Wow, at how many times I’ve heard people whispering these sentiments as I walk on by with a giant-sized adoptee chip on my shoulder. I couldn’t even begin to count, but it’s a lot. Even when they don’t say it directly to me, I feel it.
But the truth of the matter is that if we’re being honest and transparent, a trauma occurs before every adoption occurs when we experience the separation from our biological mothers. Even when adoptees are removed from dire situations and taken into foster care to more safe environments, the trauma of separation is still present. Because of this trauma, every adoptee can equate separating from our biological mothers as a bad adoption experience.
Some of us have awful experiences after we are adopted, and some have wonderful ones. But, of course, no two adoption stories are alike. Still, one thing for certain is that before every adoption occurs, the trauma of separation from our biological mothers occurs first.
The world pretends that separation trauma doesn’t exist in adoption. They gloss over it and even celebrate it. But then, they sweep it under the rug, ignore it and act like it doesn’t exist. Yet, the separation trauma is genuine and the root of every adoptee’s experience.
Some adopted people don’t even understand or realize that this trauma can impact every area of their lives. Unfortunately, most of the world doesn’t acknowledge it or recognize it either. If they truly knew, would they still celebrate every adopted person’s trauma, not leaving room for the realities of the heartache every adoptee experiences before they are ever adopted?
When we know better, we do better. At least we hope that is the plan.
My reason for sharing this article is to highlight that we must acknowledge and recognize as a society that separation trauma is a real thing, and it hurts. Separation trauma always happens before the adoption takes place. When I write, I try to distinguish that the SEPARATION is TRAUMA. And while we can speak about adoption being trauma, for some of us, it can be. But separation trauma is a separate thing. It’s essential to identify them as separate events in our lives.
No matter who my biological mother was, how she was, or what she wasn’t, she was my biological mother. And no matter what the reasons were for our separation, it caused me a lot of heartache to lose her. But unfortunately, the world and my adoptive parents swept it under the rug because that is what everyone is told to do. We’re blank slates. But let me share a part of how the separation trauma showed up in my life.
At 12, I started drinking alcohol, and I started to run away. I started breaking the law, and I was in and out of group homes, juvenile detention, and drug and alcohol treatment. I was in an abusive relationship and pregnant at 15. This was only the beginning of what the world can consider “acting out” as a teenager. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a lifetime of troubles. I drank alcohol for 27 years to cope with the pain.
But it was much more than that. I knew I was adopted, and to the very core of my being, I just wanted and needed to find my biological mother. But no one knew the internal agony I was going through. I didn’t even understand it. Read over some of my articles, specifically “She’s Bad,” and you can gain a glimpse of the feelings I have carried.
For those who want to apply the label to my life, “She just had a bad adoption experience,” let me share some advice with you. Instead of applying this label to me, my life, and my fellow adoptees, why not open your heart up to the possibility that there is much more to adoption than what you always knew?
You can continue to label me as the lady that just had a bad adoption experience, but I ask you to reconsider your thoughts. Maybe I share my pain because it brings healing to my life. Maybe I share it with my fellow adoptees to know they aren’t alone. Maybe writing is healing to me. Maybe it’s one of the only places I can share my feelings about being adopted, and non-adoptees can’t silence me, shut me down, and tell me how to feel? Maybe writing my thoughts about adoption-related topics has helped me more than the 100 therapists I have seen in my life? Maybe it’s a safe place for me, and the world is not when it comes to sharing adoptee thoughts and feelings?
Also, please understand that the sentiments of “she just had a bad adoption experience” come off as gaslighting and invalidating my trauma and pain resulting from separation trauma and my adoption experience. Please stop.
If you have made it this far, thank you for reading. Hopefully, this article helps non-adoptees understand that every adoption is rooted in separation trauma first. It’s so much deeper than me just having a bad adoption experience!
How many of my fellow adoptees have heard this at some point in your journey? How has it made you feel?
Thank you for reading,
Pamela A. Karanova
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*The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova