“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.” ― David Richo
The term “primal wound” was popularized by a woman named Nancy Verrier. Nancy has two daughters, one adopted and one biological. While pursuing her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology at John F. Kennedy Univeristy she began to study the psychological effects of separating a child from his or her biological mother. Her thesis led her to writing the book “The Primal Wound,” which has become a classic in adoption literature.
When I first heard about the notion of an adopted child having a “primal wound” due to separation from their birth mother, I did not want to look into it for many reasons. The first being that I felt buying into this belief gives expectant mothers (and the naysayers of the world who don’t support adoption) more reasons NOT to place a child for adoption. The second being that I didn’t want to believe my adopted child was “wounded.” Lastly, I didn’t know what to do with the information. How would it help me and my adopted children?
About 5 years after adopting my first son, I learned about energy work. Energy medicine is a form of alternative therapy. I sought help for my 5-year-old son who seemed to be dealing with anxiety. I was surprised to discover some of the subconscious feelings he had about himself. He felt unwanted, unloved, abandoned, and rejected. How is it possible for such a young child (who has been raised in loving consistent nurturing environment) feel this way about himself?
I began to look at what Verrier calls the “pre- and perinatal psychology” of my adopted children and I discovered something that rang true to me. EVERY CHILD feels the emotions of his mother during pregnancy (particularly those emotions that are intense and strong—whether positive or negative). This belief makes sense to me. People read stories or talk to their children in utero because they believe the baby can hear them. Why wouldn’t that child be able to feel them, too?
The interesting thing about a baby’s feelings in utero is that they don’t separate their mother’s feelings from their own. Up until this point, the child has only experienced a combined world. An infant is truly more aware of her mother’s life situation and emotions than we give her credit for. Imagine their little spirits knowing exactly how their mothers feel about themselves and their lives.
Is it possible that babies feel our worries, joys, anxiety, hopes, fears, faith, disappointments, and excitement? Absolutely! The problem is that because they don’t have the emotional maturity to understand that these feelings are not their own, they internalize them. They begin to feel any intense emotion as their own. When I began to understand how a mother’s emotions and feelings affect a baby in utero, I better understood my child’s feelings about rejection, abandonment, and feeling unloved.
There no doubt in my mind that my child’s birth mother felt rejected and abandoned by friends or loved ones when she found out she was pregnant. Some pulled away from her, judged her, or perhaps even criticized her decision to place her child for adoption. It can be a very isolating experience.
Allow me to be extremely clear here. I do NOT believe my son’s birth mother did not want him or love him. Rather SHE felt unwanted and unloved by others (and perhaps herself) and those emotions transferred to him. It was important for me to recognize the truths of our child’s birth mother’s emotions. She LOVES her child! She WANTS him! She WANTS the best life has to offer him. The unkind feelings I mentioned earlier were about herself (or perhaps her life situation) not her unborn child.
Prevention is the best medicine. If possible, encourage expectant mothers (planning to place or parent) to love and care for themselves. Their unborn child will appreciate the good vibes and feelings sent their way as their mom offers them to herself.
When a child is placed for adoption, there is more to the story than the psychology of birth. There is a loss of the bonding, attachment, and connections they had physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually with their birth mother. This concept can be emotional for all members of the triad to acknowledge. Yet, as Nancy Verrier states, “it nevertheless rings true and can be a great help in acknowledging, understanding, and validating the wounds created by the trauma of separation between mother and child. This understanding can help all members of the triad. It can provide validation for the experiences and feelings of adoptees, who have often felt misunderstood; it can bring solace to birth mothers, who have long been denied the truth of their loss; and it can be a source of information for adoptive parents, so that they can better understand and respond to their children.”
As I acknowledge and validate my children’s life experiences, starting with their births and placements for adoption, it heals their first interactions, connections, and beliefs about themselves and the world around them. A child can become stuck in this first life experience and have it recreated all of their life if it is not acknowledged and healed. Validation is key to releasing old wounds.
Open adoption is a new vantage point from which we can maintain and honor these natural bonds and connections between birth mother and adoptee while strengthening new bonds and connections with an adoptive family. While open adoption is not right in every situation, adoptive families can still respect these bonds by always talking positively of a child’s birth parents and encouraging adoptees to love and be grateful for them.
Perhaps we can even reframe the way we look our own wounds. As we acknowledge and heal them, we can appreciate the lessons we learn about ourselves and each other.
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The Primal Wound – by Nancy Verrier
Feelings buried alive never die – Karol Truman
Clearing and Reframing Birth Energy – Carol Tuttle