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Say Something

Say Something

Say Something

You would think with both of my parents being in the medical profession (my stepfather a long-time medical doctor and my adoptive mother an RN for many years) that they would have already understood the subject that Alex Stavro wrote about in the article below.

As it turns out, my stepfather actually had a whole other family before us that I knew nothing about until recent years. He and his ex-wife also had adopted a son and a daughter both as newborns. By all accounts, my stepfather adored his adopted daughter but had to place her in a mental institution as a young adult for Schizophrenia. Tragically, she spent the rest of her life in half-way houses and passed away while living as a homeless person on the streets.

I often wonder — “Were my stepfather’s hands tied when it came to my adopted brother and trying to get him the serious help he needed because of my adoptive mother’s “shameful” mindset?” Could anyone possibly understand how it feels for my stepfather to have said when I was just a little girl, “You are the daughter I never had!” And I know now that it had such a sad hidden meaning. I share this painful story in hopes that we will start talking more openly about mental illness and trauma in adoption. I want to be a voice for the underdog.

But I adopted my child at birth. What do you mean trauma?

Written by
Alex Stavro

Jun 10, 2015

It is not uncommon for adoptive parents to come to us feeling out of options for their difficult child and overwhelmed about what could have created all of these DSM diagnoses and intense feelings and behaviors. Especially if the child was adopted at or near birth.

“We adopted our son at birth. We brought him home from the hospital ourselves and have done nothing but love him.”

Does this sound too familiar? If so, then why are you now being told that all of that had something to do with the issues today?

First and foremost, it is important not to be too hard on ourselves or even our child’s birth parents. At this time, it is most important to find our child the help that they need. Understanding the diagnosis and its origins may help one decide on the most appropriate course of treatment. Quality and traditional parenting techniques may no longer be a solution – our child’s condition will likely require trauma sensitive interventions to heal.

Fetal Trauma

First we need to understand there are many developmental milestones for your child that occur prior to birth. Your child began feeling and learning in the womb. According to Samuel Lopez De Victoria, Ph.D., your baby learned to be comforted by the voice and heartbeat of his mother well before birth[1] – a voice that was not yours. In the case of adoption this connective disruption has an impact on the brain and body.

Paula Thomson writes for Birth Psychology, “Early pre- and post-natal experiences, including early trauma, are encoded in the implicit memory of the fetus, located in the subcortical and deep limbic regions of the maturing brain. These memories will travel with us into our early days of infancy and beyond and more importantly, these early experiences set our ongoing physiological and psychological regulatory baselines.”[2]

Clearly, chaos outside of the womb, for example, may affect children in utero. This includes arguments, a chaotic home environment or an abusive spouse, and other rambunctious noise that may seem harmless to the fetus. If the mother drinks or smokes, or is generally unhealthy, this also impacts in-utero development, including the sense of safety and self-worth for the child. Critical brain development is also stunted.

Mothers that end up placing their child with adoptive parents are also likely to feel increased stress during their pregnancies. Many are very young, have many other children or are emotionally or financially unable to support a child. Each of these stressors could expose unborn babies to cortisol, making them also stressed. The baby is then born anxious.

Surprisingly, babies are also able to sense a disconnection or lack of acceptance from their mother while in the womb – leading to attachment issues and developmental trauma down the road.

Genetic Memory

Beyond these connection concerns, trauma can also be an inherited condition. Recent studies indicate that trauma resides in the DNA, allowing mental disease and behavioral disorders to be passed down for generations.

In the end, adoption itself is a form of trauma. Without the biological connection to their mother, even newborns can feel that something is wrong and be difficult to sooth as a result. This effect has the potential to grow over time – even in the most loving and supportive adoptive homes.

Summary: Humans, and the brain, develop through experience. Adverse experiences stunt this development. And development starts way before birth – even before conception.

[1] http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/06/29/emotional-trauma-in-the-womb/

[2] https://birthpsychology.com/journals/volume-19-issue-1/impact-trauma-embryo-and-fetus-application-diathesis-stress-model-and-neu

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  1. So sad, what a terrible experience. and I know it was only one of many for you. Love you friend!!!
  2. This fills me with sadness: “No child should have to continually try to make a parent love them.” What a tragedy that your mother was not able to accept love from you. My guess is that deep down, she didn’t feel lovable, and she had to cover that shameful fact up with a bunch of br…
  3. It’s insane that these findings were made but nothing was done about it. All these years later, you are still waiting for the wrongs to be righted.
  4. I love you❤
  5. I hope you are able to find more on the first chapters of your life. How twisty things became when people had to hide things…ugh. Sad.