Naomi Douglas Davis
(March 1, 2007) — When a child is adopted at infancy, it's natural to assume that the child won't be conscious of separation from the birth mother. However, clinicians working with adoptees have noted that adoption issues are the same whether the child is adopted as an infant or a teen.
In Babies Remember Birth, psychologist David Chamberlain writes: "Minutes after birth, a baby can pick out his mother's face — which he has never seen — from a gallery of photos. ..." This suggests the child will also be aware when that person is missing.
Nancy Newton Verrier, an adoptive mother and author of The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, explains bonding as a continuum of physical, mental and spiritual events that begin during pregnancy and continue after birth. When this natural period of bonding is interrupted by separation from the birth mother, she argues, the child experiences a feeling of abandonment that is stamped onto his unconscious mind, resulting in issues later in life.
This is also true for infants separated from their mothers at birth for other reasons, such as being placed in an incubator. Although the child is reunited with the birth mother, it is the feeling of abandonment that causes the "primal wound."
Given this primal experience, it may not help to conceal from a child the fact of adoption. Psychiatrists and therapists who study and write about adoption have found that adoptees often are unconsciously aware of their "difference" (The Adoption Triangle) and that the "supposed secret" of adoption plays a significant role in behavioral problems (Healing the Hurt Child).
Some advice:Be honest with your child (or children) about the adoption.Educate yourself on adoption issues. One place to start is www.adoptivefamilies.com, which has links to further resources.
Among helpful books are Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge, and Telling The Truth to Your Adopted and Foster Child, by Betsy Keefer and Jayne Schooler.
Be supportive and courageous as your child deals with the issues inherent in adoption.Verrier, who adopted her daughter at 3 days old, has said: "I have had to face that I can never take the place of her birthmother ... neither could I take away her pain. ... She would have to work it through for herself."
Naomi Douglas Davis is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified adoption assessor.