Trauma in Adoption?

Have you ever heard anyone talk about trauma in adoptions?

I haven’t. I haven’t really looked either. Adoption, in general, is a holy process that is spoken of with respect and sacrifice.


Trauma is a big word recently. We’ve been talking about it in my school for a couple of years now. I see it tagged quite a lot in videos and articles. Undoubtedly, everyone has suffered instances of trauma.

I like this take on it.


I’ve been listening to Kyle Cease, often in my mornings. He makes me laugh and then think. I listened to this today. In particular, the part about a baby not understanding the passage of time and being away from their parent hit me pretty hard. When my son was born, I gave the nurse instructions to bring him to me if he cried. She brought him four times in the first hour. Exhausted, I told her to go ahead and keep him for the night, give him formula if needed. I was awoken the next morning by a nurse rolling my red-faced and howling son into my room.

“Wow, you have got a screamer!” she said.

I felt my heart drop through the floor.

“He cried all night! The only way we could calm him down was if he was in the swinging bassinet. I bet he’s hungry this morning.” She continued, without seeing the utter devastation she was raining on me.

She handed me my baby and checked my vital signs, cheerily filling me in on how loud my poor boy was. I tucked his little face into my neck and cried along with him. I never sent my kids anywhere in a hospital without me or their dad again. Never again.

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My mother didn’t have the luxury of choice.

For a few minutes this morning I sat in my quiet bathroom and just thought about a baby that was born, rather traumatically, pulled with forceps. She was born into a room with a lot of mixed emotions, sadness, regret, embarrassment, and fear. The cord was cut, the baby quickly examined for any defect. Deemed in good health, the squalling newborn was hastily wrapped and taken to the nursery to be sorted into a plastic cradle and lined up with many other unhappy babies.  I was never touched by my mother or grandparents. Two days later I was handed over to a well-meaning woman who didn’t smell right.

I don’t say that to be mean or ungrateful. It’s just the truth. I didn’t understand it until I held my own baby. I didn’t realize how much comfort was derived, just from being held by mom. How even a half asleep and fussing child will immediately settle when tucked close to that native skin. That genetic scent that belongs to the body you grew in.

It’s one of the first questions I was compelled to ask my younger brother.

“What perfume did she wear?”

I wondered if it would smell the same on me? I’ve never owned Chanel No 5, but I love its scent on the inside of my wrist.

My father also comes to mind when I think of that lost baby.

My father had less choice in the matter than mom.

Saturday was the twenty-fourth anniversary of his death. I didn’t know about him then or any other October until this year. I’m so thankful for my older siblings who have taken the time to share their memories, photos, and notes about him with me. They’ve given him life, humor, and humanity. They’ve changed him from a black and white picture to a man I wish I could have known.

I desire it so keenly at moments, I have to stop and catch my breath.

I’m only punishing myself, putting off the trip to meet my siblings. They are part of my dad, still here on the planet. I’ll admit here that where I would have rushed to meet my father or mother as soon as I knew where they were, I’m a little more trepidatious about meeting siblings.

It’s all here inside me. Everything I learned growing up. It doesn’t matter how old you are, some situations are always going to trigger your five-year-old self. The concern, worry, and fear are maximized without dad there to love me unconditionally.

I’m not saying he would immediately have loved me.

I’m saying there is something about your own child.

0 thoughts on “Trauma in Adoption?”

  1. Wow – Great and insightful post! Though I’m not too happy with the way the nurse had spoken to you after you gave birth to your son. Postpartum blues is very common for many women – but it can develop into Postpartum depression quite easily. I felt the nurse’s comments were quite insensitive – of all people in her line of work she should have been giving some sensitivity training. I recall being made to feed guilty for not being able to breast feed. It’s not because I didn’t want to but I just wasn’t producing enough milk (I had complications with my delivery which left me anemic) but so many of the nurses were SO pro-breast feeding it made the mothers who chose not to or could not feel pretty guilty about it. It wasn’t until I had a visiting nurse come see me at home who just looked at me and said, “It’s not worth stressing yourself over it. Formula is not the end of the world. And you can still bond with your baby while feeding from a bottle – it’s more important you take care of yourself first!”

    She was an angel!

    Sorry – I know that was not the main part of your post. But that part just really caught my attention.

    1. I love that you had a nurse tell you YOU FIRST!
      I know they deal with so much but some awareness wouldn’t be amiss!
      Everything is hard enough already with the first one.🙄

    2. When I had my kids breast feeding was out of fashion, only ‘hippy’ mum’s did it. So i had the opposite problem, we got blue folders, that meant we were trouble😉 In reality having a baby is pretty stressful, the last thing you need is some child care fashionista bullying you. The rule now is that a stressed mum means a stressed baby, and a stressed baby is baby at risk.
      End of.

        1. That was 38 years ago (I know, who’d thunk it😏) with government cuts there are even fewer staff to care for even more people, I fear the problem will not have gone away.

    3. I can relate to this post and video in many different ways. I am a mother of 7 in which 5 of them are adopted. We took in a sibling group from a country called Latvia. They came with special needs that were only unraveled as time went on such as: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, Anxiety Disorder, RAD and so on. Many of those caused a host of brain issues that may mean a liftime of challenges. Along with those traumas they faced, were the obvious results of a difficult childhood from Alcholoic and abusive parents, and living in an orphanage for a good portion of their lives. I’ve seen the deep impacts of those tragedies. From night terrors, emotional behaviors, rocking, aggression, lying ect…YET…It is amazing to me, the resilance and strength I see begining to rise up from within them. …. despite it all. Their desire to press in and make a better life for themselves and truly allow God to heal the broken parts …..I just started a new blog myself on helping other adoptive Moms. Come by and check it out…. My hope is to help and support becuase I know just how hard it is….

      1. So many adoptions do end up with much more than anyone bargained for bad and good. International is especially tricky.
        Thanks for the thoughtful comment and congratulations on the new blog! I’ll have to come over and see what you’re about.

  2. oh, man. I’m a bit speechless. I hope when you’re finally ready to meet your siblings they smell right.

  3. I too remember the amazement of how quiet and calm my baby daughter was when she with me in the hospital. We spent 3 weeks there due to her requiring an operation, and I truly believed she never cried, until one morning when I returned from having breakfast in the cantone, the nurses notes informed me “baby crying, mother absent” oh the bittersweet pain of it and the joy in realising she knew when I was there, my heart just expanded.
    I was a long drawn out forceps birth too, my birth mother said I didn’t wish to come into this world, but she also told me she’d not wanted to give me up either, twin forces at work.
    Thank you for sharing your very moving story, I wish you all the best with meeting your siblings.

    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’ve wondered many times about my birth mom’s state of mind when I was born. I was tiny, barely 5 lbs, I often fantasized that forceps were the only way we could be parted. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me!

  4. I looked up trauma in adoption for the first time about a year ago because I honestly believed I was unique. I was given up as an infant. New Years Eve is the 50th anniversary of my adoption.

    I had no idea there was any trauma theory related to adoption. I have struggled with bipolar disorder, I thought, my entire life. Now it seems just as likely that my abandonment issues, my rage, my inability to trust adults could have started with my relinquishment.

    My birth mom explained to me when we met that after I was born and although she’d already relinquished me, the nurses brought me in and had her feed me. The horror that this caused still evident in her voice four decades later.

    I am so sad that you have had to suffer with these feelings, but selfishly, I am relieved to finally find others with similar experiences to mine. I am so grateful to you for sharing!!!

    1. Oh, Sunny! This past summer was the 50th anniversary of my adoption. I’ve heard some of what went on when I was born but everyone except me that was there has passed. Thinking about you and your mom and the struggle brings up so many emotions! Some I understand and others that make we wonder how many times I’m going to have to revisit them before they are satisfied and retreat.
      I believe there are so many of us hurting-it’s so comforting to me when another shows up here and holds out her hand, saying, “I can’t believe it! I feel it too.”
      Than you for commenting. Thank you for saying you’re not alone!

      1. Wow! That’s really cool! So awesome we share the 50th!!!! Lol.

        I have to tell you, Carly, that meeting my birth mom changed a lot about how I felt about her and about being adopted. I had hoped we would look alike (since I resemble NO ONE), but we don’t. Not at all. However, we are very much alike temperamentally. Even our writing styles, the words we choose, are alike. It’s pretty cool. I actually do feel like I belong somewhere, to someone. I feel validated somehow.

        But, I think my mom’s mentally ill like me too. It makes communication with her erratic, emotional, and unreliable, especially when I’m already erratic, emotional, and unreliable on my own . She has her own issues, and is very private. It’s okay though. I was mad at her for most of my life, so to have a positive, supportive, yet dysfunctional relationship with her is a bonus.

        Now I have to decide whether I should track down the aging man she says is my bio dad. They had a one night stand. He has NO idea I even exist. Lol.

        It gets better, and it gets different. And now that I know I am not alone, I feel encouraged. Thank you, Carly!!!!!

        1. It’s with quite a bit of relief that I type the words…all my parents have passed on.
          I went through some bitter regret that I wouldn’t be able to meet my birth mom or dad. However, just seeing pictures of them-I can’t even describe it-seeing myself in someone else’s features. I remember the first picture I saw of my mom, probably a middle school picture. I knew she was my mom, same with my dad. I have four half-siblings still living that I have yet to meet.
          I’m surprised by the mountain of emotion I still have to climb. Even with my adoptive parents gone, I still have so much to process.
          I’m sure I’ll be posting more about adoption as my heart and mind permit.

          You’re right, it gets better, and different. You are most certainly not alone! We need to let our voices be heard, let the consequences be aired, let others know the challenges, the deep, dark holes, the moment of sunshine. All of that is trauma, all of it is Adoption.
          Happy New Year, Sunny!

          1. I found phone numbers for my birth father, now what do I do? He doesn’t even know I exist. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any kids. He’s 78. What do I do? Lol. Do I take the chance and hope that he will be thrilled to know that he has a child?

            Lol. What a dilemma!

            I’m so sorry, Carly. I didn’t see your response until just now. I must say I’m a little jealous that you can see that family resemblance. My son is the only one who looks like me, which is good enough for me. Lol.

            Happy New year to you too, Carly. May we both have a year that’s more sunshine than shadows.

          2. I think this is where you really have to look at yourself. What do you want from this man? What if you don’t get it? What if he doesn’t believe you, or worse, doesn’t want you? Given His age this would probably be a difficult conversation to have over the phone too many miscommunications that would be possible.
            Have you considered writing him a letter, telling him your journey to him, enclosing a couple of pictures as a way of introducing yourself?

          3. Yes! I totally wrote him a letter but never sent it. And yes, I have considered the possibilities. I’ve considered that he might have dementia, doesn’t remember the one-night stand, that he doesn’t have kids because he didn’t want any. I’ve considered, what if he had a heart attack when I told him who I was? I mean, all of the outlandish possibilities that can be concocted in my crazy brain have been considered.

            I would like to see if I look like him, or if my kids look like him, find out whatever he knows about the family history. Just things that are a matter of curiousity to me. I don’t really NEED to meet him.

            My biggest quandry is that he was never given a choice, to know me or not. My birth mom told me she sat up after sex, told him she was pregnant (yeah, she’s a little different, lol), and that was it. What if he would have been happy to have a child? It’s all about the ‘What ifs’. So I really don’t know what to do. However, he’s 78 now, and I feel like if I’m going to take some action, I should do it soon.

            Right now, I’m just sitting on my hands.

          4. I’d say you probably do NEED to meet him. 🤔 Send your letter, let him know you are out there! Good, bad or ugly-don’t wait another minute, not after fifty years.😘

  5. This is beautiful !Fellow adoptee here .. I love your reference to your birth and homecoming .. its not insensitive but just how it is .That is such a hard thing to put a voice too .

    1. It’s something I couldn’t begin to think about before my adopted parents died. As if their demise was the only permission that seemed true. They had said many times that I was free to find out what I could but always there was that little hesitation. That oh so human fear of being displaced or forgotten.

      1. Im a closed adoption adoptee too . Traced my Birth mother at the age of 16 with the blessing of my AP..but I do know what you mean … That was 21yrs ago… its been quite a journey .

  6. Beautifully written and I felt every word. Plus the kind comments. I am 52 and adopted at 6 weeks. A lifetime of mental illness, bipolar, clinical depression etc. I have always been certain my adoption has something to do with my mental health. And I am at a loss as to how to balance myself. At least I know “it’s not just in my head” it’s not just me. Thank you ❤️

    1. I’m just starting to realize the layers of trauma that come wrapped in adoption. It certainly isn’t just you or just in your head! I too am struggling with how to bring my life into balance at 50 years old. It can be terribly demoralizing. Keep Fighting!
      We need a place where we can tell our stories and share our strength and love! I’d love to hear yours!

      1. I don’t even know where to start to try and sort this mess out. We definitely need to raise awareness for adult adoptees, the life long impact of adoption and the fact the damage is permanent. And this is impossible to understand unless you are the one adopted. I really thought I was OK with being adopted. The menopause has caused chaos in an already chaotic world. I used to be able to resolve any situation, I used to be resourceful and able to find solutions in thin air.
        Have you found anything to help you? Take care and thank you, Dawn

        1. That line, I really thought I was OK with being adopted, that really hit me. I spent my whole life explaining how I was adopted, all my siblings were adopted, how we used to tease each other about it, how we were all totally fine with it. Also the question about menopause. I’ve thought my feelings started to appear now because my adoptive parents have now died. I didn’t think anything about Menopause. You’ve given me so much to consider.
          I found myself wondering many times today, Is the damage permanent? Is that inside me?
          So far, the most helpful thing for me has been writing about it. Hearing from others whose experience echoes mine, hearing you say, “I feel like that too!”
          That has been more helpful than anything I’ve found so far. Hang in there, Dawn! If you send an email to me at
          I’d love to share some ideas with you.

  7. I missed this post somehow. I do know my sister hunted down her birth parents and found family. Her birth parents are gone too. Our mother is dead but our father is alive still. At any rate she was welcomed by all her family warmly. I think your siblings would welcome you too.

  8. I was adopted too. My adoptive dad died when I was nine. I was so terrified I would lose my mom too. They were 57 and 59 when they adopted me as a newborn. It just shouldn’t have been allowed. Most of my childhood was filled with terror of loss, abuse from their ridiculous religion and the people they surrounded us with. More needs to be done to help young mothers keep their babies. I don’t think I’ll ever shake the anxiety of my childhood, it affects every part of my life even today and I’m 48. I call adoptive parents vultures now. They feed off the unhappiness of young women or dysfunctional families and steal from them.

    1. I too wish there was more help for young women. Even though my birth mom was in her twenties, I often find myself thinking about the roil of emotions that must have been felt in that hospital room.
      Thank you for sharing your story.

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