An event, such as an adoption, brings about many challenges to individuals and families. Therapy can help individuals and families work through these challenges. Additionally, a relationship between adoptive and birth family can be very difficult to navigate without the help of a professional. The following are descriptions of difficulties often experienced by specific members of the adoption community.
Adopted persons experience the impact of the adoption every day throughout their lives perhaps more than any member of the adoption community. Being placed for adoption as an infant often is experienced as a pre verbal trauma and an adopted person may be confused about symptoms of PTSD they experience. There are issues of attachment, identity formation, grief and loss, and abandonment. If the adopted person was removed from birth family due to abuse and neglect, there may also be accompanying trauma. Adopted people must consistently come to terms with what it means to be adopted at each stage of development and into later life. Specific challenges arise based on the age of the child at adoption, open or closed, conspicuous or not, domestic or international and the extent to which the topic of adoption was freely discussed in the home. Therapy can help both adopted adults and children work through these challenges.
Decades ago birth mothers gave birth in secret and many were pressured to make an adoption plan. With no family or community support, they were encouraged to forget and move on, for some an impossible task. Birth parents wondered what became of their child and the overwhelming emotions had a long term, devastating impact. Birth mothers today have more support and can make an open adoption plan. Open adoption refers to the sharing of information and/or contacts between the adoptive and biological family. This provides an opportunity to have some information about the child however it can arouse painful feelings in the birth parent or other birth family member. Birth family may choose to search for a child or sibling who was adopted or birth family may find themselves contacted by an adopted person or adoptive parent.
Adults choosing to grow a family through adoption face a range of issues. For couples experiencing infertility, there may have been years of trying to conceive a child, miscarriages and immense pain related to society’s expectations, friend and family’s pregnancies, anger, frustration, feelings of betrayal by one’s own body, shame, all accompanied by a need to keep these feelings inside. A counselor can help pre-adoptive parents determine if adoption is the right choice and what type of adoption to pursue. The process of adoption is intense and once the adoption is final, ongoing support can help transition a child into the home and continue as needs arise.
Search and Reunion
The decision to search is complicated by the circumstances of the adoption, the individual’s current life situation and who might also be impacted by a search and subsequent reunion. It requires reflection on when to search and what one’s hopes and expectations are for the outcome of the search. The experience of searching can be an emotional journey and the outcome, even if as hoped, still brings challenges. Engaging a therapist who is knowledgeable about these issues may help with the decision making, setting realistic expectations and either facilitating the reunion or helping cope with a disappointing outcome.
I have had experience helping hundreds of people connect with birth family members in my work at Midwest Adoption Center (MAC) from 2003 through 2011. They still work very hard to make these connections in both the DCFS program and the Confidential Intermediary of Illinois (CISI) program.