ADOPTION: The Damage Done

Kayapo mother and child in the Brazilian rain forest. Photo: ‘MILLENNIUM’ David Maybury-Lewis

I have interviewed and spoken with many adults who were adopted out as babies, during the process of writing  my book Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’,  and only one man told me that he was not interested in tracing his birth mother or his biological roots.  I believe that most babies removed from their  mothers soon  after birth, suffer psychologically in some way and this in turn affects their personality.  How could it not?  We are after all, animals, with a sense of smell like any other, and mother and child have a special smell each recognises.   Our mothers carry us around in their wombs for nine months and the newborn knows its mother’s heart beat intimately.  We can learn many lessons about mother/child primordial bonds from animals in the wild, especially elephants.
Most Children’s  dis-connection with their biological families is a tragedy and sets them up for lifelong feelings of not quite  ‘fitting in’ anywhere.  Their self-identity is compromised. If an adopted child is lucky enough  to have an adoptive mother who is genuinely caring and who is supported by  a strong adoptive father and extended family, then the outcome can be reasonably good. But most of these children still need to know who their biological parents are and to know their genetic background.  Often, these adults I spoke with, told me that they became  more contented with their lives, and more fulfilled,  once they had discovered their roots and met members of their biological families, even if the relationships were not carried on for various reasons.  Just meeting with family members and learning about their heritage, was enough for some adoptees.  Others of course developed close relationships.  Unfortunately, far too many adoptions turned out to be nothing less than unmitigated disasters for both mothers and children.
The majority of mothers who adopted their babies out  in the past, carried feelings of guilt and loss for the rest of their lives.  Many descended into depression or severe mental illness.

Losing a child through adoption (and it is a loss) has a far more damaging effect on the mother than does abortion.  Mothers may think they have dealt with their loss, but often it is just buried deep within their sub conscious.  In the past, the general consensus was that if the baby was removed from their birth  mother soon after birth, neither would suffer any lasting psychological damage.  The child would grow up completely inculcated into the ways and traits of its adopted family, and that genetics didn’t come into it; nurturing was everything.  This has proved to be so utterly wrong.

I worked as a case worker for the Department of Social Welfare in New Zealand for a time.  And it was gratifying to see that children living apart from their parents and extended families in foster homes, were encouraged to keep family photograph albums along with scrap books of their biological family members’ lives.  Even allowing for the fact that in most cases the children were abused by those same families.  The children were proud of their families and loved showing case workers albums and scrapbooks, as though to reinforce their own identity.

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