglected children. What a dishonor and disrespect to the our birth parents who made the choice to place us with a loving and nurturing family in hopes their child wouldn’t experience any aspect child abuse and neglect. I think that as adoptees we ought to consider the sacrifice our birth parents made to give each of us a better life before we start blaming any problems or issues we may have on that event in our life.

    • Noelani-

      I love your willingness to share your feelings and opinion on adoption and your adoption. It makes me so happy that you had such a great adoption experience that you see my work as flat out wrong.

      I too felt like you. I would defend my adoption experience and see anyone saying there was anything bad about it as an insult to my family, adoptive parents and me. How dare they. Sadly, I did not see the brokenness in my life, the low self-esteem, the unworthiness, the challenges in relationships and see how they were all related to being given up by my birth mother.

      My adoptive family was and is such a huge blessing. I thank them and honor them. They are my mom, dad and sister. The will always be my family. However, until I was able to go back and address the source of my trust, abandonment and rejection issues, I was fighting a useless battle in healing.

      That is my story. Through my work and research, I see that what I am sharing is much more common than is discussed. My goal is not to disparage adoption. I love adoption and think it is an amazing blessing. It certainly blessed me. I do know that taking an honest look at the full impact of adoption will actually make it an even greater blessing for all involved.

      I so respect you for your feelings and defense and am glad to see adoptees who are proud to be adopted. I stand beside you with that honor!!

    • I agree with both the writer and you Noelani….
      I was adopted at birth, I have always been grateful that my parents gave me to a loving family who were equipped and able to take care of me. My adoptive family also adopted my older sister, and brother (all of us from different parents) We were raised really well. We had everything we needed. Traveled a lot and we had a close relationship with our extended families on both sides. We were well accepted. I have not been able to locate my birth family.
      Although I must admit, I do feel I have issues related to abandonment….but I always chalked it up to moving clear across the country between grade 1 and 2. I lost my best friend and I had been popular in my class…when we moved I wasn’t easily accepted and I didn’t know anyone. As an adult I have picked poorly in regard to relationships. I do have four kids of my own, and I am very close to all of them. I adore my kids.
      Thank you, this article has really given me a lot to think about. I will try even harder to see if I can find my birth Family…either side or both!

      • thanks for that Jenn – it sums up my own situation. Distant travel at 13 as well. Poor relationship choices, four kids – feelings of low self esteem. I was compliant and had a great family and outwardly did well, but I know I am damaged inside. I have found my mother and had three long chats with her – surreal experience, but I feel very comfortable with her so far and hope to meet her when I can travel to see her across the world.
        Starting to think some help to work out where to next might be an idea!

        • yeap move far far away. i call that taking the money and run. your parents know that the mom’s heart aches deeply for her child and they put distance between tem so they can worry less

    • i too am happy for the fact that you had a good experience with adoption, but i just wanted to point out, most babies given up for adoption are not at any risk of being abused or neglected. it’s an insidious fallacy.

      • Agreed, Ariel.

        And sadly, many adoptees who were not at risk of neglect and/or abuse from our natural families ended up being severely abused by our adoptive ones. I am one of those adoptees, unfortunately, as was my older adopted (no relation) brother. I personally know dozens more.

        Adoption is no guarantee of a better life, just a different one.

    • Noelani wrote:
      What a dishonor and disrespect to the our birth parents who made the choice to place us with a loving and nurturing family in hopes their child wouldn’t experience any aspect child abuse and neglect.
      Actually as a natural mother who was coerced out of raising her first child simply because I was unmarried, I find this article honoring and respectful. At least 90% of adoptions today are unnecessary. I would never in a million years have been abusive or neglectful of my oldest daughter if I had the privileged of raising her. She became a latchkey kid young as her parents divorced when she was eight. No one has a crystal ball to tell how a couple will change after receiving your child. No in depth psychological exams are conducted (or at least rarely) to weed out alcoholics and pedophiles from adopting. Instead sadly it is the person with the fattest checkbook that generally is chosen to adopt womb wet infants.
      I applaud your work helping children that actually need a home instead of what the adoption industry does in finding (coercing mothers) babies for their infertile customers.
      What I think is a dishonor and disrespectful to original parents is that this information is never given to young mothers. If I had any idea, one iota of knowledge that what I was doing was not in my daughters best interest I would have never surrendered. Unlike my sisters in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, by 1980 as a 21 year old woman, I could have pulled off raising my daughter. Sadly I was brainwashed to believe that if I loved her I would give her a mother and a father. Stupid me, she already had both of those things, we were just unmarried!

    • Sorry I can’t relate to ur story. I was in the system for 6 months until I was adopted. And then I was adopted out to a family where I was abused all 3 ways (Relatives and all) so I really can’t pinpoint where mine stemmed from. I am 99% sure it came from the abuse I experienced with my adopted family. I am still trying to find my bio parents and/or siblings but I always slam into a brick wall each time. lol

      • Sorry, my above reply was not a reply to the person above. It was meant for a response to the Article. I must have hit the wrong button.

    • Not all of our birth mothers ‘chose’ to give up their babies, and not all adoptees ended up with a ‘better life’. Many, if not most mothers were coerced in some way. Many adoptees have been abused, on top of the adoption trauma.

      I am adopted and also was abused by my adoptive parents. I view those traumas as equal. Just because you feel OK with your adoption doesn’t mean you can drag others down with you and generalise about adoptees reasons for being relinquished nor their upbringing by their adoptive parents.

      Btw, you cannot equate adoption with abuse. Adoption does not equal a better life, it’s this myth that stops abused adoptees from coming forward. Nobody believed me. On top of constantly having my feelings surrounding my adoption minimized.

      This is a great piece, btw. So proud of my fellow adoptees for coming forward with their feelings!

    • glad to see that you evidently have no negative issues.

      however, i think you may be in the minority…..and i take offense to your cavalier way of saying that we as adoptees are somehow characterizing our adoptive parents/families as causing us trauma……well let’s just make it clear as to what you were saying….

      I strongly disagree with this article. As an adoptee myself, I have no void or feel any negative effects from being adopted. In fact I am thankful for the choice my birth mother made, I consider it as a gift and blessing to have been adopted. I have spent the last five years advocating for children lost in the child welfare system, and the abuse and neglect those children experience is what real trauma is. How dare we as adoptees compare what some might suppose as traumatic to be like that of abused and neglected children. What a dishonor and disrespect to the our birth parents who made the choice to place us with a loving and nurturing family in hopes their child wouldn’t experience any aspect child abuse and neglect. I think that as adoptees we ought to consider the sacrifice our birth parents made to give each of us a better life before we start blaming any problems or issues we may have on that event in our life.

      from what i’ve read here so far…no one is pounding the drum of adoptee abuse/neglect.

      but, let ME say that for the rest of us that are evidently a little more human….there are holes in our lives that can NOT be filled in by our adoptive siblings saying things like “well, yeah…but, i don’t even think of you in THAT way”……of course they don’t….because they themselves have NO idea what it’s like.

      again, i’m glad that you seem to be above all of the rest of us struggling to one degree or another.


  14. As a therapist who works with adopted and foster children, I can attest to Mr. Stenske’s views. All day long, I hear these thoughts and feelings from children who have been through a great deal of what anyone would call trauma to children adopted at birth. Thank you, Mr. Stenske for writing this article!! I plan to post this article on my website!
    Carol Lozier LCSW

  15. Karl…if I had not cried so much already in the past nine months I would be crying now. I am getting it, like you did at 37, but now I am 46. My daughter who is also adopted is 11 and I see my struggles in her. I always knew something was horribly wrong, but like you I had no idea it was from my separation from my birth mother, separation from my foster parents and being placed in a home where I felt like a swan living among ducks. I always knew something was wrong, but you have to cling tightly to what I have. I am lucky to live in a state where you can get your original birth certificate and see your original adoption file and have done both. I met my first mother 19 years ago before I had any idea how I had been affected (that did not go so well) and met my first father this year (he is a real father to me and we are definitely family).

    What is so hard is that the wound is invisible….it’s like slow internal bleeding that compromises but does not cause mortal harm. It is SO very hard for people understand because adoption looks so nice and rosy at first glance and to other people looks rosy for the adopted child’s lifetime.

    A great source of comfort to me in these past months has been a blog . These women understand how adoption is hard on adoptees, and I would never presume not acknowledge how horrible difficult it is on first parents, especially the mothers. Agony. So much agony.

    I will say also to never discount a father’s love for his child. My first father did not know of my existence until I was 13. We met when he was 70 and I was 46, and we have a connection that cannot be denied…it is a miracle for me and has been huge in my healing. I consider myself inordinately blessed and feel as though my life as a true daughter has only just started!

  16. For the doubters, I suggest just a few researchers’ work to begin with.

    Allan N. Schore –
    Bessel van der Kolk –
    Bruce D. Perry –

    These are just a few of the scientists who have done extensive research on the subject. There are many more, and you can find numerous full abstracts on the Trauma Pages here:

  17. […] I read an article on the trauma that children who are adopted face, even when they are adopted from birth. I get it, […]

  18. We’re influenced by things that we don’t consciously remember. “What does a baby know?” is the wrong question! “What does an adult adoptee remember about life as a baby?” is probably closer to what the woman wanted to ask, but it’s still the wrong question! The right questions are probably, “what events continue to impact this person’s life? Are they aware or unaware of them? What would help bring healing?”

    • Great point Addison. There are so many questions that need to be answered. So it is not that any one question is the wrong question, it is more that all questions lead to more questions and they all deserve to be answered.

  19. Defining memory is important to this discussion, I think. There are two components of memory: explicit and implicit. Current research has shown that these memory components actually exist in separate parts of the human brain.

    The memory most people know about is explicit memory – that is, what we did yesterday or last week or even an experience we had as early as age 3 or 4. Prior to that age, we have no explicit memory, as that part of the brain is not yet developed.

    The other memory component in the brain is implicit memory, which apparently develops much earlier – most likely in the womb. Implicit memories are those of which we are NOT conscious. Yet, they exist. Many researchers suggest that implicit memory lives in the body – at a cellular level (some even call it “somatic memory’). They can have a substantial affect – of which we are not aware – on our behavior today.

    To say one doesn’t feel any negative effects or perceive a void is not to say such things don’t exist. It is only to say they do not exist in one’s explicit memory.…-a09125984

    • This brings up a great point Julie- There have been incredible advances in brain and memory research in the past 20 years. We understand so much more of how we think and how our experiences impact us, both implicitly and explicitly. I strongly encourage all those who are interested to read all they can about recent brain studies. The work is fascinating.

  20. I am an adoptive mom and also have two biological children. I mention this because I want to be clear that I know what it’s like to give birth and the bonding that goes on during pregnancy and after a baby is born. However I never delved very deeply into the whole dynamic or thought much about it until I started reading about adoption issues.

    When I started reading about adoptee’s feelings of abandonment and rejection, etc. I felt so stupid that these things had not occurred to me. I thought we would face them when my son became an adolescent, but he is seven years old and I already see these things surfacing.

    I think babies know PLENTY. I wish I had known more when he was born.

    With your permission, I would like to write to you Mr. Stenske to give you more of our story and to get some advice and maybe find someone qualified to help us in our area.

    Best regards and please keep writing!

  21. This devastates and liberates me. You describe the very mess my life has become. I am lost, lonely, alone and afraid, every minute of every day. It is only now, when I have almost nothing left of my life that I am picking up the pieces of my very broken life and trying to make something of it.

  22. I am a mother that had my baby taken from me at nine months old for adoption,that was 44 years ago.
    I loved my baby dearly, I was 18 years old…..choice…Karl there was NO choice….
    We were societies feebleminded sexually deviants..Indeed Judge Benjamin Lindsay,went as far as to deem us societies filth.
    How did this affect my life….I would need a lot more space than this to express.
    Attempted suicide,deep depression,physical health,worse than that the psychological health. The young girl, that fell in love for the first time, had been with my boyfriend of almost three years.Became a broken wreck,a fugitive for my sins, banished to another country,for fear my sin would be exposed, lived alone in a womans hostel, from 18 years in foreign ground. I heard my babies cries, for me, I smelled my baby, I reached for him, I held him, I new his every little move,I carried him near to my heart in an extended chain and locket, I kissed his foto, usually in a locked space, I had his foto beside my bed, I touched his baby hair,I smelled his baby clothes,I smelled him….these rituals kept my baby alive to me. I never laughed at jokes, folks thot I was odd, I became a loner, never had real friends only aquaintencies…I died the day they took my baby, the woman I am now, is who I bacame. I found where my baby was, and at almost 15months saw him in his pram, I was about to kidnap him,but my friend intervened(I took fotos) I new if my son ever found me I could show him. I wrote poems, wrote letters, thats how I spent my time. We were thrown from the M&B.Homes out to the wolves, absolutely no counselling.Brainwashed, we “would forget, get on with life”…The worst lie in human existence..Your baby never leaves you, you carry your baby throughout life….Adoption is the worst transaction in the history of the human race. It is sanctioned evil this evil exchange, and I make no apology for it. So maybe Karl, you can ponder these things in your heart…we had no choice….we are the mothers of our stolen babies, till the last breath leaves our bodies. We live with a bottomless abyss of sorrow, a living bereavment…WE ARE…..FORGOTTEN MOTHERS.

  23. Karl, I love your article, and I, like yourself, have only realized recently, although in my 50s and with many troubling happenings behind me, how being adopted could be at the base of all my troubles and adjustments. In fact it makes perfect sense. I am very pleased you wrote this article, as the loss of the child of it’s natural mother is very misunderstood or else blatantly ignored. It is a lifelong loss for which the child blames itself, as only worthless beings are rejected surely. Society has it’s priorities wrong I feel, a child needs it’s natural mother more than a wealthy home or a good education. The child’s own mother is paramount to it’s health and it’s feelings of worth that last a lifetime. I especially was knocked down around about your age, as this was the age I was when I discovered I was adopted, in my 30s.

  24. When my son was born, he barely cried at all. I had 2 glorious days with him, holding him the entire time. He made this “eh-eh-eh-eh” cry for hunger and diaper changes. In his absence, I use to pace the floors because I could imagine him crying for me, and I was never to answer his cries.
    My son and I reunited shortly after his 18th birthday. He was as eager to meet us as we were to meet him. He showed me pictures of the party that was held when his adoptive parents brought him home and I had a wrenching visceral reaction: he was red in the face and screaming. He told me that his adoptive parents told him he screamed a lot as an infant.
    I hugged him tight and promised that from now on, I will always always come when he calls me. We have been reunited for 2 1/2 years.
    He thinks I’m nuts 😀

  25. Thank you for this article!! I am a 29 year old adoptee and as a child was the compliant one and into my teen years acted out. My adopted mother always used to say what a happy baby I was, I never cried…I found out I was adopted around age 5 or 6. I’ve always feared rejection, I sabotaged relationships so as not to get hurt first. I still do it to this day. When I was reading this article I truly felt like you were writing about me. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in all my abondanment issues. I’ve searched for my birth parents for 20 years and I’m pretty sure ill never find them. It’s sad that ill never have complete closure on my history and know for sure where I came from.

  26. As the adoptive mom of a beautiful 2 year old girl I know that my daughter will have to go through the grieving process several times throughout her life as she comes to understand her adoption story. We have an open adoption and I’m hoping that it will help her to know that she wasn’t abandoned, but loved SO deeply that her birth parents made a difficult sacrifice. I can only pray that she is able to resolve any trauma that she experienced at birth.

    Sometimes people ask me questions or are surprised when I talk about the difficulties I’m trying to be prepared for as my daughter grows up… as a Christian, my response is that adoption is the result of a fallen world. In a perfect world, every child would be born to a family who wanted to raise them and had the means to do so (financially, emotionally, physically, etc.)… and every family who wanted to have children “the old fashioned way” would be able to – but we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen world affected by sin (and no, I don’t mean “SIN” as in I’m pointing fingers at people – I mean a world where things are, frankly, messed up.)… but anything borne of that brokenness will have pain as part of it.

    I hope you are able to heal some of the wounds you carry – and that you will be able to help others overcome theirs as well.

    • Kristin…I am so glad that you have an open adoption. I hope you don’t mind my adding one thing…be careful in telling your daughter that her parents loved her so much that they made a difficult sacrifice. As an adopted child I remember thinking and ultimately I “felt” it that love= being given up. This is a very difficult concept for me and many other people to wrap their minds around. I am not exactly sure what feels right for you to say to her (you are her mom and can come up with that on your own). My intent is to help and not hurt or offend. I guess as a child it felt like loving meant leaving…so if someone told me they loved me so much then I figured they would leave. Adopted kids pick up on the greatest of subtleties in both what you say and in your expression. I am also an adoptive mother, as my husband and I adopted our daughter from China. I am so glad you are able to tell your daughter about her first parents and have them know her if that is what you have chosen. I would have given anything to have parents like you and would give anything to let my daughter know who her first parents were no matter what the circumstance.

    • adoption is also the result of demand. there are so many couples wishing to adopt that it costs exorbitant amounts and agencies have a huge incentive to encourage mothers not to keep their babies. it is sad when mothers don’t have the means to raise their children, but it’s usually a temporary problem and there are resources they don’t even know about. also, when you’re pregnant at an adoption agency, no one ever tells you what life will be like after that.

    • Take children from poor people and give them to the rich? Hmm, my Christ would do no such thing. Nope the rich would share their wealth so the poor would be able to care for their children.
      And what about acceptance of infertility? Or adopting a child that actually needs a home?

    • I am a paternal grandmother who is 38 and i am a Legal Guardian to my now 1 yr old granddaughter. She has been with me sense 5 months old and her mother bounced her around to anyone she could until i got her. She is a very happy baby girl now that she has had a stable home and a loving mother figure. She has seen her mother twice in the time i have had her. What i am wondering is if she knows This woman is her mother or if the bond Abby and I have formed is what she feels to be her mother. I am the whole world to Abby as she is to me. I know that there will be a day i will have to explain to her about her birthmother and why I raised her and i dont know how to do it so the long term pain is minimal. I will love and protect my Abby with my life from this woman. I wish that more of you had someone there back when it was so important to protect your little hearts. I will pray that God helps you. If there are any suggestions as to how i can handle the issue when it arrives in the future it would be appreciated and valued.

  27. Wow, I have so much admiration for you and your studies.
    I had two children removed at birth because of domestic violence.
    My children are alive and our adoption is open, greatfully.
    After my daughter was removed i was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD following child birth. I was placed in a womens refuge shortly after birth and travelled 3/4 hours a day to see her sometimes only for an hour in a contact center.
    modern child protection, allows for the child protection register to be used on pregnant women which is right, I think.
    But modern day social workers don’t have the luxery of the past in the form of mother and baby units, Now they get minimal training the court process is long and sometimes all assesments are done in 2 hours maybe less.
    Your so right for thinking of the children in this.
    I petitioned through the church for child protection units.
    I actually went to Downing Street and handed a very flimsy excuse of a petition in and information on the child protection register in the desperate hope that the humans involved don’t suffer.
    We can learn from the past, but we can also be greatful and realistic of what we need for today.

  28. i was adopted at a few days old and it has effected my life greatly i am only now in therapy to try and unravel all this since having my son in fact he spured it. I broke the cycle of adoption as i so feared he too would be adopted but i have changed that through my therapy, deep seated fears i have stemming from adoption, my self esteem damaged due to the trauma, low self worth, fear of rejection a big one for me. Living with two brothers who were biological to my adoptive mum was hard as well and finding out i have 5 other adopted brothers i have been reunited with two and a aunt so far the pieces are beginning to fit together.

  29. […] don’t talk about how a baby KNOWS its mother by birth and WANTS her. Not another caregiver, but her own biological […]

  30. This is such a good article, and the comments are great to read too. I am a 43 year old adoptee. Met birthfamily around five years ago, some good aspects, some very bad aspects to the birthfamily reunion, won’t go into detail here about what those good and bad aspects have been. The reunion seemed to stir this emotional storm in me, resulting in five years of emotions I’ve had to work through and come to terms with. I still haven’t seen a therapist about it all. Something really meaningful happened to me recently, I had a recent dream which my subconscious revealed to me a few nights ago, it was powerful and I’m still kind of stunned from it. The other night I dreamed I was crying, crying with all my might with every fiber of my being but I wasn’t crying like I would as an adult, I was crying like an infant, the shrieks that only an infant does when it cries. Then I started to awake, and as I did, I realized that that was what I experienced as a newborn infant on the separation from my birthmother. It was powerful revelation from my subconscious. I now want to seek out therapy. I realize just how real this “primal wound” is, and the trauma to newborns that really does happen, my subconscious brought me back to it and I re-experienced it.

    • Karl…I read your article again and the comments again today. I commented several months ago. I just wanted to share an experience with you. I have had many miraculous ones, ones of synchronicity like I cannot begin to describe.

      This one is not about that but about what other people speak of. I spoke to my half brother for the first time this week. We are 3 months apart in age, and he had no idea I existed. I was given up for adoption because his mother was pregnant with him and my dad was married to his mom. My mother had been pregnant first but did not figure out until she was far along and then hid it from everyone. Meanwhile my father was married.

      It was a wonderful, comforting conversation. But that night I could not sleep and sobbed and shrieked for hours. I was staying with a friend who is like a brother and almost had to go downstairs and crawl in bed with he and his wife…I really considered it. I had thoughts of Ophelia and how she drowned herself in Hamlet. I could see myself under the water.

      I had to make myself stay in bed because I feared that if I got up that I would slip downstairs and drown myself in the pool. I began to dissociate and actually could feel myself pulling in deeper and deeper so I would stay in bed and maybe fall asleep which I did.

      I thought the next day about how my brother got to keep his mother his whole life and even got to keep our father for about 5 years before they divorced. He got to have his parents and keep his mother and I lost both of mine. I think for the first time in my life I know that I really needed a mother, my first mother.

      I am in therapy and have been for a year. My therapist knows a lot, and I am so lucky to have her.. But it is so scary and real, at least for me. It gets better and then it gets worse, and I tell myself one day at a time and hope these episodes get further and further apart. Some how I know I will survive it all. I am fragile at times but also indomitable! I found my father at the age of 46 and he loves me and I love him…he is just my dad. How does God do it?

      Just because it may not be real to some people does not mean that is is not real…and I am not crazy.

    • Hello C…Oh my, do I identify with your post. I have experienced the same thing, in my adult life, the dreams of mommy, and wanting mommy, and waking up shrieking and sobbing and terribly grieved and out of breath. I always figured it was me crying for my beloved adoptive mom, who died some years ago, but the WAY I was crying for my mommy was not at all as an adult cries, but the way a baby cries. I suppose something was triggered and I was reliving my crying for my first mommy, the way I must have at the time of separation. I was literally wrenched from her with forceps while they knocked her out, and she was never allowed to see me while we were in the hospital together. Then I was placed in the adoption agency nursery with many other babies and was never fostered out to a temporary home that first month, as my parents were lied to, but was left in that nursery the whole first month of my life, with only shifts of nursing students as caregivers. I probably did a whole lot of crying and screaming for mommy during that month that I was basically alone…and was so stunned by the time my adoptive parents got me that I didn’t make a peep. Yes, I was the compliant one. But my baby self remembers, that’s for sure. I still have those dreams and those cries. So painful.

  31. My husband and I are adoptive parents in an open adoption. We had very little contact with the birth mom while she was pregnant. However, upon our sons birth we were present at the hospital. We actually got a room next to the birth mother that gave a chance to experience many of the wonderful first time joys of becoming a parent. The birth mom is a single mom to a 6 year old girl. Yesterday they came over for their monthly visit. He has shown to be more comfortable at play with his birth sister than with our friends children. He generally feels uncomfortable around his birth mom at first but still warms up quickly to her. What I have noticed after last night is that he is very needy the next day. I do see that he is dealing with something from the memories of the womb. He must feel a loss or confusion when she comes & go. I will have to say that after spending a day with my mom (Grandma), he also is very needy the next day.

    All parents are worried about the feelings of loss and hurt their children will feel. Adoptive families know that this exists for them from the start but all children will feel loss & hurt at some point in their lives, especially in this world of divorced families. It is how we are taught to deal with the pain that makes a difference. I only pray so much that we can teach our son how to deal with it and bring him the comfort he needs.

  32. such a helpful interesting article Karl. My non-biological brother and I were both adopted at birth and placed with the same adoptive family. We are only two months apart in age. I was most definitely the compliant child, while unfortunately, he still “acts out” to the extreme and has attempted suicide, etc. I am often asked how I fared better in comparison with a less-than-desirable upbringing. (alcoholism, domestic violence, divorce, stepparent, multitude of lies & secrets and mental illness) I believe you probably answered their question. All the dysfunction in our adoptive family only complicated matters from the trauma we both my brother and I experienced from “adoption trauma” at birth. I have found it difficult to process your feelings when you were that compliant adoptee. Thanks for sharing!

  33. Great article, Karl. Thanks for writing. I was keenly aware most of my life (through a false-twinning situation with a non-adopted sister) that my adoption played a huge role in how insecure I felt and therefore how I ultimately acted in relationships but it wasn’t until my late-20’s when I had the words, resources, maturity, and confidence to commit to becoming more at peace with my adoption experience. It’s a lot of work and I share your frustrations with always having to prove the legitimacy of such focus, especially when on the outside it appears like you’ve got it together. Now a few years into it, I still struggle with wanting to share more with my family but I get very demoralized when I hear things like “it’s just your personality” or “everyone goes through that.” Sometimes all I want to hear is “I know life is just a little more difficult for you than non-adopted people.” That’s all.

    • dvs,

      My husband is also adopted. I just wanted to say that I understand that life is a little bit harder for y’all. Be good to yourself.

  34. liane and mara you are so right. don’t ever give up telling people baby theft is
    wrong, the same happened to me. in 74 i have said my parents the sw the lawyer
    the judge had a choice, i had no choice.

  35. My therapist explained what happens. She said you don’t REMEMBER being abandoned as an infant, instead what happens is that the abandonment at adoption results in FEELINGS. The voice of your mother vanishes and you feel anxious and frightened. You don’t know why, you just know you went from the womb to cold rough cloth and the voice goes away and you feel anxious.

    Then, every time you feel anxious again, you’re reminded of that initial anxiety. You’re an infant, you don’t know what’s happening, but you keep waiting for that original voice to return and it doesn’t, and you keep being reminded of the fear and anxiety. Eventually that anxiety becomes a large portion of your emotional makeup. You don’t remember your mother, but you keep being reminded of your anxiety.

    I’m 50. I found my birthparents and lost them again. But I’m still abandoned, my personality is assembled around “wanting to be rescued.”

    When an infant loses a mother to death in childbearing or an accident shortly after death, it’s acknowledged that this is a tragedy. Given that we know that the infant does not know the difference between losing a mother in childbearing and being adopted away, how can adoption be any less of a tragedy for the infant?

  36. I think it is possible to think that adoption is not problematic for people who do not work in circles where the traumatized live. I met a few adoptees that have many workers forcing them into lockups, druggings and group homes. One of them has drunk him self terminally ill. These children were raped in adoptive care and given to a group home by the adoptive family that decided later against taking the children. They however do not want authorities to know they are adopted being they feel their care will be worse if the authorities in their life know they are adopted. I think the numbers/statistics are quite scewed. I met also an adoptive mother that felt it was her job to completely control her purchase. There were two after school programs for children and she had to have the principle publicly admonish the purchase for choosing the wrong program and being disrespectful and causing trouble by choosing the wrong one. I think about how proud her real mother would be to see them preform in their perferred setting.

  37. I was told I was adopted at 6 and I was not surprised. I never felt abandoned or had self esteem issues because I have always been an optimistic person and have a sunny disposition. And I deep down knew I got it from my birth mother. We have been reunited and it turns out I was right-I am just like her. But, as I plan on adopting children myself, I will be sensitive to their feelings as adoptees and when the time is right, I will help them reunite with their mothers. They will not replace me with her, they will know they have two mothers.

    • Michele, the phenomenom of adoptees adopting is noted. i urge you to reconsider. to be able to sell a baby a social worker has to lie constantly to a single mom. sometimes threaten and they are happy to since fees are between 10- 50 thousand dollars! but this mom’s heart breaks forever to lose her child. since the trauma is so extensive real moms say whatever the adoptee wants to hear, they will not risk losing their beautiful baby again. please do not add to the heart break of another mom.

      • I agree with Dee:(

      • Very true. I did not tell my son what he wanted to hear, that I was happy he was adopted. I did tell him my pain was my own and I would never lay it upon him, and none of it was his fault at all. He doesn’t speak to me anymore, and so I feel that I sacrificed a relationship with my son due to the truth.

  38. Hi, I am a 40 yr old adopted woman, I was 6 weeks old when i was placed with my adoptive parents who i loved and love dearly, my adoptive mum dies 10 yrs ago, my adoptive dad is still with me thankfully…i was a bit of both growing up, at times rebellious and at times compliant…i have had a mantra about adoption for many years…i always said..” I have no problem with being adopted”…and this is what i believed but i have come to realise that this is not true, logically i had and have no problem with being adopted, i was always made to feel lucky to have been placed with such a loving family which to an extent i was….however i never acknowledged the emotional hurt at being adopted until some 8 or 9 yrs ago and i still feel there is more there for me to acknowledge…i have plenty of physical health issues going on, lots of anger and at times low mood etc….i found my bio mother after a fairly easy process, but she didnt want contact, some yrs later after her husband died she agreed to exchange family info…and about 2 yrs ago she wrote to me and sent a photo…all of this i dealt with, i thought….but i wish i knew how to deal with properly…what do i need to do??? Is it therapy, is it reliving past experiences….what is the best way to go about it???? I feel i need to feel more, to feel again…

    • Emer. A therapist can help. Might take a few tries, some don’t realize the adoption trauma. Just growing up with people that live differently than your inherent preferences can be tough. But you can see a lot of suttle differences in adoptive families, most times. Those are tougher I think because no one says they are sorry you had to deal with that.

  39. As an adoptive Father of two children from China I don’t believe I could agree with you any more. In fact, I am willing to bet further research will show babies do, indeed, know plenty. Their knowledge is visceral and, since it is impossible to put into words, I believe it is also far more powerful than most of us are willing to accept.

    Our oldest was found at the gate to a paper mill at around two days old. She spent at least ten months with a foster family we believe loved her very much. When they handed her over to us it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life (I was 55 at the time and had been through quite a few). I lay awake that night and was wracked with sobs and grief. I can only imagine, and I know I’ll never really understand, what it was like for her.

    She appears to be well-adjusted, though she can be a little withdrawn at times. She is now eleven and I’m steeling myself for her adolescence. I believe there’s a hole in her heart. My goal is to be there for her when she begins to explore its depths. My hope is she’ll come away from it with a deeper understanding of who she is and, if she falls, I can be there as well . . . perhaps to catch her. It scares the living crap out of me to think of it.

    In the meantime, we’re still having a lot of fun . . . even with homework!

  40. @Rick Ladd- Our soon to be 11 year old daughter was also born in China and was fostered from 4 months old until her foster mother handed her to us when she was 12.5 months old. While I think down the road the fact that she was found when she was just 3 days old may have a greater impact it seemed the trauma of being taken from her beloved foster mama had a greater impact on her early years and her level of attachment. It was gut wrenching for my husband and me to witness how grief stricken she was the first couple days. When she was a toddler and even preschooler she would show signs of anxious attachment whenever another child-even a favorite cousin-would get too close to one of us and she would yell “That’s MY mommy/daddy!” -behavior I never saw in the children of friends who had been born to them. Eventually she grew out of this behavior and I do believe she is well attached and well adjusted. One thing that may have helped her is we have remained very close to the families from our original travel group and even took a homeland trip back to China earlier this year. Our daughter and her friends were all from the same orphanage and we were able to meet with their foster families while they were there. If you ever have a chance to take a homeland trip I highly recommend it. We were also able to meet the staff at the orphanage who took care of our daughter when she was a tiny infant. It meant a great deal to her and to us that they really did remember her and her friends and were so happy to see all of us.

    My only issue with the article is that the adoptive child is said to be either one who acts out or one who is compliant. I would say that there may be a little of both at different stages, I really don’t see our child as one extreme or the other. I’ve always allowed her to talk about her feelings-esp at bedtime when these deep thoughts tend to surface. If she acts out with anyone it is with me but I was the same way with my mother and I was not adopted. In school she tends to be quiet while being much more outspoken at home. Again, this is how I was when I was growing up so while giving her limits I have also always tried to honor that strong spirit she has because I often think that same personality may have helped her through the trauma of her first year. It is astounding how much babies do know. I could not believe how aware she was of everything happening around her at 12.5 months old. I look back at photos and videos from those early days with her and can clearly see the same personality she has now. As I stated earlier I think in the long run the loss of her birth family will have a greater impact for her. I hope the open communication we have established thus far will allow her to express her feelings about that loss as she grows older. She has always been perceptive re. the feelings/emotions of others, definitely more than many of her peers who have grown up in their birth families. I do believe this awareness stems from her early losses but I don’t necessarily think that has to be a bad thing. In fact, I think it can be channeled into a strength of character. Again-for those who have adopted internationally I highly recommend taking a homeland trip. We followed the prevailing school of thought that such a trip is best taken before the child hits puberty. Our daughter and her friends were truly at the perfect age to experience their homeland and to be able to meet the people who had shown them love and care at an early age.

  41. When my first daughter (taken for adoption) was born, the moment i walked in the room, her eyes opened and looked straight at me. He mother, ssitting on the bed said, “Wow. Did you see that?!” And I then kept speaking as i walked to different parts of the room and my daughter would not take here eyes off me. Everywhere i went around that room her eyes followed me. He mum said, “Wow! She really knows who you are!” And it was true. Even with other voices in the room, my daughters eyes followed me everywhere. I had been talking to her through the womb at each opportunity i had when my girlgfriend was pregnant and it was clear that my daughter remembered and recognised my voice after birth. After 10 days of that sort of reaction continuing, it would be 18 years before she would hear my voice again.
    Her reaction on that occasion was less than warm and i think that she may well have had a residual memory of my voice and with all the adoption issues overlaid, my voice became a trigger for unsettled reactions within her.
    She has since spent almost 15 years now trying to prove to me she is unlovable.
    Such are the real fruits of adoption separation.

  42. So often, I as an adoptee, am made to feel like I should feel guilty not putting the words down just right-it always comes out negative, or maybe it’s just my anger at the situation coming out and it actually is negative. Either way, thank you for writing this piece in such a way that conveys our feelings, while staying on point, and remaining positive. My amom has said many times in the past few years, after having read PW, that I was an inconsolable baby, turned into an inconsolable child, and an inconsolable adult. What a blessed relief to know, that to heal, I had to start at the root of the great Oak tree, not at the branches, where we had always tried before. Healing comes with knowledge;to know I was grieving, while so terribly sad, helped me more than anything else. Thank you for sharing this. I loved it.

  43. Karl, thank you for writing this piece. I’m an adoptive mother (and also, a biologic mom). We have had our daughter since her birth and her adoption is an open one. I do all that I can to foster a continuing relationship with her birth family, as I’m hopeful that having a connection with them will help her as she works thru these, seemingly inevitable, issues in her life. Still, it really kills me to think that she has a primal wound and that I won’t be able to heal it for her. I know it’s her story and be it good or bad, she’s entitled to it. From my own experience of other families with adopted children, even those adopted from birth, your observations are accurate about the impact on the child and their outward behavior.

  44. I am touched and inspired by the incredible vulnerability and strength shared in these comments. You all have given me the greatest gift of confirmation.
    We are not alone in this. Though our stories are varied and complex we all share the same wound. As adoptees we often feel lost, disconnected and not belonging to anything or anyone. The stories I hear from biological mothers and fathers is that of pain, emptiness and often a feeling of being lost. All too often I hear from adoptive parents and even siblings that they can see that there is a pain or sadness in their adoptive family member, yet feel helpless and lost in their ability to heal and fix the wound burdening the person they love so much.
    We all, impacted by adoption or not, desire, crave and spend our lives searching for connection. Often we have stories where that same connection we crave caused us pain. Then we are stuck between the strong instinctual desire to find more connection and attachment and the equally strong instinctual reaction of protecting ourselves from the hurt that is held in the potential of that connection.
    It is a struggle no matter the story or the circumstances. Those of us related to adoption understand it, yet have been told or deduced that we are not allowed to be hurt by our adoption stories. Adoptees are told they should be grateful, birth families are told they will move on and forget and adoptive families are told everything will be ok if you just love them enough. Love is desperately needed but love alone is never enough.
    Along with love we need affirmation, validation, support and healing.
    Though the healing is a long and deep process and takes a very specialized talent guide us through the healing, there is hope.
    We have the support in places like our families and friends, this magazine, my consulting work and well trained therapists.
    As for the affirmation and validation… from me to you…You are allowed to be hurt. What you have been through is a hurt like few will ever know. You are destined to feel alone, lost, sad, confused and disconnected at times. You are special in your pain but you are not alone. And that pain and feeling alone, lost, sad, confused and disconnected does not define you. There is hope. There is help. Reach out and ask. That was the greatest risk of my life, to ask for help in my adoption wound. It is worth every tear, every hour, every dollar.
    It was worth it because, I embrace connection, I am stronger in my pain than growing strong as I find more peace and healing and because I now get to read the comments from all of you to know that I, we, are not alone and tomorrow will be better!

  45. Hi Karl–

    I’ve never understood how people today claim that babies “don’t know anything.”

    While pregnant with my youngest in 1997, I received from my obstetrician loads of literature on how babes in the womb experience their early life. I was directed to read to my baby, etc. yet these same people tell pregnant women who’ve fallen into the adoption racket that the babe knows nothing? All of my children had definite likes and dislikes toward music during the last trimester, and how many times have we heard that we should expose our babies to classical music before birth? That we read to them before birth??? Heck, there’s an entire industry around media for pre-born infants.

    The music theme returned to my mind when my lost son contacted me when he was 20. During one of our early conversations I told him about going to a Jethro Tull concert when I was 7 months pregnant with him. I love Jethro Tull, have since childhood, and while pregnant with him I played Tull tapes (days before CDs) constantly. He was silent a while, then told me that when he was 9 or 10–in that age range, he couldn’t remember exactly–he was in the car with his adopted father on a trip to somewhere. The adopted father’s normal radio station was too far off so they were listening to music they normally didn’t.

    A song came on the radio and he said he was suddenly frozen. He knew that song, he said, but he didn’t know how because he’d never heard it–or so he thought. He found out who the artist was and proceeded to collect every single album, despite the fact that his adopted parents didn’t care for the band or the music and he had to play it only in his room.

    It was Jethro Tull.

    I can’t say I was blown away, I’ve long known that babes in the womb respond to all kinds of external stimuli. Heck, both of my raised children were calmed as infants using the same kind of touch–my daughter liked to have her back rubbed, my son liked his bottom patted, and BOTH of them had the same reactions before they were born. But that he responded physically to the music at that age surprised even me.

    The only people who want to believe in the “blank slate” theory are people who don’t want to accept that despite their best intentions and most ardent desires, their adopted children needed their mothers. It’s a logical disconnect of epic proportions.

    • I was adopted in the 1950s. My B-mom left me at the hospital right after my birth, and vanished with her married lover. When I saw The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins in the mid-60s, I became obsessed with Julie Andrews and the way she talked. My A-mom said I left the theatres talking with a British accent that left me a few hours later. Growing up I loved reading about England, and even traveled there several times. It immediately felt like home, just like the smell of hot tea. It wasn’t until I “found” the truth about my B-mom many, many years later, that I discovered she was born & raised in northern England, and had recently arrived in the US before my birth. I know now that I “recognized” her voice from when she was carrying me for 9 months. Yes, I do believe babies know their mothers even before birth. Wonderful insights in your article and the reply posts.

  46. this was so beautifully and thoughtfully written! i’m definitely interested in reading more from you. people seem able to comprehend that babies in utero can hear music, see light, respond to stimuli, and when they’re born they know their mothers. her voice, smell, touch, and they prefer the sight of her face. and yet many people don’t understand that it couldn’t possibly hurt the baby to be separated from the person who provided them life for 9 months!

    i also don’t understand how people are baffled at first mother grief, and yet adoptive parents can say they felt sad over their infertility, i.e. a child who was never even born. and people will empathize with that.

  47. […] articles about the ways adoptees are affected by adoption made a big impression on me. The first, Adoptee View: What Can a Tiny Baby Know? by Karl Stenske, recounts the trauma experienced by babies who are separated from their birth […]

  48. I have read numerous posts on this sight, and am thankful for the different prospectives. I am a first mom in reunion for 20 years. My lost child and I have not communicated for two years now. My pain, her pain has not been resolved, my only wish is that we will each find peace!

  49. Great articles.. I was adopted in Belfast at birth. My question re a baby knowing is … If somebody finds out later in life they were adopted, they may have the response that they had no idea… Does this mean they block the pain…. It’s the old thing, people think that “one wouldn’t know as a baby”…”I had no idea” type response.

    • Thank you for the great questions Karen-

      Yes, I believe that those who either were never made aware of their adoption or state that being adopted had no negative impact on them, are blocking their pain. The larger struggle is that they are often not dealing with the typical structure of denial in relation to a trauma or painful event. They are more often not aware that their is a painful event to be dealt with. Often the coping mechanisms that have been developed through life in response are complex and so delicately woven into an adoptees personality that they are difficult to identify. So the challenge is to offer an opportunity, for someone who has blocked or is unaware, to work through the pain without completely destroying them by undermining the reality they have created. It is a delicate process and can only be started when that person is willing and wanting to look into the possibility that their adoption had impacted their life in deeper ways than that had first believed. It is a personal journey, that is very individual and must be respectfully treated as such.

  50. As a social worker and adoptive mom of an adult “compliant” child who insists that all is “fine and dandy”, any recommendations for helping me to help her feel more complete would be greatly appreciated. It hurts my heart to know that she may be grieving deep inside. I have always kept the topic open for discussion and her life book is complete with articles from adoptees and first mothers. Any thoughts? Maybe she needs to recognize things on her own in time?

    • Hi Leonette,

      I have three “fine and dandy” young adults. I will write soon about my daughter’s first aknowledgement of her grief soon.

      The book “Being Adopted” is a good one to read, it looks at the impact of adoption over the entire lifecycle. All you can do is wait and continue your openness and support.


    • Hi Leonette-

      I really appreciate your desire to help your daughter feel more complete in light of her adoption. The book Jane recommended, Being Adopted, is a great start.
      As there is no blanket statement for how to start this process, I would want to consider her age and behavior where she is showing signs indicating that she may not feel complete.
      It actually sounds like you are on a good path. You have made the conversation open and available and that is ideal. When she wants to ask questions or is ready to move toward this she now has a safe path. I would also be willing to get her any support she needs in talking to professionals who are trained in adoption issues.
      The compliant child is a lot less likely to bring up the issue directly so looking for the subtle cues where is trying to open the door but hesitant would be helpful to her. Often this will be seen as her asking questions about your childhood or family history and trying to find where she may belong and relate within that history. This is just one of many cues she may show.

  51. This is the reason I have kept my children’s adoption open. Their extended biological family spends more time with us than their adoptive family – we are truly one integrated bunch! I have a sibling group of three that has since been reunited with their birth mother after a long stint of poor mental health issues she was having. They also got to meet their two youngest sisters. I loved seeing how much my 8 year old is like her 6 year old sister though they had never met! I love that my children ask to see their mother. I love that we have pictures of their sisters in the house with all the other family photos.

    My oldest, now 13, has suffered egregiously because of abuse, neglect, adoption trauma and more. Sadly, she will never be whole and requires intense interventions, supervision and support.

    My son, now 12, is complacent and usually doesn’t show any affect toward his mother and younger sisters but loves his extended family. As of now, the only difficulties he has are related to his developmental delays and genetic disorder.

    I helped deliver my youngest and took her home from the hospital with me. I remember her expression when I left the hospital with her, the first time she was separated from her mother. It broke my heart even though I knew her mother was not able to parent at that time. She is the most open about her emotion going from angry to compliant at a moment’s notice. She is currently home schooling because her emotional challenges were disrupting her learning. We take it one day at a time.

  52. I beg to differ with people who think babies don’t remember. My earliest memory is of a newborn, just after coming home from hospital. Not only do I remember the experience, I remember having thoughts and feelings. People have no idea. Just because a memory becomes buried into the subconscious, doesn’t mean it isn’t still there and can’t be accessed. Mine was recalled years later, as a child, upon seeing a photo someone had taken of me during that newborn experience. What wasn’t captured in the photo, was what I experienced. So it’s not that I just think I remember that time, because a photo looks familiar. I remember being in a room seated in something,(from the photo I learned a baby carrier) up high (from the photo I learned a bed) with something small in my right hand (from the photo, a doll) I remember moving, causing the doll to fall out, and I remember having the emotion of alarm, and confusion, because I wanted the doll, and it was gone, out of sight. I remember looking around, wondering what happened to the doll, where did it go. I remember thinking I wished I could move to get it. It was like a paralyzed person who has the thought and desire to move but cannot make their body move. Then, and something else not captured in the photo, a woman with long dark hair (a sister) came into the room, and talked to me, saw the doll had fallen out, picked it up and gave it back to me and then she walked out of the room, and I remember thinking where is she going, why is she leaving. I understood I was left alone in the room. My next memory I am between 1 and 2 years old, and sitting in a high chair, and I remember looking down at food, and picking at it with my fingers, wondering what it was, and being repulsed by the meat. My next memory I was 2 years old, I remember being at grandparents, and having had a bath, getting my pajamas put on.

    I have a child stolen from me who is still very very young. For the brief time I had my child, my child was so mellow, barely ever cried, and only when hungry or wet, and it was a mild cry, and soon as my child was fed, and changed, by me, my child was fine. Just hearing my voice upon hearing my child’s cry, my child felt comforted and would stop crying almost immediately. Through a person connected, after my child was stolen, my child cried so much, so badly, my child was passed back and forth between them and relatives of theirs, just so that they could get some peaceful sleep. My child was crying for me, and I was crying for my child, and none of those involved cared.

    The last time I saw my child, was before my child was a year old. My child wasn’t talked to about me, wasn’t shown any photos of me, nothing. Until my child was about 2 years old, when the woman raising my child as if her own, showed my child a photo of me, to which my child immediately became distressed, and kept looking away, not wanting to see my image. The woman assumed it was because my child was afraid of me. So it wasn’t until another 2 years that for reasons I can only speculate on, my child was again shown my image, only at that time, my child was told “this is your other mother”, followed with “she’s dead”, to which my child fell to the floor in agony, screaming and crying “I want my other mommy”, “over and over, for a really long time”, while my child was just “left there”, by the woman raising my child. The woman admitted this to the person connected who then told me. If my child wasn’t bonded to me, had no memory of me, and if I am so insignificant, as to be so easily replaced, why would my child grieve over me? Why would my child fall to the floor in agony, saying “I want my other mommy”, “for a really long time”. My child may not even remember any of those instances now. My child may have been over compensated with attention, affection, and luxuries, as they are very wealthy. On the outside, to most people around my child, my child seems totally well adjusted, totally fine. My child appears to have totally accepted them as the parents, my child may have gained an attachment, and have very deep feelings of affection for them too. I don’t believe my child is so well adjusted and happy though. I felt it when my child was told of my existence, but that I’m dead, I felt the intense sorrow, only I didn’t know why, as it wasn’t until months later that I was informed of the incident. I was talking to a friend at the time, telling her about how I felt something was wrong with my child, that I felt an intense grief. From the few glimpses of my child I’ve gotten to see, I can see into my child, through the eyes, a grief that lies within, an unrecognized grief, that I can tell, by sight, and by what I feel in my spirit, that my child feels must be suppressed. It’s obvious my child’s grief hasn’t been validated, that combined with the lack of comfort for such times of grief, it’s no wonder my child is a mixture of reserved, and aloof, and tends to tune a person out when a person tries to have serious talks with my child, to having a rage that has led to outbursts in which my child has either gotten physical or has stated the desire to get physical, over trivial things no less.

    I have no legal recourse. I don’t have the money to further fight for my child, to get my child back. All I have are hopes and prayers for my child’s well being, even though knowing the ones my child is with, are sociopaths, thus I can’t help but worry about what new way is my child being harmed on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. They told me I’m unfit, yet what kind of people tell a child their mother is dead, and then leave that child to cry in agony, to grieve alone.

  53. I fully agree that babies know they’ve been separated from their mother. I know also that babies that remain with their birth mother can also be an “acting out”, “compliant” or combination of both, but the % will be higher in the adopted person. The problem is to realize this and find treatment for these issues.
    My son was adopted and showed the stress of separation from the beginning. No matter how we refused to “abandon” him, the therapy we sought, he always would test the boundaries to prove our acceptance. This has continued to this day and he is now 44. His birth mother just got in touch with him, also with his wife and me, after 43 years and he thinks all his “problems” are solved and that some evil witch stole him away. The contact of his birth mother has been quite an eye opener for me and his wife. She too has all of his negative traits of difficulty maintaining trustworthy social relationships and being able to truly empathize. I know without any doubt that I loved him, I still love him and now I know that nature (DNA) can have a stronger influence than nurture, no matter how much effort is given.

  54. Wow! And I thought I was just a bad kid! This article puts a lot of things into perspective for me and explains so much! Thank you!!! Now I understand why I don’t like being alone or do things by myself. It explains all those temper tantrums I threw when I was growing up and me constantly wanting to run away! For the first time in my life I don’t feel like it was my fault!!! Oh God how that is such a relief! I would love to read your book! Again thank you!!

  55. I’m glad i found this, i was adopted at birth; spent 2/3 months in a foster home then moved to my new home. i’ve always assumed that i was too young to remember what happened and that it had no lasting impact on me. i’m 36 now, and despite growing up in a loving, safe environment i’ve always felt like something was missing. i’ve always found it difficult to trust and connect, and i’ve experienced no end of self-esteem issues. i’ve felt guilty for not making the effort to find my mum, and thank her for making a very difficult decision that ultimately gave me a better life, and i felt guilt when throughout my teens and early twenties i felt that my family weren’t my family at all, although i don’t blame them for any of it; they gave me a great start in life and have supported me continuously. at the back of my mind, for a long time now i’ve felt like the adoption process did change me, and that it’s something that’s been neglected; mainly because it felt wrong to suggest that being given a new home by loving parents wasn’t enough and it’s impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it in a useful way. i don’t for one second think my adoption was a bad thing, but it’s definitely left me with issues i’ve had real difficulty coming to terms with.
    thanks again to the author, it’s only as adoptees sharing their experience we can find ourselves again..

  56. As an adoptee I totally agree. I have always had issues about feeling abandoned and rejected, but I never put it all together as to why I get so angry. I am 49 and I have one child and after carrying her for 9 months and the love I have for her and the attachment I cannot imagine how a mother could give there child away. When I was 29 I contacted my birth mother, and believe me it wasn’t like all of those talk shows, she rejected me again—never again will I give her that opportunity. I had good parents growing up, but they have passed so I feel orphaned at times. It can be very lonely, and I feel like asking why?

    • Hi,

      I am so sorry to hear your story, you were “orphaned” twice. I am so glad you will build a different relationship with your own child.


  57. Excellent and very accurate article about the trauma experienced by an infant upon separation from one’s biological/first/birth mother. Thanks so much for speaking out so eloquently. As an adoptee I understand this experience on a personal, visceral level, and as a counselor of adult adoptees I see this all the time.

  58. I am always touched by the stories that are shared as a result of my work. They are a constant reminder of the pain that is inherent in adoption and the need and the ability to heal from that pain. Sadly, the greatest pain and the most difficult to recover from is the pain that is not recognized and given a chance to be real. So often we do this to ourselves. I did. I denied that my adoption had any negative impact and did not want to deal with the guilt and pain it would cause my family if I even acknowledged that maybe, just maybe I am a little hurt by it all. However, even more than us recognizing our own pain, which is vital and must come first, we need that pain to recognized, acknowledged and allowed by others. Just having someone in the world, ideally, mom, dad, etc, but someone in the world say,

    “You have been hurt. I am so sorry for the pain and sadness you feel. It must be so difficult to understand. You have every right to be hurt, sad and angry. You have every right to not know why the emptiness that sits inside of you can never be filled. You not only have a right to be hurt and sad, there is no way for you not to be.”

    Really, there is nothing that can be said to ease the pain or make it better. Just knowing that it is ok and safe to feel the pain and work through it and knowing that we are not alone is a great place to start. It is the first step on the journey of discovery, healing and finding hope.

    What I needed was to know I wasn’t the only one and I am not the only one who feels this way. If anyone needs to not feel alone or just needs to connect and feel validated visit my website and email me.

  59. Barb Thavis….You are so wise it ain’t even funny. I’m sorry nobody acknowledged your post. Well, I am. We Americans sponsor children in third world countries, all of the time. Lately, I have even seen commercials seeking sponsors for animals in shelters…..When, oh when, are we going to see a campaign to “sponsor a young mother seeking to keep her child?” If she is mainly relinquishing because of financial hardship; (as in my case) then why can’t society help her to keep the child?

    The infant separation/trauma is a new concept to me, as well. My re-united birth/first daughter is the person whom presented the concept to me. If I had had this kind of information back in 1986….I’m sure I would have stopped and given pause before surrendering…I had no information to help guide me. Thank you for shedding light on the subject. We mother’s of loss to adoption, cannot turn back the hand of time, but we can sound the alarm to wake up the public consciousness…

  60. I absolutely love this article and all of the different posts. I was placed with my adoptive family at four months – after being placed in a foster home first. I was looking through the posts wondering if anyone else had early memories like me. So thanks, J.L.! I have a memory of someone rocking me – for a very long time. She is cradling me in her arms, and I am looking up at her and thinking that she is a very nice lady. I knew she wasn’t my natural mom, but she would spend hours rocking me and trying to comfort me. I even remember that she had a long housecoat on and that it was purple velvet. My adopted mom confirmed that this was her – she said that I cried all the time and she would rock me for hours. I’d be interested to know at what age “they” think babies actually start thinking. So, just because we can’t remember being the age of two means we weren’t thinking beings? Retorical question, of course. I am now 44 and was the compliant, adoption is wonderful because I am so lucky to have such wonderful adoptive parents that really wanted me. I have only, in the last two years started to understand that, despite having wonderful adoptive parents, that I have absolutely, without any doubt, struggled with loss my whole life. Loss of not just my natural parents but loss of identity. Noone else, except an adoptee, can truly understand. Having my own children has brought alot to the surface. Facing my issues with adoption has been one of the hardest things I have ever been through, but at least it’s real and my feelings are real – not just compliant. My natural mother and brother have both rejected me and have told me I was the product of rape. Logically, I know I am not the “product” of rape just like logically, I know my natural mother probably had some feeling for me at birth. Unfortunately, logic has no place when it comes to emotion. I also have to agree that the compliant adoptee is probably more unhealthy than the adoptee who acts out. The compliant adoptee bottles it all up and copes inside with unimaginable emptiness, depression, and gratefulness (which I believe leads to inevitable feelings of unworthiness and low self esteem). I could go on and on, but, really I just wanted to thank all of you for the wonderful article and posts. It is amazing to just not feel so alone.

  61. I enjoyed reading this piece — thank-you for sharing it. I am 43 years old and was adopted in the state of Wisconsin at the age of 2 months. My birth mother and father were quite young (17 and 19 respectively) and there was not a “choice” for my birth mother in terms of giving me up for adoption. She took care of me for 3 days in the hospital, and then I went to live in a foster home. In Wisconsin at the time, 2 month-long foster stays were the law I believe, to give the birth mother an opportunity to change her mind.

    I have always known I was adopted — my parents gave me the “we chose you” story. But I grew up always feeling different. I had a longing to know where I came from. I have also had “difficulties” — depression, low self-esteem, an eating disorder, etc. But I have since found out after meeting my birth parents (they were married 6 years after I was born) that many of the difficulties I have had run in my family. So I have trouble discerning what I was just prone to genetically and how I may have been affected by my adoption experience. Has there been much research that ferrets out any of those issues?

    Again, thank-you for sharing this information.

  62. ‘Every adopted child, allow me to reiterate, every adopted child falls into one of two categories. She either acts out and is difficult or is quiet, adaptable and compliant. Of course the degree to which each adoptee acts out or becomes compliant is individual.’

    Every child, whether adopted or not, will be one or other of these to some extent as they are opposites in a behaviour spectrum. The comment is about as insightful as saying:

    ‘Every day, allow me to reiterate, every day falls into one of two categories. It is either hot or cold. Of course the degree to which a day is hot or cold is individual.’

    • Agreed!

  63. I am a 42 year old adoptee who does not relate to “Primal Wound” or your theory in the least. I am shocked by the assertation that “every” adoptee somehow suffers negative consequences by virtue of being adopted. To categorize adoptees as people who either “act out” or are “compliant” or a mixture of both, can be applied to every human being on earth. I guarantee that each of my 2 biological children, raised by myself and my husband, will also fit into the categories you describe.

    I was adopted into my family within the first 2 weeks of my life. Had my parents not told me I was not their biological child, I am confident that I would never have known. I do not doubt that children relinquished at older ages face substantially different consequences.

    I am troubled that the tone of your article suggests that the separation of biological mother and child is always detrimental and insinuates that a child’s best interest is served when raised by an ill-equipped parent, rather than an adoptive family. If my birth-mother gobbled up your theories as absolute truth, she would have anguished even more about the decision she had made. In reality, (in my situation) there is no substance to your claims and they would serve to needlessly traumatize her further.

    Any sample of people will react to the same situation differently. Some folks are permantly crippled by everyday circumstances such as their parents divorce, alcolholism, critiscism, or a school yard bully that targeted them for 2 months when they were 8 years old. Other people survived the holocaust and went on to live fairly normal and productive lives. For me, adoption is not a handicap that put me at a disadvantage.

    I find it odd that you would like to suggest that “compliant” people like me are not living in truth. You are free to believe what ever you want about yourself, but insistance that your “story” applies to every adoptee is simply wrong and dangerously misleading to anyone who might consider your information while deliberating whether or not they should relinquish their child. I will also add that for myself and for my children, the influence of being raised in a home with a present and loving father cannot be underestimated.

    • Anne, I am genuinely curious. If you feel that adoption had no impact on your life, what are you doing on an adoption web site . . . reading about adoption?

      It’s a poor analogy, but I dislike soccer. As such, I never visit soccer web sites. Why would I? I have zero interest in soccer.

      I’ve seen my share of “I don’t have these issues” comments on adoption blogs/web sites/etc., and I’ve often wondered, if these people felt that way, why are they reading about adoption in the first place?

      • zygoteparariah:

        I am on this website to gain insight on the emotions my birth mother is feeling. We have been in contact for several months. First and foremost I desired medical info, and I consider anything gained beyond that a bonus. I have been fortunate to come to know my birth mother as a wonderful individual. I am concerned that she is experiencing emotional difficulty as she is quite isolated from a support (Until seeking professional counseling recently). I think she puts up a brave face so not to “burden” me with what seems to be a conflict between forging ahead and exhibiting great insecurity inconsistent to our conversations. I feel a great imbalance of ‘power’ on our relationship, with me seeming to ‘hold the cards’. I would like to help her feel more empowered and less subservient to feelings of guilt and shame that she puts on herself. I am also a ‘secret’ and I know this complicates her conflict as she wishes for this not to be the case, but does not have support in ‘coming out’. These are big issues and worthy of a little research!
        So when you ask what brings me here, I guess an appropriate one word answer would be: compassion.

        • Anne,

          First, congratulations on your reunion. I hope all is going well. Second, thank you for not viewing my question as an attack, as it was not intended as such. I was genuinely curious. Third, I commend you for attempting to understand your first mother and doing research. I wish the many Internet resources had been available when I reunited with my mother in 1996. I read books, but was wholly unprepared when it became obvious that she blamed me for the adoption — she had not left me, I had left her. You and I are the same age — 42 — meaning we were late Baby Scoop Era adoptees, so I’m not surprised by your mother’s feelings. The shame these mothers were made to feel is atrocious. Lastly, I envy how well-adjusted you seem. I have the issues Karl describes in spades. Whether it was the fact the my adoptive mother never got over not being able to have her “own” child (which was blurted out during an argument when I was 17) or the fact that at eight I was diagnosed with a rare congenital birth defect (thus “confirming” my feelings that I was “defective”), I don’t know. At any rate, having been through it myself, I know reunions can be tricky, and I wish you all the best with yours.

          • zygotepariah:

            Your question seemed fair to me!

            I thank you for your kind words and I am sorry to hear of your difficulties. While I do not have knowledge of the birth defect you mentioned, as a mother of a child with a congenital disability, I think it is vital to have a heightened awareness to issues related to self esteem and socio-emotional adjustment for childen developing with “differences”. It seems that life threw you a double-whammy of circumstances that are common ‘door-openers’ to questions of self-worth.

            As an advocate for children with disabilities; I am deeply concerned by anyone who actively stereotypes groups of people. I was motivated to speak out when this article attempted to do exactly that. After reading Karl’s words, I know first-hand how maddening it is to have other people tell you (and the world) who you are…especially when they are incorrect!

            As a parent, I embarked on a what I refer to as a ‘quest for knowledge’ to understand the impact and risks my child’s disability. We attended parental support groups, lectures, and I cannot tell you how many research papers I downloaded from google scholar and the Oxford Journals. Believe me, we never stuck our heads in the sand. While we used all that valuable information to understand his potential needs, we have ALWAYS allowed our son to be an individual first and adjusted our parenting accordingly. Adoption should be no different. It’s harmful to formulate absolute expectations from potential risks.

            Speaking of expectations, I am curious what your expectations were when you reunited with you birth mother. Her outrageous assertion about you leaving her must have been shocking. How did your expectations of her guide your reaction to this? How do things stand between her and you today?

      • Oh, and as for your soccer analogy, I am sure that if you think about it, you probably have researched topics you might not otherwise delve into on behalf of someone connected to you. I know I have, I could provide a few dozen examples from my kids alone, never mind extended family and friends.

        Also, because I feel that my emotional self is well adjusted, it doesn’t mean I disassociate with being adopted. It is part of who I am, it just doesn’t define me or predict those ‘special needs that last a lifetime’ that Karl refers to. To be honest, I find the topic to be quite fascinating. It’s interesting to hear other people’s stories, perspective, expectations, etc.

        • (For some reason there is no “Reply” option to your post I want to reply to, so I’m replying to this one.)

          I find that you researched your son’s disability fascinating. I don’t know what he has, but I wonder what school is like for him. Those were some of the worst times for me.

          The disability I have is a calcaneonavicular tarsal coalition; the bones in my left foot had not separated properly in utero and were fused. It does not manifest until pre-puberty when the bones start to ossify, hence why no one knew until I was eight. The original diagnosis was that I would be in a wheelchair by age 13. Between this and other health issues I had nine surgeries between the ages of four and 21. My condition is so rare that to this day I have never met anyone else who has it. (My adoptive status was also thrown in my face every time I went in for yet another surgery as I had no family medical history to provide and constantly had to explain why; not to mention, as the condition is considered to be inherited, it seemed rather unfair that I had to suffer the consequences of genes I was otherwise allowed to know nothing about.)

          While intellectually I know no one knew when I was a baby, I still felt like it was why I was given away — I’m defective, and here’s proof. I also felt like my adoptive parents had been swindled — they thought they were getting perfection, and ended up with a defective product.

          This is why I find your research fascinating; my adoptive mother never got me support, never got me into a children with disabilities group, and in fact her only reaction was “be grateful”. “It could have been both feet, look at that person in a wheelchair, that could have been you — be grateful”. I’m not sure “be grateful” was the appropriate response to several excruciating bone-saw surgeries and being in a cast and on crutches for months at a time.

          As for my birth mother, we haven’t spoken in over a decade. Three days into our reunion she located my birth father without consulting me. I hadn’t been interested in meeting him; I’d been told he’d run away. Turns out he never knew about me and was hurt to learn he had a daughter no one told him about. He had some . . . mental issues. Suddenly the whole reunion was about him. They got back together (neither had married or had any (other) children). They started acting like the 17-year-olds they were when I was conceived. They’d be late for meetings with me without calling, one time because he took her to see his family graveyard (um, that’s *my* family graveyard; you’re not only excluding me, you’re also taking the very reason I wasn’t a part of it?). I felt like I’d spent 26 years just to play matchmaker. Thanks to closed records I had spent eight years on a government search list. I got 72 hours with my mother, and then this. Between that and the “you left me” potshots, it also became apparent that she didn’t want me, she wanted her baby back. She started calling me by my birth name and my 27th birthday present was crayons and a colouring book (I understand it must have been hard on her — she had wanted to keep me and didn’t sign the papers for four months). Throughout this I never said a word for fear of losing them, while I seethed inside, but it eventually became too much, and I guess I just . . . snapped. I cut off contact.

          As for expectations, you know, I don’t really remember. I just always felt alone. (My adoptive family was not a happy one; I was on my own at 17.) I don’t look or act like anyone in my adoptive family. Between that and having a condition no one else in the world I know has that I was never allowed to talk about . . . well, it was very isolating. I just wanted to see someone who looked like me. I just wanted to fit in . . . somewhere.

          How about you? I know you originally want medical info, but are you okay with how things are going? Any siblings? Did your search take long?

  64. Again, so many great comments! I especially want to thank Scientist the Adopter and Anne for their comments. There is certainly no fun and definitely no discussion if everyone is in agreement. Thank you for your passionate responses. Obviously I strongly disagree with your points of view, however I have great respect for them.

    Prior to engaging in this work and education, I could have written Anne’s comments. I was a strong believer and proponent that adoption had not impacted my life. Again, let me be clear, adoption is a blessing and I was blessed by being adopted. However, I do use adopted as the generalized term when I am referring to the relinquishment and separation of child and birth mother. Anne, I totally understand that if your birth mother had read my work, maybe she would have made a different choice and anguished longer. Well, yes, that is the point. I do not want to cause anyone anguish, however, we all should have all of the information and facts making decisions. Especially decisions that impact the life others; especially when that other is a child. I am so happy that you had a blessed adoption, as most are!! Yet, that does not negate the reality of loss.

    There seems to have been a lot of focus on the comment, every adopted child will react one of two ways. When I wrote that, I was very clear that would be divisive statement. And it is a statement I stand behind. Is “unenlightened” as it might seem, the clarity that statement has had for countless adoptees and more importantly adoptive parents to recognize that, just maybe, there is something more to be aware of surrounding the impact of adoption shows me that actually it is an enlightening statement for many.

    Anne, I 100% agree with you that having a loving and attentive father in the home is a vital piece in the upbringing of a child. I am so happy that you had that and that your children have that as well. You are also correct that people are hurt by so many things in life, divorce, alcoholism, criticism, bullying… the list can go on and on. And relinquishment in the adoption process is, unfortunately on that list.

    I think it is fair to say that my writing has struck an emotional chord in you both, and I am sure, many others who chose not to comment. The question I pose to you and everyone, both in agreement and disagreement is this; Why did this cause such and emotional reaction? I had to ask myself that same question when beginning this work and often still face the same question. It is only by looking at the “raw spots” in our emotionally lives, that we can clearly identify the wounds and begin the healing process.

    Sadly, in adoption, as well as other hurts, we are often told by others, that there is nothing to heal from and that we should not be hurt. Adoptees and birth mothers (families), have a loss to grieve and a right to grieve that loss. No one has a right to suggest or tell them that there is no wound.

    Thank you so much for being a part of the discussion. It is only by having an open dialogue that we can understand, heal and grow.

  65. Hello Karl, thank you for your reply. I too enjoy a worthy debate. My concern is that while you genuinely seek to help people (which is wonderful), you are threatening the best interests of others by taking your theory to a radical degree. No minority group has ever benefited from having unproven negative expectations applied to them across the board. In making these broad generalizations, a terrific public service announcement has falsely transformed ‘potential risks’ into ‘certain harm’ and -without merit- has the potential to persuade people in the midst of making a serious decision. I would like to respond to some of your comments.

    First, with regards to your statement: “…I do not want to cause anyone anguish, however, we all should have all of the information and facts making decisions…”, my point is that your theory is problematic in that it is both purely subjective and absolute. You are not providing “fact” at all. If you revised your theory to say “some adoptees” experience trauma with pervasive, negative ramifications, you would be providing factual information. Applying your theory to all adoptees is nothing more than fantasy.

    In my situation, I have learned from my birth mother that she chose to relinquish me and leave my biological father (who she was engaged to), just prior to my birth. She did this when her long lost love resurfaced. Ultimately, she chose a life, her life, when she chose adoption. Given all the details, I could not fathom making the same choice, however, I cannot say she made the wrong decision in following her heart. It was extremely difficult for her, but her sacrifice rewarded her with the rich and happy life she desired. I stand behind her right to make that choice and vehemently oppose people such as yourself exploitating a vulnerable woman’s guilt with false information. Not all adoptees experience negative consequences of separation. Period.

    I would like to elaborate on my reaction to my birth-mother’s choice. Without an open mind, well-developed reasoning intellect, and the ability to accept that my birth mother acted differently than I imagine I would have, I might be struggling to cope right now. Instead, I cannot say she made the wrong decision in following her heart. How can you? If she was my friend or daughter, what would I want for her? If a person happens to concieve a child with someone, are they obliged to continue walking that path when true happiness lies elsewhere? For both her and I, adoption was a win-win solution. Perhaps the ability to balance rational logic vs. a purely emotional response is genetic?

    The irony here is that unlike me, you seem unable to break free from your own experience to accept that some adoptees have had a different experience than yours. True enlightenment or liberation does not come from such narrow minded thinking; it only serves to enslave. Understanding and accepting differences is a hallmark of education. Yet you are determined to argue otherwise. You profess that I suffer serious issues unknown to me because you once felt as I do, but your adjustment was false, so mine must be too…because each of us were adopted. True progress has never come from such a mindset, racism has taught us that.

    Contradiction is never part of a reasonable argument. Your comment “Adoptees and birth mothers (families), have a loss to grieve and a right to grieve that loss. No one has a right to suggest or tell them that there is no wound.” I totally agree with your statement, but insist you recognize that you have no right to tell me there IS a wound. Why do you attempt to construct my reality, and why can I only be a victim? How do you justify this hypocrisy? I accept you and other adoptees feel a “primal wound”. Unlike you, I wouldn’t dare attempt to make my story yours, or suggest your feelings are false.

    I brought up divorce, alcoholism, criticism, bullying, etc., and you responded by adding adoption to this list of life challenges, I agree it should be included. But you missed my point entirely; different people react to these issues in different ways. Some people are crippled and lead a life of dysfunction when subjected to such events. Others faced with the same challenges manage to thrive and survive. Does every child of divorce experience the worst case scenario of maladjustment? No. Like children of divorce, children of adoption also manifest individual and varying degrees of healthy or unhealthy outcomes. Not all of us adopted folk are damaged goods in need of repair.

    My question to you is this: what in my first writing to you, made you conclude that a rational argument, void of emotional tone indicated “raw spots” in my emotional psyche? I find such a twist to be an erroneous and manipulative assumption.

    I too have a challenge for you. Perhaps you can tell me how the primal wound you insist I suffer from, has manifested itself in my life? I am willing to let you enlighten me and convert my skepticism to belief. I am interested how you might advise me to start a healing process. If I am hurting, why don’t I feel it? Why have I not embraced maladjustment and sabotaged my life, have I sabotaged my life but I am delusional to think I am well-adjusted and happy, do I need to sabotage my life in order to find true happiness? What needs to be fixed so I can be free of the shackles, what are the shackles anyway? OK, so some of my questions are tongue in cheek, but I have indicated that I am open-minded and you have piqued my curiousity, so let’s give it a go. Perhaps together we can determine if I really am in denial or if your theory needs revision.

    I am looking forward to your response, until then, keep well!

  66. I’m an adult adoptee, and I really have mixed feelings on this.

    Yes, on the one hand I absolutely think that we’re born of some kind of loss. Fear of rejection, abandonment is something that we have to deal with – some people in large ways and some in small. Sometimes you’ll have a period in your life when it’s not an issue at all, and sometimes it will be a large issue, etc. etc. I can only say that from the many adoptees I know – I have yet to meet one that doesn’t have some degree of rejection issue.

    Where you lose me is putting us in such a general box – the “Yes, EVERYONE” box. I didn’t particularly act out more than the average bear, and I certainly didn’t blend in, either.

    I am 100,000% confident that my birthmom willingly and lovingly put me up for an open adoption. She’s a great woman, she loved me, she just couldn’t take care of me because of her age and circumstance. I lucked out and was adopted by the best parents in the world, and no part of me has ever wished that my birthmom would have tried harder to keep me. I’ve had a great life.

    I’m someone who is an adoptee, and who is now been going through infertility issues of my own for a few years now. I’m in the unique position to be alarmed by some of the comments, the insinuation that people looking to adopt are all rich people hiding behind an attorney waiting to rip a child out of a loving birthmoms arms. I can assure you – if you can’t have kids, power is NOT something that you have and it’s not an ailment of the rich. (And PS – I was adopted by someone who was perfectly fertile, and CHOSE to adopt).

    If I end up adopting, I will absolutely be prepared (uniquely, hopefully!) to deal with rejection issues that child will have. What I’m not going to do is assume that EVERY problem that they have is because they were adopted.. I just feel like that’s a disservice to them.

    I just think it’s dangerous to say “yes, all adoptees are like THIS…” Sure, from my experience I can safely say we all have some sort of rejection issue (I also know that there have to be some people on the planet who don’t), but there are plenty of unadopted adults who have much worse rejection issues than I do.

    Every story I’ve ever heard from ‘adoptive parents’, birthparents, adoptees.. the only for sure statement I can make about ALL of them is that they’re all DIFFERENT.

  67. @ Anne:
    While I agree with you about making generalized statements like ‘everyone’ or ‘all’, I think you just did the same to Karl when you stated, “I do not believe in the primal wound theory, in the least”. I have phantom pain; like an amputee. That’s how I describe it. Everyone assured me that I was doing the best thing for my child; the most loving choice. Although she had wonderful parents and upbringing, she never got over the feeling of rejection and loss.

    Just because we acknowledge our tremendous loss; does not mean that our children would have had better lives staying with us natural mothers. We merely need society to better prepare expectant mothers and adoptive parents alike, for the potential problems and pitfalls that likely may arise throughout the child’s life.

    For you to be so adamant that Karl’s theory is bunk, minimizes the raw pain that adoptees’ and original birth parents experience all of their lives. I was not enlightened about this subject until my forties. It serves no interest for all involved to keep this subject quiet. If it discourages some tentative mothers from relinquishing; bravo. If it means some couples refrain form adopting; they probably did not have the support system and coping skills to deal with raising an adopted child, in the first place. My point is: For too long adoptions have taken place with little or no counseling, and little or no statistical evidence that they are indeed the best thing for the child. Australia, is the first country to truly begin to try and make things right. Their recent public apology to the “Baby Scoop” mothers, is a step in the right direction. Let the subject stand in the light-come out of the shadows people!

  68. @ Anne: Sorry, you said that you cannot relate to the primal wound theory.

    @ Jay, you are very sweet. Of course your first/birth mom did what she felt was the best for you at the time! I think it is noble of you to point that out. It still doesn’t mean that she doesn’t experience tremendous sadness about her loss. It is a loss similar to death; don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise. A legal document cannot sever that maternal feeling; nor can it erase memories of pregnancy and labor…..It is naive for adoptive parents to think we can forget our flesh and blood. The open nature of my surrender gave me a false hope that we were a part of their “family”. We are not. (I married the birth father.) We are outsiders, threatening their territory. Our first/birth daughter feels as though she’s a “fragment” of our family unit. It’s paradoxical. Adoption, (I’m referring to infant adoption in particular) makes families out of strangers; and strangers out of family.(Stole that analogy from the Lost Daughters blog.) How can that possibly be the best thing for the child?

  69. @hoover

    There is no question, counseling is vital to support the emotional needs of those hurt by adoption. Counseling also serves to provide crucial information in order to avoid or mitigate the known risks associated with adoption. A shortfall in services is definately a wrong that needs to be addressed and yes, too many have ‘stood in the shadows’ for far too long.

    Having said that, I believe that adoption is an incredibly complex dilemma. All risks, ALL of them must be carefully weighed out when faced with such a decision. The theory of a primal wound is only one of those considerations; there are many, many, factors to considered in context. Sweeping generalizations are not to be given as absolute truth, hence my statement: “In making these broad generalizations, a terrific public service announcement has falsely transformed ‘potential risks’ into ‘certain harm’ and -without merit- …”

    When you say “bravo” for anyone who reconsiders after reading Karl’s theory, are you considering that hundreds of thousands of children that are currently in foster care? I urge to visit a web site that advertises the photos of (predominantly) teen-aged children currently in foster care waiting to have their basic human need of a healthy home fulfilled. Simply google “adoption photo listing”, read their bios, look at their faces, and ask yourself if those tumultous years spent with their biological parent(s) served their best interest.

    I understand that many mothers considering adoption will not yield such dysfunction. Yes, unsure mothers may be able to overcome what might in reality be temporary obstacles and provide a stable, loving, home to their child. The black and white argument proposed by Karl, and reinforced by your “bravo” reaction, does not factor in all the necessary information that needs to be weighed. The hurt of separation is not the only risk to be contemplated.

    At the beginning of your comment you made an erroneous accusation about me and supported it by changing my words and using them as a quote. I stated that I could not “relate” to a primal wound, you deleted the word “relate” and inserted the word “believe”. Essentially you fabricated an argument, what made you do that?

    In a further departure from reality, you stated: “For you to be so adamant that Karl’s theory is bunk, minimizes the raw pain that adoptees’ and original birth parents experience all of their lives.”

    Here’s what I actually said:

    “You are free to believe what ever you want about yourself, but insistance that your “story” applies to every adoptee is simply wrong”

    “If you revised your theory to say “some adoptees” experience trauma with pervasive, negative ramifications, you would be providing factual information”

    “I accept you and other adoptees feel a “primal wound”. Unlike you, I wouldn’t dare attempt to make my story yours, or suggest your feelings are false. ”

    Ironically, you also seems to be in agreement with me: “While I agree with you about making generalized statements like ‘everyone’ or ‘all’..”.

    This is a confusing debate! It seems that both you and Karl are using defensive projection mechanisms as a means to cope with my differing opinion. Why is it so uncomfortable for each of you to accept that I do not feel a primal wound? I assure you, your feelings can be valid and very real without absolute consensus from the entire adoption community. I don’t have to share Karl’s feelings and Hoover shouldn’t fabricate my thoughts and words.

    This “black and white thinking” and “us versus them” is neither healthy or conducive to genuine, long term healing. A concept in psychology called “fallacy false dilemma” is where an argument is made without taking into consideration of all the grey areas. It is a rigid option 1 (relinquish your baby and he/she will inherit a lifetime of hurt) or option 2 (protect your baby from certain harm by keeping it) argument that refuses to recognize other possible variables. The adjusted adoptee and the potential foster child are just two other possible options to be considered when deliberating adoption.

    Good luck to Jay in your quest to start a family and adopt. As I pointed out, there are far too many children who go through life without a supportive family. My hope is that such a child finds their way to your home, sooner rather than later.

    Thank god I am that well adjusted adoptee, had I any “rejection” or “identity” issues, they surely would have been manipulated and re-inforced here…who knew the adoption community would paint me delusional or as a heretic for being comfortable in my own skin!

    I wish everyone well their journey…be mindful that projecting onto others does not reflect truth about anyone other than the projectionist.

    • I couldn’t have said this better, so I won’t try. I’m a happy adoptee and I’m pretty sure I’m not delusional or “adaptable and compliant” – I’m fully myself and glad to be.

  70. @ Anne: I did correct myself two hours prior to your post. I thought the article was specifically referencing infant adoption- I want to reiterate-only when abuse or neglect is not a factor. I have no problem with adopting children in foster care. I applaud it. My remarks refer to financially disadvantaged women, whom may feel pressured to surrender, primarily because of economic reasons. If the primal wound theory causes an expecting woman such as this, to have second thoughts: yes, I say bravo!!!

    I’m sorry if I personalized my thoughts too much. If you were to google online support groups for “birth mothers”, you would see that the need for us mother’s of loss to adoption seeking out cyber help and support; is a worldwide phenomenon. So many of us did not have a voice, nor an outlet to express our feelings on the subject, until now. Many like myself, did not fully explore these type of adoptee issues until our children became adults. We do agree on generalizations, though. I do not believe all first moms regret their decision. I will go out on a limb though, and say that very few relish in the fact that they had few, if any good options. Thus, creating the paradox….

  71. @hoover

    Sorry for missing your correction, the timing of our posts was messed up when I left my computer screen up while doing something else.

    I understand what you are saying about your particular situation. I can only imagine what a birth mother experiences following adoption. I was on this site specifically to gain insight into my birth mother’s emotions since I sense she is struggling.

    When I responded to Karl’s article, I did so as an adoptee that he took the liberty of misrepresenting in his writing, nobody else. It troubles me that perhaps today an expectant mother deliberating adoption is reading Karl’s half-truths and deciding to keep a baby that will become tomorrow’s teenage foster child (this was my reason for bringing up foster children). Perhaps the threat of inflicting this promised wound will serve to further victimize a vulnerable woman or girl who simply can’t, or chooses not to, keep her baby.

    Everybody is different, we (Jay, Hoover, and I) seem to agree on that. Will Mr Stenske revise his theory in terms of false dilemma and painting all adoptees as people with “special needs that must be addressed throughout the adoptee’s life”?

  72. @ Anne: No worries.

    Yes, some teens do fail at parenting. Perhaps, if they had more societal support- they would not. For instance: Why do we Americans sponsor children in foreign countries o that they my stay with their biological families; yet encourage the same impoverished families in the United States, to place their children with strangers?

    Your statement, “It troubles me that perhaps today an expectant mother deliberating adoption is reading Karl’s half-truths and deciding to keep a baby that will become tomorrow’s teenage foster child (this was my reason for bringing up foster children).” is sort of unfair to Karl. The primal wound theory is only one part of the adoption puzzle. There are many other reasons to scrutinize relinquishment. Also, placing a baby with adoptive parents does not guarentee a successful childhood, either. Abuse and emotional neglect can take place in adoptive homes, as well.

    I suspect your first mom is struggling Anne, because we tend to look at life retrospectively through a different lens when we approach our middle ages. She too, may be discovering the long term ramifications of her decision. Since she made her decision as a woman, not a girl, that guilt is possibly catching up with her, as well….the missed birthdays, the absence of grandchildren, possibly the inability to have other children. These are all issues that expectant first moms rarely consider whilst making these life-altering choices. Hence my advocacy for more comprehensive pre-adoption counseling.

    Good luck as well, on your journey. I suggest the adoptee blog, The Declassified Adoptee to anyone whom may be seeking clarity on the adoption triad. I have yet to see an adoptee with a more objective and compassionate approach, than Amanda Wooten. It has been my mission lately, to better understand the adoptee’s perspective. I appreciate you Karl, for having the courage to promote a dialogue on the subject. Peace.

    • I got The Declassified Adoptee’s last name wrong. It’s Woolston- not Wooten..Sorry about that, Amanda!

  73. Hi Karl,
    I read your article again this evening and Dana’s post. And as a mother I know that babies know. When I had my first child I had a full anaesthetic to have an emergency caesarean. While in the recovery area I could hear a baby screaming. My daughter continued to scream in the arms of my husband until he laid her in my arms. The minute she was in my arms the screaming stopped. It was an amazing moment that my husband and I would never forget and an incredible way to learn the intensity of the mother baby bond.

    As an adoptee I acted out – always the one trying to do better, receive praise, be noticed. So I didn’t get in any obvious trouble – just terribly caught up in a search or quest for acceptance and acknowledgement. I never though had any doubt that my mother loved me – I always knew somehow that it was not of her doing. I was lucky enough to be reunited with my mother and that first meeting held no tears – just a sense of completeness – of peace for both of us. She passed away earlier this year and I look at the four years I had with her (after 47 years of separation) as a true gift – but the family bond doesn’t end with my sister and I becoming so close over this time.

    I would never had said I suffered trauma by being adopted – not until now. While she was dying our government has given a national apology for the past practices of forced adoption. I knew the history e facts. What I didn’t know was the pain. As the apology was publicised the deeply hidden trauma suffered has come to the surface and I have wept but the worst part was the the pain – not only mine but my mother’s too. Physically it felt as if someone was crushing my heart. What she went through was no longer just facts – I had opened the wound and allowed my pain of abandonment and longing to mix with my mother’s. So Karl, yes, I have experienced what you wrote about. I have denied the hurt so as not to disappoint or seem weak and be abandoned again. I have also now experienced the pain – and I don’t know that anyone can understand fully the depth of that unless they’ve been through it. My newly found sister gets it. She is grieving for her mother – our mother. Yet her grief is pure. As she said to me this week, you must have so many different emotions and feelings given all that has happened. And for the first time ever I have been able to be honest and own the trauma of the past and without guilt own the grief of losing my mother.

    Really appreciate this website and all the contributions.

  74. I was adopted at 6 months of age. I dont recognise my bio mom’s smell rather to me it is just like a complicated too sweet sharp bad odor but i love my foster mother’s smell it makes a shape or a nice tree in my mind nor too sweet nor too salty but nice safe and salty….
    I never felt deprived!

  75. I was born 18 years ago, and spent one day in the hospital with my birth mother before I was taken to my adoptive family. I have recently been reconnected with my birth mother and other members of my biological family. I am most definitely the compliant child described here. My mom and dad (adoptive parents) tell me that I would cry when they tried to hold me as a baby. My birth mother tells me, and I saw pictures that show that I didn’t cry when she held me as a baby. I just stared up into her face. I do believe that I knew her, and I knew I had been separated from her.
    I have spent some time with my birth mother after we found each other a couple months ago, and we have had many conversations online as well. We have a very strong connection and we both want to spend time together. But, my problem comes from my mom. I have a great adoptive family, and I love my parents. They have encouraged me to get to know my birth family, but my mom feels that I am, in a way, replacing our family with my birth family (which I am not, I would never give up my adoptive family). I’m am very careful of what I say to all of my parents, so I don’t hurt any feelings. My mother has invited me to go visit her and her family a couple times before I leave for college, but my mom wants me to stay here. I feel like I’m being torn in two. I really want to spend time with my mother, after all she only had one day, where my mom had 18 years, but I don’t know how I can do this without hurting my mom. I don’t know anyone who has gone through a situation like this, but I need advice. What can I do? How can I keep everyone happy?

    • Cay – You may not be able to make/keep everyone happy….that is a heavy burden to take on, no matter the situation. What you can do is talk with your Mom and let her know how you feel about spending time getting to know your birth mom. My guess is that your Mom is dealing with her own fear of rejection, afraid that you will stop or change your love for her. You have to be honest with yourself and her about your reasons (all reasons are valid) for getting to know your birth mom. And the more you’re open and share with your Mom about your experience and feelings, the more secure she will feel and the more able she will be able to support your efforts to get to know your birth mom. Good Luck!

  76. How may I contact you? I would like to be a part of your research.

  77. I feel as if I have finally been understood & validated after nearly 40 years. My parents split up when I was 6 months old. My mother gave me to my father’s parents to raise (he was an alcoholic and beat her on at least one occasion while she was pregnant with me. To this day I have the urge to run and hide from angry, violent people – but what does a baby know?

    About a year after the first relinquishment my grandfather died and my grandmother made the decision not to raise me on her own. My father’s sister, who had moved to another country, flew home for the funeral and took me & my grandmother back with her when she left. My grandmother later returned home without me, leaving me in the care of a childless couple in their mid to late 40s who were virtually strangers to me. They eventually adopted me when I was 4 (so I wouldn’t get deported). I always knew I was adopted but they didn’t tell me she was my biological aunt till I was 12 & was about to meet my father. By this time my grandmother had died and although she’d visited me every year on my birthday, I didn’t know she was my real grandmother – or the reasons behind my extreme, “unnatural” dislike of her. Wish I’d known the truth while she was still alive. My childhood was not happy; I never formed strong attachments with my aunt (who put me in various daycare facilities rather than staying home to bond with me) or uncle (who never wanted kids & had his own issues with anger & alcoholism).
    All my life I’ve had trouble forming attachments, dealing with trust & betrayal, feeling free to express who I am. I lived a lie for so many years. I don’t understand why my aunt couldn’t just be honest with me from the beginning about my being her brother’s child, instead of only telling me half the story. I felt as if she lied to me. I also felt ripped off because I didn’t have a whole other family out there somewhere – only half of one.
    It’s only recently I’ve traced my attachment issues back to their root – the adoption. I’ve just begun writing a book, in which I hope to tell more stories than my own, dealing with the very real trauma of separation in both relinquishment and adoption and how important it is to properly care for an adopted child to minimize the effects of that trauma. Pretending that “we’re your parents now and whatever happened before we got you doesn’t matter” will only allow untreated wounds to fester deep within the adopted soul.

  78. I’m curious if you’ve looked into open adoptions, or surrogacy? Do you believe that children involved with open adoptions have the same issues? We have just adopted an amazing little boy from our dear friends and hope to make his life as happy, well adjusted and supported as we can. His birth parents will always be in his life…his birth mom taking the name Amma and dad will be Papa. His paternal grandparents will also always be in his life (and are so excited), as will his half-siblings and all his aunts and uncles.

    My Wife and I attended our son’s birth, stayed at his birth parents home for a week after he was born, and then his Amma stayed at our house for three weeks before going back home. We currently live in different States, but Amma and Papa are moving and will be closer in the Fall. The first two weeks our son was both nursed and bottle fed (breast milk) by both my Wife and I as well as his birth mom. Admittedly, we are on the extreme end of the open adoption scale. In many open adoptions the children will have less contact with their birth family than our child will. According to open adoption advocates the children, and birth parents, fair much better in this type of adoption. Your thoughts?

    As a side note, I am a child of divorced parents and have a step-mother who never bond with us. I believe my sister and I exhibit/have/had many of the ‘issues’ you attribute to being adopted. I think issues of abandonment and low self-esteem can come from many different places/situations in a child’s life, not just adoption.

  79. Most people I know who were not adopted also exhibit some of the symptoms you describe. Part of growing up is learning that one’s story doesn’t define him or her, and that we have choices in life of how we respond to various information and other stimuli. I do think that there are certain things unique to adopted people, such as wanting to learn about their roots and reconnect with their biological family. But low self-esteem, for example, is a widespread issue, even among people who grew up in biological families. I think it’s useful to draw attention to the issues surrounding adoption, but I’m not sure I agree that it’s always such a trauma that post-traumatic stress is a lifelong issue for all adoptees. Humans are resilient.

    • Hi Claire, we are resilient. However the incidence of low self esteem and abandonment issues is very high amongst adoptees. And yes, I did grow up in a loving adoptive family. What I did, and I think many adoptees do, is put.a lid on my own feelings for fear of upsetting my adoptive family. And I was happy and well adjusted – that is what I told everyone and the face I put on to greet the world.
      It even was the face I put on to my mother – yes I am a lucky one who has found my family. But she passed away earlier this year – I had her for 4 years. And then here in Australia we’ve just had an enormous amount of publicity around the National Apology from our government for the wrongs of the forced adoption practices that occurred for decades. I would never have considered myself a candidate for trauma – but that is what it is. And the pain and the light,it shines on so many of my choices over the years is real. My adoptive mother told me I cried constantly as if in pain for the first 6 months of my life. I wanted my mother. When I found my mother there was no tears only joy. And now that I have faced what I’ve been through and thatnitnis public here now – no more secrets – I have wept again. I do believe that each adoptees path is different. But I also believe that if you scratch at the surface a bit, the hidden (if itnisnhidden) effects of adoption will show as trauma. The resilience is that we have lived with itnformso long.

  80. amazing post – lots of people tell me how my adopted children will not ‘remember’ things from when they were young but it’s not memories, it’s feelings, it’s instincts, it’s emotions and it’s loss that my children feel and will feel in various ways as they grow into amazing adults. Thank you for describing why things matter.


  81. While all perspectives of adoption are worth considering, I am an adoptee that was adopted into an entirely different culture and am proud to be who I am today. Each adoptee who has the ever present “identity crisis” could either be going through it because they know of another adoptee who has talked about it because in this day and age, it is so crucial to know who we are as individuals. But isn’t it also okay to not know? Adoption can be seen as a traumatic event, as a way to justify certain behaviors or feelings of not truly being apart of one culture or another, or as an action that was perhaps necessary and in the best interest of a child based on the birth mother’s decision. I know plenty of adoptees, all dear friends of mine, who have not displayed any behavioral issues to speak of; they are active members of their communities and, like myself, choose NOT to let adoption be the one thing that defines me.

    • Anna, about 7-8 years ago I would have and did say your exact words, frequently. Then at the age of 37, very similar to the author of this article, things unraveled for me. I grew up in a tremendous home with more than enough love to go around. My older brother was also adopted and we had a younger sister that was not adopted. My brother was clearly the rebellious adoptee and I was the compliant one. I wholeheartedly agree that there came a time for me when the world crashed down and I started to see what my brother had seen all along. The sadness and grief from separation from our natural mothers. We always knew we were adopted but the loss and the grief were never discussed. Our parents didn’t know. After many years of addiction my brother died from a massive heart attack at the age of 40. I am in reunion now with my natural mother, two maternal brothers and three paternal siblings. My natural father has been deceased for many years and had never told anyone about me. Came as a bit (but not total) surprise to his family.

      What I say now to adoptees who say, “but I don’t feel that way”, is “perhaps someday you might. I am here for you if you want to talk.”

  82. I am an adoptee and your article is spot on! I have dealt with those issues my whole life! and I tell ya they are real! Keep studying! Good for you!

  83. of course little babies know. They are eternal souls who come into this physical vessel. As a soul they have memory and it starts right away, even before birth.
    As a certified Emotion Code Practitioner, I have done sessions with people who were adopted and, through muscle testing have found many trapped emotions that were related to the fact they they were given away. Abandonment, betrayal….such emotions can be registered when they baby feels separated from the mother’s energy he/she grew familiar to. They “know” because their soul and energy body are already fully functioning, fully aware and fully conscious.
    Just because babies cannot express themselves yet with words, does not mean they do not know/feel what is happening.

  84. I love to hear everyone talk about smell. When I met my son as an adult, more than 20 years after the last time I’d seen him, I was absolutely amazed by how he smelled. It would have been creepy, lol, but I really wanted to just put my arms around him and smell him, because he was so clearly mine. He smelled like nothing, the way your own self is just part of you, he smelled, magically, just like my parented daughter. Before our reunion, it used to make me insane that if I’d seen him on the street, I wouldn’t know him. But then I met him and he was so familiar, I recognized him with more senses than just my eyes. Thank you for your post.

    • Aimee…I met my dad when I was 46 and he was 70…I completely know what you are talking about. My dad smells familiar to me, and sometimes I still bury my head against his shirt…it is very comforting to me. These are experiences that we missed out on.

      My dad who raised me always felt strange to me and he smelled strange. I always pulled away when he tried to hug me (which always felt like grabbing to me).

      I respect that other people have different experiences, but this is mine. I am glad you have your son and so glad to have my dad…I get half of who I am from him!

  85. I’m in tears I have’nt read the other responses but felt a need to say, THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING.
    i’m a modern day birth mother and have experienced removal at birth *3 days old*. From a female point of view I suffered with PTSD following child birth. I had to travel on public transport for 3+ hours a day to a contact center to see my newborn baby for never more than two hours. I was scrutinized by overworked, varying and often young contact supervisors who did’nt have children of there own, had just left uni or were starting there own family off and pregnant.
    I worried so much about my baby who was dropped before a week old by un educated foster careers and then contracted oral thrush whilst in the care of homosexual foster carers.
    I have fears and terrors.
    you have reliterated to me that what i’m feeling is not wrong and my baby was just as scared and paniced as I was.
    I’m currently petitioning for child protection units to be opened so that new mothers, babies and families can have there rights adhered to with regards to the human rights act 1998 and the childrens rights act 2002. please support @ the spelling has regretedbly come up with some mistakes but please I understand what your saying, THE RIGHT TO RELAX and LIBERTY, LIFE.

  86. Thank you so much for this article Karl. My little baby boy was profoundly affected by being separated from me in 1966… I only wish they knew these things back then when society was clamoring to take babies from young single mothers. By writing and sharing your truth, you also honor those of us who gave life and yet were made to feel we were wrong for wanting to keep our babies…wrong because we instinctively knew that no matter what challenges we faced; our babies would have been better off with us.

  87. Karl,
    I have a different question for you. Does a baby who was neglected and exposed to drugs and alcohol in-utero also still miss their birth mother? I have two adopted daughters from foster care. We adopted them at 5 and 7. The birth mother did drugs while pregnant with them and they spent most of their lives being bounced around in foster care until they were placed with us at 4 and 6. She also never wanted my youngest daughter, and neglected her after being born. She never held her and propped up a bottle to feed her because she didn’t want to be bothered with holding her. My daughter was removed for failure to thrive at 4 months old because she was literally being starved. So, do these babies mourn the loss of their birth mom who never cared for them in the first place? My oldest daughter suffers from Reative Attachment Disorder and will probably never fully heal, and has a lot of issues that we are trying to help her with to no avail, but thankfully, for now, my little one has bonded to us and is pretty well adjusted and happy. I know she’ll probably have issues as she gets older, but I’m glad for now she is able to accept our love and security.

    • Hello Michelle, great question! I have also parented a sib set brought home at ages 3 and 4 and have worked in the field of foster care and adoption since 1963 and lectured, written and witnessed over time, the very issues you raise.
      Our children had a lonely and traumatic in-utero experience that changed how their little brains processed issues both before and after birth. Before they were born, they developed a view that their care-takers didn’t care; that they were not worth caring about and that the world out there was a scary place! The substances and the neglect have a life long impact as you see as you parent them.
      Babies work hard to communicate in-utero; they kick, they reach out and listen. They absorb the emotions of their mother as they are bathed in different hormones and substances. Most babies feel their mother’s pat their stomach; touch their feet and hands as they push out against the sac; listen to the sounds, music, songs and soft words that most mothers offer to their children before birth. If that mother is otherwise occupied because of substance abuse, depression and family violence and not acknowledging the baby’s signals, the baby can withdraw and even be born depressed. Later, certain voices, sounds, smells and strong emotions can trigger pre-verbal memories that impact the child’s responses. Our children are born with very strong recollections from before their births; they may not remember as we as adults think of it, but their body remembers!

    • Hi Michelle-

      That is a great question and Sharon’s insight is right on!!

      Does an infant exposed to alcohol, drugs and neglect during gestation still miss their birth mother?

      As Sharon mentioned an infant in-eutero will respond to the stimulis given. That response may be to withdraw, shut-down and resist whatever the influence may be. It could be drugs, alcohol, yelling, smoking, loud music, physial abuse to the mother felt by the child and so on. Any of those and more would cause and infant to store those experiences in their body and will react to those same stimuli with the same reaction for years and decades after they are born.

      It would reason then that an infant would not miss their birth mother in such a case. After all, how could anyone miss and abusive environment, right? Well, actually yes, they probably still would miss their mother even in such extreme circumstances. I read a story years ago that summed it up perfectly. I don’t recall where it came from so I will paraphrase.

      I young child is brought into the hospital. He has been badly burned. Second and third degree burns all over his body. He was doused with gasoline and lit on fire. As any three year old boy would be, he is in pain and terrified. As the doctor’s and nurses try to help, he resists their help and screams. He screams for his mother. All any child would want in that moment is the comfort of their mother. The medical staff can hardly hear each other over the boy’s agonizing screams for mom to come and save him and comfort him.

      The boys mother is the one who burned him. His own mother caused him the most pain he will likely ever know in his life and yet, she is still the one he wants and calls out for in that moment.

      The trauma of such an extreme event was not enough to break his bond with her. He still wanted and needed her; he missed her.

      I have not done the research to know why we as humans so often want what we know is painful and destructive to us in various ways. Why do we continue to love one who is our abuser? Why do we return to a relationship that has caused so much pain? Why do we want mom when mom neglected us, abused us, fed us alcohol or drugs? Why does a child taken from an extremely abusive home with cigarette burns over their body, still fight the social worker and reach for mom?

      Because it is in us to grab on to the safety of what we know, even if that safety is destructive. There is no reason to think it would be any different for a new born. The alcoholic, drug addicted, neglectful mom might terrify that little baby and she is still all he has ever known.

      Yes, he will miss her. No, she is not safe and one day he may intellectually understand that she could never care for him the way he deserved and needed. But it will take many, many more years for his body and instincual reactions to realize what his rational mind understands.

      Thank you for asking such a profound question.

  88. Karl,
    Extremely interesting article. I find myself identifying with many of the things you said. My parents let me know I was adopted early on. But then they decided if I wanted anymore info I could ask. They didn’t want to push what was an “uncomfortable” subject for me. But I’m now in my 20’s and in recent years have found out more information. My birth mother was already a borderline alcoholic. And my mom, (to me she will never, ever be just my “adoptive” mother) was there the moment they pulled me out from the c section. She was the first to hold me. My birth mother never saw me, held me, and didn’t even know I was a girl. I feel in my heart that maybe I never had the trauma you are talking about. But I certainly grew up with a certain pain. My mom and dad are amazing people and I love them so much. I was truly blessed to have them as well as my brother and sister. But those feelings of unworthiness or the feeling of being unwanted were always there. And it is so hard too explain to them or my husband because really in their eyes how can I feel that way when they have spent 20 years loving me and wanting me. But I just feel it and it is in no way connected to them. My mother has always told me I was a difficult, pouty, grouchy toddler. So maybe your research has some merit. I have no interest in seeking my birth mother.. I feel she is irrelevant to me in a way. She carried me and her job was done. I knew I had an older half sister but i recently learned my birth mom had another child or two after me.. she became an extreme alcoholic and they were all taken away and put in foster care. I do wish I could find out what happened to them. The younger ones still might be under 18. I feel so bad for them and what they must have gone through. I wish she had chosen a better life for them the way she did for me.

  89. I also have to 100% disagree with Carol. That was a bit of a rude/thoughtless comment to make. Like birth mothers are automatically better than adoptive mothers? Every situation is different. I know I was given a better life by being adopted. I would certainly not have been better off with my birth mother! I’d be sitting in a foster home like my half siblings.

  90. […] have recently seen this post floating around my internet adoption communities.  It describes how science is now coming to […]

  91. Hi– I reunited with my birthmother 8 months ago. I also met my 4 siblings (3 she had before me and 1 she had after me) on the phone, as well.
    11 days after the first phone call, we all met in person. It has been a difficult road to travel.
    I always tripped through life thinking all was fine. I was ok with being adopted, “thankful” is what I would tell others. I would say if I met my birthmother I would want to thank her for giving me up for adoption–because “but for the grace of God go I.” I was so many things and behaved in so many of the ways you described in your writing. I am now 45 years old and I am lost. I don’t know how to find the real me after acting for 45 years as the person who was always “good,” if I wasn’t I was haunted by my poor choice and how others would think of me. I remember my friend leaving the door open and our dog got out. I knew my father would be upset when he got home from work. I told my friend goodbye, looked for my dog but couldn’t find him. I went to my room, changed into my pj’s, and sat on my bed as punishment for the dog running away. I punished my self because I was afraid of what my father would think/say. The funny thing was, I had no reason to be afraid. My mother and father were nothing but a great set of parents who loved me, were proud of me, pushed/supported me, and always there for me. It wasn’t
    til now, I see my actions were those of a little girl afraid to disappoint for fear of losing love and/or family
    It is also difficult because I am now being “shunned” by my 3 older siblings. At first they embraced me, then slowly pulled away, and now we don’t talk at all—ahhh–abandonment and rejection–all over again.
    My story is a bit different in that my maternal-grandmother wanted my mother to keep me. She sent my grandfather to the hospital and told him not to come home without the baby, but my mother was sooo very hurt and angry at my birthfather (and his mother, who did not want him involved with a ready made family plus knowing she did not want her grandchild) she couldn’t see straight. She also had 3 children already under the age of 5 and I am sure the agency helped with the process…so she made the decision to give me up for adoption…
    She has said if he had told her to keep me or that he would try to be there she would have–but because he left her a note and walked out, she signed on the dotted line…so I was abandoned/rejected by birthmother (who had support), birthfather, paternal grandmother–and now by 3/4 siblings.
    I am slowly trying to find “me.” It’s a constant struggle…but your writing spoke volumes to …and I am glad to see I am not the only one…
    Thank you.

  92. I enjoyed reading you story. I am the proud adoptive mother of a 10 week old baby boy. I was able to be in the room at birth and hold his birth mothers foot for her while she pushed. I had spent a few months before his birth building a relationship with the Birthmom. Once he came into the world I got to cut his cord and he spent his first night snuggled next to me in a bed the hospital provided us to stay in until he was released. His birthmom held him after birth and did kangaroo care, which is where they have skin to skin contact. She tried to nurse him multiple times the 2 days she stayed in the hospital and the baby refused to nurse from her. He wanted nothing to do with it. She has come a few times since birth to see him and he still wants nothing to do with her. He will cry when she holds him and once I have him back in my arms he quiets down. I had expected every time for there to be some magical moment where he knew her and it eased something inside him to have her near. But each time I am reassued that I and I alone am his mother. A baby responds to who is there to answer his needs. Who his comfort is. My adopted son knows I am his mother. As people in general, we all have issues. We could try and pin point the moment or the incident that caused us to have each issue. I have many and I grew up in a loving home with both of my parents. I hope that my son never feels abandoned, I hope he only feels that his life was so precious that my heart prayed for him and I loved him from the bottom of it even before I knew him. I hope he feels that he was given more that the luck of the draw for parents and instead of being raised on in poverty and drug use, he got a chance to flourish and have a loving family and a blessed life.

    • you got that wrong,you are not his true mother you didn’t love and carry him and meet his every need you were just a person the mother choose to love and care for her child.The baby might feel that his mother hurt him and that’s his way of showing it.don’t think for a min he wont long for her and want to get to know her. So many of you try to take our place as there mothers and you don’t have a clue as to the bond a mother and baby share. You try to hide the facts from the baby to help you feel better about being a mom.You are right you might get to love and care for him cause his mother gave you the honor to do so but you will never take her place.

      • You have no right to say any of that to this woman. I found out I was adopted 3 weeks ago. I’m in my 40s. My mother loved me and cared for me and I have no need to know the woman who could not and gave me up. I don’t get the anger. You have your child up. That was your decision. Don’t make someone else feel like less of a mother for accepting a responsibilty you could not.
        You can find things all over the Internet about absent fathers and how anyone can be a father but takes someone special to be a mommy. Same thing applies. This woman is this child’s mommy. She will care for her son and love him.
        And why are adoptees so angry? What’s the point? Should your b-mother aborted you? Why should adoptive parents be made to feel guilty for giving a child a home? Sure, maybe some have issues, but how much worse would those issues be growing up in an abusive home. Not all birthmothers want their children. Some gladly give them up for adoption and are not pining away for their child. That’s just reality. Some may. But at least they have life, versus being aborted. Or in a family versus in an orphanage. I am grateful for my parents for giving me a home. I’m grateful to my birth mother for chosing to give me life instead of death by scaple.
        Melissa, you love that little boy with everything you have and he will love you always. He may one day think about a birth mother/father but that won’t change the love he has for you. Be at peace for your decision to love this boy and do not let anyone make you feel guilty for doing so.

        • You found out you were adopted 3 weeks ago, Alyssa? Wow, that was wrong of your parents do that, however much they loved you.

          Alyssa, I love my adoptive parents dearly. I am thankful they were honest with us and told us we were adopted right from the start. They were always very factual and honest about our bparents and so I think I grew up understanding that they were human beings as well.

          A few years ago, I did decide to make contact. Please note that my making contact has nothing to do with my feelings for my adoptive parents. One thing that I think it is important to realise is that one can love one’s APs and still be interested in one’s origins – it is not betrayal.

          Sadly, in my case my bmother had passed away but I have met lots of lovely relatives. I have now EXPANDED my family. I consider myself fortunate to have both lots of families in my life.

          One thing that contacting my bfamily has done is that it has given me compassion for my birthmother. I note that you are from the same generation that I am, i.e. the 1960/70s. During that time, women were given very little option but to choose adoption as their opportunities were limited (often deliberately so). You might find the following project to be interesting:

          Also, you might like to read “The Girls who went away”:

          Also, don’t just assume that your birthmother’s thinking was along the lines of “Hmm should I abort this kid or give it up for adoption?”. First of all, many didn’t even want an abortion. Also, for many bmothers, they felt like they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Usually, the decision to relinquish their child came about as a mixture of 1) very few resources available for them to parent; and 2) social workers making them feel that parenting would be selfish; and 3) the same social workers telling them that there were plenty of parents who would do a much better job that they could hope to do. Often the bmother’s intrinsic qualities were considered irrelevant, the only “important” thing was the lack of ring on her finger.

          I know many will say that not all bmothers wanted to parent and that is true. However, there is a process to be followed when dealing with women with unplanned pregnancies and that involves proper counselling. However, the counselling in those days was geared towards one thing – adoption. This is fairly unique to the 50-70s (although even today in the US, there is still directive counselling in many quarters). Before the war, children usually weren’t adopted until they were 6 months (no-one wanted newborns (read the Oregon study to find out more)) . Towards the end of the war, many Christian organisations had been set up to help women who did wish to raise their children – after the war, that all went by the wayside. The very organisation through which I was adopted was originally set up in the early 1940s to help single mothers raise their children – by the 1950/60s, that organisation’s only aim was to push adoption, they no longer helped those that did wish to raise their child (no-one did). Anyway, the Oregon Adoption program mentioned above will give you more info.

          So, even though I can see from your post that you have no time for your biological mother, it might still be worth doing some research. Though my bmother died a long time ago, I discovered that she was apparently a loving, kind individual and it was nice to learn that. She sounds like she was just a nice, normal girl probably just like you and I were at the same age.

    • Melissa,

      I absolutely hate that you were in the delivery room. I cannot imagine the tremendous pressure that must have put on the poor girl. I am so glad that the state I live in, has a two week grace period, so that the mother can change her mind. I hope you include this poor woman in your life as the child grows up. Sadly, I know only too well, she will be pushed away if you ever find the relationship to be too difficult. Blessings sweet natural mother. You will better understand the ramifications of your choice in the years to come….

  93. I appreciate your article and your attempts to throw light on what no one wants to see as an issue. I’m particularly curious if you’d come across research regarding the effect on children who are never told they are adopted (although they might suspect) and only find out much later.

    Another thing I’d like to point out is that due to bio-tech advances it is now possible for a woman to carry and give birth to a baby who is not hers. Therefore your point of infant or fetal memory is moot in such cases. It is my theory (unresearched) that this would make little or no difference since the child will still grow up with no knowledge of its maternal biological roots. I’m curious though if any studies have been done on this.

    • Hi Benita-

      I am aware of some research, though limited on the impact of adoptees who were not told or found out in adulthood. In my experience working with these clients the wound is much more profound. As with many nuances of adoption much more research is needed and more stories need to come out of the shadows and be told.

      To your point about the research and proven theories of fetal memory being moot, I would like to encourage you to look at it from a bit different perspective. When a child is carried by a surrogate as you mention, and then raised by either the genetic donor or surrogate, the relationship of one does not and can not negate the influence of the other. In all reality, instead of it negating the influence of genetic memory it actually complicates it. The child will have genetic memory of it’s origins (another field in need of much more research) as well as the memory and bonding with the surrogate. The child’s attachment will be with the surrogate, however the bond of geneitic history will largly be with the genetic mother and father.

      It is a great discussion that needs to be had.

    • I know several lesbian couples where one woman has carried the other woman’s eggs. So the child is biologically Mommy’s but was gestated by Mama. In many ways that seems the best of both worlds for the child. I don’t think we can dismiss the physical relationship between a surrogate and the child she carries.

  94. Great article…..thank you!

    “Somewhere around the fifth month of gestation, a baby’s olfactory nerves develop in his nose. From then on, the amniotic fluid passes over these nerves constantly, making him keenly aware of the smell of his environment – his mother’s smell.”

    Smell is the first sense, it’s very primal… own children are 27 & 11, a girl & a boy, they still both tell me they love my smell when we embrace! Smell has always been very big to me. Although I’ve talked with my mother, we will likely never have a reunion…I have no doubt her smell would be familiar after almost 50 years!

  95. This article was amazing. I’m so grateful for the internet and that people talk about things like this. Because I feel really lost. My daughter was taken from her mother and put into foster care directly from the hospital. Her father (my ex-husband) was in the military and it took just about a year to get custody of her. I started at the age of 1 to take her on my weekends with our other two children, she doesn’t see her mother AT ALL and I feel like every child deserves a mother. So I became hers too. I am now back with her father and we had another daughter together. She is 5 and although she has no idea that im not her biological mother, im terrified that she feels “different”. and im at a complete loss for what to do. Her mother has seen her twice since she was born. And I want to be tough for her and not let her mother come in and out like she does with her other daughter. She’s recently been arrested for possession of heroin and prostitution. She did a few months in rehab, and is clean for the moment. I just don’t know what to do. Do I wait? Do family counseling? help me! please! I love her so much and I don’t want this to make her feel unwanted, because I want her every day of my life. And I don’t want to weaken her either. She is amazing.

    • I think family counseling would be a great place to start. Make sure you find someone who truly knows attachment. The fist things I would suggest, always speak the truth. Do not hide the fact that she is not your biological daughter, but you do not need to have a “talk” with her about it. Just make it part of the everyday conversation. When she starts to ask questoins, and she will, just be honest. Only answer the question she places in front of you and do not elaborate. If she askes another question, answer that one the same way. This will allow her to process what she is ready for and know it is safe to ask for more when she is ready. If you have been telling her or presenting yourself to her and others as her biological mother then you will have to unwind some of that as part of introducing the truth into the conversation. There is no way to fully answer your questions or needs in this post.

      Please seek out help from someone who specializes in this kind of work. You can find me at Depending on your area, I may have some referalls for you as well.

      I would also suggest you read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier.

  96. Hello Karl,

    I really appreciate all the research you have done. This is a great and has given me a fresh understanding on the matter.
    Ever since I was very young I already knew something was different about me, as if I never belong to my family who adopted me. In fact there was a time I suddenly confronted my mother asking if I was adopted. I don’t really know where it came from but I suddenly had to ask. My mother vehemently denied it. In fact they never wanted me to find out. My story of how I found out is an ugly one. I am still struggling to be in peace with it. When my adoptive parents told me, it was more of a confirmation.

    I have talked to a lot of other people who were adopted. They all have told me the same thing. There is an instinctive feeling that you belong to someone else.

    Thank you, your research explains a lot.

    • Hi Ces-

      I am so sorry you have had to live with that pain. Being lied to in such a way is inexcusable. They did it for their own reasons and I am sure never had any intention to hurt you. So often adoptive parents were encouraged not to tell their children. It was believed that it would be better for the adoptee not to know.

      You are brave for speaking out and beginning the long healing process from the multiple wounds you have been dealt.

      I would love to hear your story of find out. If you would be willing to share it please email me at or contact me through my website.

  97. Hi!
    As an adoptive parent, I read articles like this keenly to understand my child better. So thank you all for your honesty, it helps a whole lot.

    I see the trauma everyday, so I won’t debate that. Whether every adoptee deals with or not is moot…my take is most adoptees do and we’ll need more research before we can confidently say all. My gut says all adoptees, for what that is worth.

    My question is more on the terminology – trauma of adoption versus calling it the trauma of separation? The event that leads to trauma is the separation, with all else trying to mitigate thus loss ever after. Your thought?

    • I think it depends on whom you are discussing. I think the “trauma of adoption” encompasses the triad. “The trauma of separation” I think is more specific to the child, but it also impacts the first mother greatly. I think any move towards culturally accepting that you can’t just pass kids off to another mom and there not be any difficulties.

  98. I am a 53 year old adoptee. I can relate to all of these comments. I have always known I was adopted and do not really remember being told. I always seemed to have a difficult relationship with my adoptive parents. I was lonely as a child (I had one adopted sister) within our family. That’s not so say that I wasn’t raised well – fed, clothed, educated – but the relationship between myself and the rest of my family wasn’t always good. I was stunned to recently read articles on adoption trauma lately that stated a lot of adopted children act out by stealing, lying and other types of behaviors. This was me, but my parents reacted to this behavior through punishment, often physical, and moral guilt. I wish we knew then what I know now. I’ve spent my life feeling like a bad person. My parents were old fashioned and unfortunately my father had a violent temper and was often verbally abusive. My mother was morally rigid and made me feel horrible and isolated. I always knew something was wrong, but adoption was never discussed openly and certainly was never identified as a cause. It was always my own moral failings that were at fault. When I was a young adult my mother wrote me horrible letters that made me feel so awful I never forgave her. I left home when I was capable of taking care of myself and have generally had a successful adult life, although my personal relationships with men have never been successful. I have dealt with anger towards my adoptive parents my entire life because there was never any validation of my feelings. They both went to their graves with their attitudes intact and no discussion. Although I grieved for my parents, there was also a sense of relief when they died. I am fortunate to have a large extended family and many people in my family who love me. I hope to explore these issues so that I can put some of this pain, guilt and regret behind me. I know being adopted has effected me my entire life and I have located some birth family members, but not my birth mother.

  99. Janie, I read your post, and it made me cry. I never had the dream again, it’s not been a repetitive dream for me thankfully. I had it that one time and it was as if were my subconscious was finally opening up to me what the roots of my issues were, after five years of a stormy birth family reunion. It shook me up pretty bad when I woke from the dream, I was shook up .down to my core for several days afterward. I transitioned from dreaming to conscious wakefulness and there was a definite shift, and it’s like my mind was making doubly sure I understood and processed what my subconscious was telling me in that dream. I just felt so badly, for that infant shrieking it’s heart out. There was terror and feeling of abandonment, and I remember distinctly a feeling of utter powerlessness. Shook me into realizing, I REALLY needed to go seek therapy and counseling due to adoption issues. Interestingly, I like you was not placed with my adoptive parents until almost a month after my birth, something to do with me having stomach issues after I was born and being very sick or something, as told by the adopting agency, Catholic Charities. Karl, thank you for such an insightful article.

  100. Oh, and I loved the one comment about working with an adoptee wanting to be a truck driver despite all his adoptive parents attempts otherwise, and then later finding out he came from a family of truck drivers! It reminded me of several years ago when I went through this rather strange fixation on German Shepherds all of a sudden, and just HAVING to have one. People close to me were a little baffled by my new found obsession with German Shepherds and the need to have one. Fast forward a few years later when I met my birth family– my birthmother and two half sisters all each owned a German Shepherd :0

  101. I didn’t find out I was adopted until the summer before my senior yr in high school, when a cousin told me while we were in Europe. When I confronted my parents, my mother flipped out completely and cried and got hysterical.
    However, I had a hint when I was 5. One day I was looking at photos I’d found in a drawer. In one my mother was holding me as an infant. Suddenly, her face melted away and just for an instant, I “saw” another woman’s face in her place and the thought came to me,”That’s who I’m supposed to be with.” Creepy and it only made sense after I found out about the adoption years later.
    I am now 60 years old and have always had to deal with emotional neediness, abandonment issues, and relationship troubles. To top it all off, I’m gay. Sigh…

  102. Hello everyone. I just found this blog and it is interesting reading to say the least. My wife and I are the parents of 2 adopted children through a private agency, 2 years old and 6 weeks old. We were at the hospital for both births and have an open and great relationship’s with both children’s birth mothers and one birth father at this point. I am very interested how they will grow up and deal with issues. Even now, we talk with the kids about being adopted even though they don’t understand. We have a lot of interaction with their “adopted” grandparents, cousins, and extended family. We also are involved with some local adoption support groups and our agency puts on events throughout the year. All I can say is we will educate ourselves as much as possible and be a loving as we can. Maybe we have not found them yet but I wish there were larger organizations that did more related to adoption, from camps to events to training to support groups. There is some in our area but they are for kids from the public system, not private.

  103. I would like to know your thoughts on traumatic events that can affect a baby BEFORE it is born. My husband is adopted but feels that the way he lives his life has been impacted before birth…arguing between birth mother and birth father……. a mother being told no way and being put in a bath of hot water and fed whisky, in the vague hope the baby wll be aborted…can all these things affect a baby in the womb?

  104. Your husband is right on! Every time the parents argued, the mother was stressed and cortisol flooded her system which affects the baby. When the father was abusing the mother, the same thing happened. All these stress hormones had a huge impact on your husband before birth and can make it more difficult for him to regulate his emotions and triggers flight or fight reactions. I can’t believe his birth mother was not depressed and frightened and that also has affects. Depressed mothers can give birth to depressed babies. I don’t know what issues have come up for your husband in his life; what challenges he faces in relationships , job and sleep patterns, but the experiences he had before birth are stored in his memory cells and they do have an impact.

  105. Thanks Karl. That was a great editorial.

    I too am adopted. I was born and then immediately separated from my birth mother. I’m told I then spent 2+ months in a foster home with a bunch of other adopted kids while the paperwork was being completed. Needless to say I have had problems all my life. Even now that I am aware of them and continually work to reverse the damage I never seem to quite get there.

    My biggest problem is low self esteem. I’ve had it all my life. One little criticism of my work or anything else, and I’m up most of that night thinking about it with a sickly pit in my belly. I struggled with drug abuse when I was younger and still fight alcoholism, though my wife and 4 year old son have been a big help with that.

    I think the biggest disappointment about life for me is that I almost never truly feel happy. I have a wonderful wife and son, recently started a career position, am financially secure and live in an area that I love. Yet on a near daily basis I found myself unhappy and can’t figure out why. I believe that being adopted and the subsequent borderline abuse I suffered from my adoptive parents thereafter is the reason. BUT……I don’t ever use that as an excuse for not succeeding and/or not doing what is right and lawful.

    Anyway, thanks. I feel your pain.

  106. The primal wound can be healed but it is never gone. Genealogical bewilderment is an affliction many adoptees struggle with throughout their adult lives.

    “Your heart knows in the silence of the nights the secrets of the days, but your heart’s knowledge is difficult to put into words. The depth of your feelings and emotions present a dilemma because they are boundless and unquantifiable. There is no scale to measure your degree of sensitivity, the intensity of your suffering and joys, or the stamina and resiliency needed to overcome impediments. Ultimately, the emotional depths of some moments in life are so overwhelming that they can only be resolved by God. Seek to find the words you already know in thought, and when you are in your lowest emotional states of mind, and there is no one there to help you overcome distress and discouragement and breach the rift, you will find it therapeutic to humbly direct your accepted wisdom to God.” —Judith Land, author & adoptee

  107. What a great article! I agree with everything you’ve said.

  108. Clearly each and every adoptee have their own unique story. But none of us, are completely unaffected by having been adopted. Empirical research in the field of anthropology has shown that infants indeed hear, smell and “know” more than we think. I would like to take this a step further to a more spiritual realm. We are who we are as a result of what we have been through. It is not what happened to us but rather what we do with it and how it affects our life here and now.
    I was given up at birth. Immediately removed from my birthmother, put in a basinet and taken to an orphanage. I was a very colicky child and was not placed with adopted parents until I was 4 months old. My adoptive parents always told me I was a “wish-child” and I felt very special. I also searched for and found my biological mother when I was 18. I never thought anything of it. I was just fine…
    I did on the other hand have great difficulty with relationships. After many failed ones I finally came face to face with my codependency, fear of abandonment and rejection. Year and years of transformational work I have worked on healing this and most certainly what I went through has a lot to do with it. Today I work as a Psychotherapist helping people heal their wounds and create joy in their lives. I have met many adoptees and the majority of them do struggle with feelings like those we all express in this blog. We are who we are because of what happened to us but we also are who we chose to become (Carl Jung) and we are all whole and perfect.

  109. Hello~
    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m doing some personal research on the effects of adoption on children and this truly helped me.
    I’m a girl in between the ages of 12 and 16, and I was adopted from Korea. When I was young, around 8 years old, I had begun to think about what life I would have with my birthparents.
    When I became older, 8th grade about, I began to think that I wasn’t worth anything, and my parents chose me as a last resort, when they couldn’t do anything else. This truly hurt and has stuck to me, a few years later.
    I hate physical contact, and I’m cold to many of my friends, with the idea that if I let them that close, then I’m bound to like them. As a baby and child I was extremely emotionless, I only remember feeling no sadness, and if I did it was rare and only lasted a minute. I’ve had my share of extremely close friends, and most of them leave or try to and come back. I don’t trust anyone, and I feel as though I’m extremely selfish, which I am.
    I believe I have split personalities. When I was little, I had a stuffed dog and he spoke to me, and I talked back, normal kid things. But even when I became 12 I didn’t stop, and now I realize he’s just a part of me. My one fear is being alone, I absolutely hate it, and with the 14 or more people inhabiting my head as of now, I’m never alone.
    I guess I got my wish, but I don’t support adoption at all. I love my adoptive parents, but I also have a strong feeling of sadness and disdain. I wonder; would I be normal if I wasn’t adopted?

  110. Karl,
    Thank you for this article. I’ve been looking for information regarding the residual effects of adoption on adults. Someone very dear to me was adopted at 6 weeks old. I believe he spent the first 6 weeks in hospital before being adopted into a loving and supportive family. He thinks nothing of this and considers himself to be very fortunate and happy, but I have studied just enough about somatic psychology to wonder about the residual effects of that kind of trauma and I do see signs of something going on under the surface with him, though I don’t know how to approach it. I wonder if you could offer any advice or direct me to other resources for more information. Some guidance on this matter would be so very much appreciated.
    Thank you

  111. There is an EXCELLENT article I read in Scientific American Mind Magazine July/August 2010. The article I found particularly interesting was titled: “Yearning for Yesterday” by Jochen Gebauer & Constantine Sedikides Pages 30-43

    I stumbled upon this as we were having a discussion in my college English class regarding people who tend to look at the past and dwell rather than look ahead to the future in anticipation of things to come. The article here explains how dwelling on the past is good for you. Halfway through it pointed out that the following:

    “At birth, babies are already familiar with the melody of their mother’s speech. Audio recordings taken from inside the womb at the beginning of labor reveal that speech sounds produced by the mother can be loudly heard. The phrases reaching the baby have been filtered through the mother’s tissue, however, so that the crisp, high frequencies-which carry much of the information important for identifying the meanings of words–are muted, whereas the musical characteristics of speech–its pitch contours, loudness variations, tempo and rhythmic patterning–are well preserved. These spoken melodies seem to set the stage for mother-child bonding.”

    It goes on to explain that an experiment published in 1980 recorded new mothers reading a story out loud.

    “In this experiment, the newborn babies could turn on the recordings by sucking on a pacifier, a connection they learned over time & they sucked more frequently when their actions produced their mother’s voices compared with those of other women. the researchers reasoned that the newborns preferred to listen to the voices with which they had become familiar before birth. Then, in 1996 psychologists at the University of texas at Dallas reported carrying out a similar experiment when they used low-pass filter to muffle recorded female voices so that they sounded as they would in the womb, again indicating that they had become familiar with the melodies of their mothers’ utterances in the womb.
    In addition to forging a nascent connection between mother and child, early exposure to musical speech sounds may begin the process of learning to talk. In one 1993 study, for example, 2 day old babies preferred to listen to recordings of speech in their native language to those in a foreign tongue. Because such young babies could only have become familiar with such speech in the womb, the results suggest that the babies initially become comfortable with the musical qualities of their language. Music may be the FIRST part of speech that babies learn to reproduce; infants echo the inherent melodies of their native language when they cry, long before they can utter actual words.

    After birth he melody of speech is also vital to communication between mother and infant. When parents speak to their babies, they use exaggerated speech patterns termed motherese that are characterized by high pitches, large pitch ranges, slow tempi, long pauses and short phrases. These melodious exaggerations help babies who cannot yet comprehend word meanings grasp their mothers’ intentions.

    The excerpt posted here comes from page 39 2nd paragraph and page 40.

    Article sources are here:Additional sources:

    Newborns’ Cry Melody is Shaped by Their Native Language. Birgit mampe et al. In “Current Biology, vol 19, pages 1994-1997; 2009

    Perfect Pitch: Language Wins Out over Genetics. Diana deutsch et al.:

    The speech-to-song Illusion. Diana Deutch et al.:

  112. I was just looking this up because i have recently become more curious about how adopted children feel. After seeing many shows involving adoption, foster care, and homeless kids i was curious on how the adoptees felt. I myself am adopted and seeing these shows that all seem to have common threads of children finding families resparked my interest in learning more about adoptions and their effects on people. Karl, there were many parts in your article that if i hadn’t read I wouldn’t have even noticed that i fit the same emotional profile. I grew up in very loving and “huggy” type of family, it seemed we never kept secrets from each other, lied or anything else. We were always close and ope with each other. Then suddenly we moved states and for some reason i seemed to change, though i didn’t notice it at the time. Now I have an idea of why that happened. Now Im closed off, don’t like to be touched, very secretive, antisocial but at the same time very popular. I always considered it to be my personality and that when we moved I started finding and growing into my own person, but maybe its something deeper? I could be over thinking it though.

  113. I have been doing a lot of reading lately. In 2009 I gave my Beautiful little girl up. But its not your “normal” adoption. I had a family in line for her but backed out at the last moment…I couldn’t let her go to just anyone. My sister prayed and thought things over and we all decided she would be her Mommy. I didn’t hold her until she was 4 months old. but the first time I did there was an instant bond. Now she is a little 4 year old girl and I see her often. She knows me as her Aunt but she acts out in many ways. She clings to me when im around. Doesn’t want to play with any one but me. She always sits by me and holds my hand and giggles and tells me im her favorite Aunt. My sister called me the other day and told me that she was talking to the sweet little girl and she innocently told her Mom that she didn’t love her as much as she loved me and that she wants so badly to come and live with me. Nobody has ever told her that Im her birth mom and Im so curious to know whats going on in her little head. Does she already know because the bond is unbreakable? Im not allowed to tell her the truth because my sister doesn’t want her to know yet. But I find it very strange she constantly says she loves me more and wants to be with me. Advice Please!?

  114. As an adoptee, I think this article was very well written ans pretty spot on. I was adopted at 6 months from foreign institution, and while I don’t have any memory of it I’ve always had identity issues regarding adoptive parents vs bio or how some refer to as “real” parents. I think every adopted child, no matter how great, loving, supportive or attentive the adoptive family is, is going to be traumatized and have abandonment issues to some degree. It’s hard to know how to solve/heal them though.

  115. Excellent article, Karl. As both an adoptee and a mother, it makes a lot of sense. When my son was three days old my milk came in. He was lying sound asleep on the other side of the room when the first drops hit the air. He instantly woke up and began squealing for it. If he could smell his mother’s milk and know what it was and who it was for in the first second of its existence, don’t try to tell me that I was not looking for my mother’s milk when I was adopted away at birth.

  116. Hi Karl,

    In my case, I was the adoptive parent. I had five days with my baby girl then had to return her back to her birth mother. I don’t intend to take anyone’s baby, only if the baby has no where to go. I had been infertile and so opted for adoption. I had been sceptical of adoption for a long time, thinking very hard, what do I say to my child etc. However this incident happen where an officer did not follow procedures and gave us this baby. Her 14year old birth mother’s family wanted to give her away. I personally feel, that no one should have to give their baby away. Infact society should help women keep their babies. Anyway, since it happened to me, I’ve asked God over and over again, what was the purpose of this baby coming into my life.

    I’ve always wondered, if she will ever know that from day 2 to day 5 of her life, I had loved her, kissed her cheeks a zillion times. You are talking about the bond between the mother and child, even though I was not her biological mother, call me crazy, but when I was on the plane and thought I was going to take her from the welfare home, my heart was aching that she was all alone. I almost felt like I was communicating to my baby in my mind and spirit, telling her i’m coming not for long and I will be there to love you. I felt like she felt me. The painful thing I had to do, was return her back, the only consolation I had was that she could not recognise me. I did not care about me, I cared about her, did not want her to be hurt that is why I did not break down much to return her. I felt that if her birth mother’s family lovers her then there is where she should be. However the last night I had her with me and knew I was going to return her back, I stayed up the whole night holding her and kissing her and feeding her milk.

    I just wonder if she will ever know? Sometimes I think people put so much emphasise on birth mothers , but how about those with a mother’s heart. We may not have gone through child birth and carried the baby for 9 months. But we go through unthinkable pain by not having a baby of our own and also when we come to the point of loving an adoptive baby, it truly means a lot to us, much ore than one can understand.

    I just wonder if this baby will ever know! I could go and adopt another baby or maybe if God permits fall pregnant, but I can never forget this baby. I still call her mine. I still think of her everyday. I sent out a thought of good wishers and love to her. If God had a purpose, by coming to me , how did it help her? Or it did not and only hurt her ?

  117. lets just do the facts …in my case…
    I was born 1964
    I lived in a Catholic Orphanage for first 6 months
    I was adopted by a model good family (they had already adopted a boy about year and half earlier)
    My adopted mother had been severely abused (both parents dead by the time she was 8) by her stepmother (no CSA that she’s ever divulged, but every other kind of abuse you can imagine).
    My older brother bullied me throughout my early childhood, it was bewildering to my parents and a constant source of family strife.
    I can only remember my adoptive mother telling me she loved twice during childhood, she was a distant kind of mother.
    CSA for me at age 4 through about 13-14, uncle, cousin, neighbor.
    We were whipped with the belt for anything from talking back, bad grades, bickering with each other, to not folding clothes properly.
    My father was the provider, but a very non emotional type of person.
    I know my parents loved me, but I don’t remember ‘feeling’ loved.
    I was bullied and picked on at my Catholic School from 4th through 8th grade.
    I attempted to strangle myself at about age 13. I failed obviously
    At 15 my adopted mother held a knife to my neck and threatened to have me sent to juvenile confinement because I came home late from a friends house.
    Adopted mother flung me under wrought iron table and chairs, pulled me out by my feet, and then tried to strangle me, my father had to stop her.
    Raped at age 16 by 28 year old neighbor, never told a soul.
    Left home at age 16 at the beginning of school year only to return by summer at age 17 weighing only 98lbs (my girlfriends dad starting making sexual overtures at me, and I was having trouble with finding food)
    Joined the service at age 21.
    Dated my supervisor and began a long term relationship. Alcoholic and controlling.
    Insisted I leave my career in the service. I rejoined again because I was afraid of having to depend solely on him for needs. We married in 1988. Sexual abuse began. Emotional abuse began. Controlling become the norm. I became pregnant. I gave up my career. Many many years of forced and exploitive sexual abuse, spousal alcohol abuse, domestic violence against everyone in our family of 4.
    I got out at age 44.
    Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, General anxiety.
    No where feels like home, I don’t feel deep love for anyone truly but my children, there is an emptiness, I’ve never been able to find or satisfy that thing I seem to be searching for.
    Once I left home my mother and I became very close and loving. To this day I call her once a week or two. I love my mother and father both very much, they gave me a wonderful life, and my mother, I know and understand why she did the things did, it’s not her fault, she did the very best she could, and I think it remarkable that she did as good as she did.
    What do babies know? I wonder.

    Don’t tell me something doesn’t happen to a baby who’s immediately removed from its mother following birth and then spends the next six months of life in an orphanage. Something happens, and I find simply shocking more studies haven’t been done.

    Meanwhile…I hope and refuse to believe, despite what ever poor life choices I’ve made and whatever I have gone through, that I am doomed to never find home, never find that spot where you know….you just know…this is it…this is the thing I’ve been searching to find all my life. I really believe that one day the ‘wanderlust’ will end. 🙂

  118. My daughter is 6. She is adopted, and I was blessed to receive her in my home when she was 5 weeks old. She has separation anxiety (from me), and generalized anxiety disorder, and is now developing OCD tendencies. Is it possible these disorders can be attributed to her removal from her biological mother?

  119. I recently started dating my best friend and about 2 months into the relationship, he told me that he is adopted. He has always been a private person and he is happy in his own world. But when we had our first argument, he just went into shutdown mode and he just switched off from the relationship. He had commitment issues and I remember that he told me once, he is afraid of being hurt. Then, he said all his relationships go through familiar patterns. I’m trying to figure out if all these trust, hurt, commitment issue has something to do with him being adopted.

    This article gave me an insight on how to communicate with him and manage him. He is the compliant one definitely and I know although he is happy with his adoptive family etc, he is not capable of sharing his life and he has issues with relationships. I would appreciate if someone can advise me on how I can help him address these issues.

  120. Excellent way of describing, and nice paragraph to obtain data concerning my presentation subject, which i am going to deliver in university.

  121. You did a wonderful job on this article! I have to agree with much of what you said… I myself am an adoptee, and I have PTSD and Adopted Child Syndrome. Identity was a large problem in my childhood, and I still struggle with grief and suicidal thoughts. My husband has helped me so much, and now we have a little girl that I would die for. No one really understands how difficult it can be for adoptees, especially ones who have interracial siblings. Both my half-sisters are part-Mexican, and we received so much prejudice from people who thought we were lying when we said we were related, and then looked at us weird when we explained the “same mom, different dad” thing. People were also rude about our adoptive parents. I remember being asked why my birth mom gave me away and didnt want me. It was really hard… Thank you for your insight!

  122. Hello Karl i’m from the u.k my daughter was adopted when she was 2 and a half. She was with foster parents for a year and then the local authority started adoption proceedings. I fought this and on the advice of a lawyer i saw a psychologist. He recommended in his report that me and my daughter enter a mother and baby unit to get to know each other again. The family courts said that as she had been in care for too long it would be too damaging for her and she was adopted. What I found hypocritical was my daughter had got used to these foster-carers for a year and it was perfectly acceptable to take her from them and have her put with some strangers again. Though with me someone she saw once a week that would be damaging.! Once the adoption happened I was mean’t to have letter box contact once a year,the social worker gave me a short letter and photo and told me details would be arranged where I could send cards and letters. That was in 2001 and nothing happened, I have been erased. My daughter this year was 16 and I hope she was lucky like yourself with her adoptive parents,my worry is because social services and I suspect the adoptive parents wanted me erased, she will think even more that she wasn’t loved and in turn will not wish to find me. I don’t blame her I imagine i’d be the same.

  123. I would like to put in my feelings as a daughter of an adoptee. My father was born in 1924 – yes a long time ago – he was given up for adoption by a young woman who probably faked her name on the birth certificate because once I went looking for her address in San Francisco and there was no such address. I only knew him for the first 8 years of my life as my mother and him divorced. Looking back, they were absolutely not meant for each other. My father always told me “you come into this world alone, and you leave alone”. I know all his life he was searching for a “mother” type. The women after his divorce were always much older than him. When his last wife was sick and dying, she asked his two daughters to come over and talk – she wanted us to take care of him now that she was dying. And we said we would. I got him a place near me. But I could tell in a short time that he was VERY lonely by himself in that apartment -even though he would visit me often. He was only in his early 50’s. Well, that loneliness turned into extreme sadness which turned into cancer – so he came to live with me until his passing (about a year and a half). During that time we briefly (because he didn’t want to talk about it much) talked of his childhood and his adoption. I could tell he was traumatized, saddened, quietly angry, speechless, and at a complete loss as to the way the cards were dealt in his life. Looking back as the adult that I am now, I see how much of a negative impact being adopted had on his life – no mother, no father, so sisters or brothers, no aunts or uncles, no grandparents, no nobody…….nobody to have his back during times of need. I honestly don’t know how he was able to deal with life like that. I feel too, that I suffer because I don’t have any family on his side – I have family from my mother’s side (but we are all estranged) – but absolutely nobody from my father’s side which leaves not a lot of family period. All I have to say is that my father’s mother missed out on knowing the fabulous person that my father was – kind, caring compassionate, talented, creative, just a beautiful person that anyone would love to know. It is HER loss to have abandoned my father. But the sadness my father felt all his life makes me angry towards her even though she was probably (in 1924) a young pregnant girl forced to give up her child. My father was grief stricken his whole life and I think that feeling of loneliness his whole life took him at the young age of 54. It’s been almost 35 years since he’s been gone and I miss him every day of my life. I still feel the hurt of his hurt.

  124. Hi,
    I made contact with my birth mother 3 months ago, I am 45. It has been a wonderful time , she has waited for me her whole life. I find now that I can’t stop crying, I am happy to be in touch and don’t know where these tears are coming from, it feels somewhere deep inside of me. I feel guilt about not contacting her sooner, I feel lots of things, I have never felt such unconditional love from someone, it almost feels like falling in love. I want to tell her about my tears but don’t want to upset her.

    • Hi Susan,
      I just found this message board today and its been awesome. I have spent ages looking for somewhere or someone to share my experiences of adoption with that have similar experiences to myself. I just met my birthfather for the first time ever, 2.5 months ago and have been feeling the same feelings you mentioned in your post. The crying and the feeling like love. Thank you for sharing as it feels good to know that these feelings must be normal and we are not alone in feeling them.

  125. I was adopted at the age of four. I have memories that are strong going back to at least 2. The family who adopted me never took into account the trauma I had endured up until the day they adopted me. I was reminded that I didn’t live up to the family on a daily basis. I am in my mid-fifties now and look back and see how I “complied” until I was a teenager, “complied” again with other family situations and actually “sought” rejection in my relationships over and over again. I recently read a book that brought much of this home for me and helped me to understand that much of my behavior was predicable. I now find that I am one of the last of the six children involved in the original story. I buried my birth sister last year and find only myself, the youngest and our eldest sister are the survivors (physically) of the ordeal. My adopted “mother” died this year as well, having her attorney send me a letter that I had been “disinherited”……not because of any lack of love…. Since I carved out a career in law, I knew it had to be done….but the emotional impact was pretty terrible none-the-less in spite of the fact I have not had contact with her for 30 plus years.

  126. Wow, excellent article! I’m collecting my thoughts for a more detailed response—I am just about to graduate from 1 1/2 year cognitive behavioral “therapy” class where I learned SO much about “Human Nature” and behavior, about “acknowledging” various traumas and subsequent behaviors, understanding them, then intentionally working to “re-wire” our brains, smash old “myths and notions”, and combined with other therapies, carve out a brand new “choice-ful”, deliberate life filled with hope, healing, and purpose. This type of true, deep understanding and healing truly was not really possible even when I was a young adult and first entering “therapy”. There was so much we just didn’t yet know!

    But I feel compelled to respond to Pauline De Cruz right now! I obviously am not the baby she loved for those precious few days, but, I AM a baby someone DID love for almost 6 months–my first 6 months of life, and I’ve never ever forgotten them! (On my end, I wonder if I was just one of so many babies they took care of until “placed” that *they* don’t remember me! It doesn’t hurt me to consider that they may not, but I do wonder).

    My bio-mother gave me up for adoption straight from the hospital because she literally feared for my safety from my bio-father. She was in no way “equipped” emotionally or any other way to be a “good mother”, knew it, and made the heartbreaking decision to give me up. She would later “lose” 7 more kids to the state on charges stemming from being the unfit mother she tried to save ME from, but it was heartbreaking none-the-less. The story of my meeting her and my 7 siblings when I was 23 is a story for another time. So is the story of my adoptive parents, and all their wonderful strengths and dire, critical weaknesses, some of which—like being “functional alcoholics”—they (society in general) truly did NOT understand or think was “bad” back then; in the ’60s and ’70s if you earned it, and you didn’t miss work because of it, you had every RIGHT to “drink it”; drink it my parents did, and among other problems, we three adopted children from different bio families have “Adult Children of Alcoholics” problems just the same as if we’d been their own biological children. But, that’s another story for another time, and I’m grateful to be at a place now where I can actually tell it with compassion, without fear of “triggering” myself.

    Anyhow, from the hospital I was placed in “foster care”, apparently with a family with their own older kids, and apparently I was very loved and pretty happy soaking up all the attention. The social workers realized I was “not adoptable” (back in those days when babies were a dime a dozen) due to my miserable “pedigree”, and so while they constructed a fake “background” for me, I apparently bonded at least to them, and my prospective adoptive parents were sent all these glowing letters and pictures of what a happy baby I was. Apparently, the day my adoptive parents “received” me, I started crying and would not stop for 2 years, after which time I became the placating doormat (compliant) “middle child” that I would be for the next 47 years, and which ultimately would almost kill me, and which when combined with my other traumas and abuses would lead me to Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and a new lease on life. And a HUGE appreciation for the complexities and variables of adoption, of parenting, of being a child, of healing, “owning” my healing, and the fact that such “healing options” weren’t understood or available to the generation ahead of me.

    But apparently, I constantly asked questions about “the foster family”, and was so insistent that finally, when I was about 4 or 5, they drove me to the town, to the playground where one of the pictures of me had been taken. After that, I apparently put the matter behind me. I always considered my adoptive parents my “parents”, but, I still loved and wanted the love of those foster parents, and certainly my biological parents. (Never in a million years could I have foreseen all I would come to learn upon meeting the whole bio-shebang; WELL beyond the scope of this message; the joy, the pain, the heart ache, the understanding, the healing).

    I wrote a story about ten years ago (never submitted it) inspired by many things, one of which was my older adoptive brother’s refusal to acknowledge that his bio family may not have wanted to give him up; to our parent’s credit this was NOT from anything *they* said, and were confused as to why he felt such hostility, especially since (in their minds) he’d ONLY been 6 days old when they got him. Another inspiration was from my hours spent thinking about my “foster family”, and from so many other “temporary” moms out there I knew of. To make the long story short, in the story, a social worker writes little notes purporting to be from the bio-mom or foster mom, and tucks them inside plush stuffed animal toys, which when the kids are older, if they still have the toys and they fall apart, the letters MIGHT be read, and the child might believe it was from “one of his/her” moms, and, if in doubt about their “being loved”, might have their doubt lessened, might feel a much needed love at a much needed time. I never did submit it anywhere, and who knows, maybe some day I’ll revisit it again. But, it was my tribute to both the “lost love” of all the mom’s who ever loved a child, and to the need for the love from all those mom’s BY the child.

    Even if that child is never told—or not told for a very long time—about you, how much you loved her, I believe *she* will somehow know, it will somehow matter. And at some point, where our various parents, either maliciously or from ignorance, have failed us, we need to start parenting ourselves, and finding and allowing others to fill that void, but also, to keep our eyes and hearts open for when we can parent and love others…

  127. My husband and I have two daughters adopted from foster care. Both biological families were wrought with abuse, neglect, addiction and dysfunction. If my daughters had not been taken from their biological families, and placed in foster care, they would be growing up amid daily trauma. I do not dispute the trauma inherent to adoption, but I also believe that adoption is in most cases, the lesser of two traumas– we cannot allow children to remain with abusive or neglectful biological parents. In our home, we are doing everything we can to help our daughters grow into the people God created them to be. I know this would not be happening in their birth homes. I am so sorry for the people who received abusive adoptive parents on top of their initial trauma of being removed from their birth parents. I believe that adoptive parents need much more education in parenting techniques that can help their children heal. My husband and I take a much more intentional approach parenting our adopted girls than we needed to take with our biological boys. Some of this is because of prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, and some of it is in response to the abuse/neglect of early years and the attachment issues that created.

    • Hey i’m writing an article based off of all adoptive parents and adopted children, im adopted and there’s a lot to my story ill be writing, i was wondering if by any chance i can interview you for a project i’m also writing for my class its a personal essay

  128. My feeling is, as an adopted person, now 49 years of age – is that the baby is affected by ripping away from the biological mother.. not intellectually but deep inside its person, that it was left, abandoned and didn’t get the attachment.. ofcourse it knows.. it didn’t bloody happen! What the baby also knows is that its a stranger in a home which doesn’t feel 100 percent like “family”. All you have to do as an adopted person is find your real mother/father/sibblings and you’ll “know” right away who your family is… even if you want nothing to do with them.. you can FEEL they are family. Those who adopt you are family as well.. but they are a stand in family.. a wonderful family sometimes, a not so wonderful family at other times. Hugs and healing to all the unwanted children. Great article by the way x

  129. I was given up at birth and adopted at 3 weeks old. I have struggled with insecurity, feeling worthless, unlovable, rejected and not being able to trust people all my life. I was also a compliant child, so no one knew I felt this way. I was a people pleaser, always trying to find a way to be accepted. I have always believed that this was due at least in part to me being adopted, but like you, no one ever took that idea seriously. After all, I was adopted practically at birth, and “what does a baby know”?

    Well, I am the mother of 7 children, and I know exactly what a baby knows. My babies knew me from the moment they were born. They knew my smell, my voice, my touch, the way I rocked them. It was all completely familiar to them, and I was the only one who could comfort them when they were upset because THEY KNEW ME. I was the one constant in their universe, when I was there, all was right with the world. I can understand the trauma of losing that “center” all too well. Free falling through space, not knowing what was happening or being able to do anything but feel… helpless, afraid, lonely, anxious. Those feelings still haunt me. Maybe it’s part of the reason I chose to surround myself with a big family.

    I recently found my birth family, and it has gone a long way towards helping heal some of those wounds, but that trauma will always be a part of who I am. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I am glad I was adopted by a loving family. That doesn’t mean what happened to me didn’t hurt or damage me. It does no one any good to deny that the damage occurred. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away or hurt less. Acknowledging it is the best way to start dealing with it. I appreciate you speaking out about this topic, more people need to know what adoption really means to a child. Adoption is a good thing… like heart surgery, it can save a life… but not without leaving scars. If people don’t know the damage that has been done, they cannot take steps to help treat it.

  130. I was adopted at birth. I knew from a young age that I was adopted. I was the one that asked if I was my parents real child. Even at 4 I somehow knew I was not their child. I had a LOT of anger, self hate, Low confidence and a lot of other issues due to my adoption. I feel bad now for how much I put my adoptive family through (I was 6 days old when they got to take me home). They always did SO much for me and it was never enough. They sold their home so I cuold have major surgery when I was 6 years old. They ALWAYS treated me like their own child. My father was adopted too. I lashed out a lot (though never criminaly. I still have a clean record. I was just tough to deal with). I was also VERYattention needy as a infant. If I was not being held I was not happy and would cry. I still am attention needy. WHile I am no longer angry (I have met and still communicate with my biological family. It helped a lot with the healing process) I need attention and I am VERY VERY sensitive to criticism. For a long time I thought my parents got rid of me because I was not good enough. I was a VERY sick child and still am sick (I have brain tumors and Nerofibromatosis. I had a lot more issues as a child). Sorry I am all over the place with bad spelling. That is a side effect of the tumors. I am glad I knew sooner rather than later though. Honestly if they had waited to admit it to me I would NEVER had anything to do with them again, That is NOT something you should hide from a child.

  131. I just happened across this article and I am feeling a deep satisfaction that people are finally realizing that babies are not mindless entities….that they can feel what is happening all around them and that they know…there is a deep knowingness that we all have even when we cant understand or express ourselves, even as adults we have this experience when something rubs us the wrong way or we feel something is wrong or that we are being lied to but cant quit put our finger on it…we know, deep inside we know when something is amiss and it can eat at us from inside because we cant verbalize it…and it still hurts…this is the same way with babies. They know…and I can say this for certain…relinquishment like abandonment are overused words….what do they really mean? Lets call it what it is…without all the white-wash….its called being deserted. The feeling if you want to know is like driving with a loved one to an unknown place in a country where you’ve never visited before and when you get out of the car, they slam the door and drive off and desert you…all alone in an unknown country, where you don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs…in fact, you don’t know anyone…you are a child without a country…a child without a mother. That is what being relinquished is. You are left to the kindness….and mercy….of strangers. Children know their mother…even if they have never seen their mother….they will miss what isn’t there…they know who she is….just like you know when you see a stranger across a crowded room…and your eyes meet…that they are the one you’ve been looking for…your heart lightens up…you feel drawn to them…and they to you…call it chemistry….call it two souls talking to one another….call it love….its when two people recognize each other and are drawn together….that is what happens between a mother and child…in the normal scheme of things. When it isn’t there, both of them feel the loss…it is like being ripped asunder….like your heart is being torn out. That is what relinquishment is. And when you are adopted, that is another nightmare….for the child…I have experienced clearly as being equivalent to being kidnapped or abducted….it really is. Sure, we all call the “adoption story” but in reality, the child being passed around from one caretaker to another feels like a cheap bottle of wine being passed around by a group of fraternity guys at a football game. These children are humbled and devastated by how small their value is in the world, how very much like a speck they are in the scheme of things, how small and unimportant. From a child’s point of view, being passed around like this…from person to person…is heartwrenching. And to the child, they experience all the symptoms of being kidnapped and abducted. They are traumatized….yet again…powerless, they are terrified, they are a stranger in the world, alone….imagine this happening to you if you were visiting a foreign country and were abducted and separated from your family and had no way of communicating with your kidnappers…and just like Stockholm Syndrome,” the phenomenon of captives eventually identifying with their captors, you’d develop what they call “learned helplessness”, which quickly follows a kidnapping. At first there is indeed the scratching and fighting and hollering that we all imagine we’d be able to keep up indefinitely. But slowly, victims surrender to powerlessness, they develop this sort of learned helplessness. They feel helpless. They feel powerless. I don’t have a vivid imagination and I am not making an analogy….this is really what is happening from the child’s point of view, from the child’s experience….it is the worst feeling of betrayal you can experience from someone you love…someone who should love you back and be your champion, your defender….your mother.

  132. I am a mother…..not a birth mother, but a mother. Today I decided that I will eliminate the term birth mother from my vocabulary. I gave birth to her in 1976. That makes me her mother. We have nit been together since she was 3 weeks old but make in mistake about it, I AM her mother.

    The circumstances around her inception and her adoption are too painful to discuss just now but lately I’ve been reviewing my life as a 55 year of and realize that many of my issues can be traced back to this trauma. I feel such rage toward everyone involved in the whole affair. I was tricked, lied to and then told to get on with life. I’d made a ‘mistake’ and had my entire life to set things right. Bastards, each and everyone of them. Sorry for the language ….so not my style but today I’m feeling particularly angry. I can’t even lash out at them because most who were involved are dead.

  133. I was left in a train station when I was a week old, I am one of the many Chinese girl adoptees, I’ve always been sorta quiet too. My parents say that one time when I was only a year old or so they showed me the videos they took in China while they were adopting me. I had one of my nightmares that night. I desperately want to find my birth family but I have nothing. My brother and sister are also adopted, I can see that they act out a lot and after reading this a lot of it makes sense. Thank you.

  134. Hi. This is so interesting to me. I was also adopted as an infant to the best family ever! But I still have mysterious subconscious thoughts and I don’t know where they come from. I was adopted from the Foundling Hospital in NYC, and I have recurring dreams that I am in the city, lost and looking for something.

  135. Hey,my name is Ryan, I just turned 17 in December, and, I too happen to be adopted and actually as we speak i’m writing a story about my life and what things lead up and what pieces are still missing, i need people to interview about their questions and stories and experiences being adopted or adopting. Iv’e lived a rough life but with a family that has the best interest and support for me and my cause to find my real parents and put an end to the rampant questions that constantly run through my head all the time! I would be happy to share my story with you and see if you think its good or not also its because its a school project for personal essays so i figured id choose this topic. Please write back or email me at some point, thank you

  136. I wonder how being exposed to drugs in utero changes things for the child. Our kiddo was born addicted and he was miserable. His biomom was around the first few days and then we took over and took him home. He has had his problems, but we attributed those to heroin exposure.

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  138. yes , Thank you it is true what you say. I have an adopted son and At three months old when ever his Birth mom would come and have visits ,I would have the worst nights with him. I wrote in my diary i was keeping at the time. I mentioned it to a close friend she said Oh that’s so silly what does a baby know. He’s to young to know anything. However he would be sleeping fine for months then the next visit would come and again I could not console him, no bottle or anything. He knew her voice, smell, and when she would hold him close I believe her heart beat. Thank you I was not going crazy.

  139. I was adopted at birth and never told. My adoptive parents were good parents, but they compounded one trauma with another despite being urged to tell me about it at an appropriate age. I looked nothing like them or my younger siblings who were their natural children. When others would point this out they told them I got my looks from my maternal grandmother– a stretch. I found out from a couple of my friends at the age of about 8, and I will always remember that day. I denied it and never confronted my parents. I had a nervous breakdown at 20, and it was in the hospital that the issue was first brought up. They didn’t say, What does a baby know? They said, We didn’t think it mattered. Very stupid. My “career” has been one of endless therapy. I can tell anyone who doubts that adoption is a trauma to look at my life or that of my 4 adopted cousins (Who were told). I wish that abortion had been legal in NY in 1956, and that my birth mother would have had the foresight to abort me.

  140. This blog helped me put an idea on the feelings I’ve been having lately. I’m definitely super compliant and a people pleaser to the core. I always thought that that was a good way to be and that some people are just like that naturally. The only problem I have with being super compliant and a people pleaser is that I’m not always those things. I try really really hard to be those things all the time because its important. I speak clearly and extremely well in most circumstances. I am looked at as extremely mature (with the benefit of a young face). I was adopted when I was four after being switched between two foster homes twice, back and forth. I always wanted to be with my adoptive family and I remember being sad when I was taken away. I remember wanting to play with my adoptive sister and I was sad all the time. I did get angry and act out but mostly I was sad. When I finally was given back, I told my mother that I cried in my head the entire time….I was 4. I love my family so much and I don’t take them for granted for a single second, but where did I get my face from? Or my color? Is my temperament like my birth mother? Do our feet look the same? I ask a million and one questions like this but only to myself. I haven’t told my mother and I try to express it with my adoptive sister or my husband, but they don’t understand. It hurts to not know, it physically hurts. I can’t explain that to people, but they think I’m happy all the way so I don’t have to explain. I blow it off if people get too serious and say it doesn’t bother me, because why burden someone? They don’t know what its like and I would never wish that on someone. I just wish I didn’t have to deal with it, it makes me feel like a bad person. I know that’s irrational because I never had any control over the situation when I was younger and even if I did, I would want it to come out the same. And this frustrates me because I end up going in a huge circle, which at the center is just guilt and the sense of abandonment. I guess I really have got to talk to someone.

  141. Karl, thank you so much for the wonderful article and the immense work you’re doing to help understand adoption trauma. I have been raised in a wonderful family of my birth parents but both me and my brother happened to have same issues as abandoned children go through – feeling of uselessness, suicide attempts, running from home, etc.

    Trying to explain the reason to myself, the only two things I can now remember is that my mother suffered postnatal depression after my brother was born (I was 5 then), and a couple of times she threatened me with taking me to orphanage when I was misbehaving.

    These two things have been imprinted deep in my brain. I was compliant as a child, but became really difficult to handle in my late teens. Then, I several times told my mother – you have no right to judge me because you were thinking to leave me at orphanage. She said she does not believe I could take it seriously as that’s a common thing that parents say to children when they misbehave. She never said she is sorry.

    At the time when this happened I believed she would do that. Later I understood these were just words, but the pain remained.

    Now I am 37, in my second marriage. I have been trying to have a baby for more than 10 years but seems like this not gonna happen. Thinking to adopt an abandoned baby, I started to read about what issues we both (me and the baby) might encounter. And now, after reading so many stories of people who have suffered the entire life despite being adopted by loving families, who have been trying to find their birth parents no matter what, I am completely lost. I don’t want to make anyone suffer. Should I give up the idea of adopting at all?.. Or maybe not telling the baby she was adopted will help a little?.. Maybe this question sounds very silly. But I’m lost now. If being taken from orphanage is another big stress for an infant (after being abandoned), I will not do this.

    P.S. I am not native English speaker, and apologise for possible mistakes and not very clear expression

  142. This whole primal wound thing is really hitting home for me. I was adopted. I struggle with feeling grounded in my life. I struggle with my own weight and feeling safe and secure in relationships and with family. I am starting to see the deeper connection and it is fascinating. I am hoping to find some kind of treatment that might help me. I am writing a book as well which is revealing so much about myself to me. I just want to heal so that this no longer holds me back in my life. I have a bigger contribution to make to the world, and I want to make it. Thank you for the great read and for the wonderful follow-up messages. Sending you all love. Love Michelle

  143. This is extremely identifiable.
    My birth-mother was going through many familial complications at the time of my conception, and, unfortunately, they didn’t clear up for her by the time I was born. It turned out alright–the agreement between her and my parents were made before I was born, and within a day of my birth I was moved from Missouri to Pennsylvania. (I met my birth-mother early in my teen years and learned that there was a short hour she had spent with me despite being advised not to in order to sever the bond before it was established.)
    And my mother used to tell me that I was an extremely happy child, that I was always smiling and what-not, but she also told me about how I used to cry if I was left in a crib at night, and I honestly slept in my mother’s room up until age eleven.
    On top of that, no matter what anyone did or said to me, I’d always take it quietly. Even when my mother had her long streak of depression and said some things she didn’t mean, when she later apologized for it I always forgave her–this still goes on, I’m terrible at arguing and I’m always the first to cave and I say sorry during fights with close friends, even when I know I’m right.
    I’m pretty happy and easy-going as a young adult, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m the way I am because of something I didn’t think mattered until reading this.

  144. I put my daughter for adoption in 1989, adoptive parents told me they will raise her known she was adopted I never forgot about her as his older brother was 15 months older it was a real struggle for me like I felt I was missing a part of me I had 2 other boys after that but you just can’t replace a baby that you separated from, I was expecting her to reunite by the time she will be 18 but never heard about her recently she is 25 she find out when she went in a garage looking for some papers that she was adopted the adoptive family never told her after 3 days she contacted me as I put a Facebook page for her in case she wanted to contact me of course went through different emotional reaction and we met after a month I couldn’t believe how she looks like me and think like me she is my little twin I felt love right away and it was like a big black hole in my heart left I wanted to hug her all the time we couldn’t go away from each other it was magical like she knew who I was I felt love for her right away when she contacted me I missed her so much all my life just to say that adoption is not always the right way to end a difficult time that a mother can have actually its much worst than to go through life without you child I always remember asking all kind of questions to my parents about their life their parents grand parents and thought how my girl will go through that as I was myself a curious child about my roots of course she went through this problem as she asks those questions everybody used to look at each other mute we planning her to come visit to met her brothers she is adorable smart and wonderful I never mentioned to anybody that i put my daughter to adoption now I have to face everybody I always felt guilty and thought it was a real bad call for me to do so adoption its not for everybody think twice before you do so it can be also hard for the adoptive family

    When I was little I use to have dream about my birth I ask my mom that I knew something was wrong when I came out she always smile at me and say that my dad got mad at some doctor as they wanted to operate on my toes it was like I knew it all the way so yes adopt kid knows emotion surrounding them I wanted to told this story as my daughter told me she always knew she was adopted I told her before I left her at the hospital told her that I love her and I will see her when you older she open one eye and smile always remember that as I knew she knew

  145. I wonder if there have been any studies done comparing the process of closed vs. open adoption….as a therapist myself, I have worked with MANY teens who have been adopted, some via closed and others via open processes (where a relationship was built between adoptive/birth families at the behest and choice of the birth mother and that continues throughout life). Adoption issues certainly show up….but they are not always primary reasons for emotional and behavioral problems. And with open adoptions where birth families and adoptive families have developed and sustained relationships throughout the life-span, such that the adoptee knows and has a relationship with birth families….how much of these issues are showing up there?

  146. Being adopted ruined my life!I was adopted as a 2 week old baby in 1962 ,and was told as an infant. As I had a sister 5 years older of course I asked “is she also adopted” but was told that she was there own child as mum had lost her second child early in the pregnancy so could not have another . This conjured in my infant mind how could I love a child that was not mine as much as one that was my own flesh and blood thus i spent the rest of my childhood on the lookout for proof often imagining situations which no body else would even notice or imagine as acts of favouritism and proof of being inferior, and unloved. I can still remember the terror of my first day of school and having my arms prized from my fathers neck, screaming. I cried every day until second class and mum who did tuck shop eventually had to stop as I would be ever present and totally freak out when she would try to leave after lunch. As I got older I chose to reject these people who in my mind had no rights over me as I daydreamed about the differing family situations I could have found myself in all dictated by the position of names on a waiting list. Seemed my life was ruled by chance I had no say in any of this and I felt nothing but alone and terrified. Adolescence was spent rebelling and searching for a family of my choice by the way which I never did find but only ever found that blood is thicker than water and still I was alone. I took drugs at first smoking pot at around 14 which led to heavier drugs for a short period of time but I could see the dangers and so stopped. At 23 I gave birth to a son, the first relative I ever laid eyes upon. His father was on methadone and the whole experience was not what I had hoped for I found myself unable to cope with the situation nor able to have any true feelings of bonding with my son which I really struggled with . Looking back I needed help.I knew that the situation was effecting my child as he often had night terrors and other sleep problems. I found my birth mother when I was 27 but she did’t really want to tell her two daughters about me nor keep in contact, she told me my fathers name and I must say that the experience of meeting him was more what I had expected from my mother. I felt a connection and he seemed to care but then his wife stepped in and she did not want their son to know about me nor my father to keep in contact. Anyone would think I had 2 heads. Just more rejection and pain, by now I was getting used to it. Meantime I left the father of my child seemed I went from one dysfunctional relationship to another, anything was better than being alone as I just could not cope with life nor the depression I had experienced at first occasionally as a young adult that was now setting in and I spent days in bed robbed of all my strength.I didn’t know what was wrong with me as depression was not understood as it is today. My sons dad took his life in 1993 at the age of 37 my son was 8 and I was living with a man I finally married.He had no time for my son and as the years passed he hounded me over every light left on or lid left off a bottle of milk. My son was showing great outbursts of anger and was growing very difficult and I found myself in a situation where I had nowhere to turn to for help. My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent a couple of stints in hospital after cutting his wrists and periods of total madness.I broke down after struggling alone with his illness for 4 years and left my son with my husband as by this time I had no energy left to cope with my own life let alone that of a 21 year old male who was in self destruct mode. As usual I found a man to cling to and within a month i found my boy hanging. My husband blamed me as I wasn’t there, it was the most traumatic experience I will never forget my boy hanging and this man who never gave a damn screaming at me ” are you happy now you’ve killed him” my god I couldn’t even hold my boy in my arms and say goodbye because this man was acting like a crazed animal and the police were in fear for my safety. That is seven years ago and I now live alone I feel that my life is over I don’t like to go far from my home and spend endless days alone with no motivation nor desires. I hate my life and I know that this all leads back to my being adopted. I don’t know how much longer or why I should even bother any longer as I am convinced that I am just not good enough to have a life that to most people seems normal.

  147. This article, and so many of the comments, struck a powerful chord.

    I was adopted at 3 days old, to a fantastic couple who loved and raised me as their own. They were unable to conceive, and I was heralded as the special and chosen child of their dreams.

    Now in my early 30s, I am only beginning to understand the sheer depth of the pain and dysfunction caused by both the separation from my birth mother and the utter absence of knowledge of my birth father (the birth father loss in particular, seems underrepresented in adoption discussion).

    My adoptive parents always spoke kindly and openly of my birth mother, who was young and had no family support or education when I was born. Meeting, and slowly building a relationship with her and her daughters, has been the most cathartic experience of my life.

    We look alike, have similar characteristics, and they love and accept me. It feels so natural to be with them, especially as I grow older. Having a fairly exotic ethnic mix, I grew up looking nothing like anyone in either my immediate or extended adoptive family. I also had radically different interests, thoughts, and tastes. In my sisters especially, I’ve found commonalities that were always missing growing up.

    For the birth mothers here – I know that you too, suffer. It isn’t just the children that you let go. My birth mother felt lifelong pain, guilt, and shame surrounding the events that led to her giving me up. I can see it. She has been wonderful to me, and I find myself continuing to want to grow closer to her.

    Despite the positive effect of my growing relationship with her, the pain of knowing nothing of my birth father haunted me, making me feel ashamed and incomplete. My birth mother didn’t know his last name or whereabouts, and they have not been in contact since my adoption. My own searching, over several years, was futile because all I really had was a first name and the name of the city I was conceived in.

    After sending a DNA sample to AncestryDNA, I located paternal relatives who were publicly sharing their DNA, and was finally able to piece together his identity with some simple detective work. When I found pictures of him online, I was stunned by the resemblance – especially in his younger years.

    I didn’t contact my Ancestry matches, just the last names were enough to point me in the right direction. Rather, I’m going to contact my birth father first. I hope that he accepts me as completely as my birth mother and her daughters have – but even if he doesn’t, just knowing his last name and seeing his face has had a huge positive impact. I already feel more grounded and complete.

    Yet, it also brought powerful buried feelings to the surface, helping me realize that my journey toward healing is still underway.

    Worth nothing: despite a psychologist stating that I “display characteristics of borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder,” and a lifetime of alternating between insecure people-pleasing and angry anti-authoritarian behavior, until recently I would have told anyone that I had NO issues related to my maternal and paternal separation.

    The pain, feelings of worthlessness, anger, etc. were hidden DEEP. As I began to “see” them and work on building a sense of healthy pride and identity, I realized the true extent of my denial. “Reaction formation” is the defense mechanism that would most accurately describe the reaction of some (not all) adoptees who claim to be “just fine.”

    There is a LOT to my story, which I’d like to share in depth one day.

    For now, what I want to emphasize is that if you are an adoptee or birth parent who is searching, try the DNA services like 23andme and AncestryDNA. If you can only do one, 23andme has more members. You may find people you otherwise never would have. Technology can help us find our roots even when it seems impossible.

  148. I’m an adopted child myself. But, my parents never told me this, they kept it in hidden till I was an adult and once during a fight, my father bought it up and showed me the papers. I always had feelings about this that my parents aren’t my real parents but, my dad doing this in fit of anger conformed that not only they’re not my real parents they don’t even love me.
    It’s been almost 10 yrs since this incident but, I’m don’t feel normal in any way. I’m a closet bisexual who doesn’t have guts to come out, have a failed relationship, feel suicidal most of the times and depressed.
    I don’t know what my parents did was good for me or bad, but they hurt me too deep. I don’t care about my birth parents, they are no one to me, but, my adopted parents hurt me nonetheless.
    I feel like a loser in this world and want to end my life. I’ve hardly any friends, I have trust issues so hardly confide in people I know in real life about my problems. I’m just dying inside everyday, just hope I do in real life too.

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