Adoption can be a beautiful testament to the power of love and can also prove that family is much more than blood. However, we cannot appreciate the significance of a healed and thriving adoptive family without considering all of the potential hazards they have overcome.
It is also important that we, the adoption community, acknowledge the problems that arise in adoptions at all levels (family, agency, and government) and in all types of adoptions (domestic, international, infant, foster, etc.) so that we can give pre-adoptive parents and families the best possible start and work together to overcome the issues that can lead to broken adults and adoption dissolutions.
Adoptions only exist because of loss. For a child to be adopted, he or she must first lose his or her biological family. This is a loss that cannot be ignored, even in infants. At some point in the child’s life he or she will need to grieve the dismantling of his or her original family. The child will only flourish if given the love, support, and time needed to heal.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional reaction to a terrible event.” All adopted children have suffered trauma, whether they were adopted abroad or domestically, from foster care or through an agency, at birth or as a teenager. The hurt of losing one’s family is a trauma in itself and going to live with a new family is another.
There is no way around it, adoption is trauma. To deny that is to dismiss a defining factor in a child’s life. Therefore, all pre-adoptive parents should be familiar with trauma and its affects before even considering adoption. Research has proven that even children adopted at birth suffer infant trauma when they are removed from their biological mother. Not to mention, the fetal trauma that could occur in utero and lead to special needs or medical issues.
Despite the overwhelming research that trauma is linked to negative outcomes later in life, parents are still adopting without all of the information they need to help their child thrive, which hurts the entire family and can do irreparable damage to an already wounded child.
Adoption can lead to isolation for many reasons. Perhaps family and friends don’t fully support the decision to adopt. Perhaps the family begins by isolating themselves to bond with their child and then never fully reintegrates back into a balanced life after the bonding has occurred.
Another reason might be that the child has special needs (trauma children often do) and the family and friends either don’t want to help or don’t know how. Whatever the reason, isolation is a common challenge adoptive parents must fight head-on for the good of their family.
When a child is born, no family knows for sure what they might face, but that uncertainty seems to be multiplied in adoption. Because of fetal or infant trauma, even a seemingly healthy child with a healthy birth mother may develop special needs as the child grows and develops. When adoptive parents are thrown curve balls such as this, they sometimes feel cheated or they begin to question their decision to adopt.
As much as we hate to admit it, raising an adopted child is not the same as raising a biological child. Acknowledging and accepting the differences is not loving a child any less. We, as a community, must embrace this fact so that parents can be more aware of potential mental and emotional pitfalls as they face unforeseen circumstances and struggles with their adopted child.
Unless there is an open adoption with contact with both birth parents, there is often a component of mystery to adoption. Lack of information can lead to hardships regarding a child’s medical history or even potential genetic issues. Many adoptive parents go in blindly and must rely on doctors to make their best guesses at the child’s future medical and/or special needs.
People adopt for the wrong reasons. Parents can sometimes succumb to guilt, pressure, or fear when considering adopting a child, especially within the foster care system. Other reasons parents might adopt are to achieve an “ideal” family, to keep from having an empty home, or in an attempt to save their relationship. These examples and more happen and children suffer because of it.
Some adoptive parents enter into international and transracial adoptions unprepared to care for the cultural and identity needs of their child. The myth that “love is enough” is prevalent in adoption propaganda and pre-adoptive parents sometimes don’t do the work and research they must to raise a well-adjusted adult. It is imperative to a child’s sense of self that he has continuing contact, and even a mentor, within the people group with whom he identifies with culturally, ethnically, or physically.
Testimonies from adopted adults who were raised in transracial families, along with research, has shown that those children who grew up “color blind” often feel like outcasts with no real sense of belonging. Parents who do not surround their children with people who look like them and seek out mentors from where their children have biological ties, are doing their kids a disservice.
Adoption has been plagued with ethics issues from the beginning. From money changing hands, to questionable agency policies, to children being removed from capable parents to meet a demand for babies; the problems are endless. Fortunately, in the past few decades, there have been significant improvements in both domestic and international adoptions, but the system is still not without major flaws.
When desperation is involved—and it often is in adoption—laws, policies, and ethics can be circumvented for the sake of a completed “placement.” Keeping a child with her biological family or finding the best match when an adoption is necessary are not always the top priorities. When desperate pre-adoptive parents, or well-meaning (as well as greedy and corrupt) agencies or governments put their interests ahead of the child’s, families are broken needlessly and new families are formed under strained circumstances, from which they may never recover.