I can go back to the first house I was taken to when I was adopted, not far from where I now live. The house I grew up in is in the village where I still live today. This is part of my jigsaw.
In my Christian adoption, it was echoed at every stage: I was chosen not only to be adopted by a Christian couple but also chosen to be welcomed into something bigger than myself.
Beautiful reading from Maggie Lyng on Mother’s Day from the perspective as an adoptee. This is published in the loss section of A Page from my Life
Thank you Maggie!
Recently Colin Kaepernick has spoken about his experiences growing up as an adoptee of colour. The thing which distinguishes his and so many other adoptions is that his adopters are white.
The sad fact is that there are a disproportionate number of children of colour in the system and available for adoption. Take a look at some American adoption agencies and a small scratch of the surface reveals a sliding scale of fees based on ethnicity with Black children often costing tens of thousands of dollars less than white children. Astounding really when you think of how Black children are objectified within adoption circles.
The media feeds into this obsession with acquiring–collecting–children of colour. Celebrity adopters such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie regularly trot out their tribes of stolen children in a desperate attempt to virtue signal to the world and be lauded. Lauded for what? Taking a child from their country of origin? Removing them entirely from their culture? How is that beneficial for the child? Surely with the kind of wealth they have, if they had a desire to save a child, funding that child to remain in their own country would be a more ethical approach.
Now let’s look at the experiences of transracial adoptees. Many times we are adopted into families as a plan C. Families at the end of their adoption journey having been turned down from other avenues of adoption. Families faced with the reality that there are very few white babies available for adoption, or if funds are drying up, will look at other options. Whether that be domestically or internationally that often concludes with the adoption of a child of colour. That child, ripped out of their culture and often torn from their country, now has to acclimatise to a completely alien environment. As they grow up this feeling of alienation is often compounded by views held within their own families, views often shared and declared within their company.
The comments made towards Colin when he talks about his hair and his family’s reaction to his wish to have braids is a perfect example of the kind of denial of culture TRAs have to endure their entire lives. And denial of culture doesn’t stop at hair care. Denial of culture includes denying access to food, access to music, access to literature, access to community and so in essence: access to self. In the face of such denials of basic human rights, to expect anyone to be grateful is laughable.
You didn’t save us. You inflicted immeasurable damage. You want gratitude? That’s not how gratitude works, to be grateful you first need something to be grateful for.
What cannot be talked about cannot be put to rest.–Bruno Bettleheim
And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation.
Bettleheim could easily be talking about adoptees –
- Why is therapy for adoptees so scarce?
- Why are adoptees unacknowledged?
- Why does no one understand us?
- How many people pay a therapist and still act as the educator?
- Why is it when adoption is mentioned in therapy there is often an awkward silence?
I have asked myself these questions many times, with good reason: I am an adoptee and a therapist.
It is every adoptee’s right to access therapy
As an adoptee, I know all too well how terribly hurtful it is to be misunderstood in therapy. There is an appalling lack of therapy suited to our needs and a lack of therapists who truly and precisely are able to understand our personal plight, adoption.
What happens to us before we are born?
Personally, and professionally, I believe the crux of many adoptees’ problems are present before birth – there is evidence to suggest the foetus in utero absorbs their mothers’ feelings. When we consider how our mothers felt, knowing the baby they were carrying would not be theirs, this theory is plausible. Birth itself may have been problematic–my mother suffered a severe anxiety attack during labour because she hadn’t been told what would happen to her body–emotions didn’t come in to it either!
How are we affected if we are removed from our mothers as babies?
The bliss of being with our mothers and then an abrupt separation stunned, shocked and traumatised our tiny undeveloped brains, leaving our nervous system overloaded with cortisol and adrenaline, and our neuronal wiring in utter chaos.
Stuck in time, in ‘baby’ trauma, the adult adoptee does not have an outlet to discharge their feelings and the trauma, now stored in their body, known as body memories. The actions, behaviours, feelings and cognition are often distorted, out of place, out of time and out of sync with the reality of the present – not surprising really, is it?
What does the NHS offer and why is it not suitable for adoptees?
The NHS counselling and psychotherapy services are wholly inadequate for adoptees. CBT and antidepressants are the usual treatments offered. This is totally unacceptable and shows the sheer naiveite of those who purport to help us.
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and antidepressants are not suitable to treat trauma – the latter, though helpful for some are designed to stifle emotion, something we adoptees are used to! The former, CBT, should be introduced later, to help to rectify faulty beliefs and encourage a more positive attitude, for example. It usually lasts six weeks – six weeks was the usual time an adoptee spent with their mothers, another painful reminder of adoption’s legacy!
I believe within the adult adoptee is a baby adoptee and, until the baby adoptee`s traumatic experiences have been acknowledged by an appropriate therapist, ideally another adoptee who has worked on themselves therapeutically, the baby adoptee is stuck – I call this ‘baby-work’. With CBT, the emphasis on cognition is not only missing the point but is of no use to an adoptee because our trauma began before we developed cognition. Until professionals, including therapists, are educated about adoption, nothing will change.
The adult adoptee, thwarted once more because no one understands them, even in therapy, is exiled, marginalised, discriminated against, misunderstood and sometimes disbelieved because the therapist doesn’t even know what they are talking about! How is this humane or justifiable?
What can I do as a therapist?
My experience as a therapist with adoptees is not vast. Nevertheless, I refuse to reject a client because they are adopted. Instead, I chose humanity over bureaucracy, the truth over lies and the spoken word over the silence of adoption. Instead of rejecting the adoptee because, apparently, I am not ‘trained’ in adoption counselling, I may have been reprimanded. I was not, because I kept quiet – another example of adoption’s secrecy, even today, therapists remain silent to protect the very officialdom that continues to twist its knife into adoptees.
This skewed imbalance within the therapeutic world, in my view, needs urgent attention. If not, the probability of breakdowns, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, cancer, hypertension, addictions etc remain our fate.
Furthermore, the inclusion of adoption into ACEs, the DSM – 5 and the WHO would give us the recognition we deserve.
The Department for Education is holding a consultation on removing the requirement for those who offer therapy to adult adoptees in England to be registered with Osfted (the schools inspector). You can view and take part in the consultation up to 20 March 2023.
Post written by a guest author who wishes to remain anonymous
Statement by Adult Adoptee Movement
Friday 3 March, 2023
There is nothing new in the government’s response and even less of value. The only change they are proposing is one they are already consulting on. To say we have had the opportunity to have our voices and experiences heard and to then do precisely nothing to listen to our needs is a repetition of exactly what has happened to us in the past. Many of us were told that adoption was done to us for our own good and felt that we could not express our own feelings or have our needs met. This is not good enough. We have waited patiently but are no longer prepared to be quiet or to accept the gaslighting nonsense of this or any government.
One reason the government is too cowardly to offer an apology for state involvement in adoption—in their response they give many examples while simultaneously denying it happened—is that it would shine a light on today’s adoption practices, which still trample over the rights of parents and children.
We will continue to campaign for real change and we stand with birth mothers who have, after all their emotional labour, been insulted by this pathetic response.
Genetic mirroring is being able to see yourself in the family that surrounds you because of your shared DNA, something adoptees are denied
Adoption makes people uncomfortable. If you mention you are adopted you generally get one of two responses: a slight look of horror and a quick subject change, or a tilted head “poor you”. I get it. Adoption is complicated and you don’t want to put your foot in it.
Of more concern are those who gaslight adoptees and tell them they shouldn’t feel a particular way. Gaslighting means you are trying to make a person doubt their own account and their own experience. You would never do this to any other marginalised group. It is manipulative and cruel. Adoptee gaslighters tend to fall into a few categories:
Obviously, not all adopters but unfortunately too many. Adoption is a highly emotive issue for most adoptive parents (APs). I get that ‘adoption is trauma’ feels like a personal criticism. The idea that you might be complicit in a harmful system must be terrifying.
Too often, APs will stonewall and refuse to engage with the idea of adoption trauma at all. Challenging behaviour and struggles with life MUST be down to pre-adoption trauma. Birth parents ’bad’, adoptive parents ’just doing our best’. These kinds of APs believe the solution is more funding and more support for adoption. It is a very rare AP who will posit we need to support birth families so that children can stay at home. Let’s be honest. Adoption, in the vast majority of cases, is about satisfying the needs of infertile couples and is a last resort for them. It is not about what is best for the child.
I am often frightened when I stumble across adopter forums online. Adoptees who are critical of the current system are characterised as angry and aggressive, and to be ignored at all costs. We get ‘not all adoptees’, ‘I’m sorry you had a bad experience’ and ‘my adoptee doesn’t feel that way’. These APs are demonstrating, vividly, that they are not a safe person for their adoptee to share feelings with. I am reminded of that Mitchell and Webb sketch and wish that more APs had the bravery to ask, “Are we the baddies?”*
We did not all experience neglect or mistreatment pre-adoption. Many of us have loving relationships with our adoptive families. We doubt ourselves enough. If we tell you that adoption is traumatic, BELIEVE US.
*I am not comparing adoptive parents to Nazis. Definitely not.
Professionals and ‘professionals’
Many of the social workers and therapists we come across are brilliant. They are underpaid, overworked, and endlessly supportive. There are a few who have blundered into a setting they are not equipped for and can do more harm than good. They usually fall into the category of people without proper qualifications or appropriate regulatory oversight. There are too many examples of these individuals reaching out, unsolicited, to adoptees and offering magical solutions. They are usually staggeringly patronising and seek to impose a denial of reality. They can cause terrible damage, especially for the adoptee emerging from the fog who might be asking questions for the first time and who lacks support.
I’m traumatised, I’m not an idiot. I haven’t lost my ability to think critically. I want support from compassionate professionals who are educated on adoption issues.
The imminent removal of Ofsted regulation for adoptee support is a concern. It technically leaves us no worse off—Ofsted are toothless in practice and the requirement for regulation has severely limited the number of people who come forward to support adoptees—but to remove it entirely opens the door to charlatans. Everyone involved in supporting adoptees should have trauma-informed training. There should be appropriate oversight. And please can we prevent adoption agencies from being providers of this support? It is a blatant and dangerous conflict of interest.
This one is particularly tricky. Not all adoptees feel the same way. If you had a great experience, fantastic, but two things: i) you might find you feel differently as time goes on, and ii) your good experience does not negate someone else’s difficult one.
I hate saying that first part. It sounds so off. It’s just that I genuinely believed for years that I was lucky, and now I don’t feel that way. This experience of ‘coming out of the fog’ is so common but it is difficult to talk about without sounding patronising. This is one of the reasons we need more academic research into the adoptee experience and how it moulds and shapes you throughout life.
As a minimum can we agree we should be respectful of each other’s experiences? There is no obligation on ‘happy’ adoptees to speak out against adoption but it is not helpful to silence those of us who do. For me, it is not about my trauma or experience, it is about systemic problems with our current system of plenary adoption. And let’s face it, the happy adoptee narrative is the one that is predominant in society. Unless you really believe that adoption is perfect, please make a bit of space for those of us who want change.
I had a knock back recently when I was refused a mental health referral despite making myself horribly vulnerable in front of my GP. I quickly spiralled into thinking that, of course, they’re right. I am exceedingly lucky, my problems aren’t as bad as other’s and I am a pathetic waste of space who not only doesn’t deserve help but shouldn’t need it. And so on, and so on, and so on. It was exhausting. I was pulled back by an incredibly supportive group of fellow adoptees, most of whom had experienced something similar. They made me laugh and feel like I was in good company.
I would never speak to another person the way I speak to myself. The reason I was in denial for so long about the effect that adoption has had on me is that I was gaslighting myself. I’m ‘too sensitive’, ‘not strong enough’ and just inadequate generally. I am going to try and stop this behaviour, or at least try and start noticing when it’s happening. I am accountable for my behaviour as an adult. It is not my fault that I was relinquished and adopted.
Oof. I don’t know where to begin with this one. Adoption tropes are all around. Baked into TV, films, books, just everywhere. I have never felt injustice so keenly before. It has knocked the wind out of me, and taught me so much, not least reverential awe for those who contend with more visible injustices or intersectional experiences. There is surely a lightbulb moment coming when we can take a serious look at the way we talk about adoption? Where we start to speak honestly about the nuances, biases and appalling mistreatment at play? It could just take one article that captures the zeitgeist, or one TV show that portrays it accurately, or one politician who is prepared to speak out. Here’s hoping…
We are hugely proud to launch our website. You can read all about Adult Adoptee Movement and meet our team on the About us page.
This is our blog area where we will publish our writing on specific topics or stories from our personal experiences. We hope that adoptees will find something to relate to and non-adoptees will learn from us. There are some areas of the adoptee experience we cannot speak to, so we are commissioning guest blogs which will also be posted here.