The Vital Contrast Between Relinquishment Trauma, Separation Trauma, and Adoption Trauma and Why We Should Consider the Difference 

I am learning and growing to understand all the layers of the adoption experience from an adult adoptee’s perspective. I am entirely open to learning and growing in my experience, my story, and the stories of my fellow adoptees, intercountry adoptees, and/or multiracial adoptees. 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is an intercountry adoptee, and the conversation was striking to me. She shared a piece with me I had never thought about before, and with this, I learned something very significant that I feel we should all understand, so I felt the need to share it in this article.

When most people think of adoption, they think of a “blessing” or a “wonderful outcome” for a child who was not wanted by their biological parents. Rarely do they know the other side of the coin, the reality of what adoption is, how separation trauma impacts us and what adoption feels like from the adoptee’s lens.

Some adoptees might be fortunate enough to receive the “picture perfect” adoption story; however, all the adoptees I know who could sympathize with this scenario still have deep-rooted issues that stem from the separation from their biological mother and adoption experience. Unfortunately, I have not met one who doesn’t, and I have been connecting with adoptees worldwide for over a decade now. 

Let’s get straight to the reason behind writing this article. 

Relinquish – voluntarily cease to keep or claim; give up. 

Voluntary – done, given, or acting of one’s own free will.

Separation – the act or process of separating: the state of being separated.

When I first began to emerge out of the fog from my adoption experience, I learned that the classification of referring to my experience as “Adoption Trauma” was something I could wholeheartedly relate to. My adoption experience did indeed traumatize me. 

However, it’s vital that I also recognize that the separation from my biological mother has also traumatized me. While many already know this, anytime a mother and a child are separated for any reason, a trauma occurs. This separation is classified as a traumatic experience and can cause a host of issues for the duration of the adoptee’s life. While we can undoubtedly suggest that the separation trauma from our biological mothers is traumatic indeed, it impacts us all at different levels. 

Over the years, I have learned that some adoptees have gravitated towards a well-rounded adoption experience, and many of us struggle every step of the way. Sometimes we’re somewhere in the middle of a complex adoption experience with varying emotions and experiences. One thing is for sure; no two adoptee stories are alike. I learned at the beginning of my healing journey that a lot of times, the adoption experience is lumped into one extensive experience; however, I view the separation from my biological mother as one traumatic experience and my adoption from my adoptive parents as a separate traumatic experience.

When we say “ADOPTION TRAUMA,” when we speak about our experiences, I feel like we are speaking about the experience of our adoptive parents adopting us because this event happens AFTER WE ARE SEPARATED from our biological mothers for whatever reason. It begins at the moment we are ADOPTED. But what about the traumatic experience of separation that happens first? 

While I think the adoption community means well, I see a significant issue with lumping these events together as one. Suppose you research separation trauma, mother and baby bonding and what happens when that bond is disrupted, and attachment theory. In that case, you will quickly learn of all the traumatic layers of losing a person’s biological mother. A baby can be fresh out of the womb, a toddler, or a preteen. Separation from our biological mothers will always create a wound, also known as the primal or mother wound. This wound is the greatest wound of our lives for many of us. For others, they aren’t so profoundly impacted by it. 

But, again, it impacts each of us differently. Still, the extreme end of the spectrum is where I have found myself to be, and the most significant source of my heartbreak, grief, loss, and pain is undoubtedly the separation and loss of my biological mother. This is just my experience as I see it over a decade of coming out of the fog from my adoption experience. I don’t claim to know it all, but I have gained snippets of knowledge and understanding along the way. 

While the term separation can describe anyone who has been separated from their biological mothers, relinquishment can not. I have learned that many adoptees don’t know if they were relinquished or stolen, which changes everything regarding how we speak about and view the adoptee experience. Being separated from our biological mothers is different from being adopted by our adoptive parents. 

Totally different! 

When speaking of my own story, I sometimes say relinquishment trauma when speaking of the primal wound or mother wound, but that’s because I know I wasn’t stolen. Instead, I know my biological mother chose to relinquish me. 

When I speak of adoption trauma, I am speaking of the trauma I experienced AFTER separation from my biological mother and paperwork was finalized with my adoptive family and what happened moving forward. But, again, both are very separate things, and both hold very different experiences! 

When I speak as a whole about other adoptees being separated from their biological mothers, I tend to gravitate towards separation trauma (instead of relinquishment trauma) because I don’t know if all adoptees were relinquished or not. We can’t assume all adopted people were relinquished. Many were stolen and sold on the black market and other various ways. 

And even when adoptees are relinquished, a lot of the time, the biological mothers didn’t voluntarily give their babies up. Instead, they were often coerced and conditioned, which is a form of gaslighting and manipulation that leads them to feel the shame and guilt many feel, which leads to adoption. 

Some might use the term “Surrender” when speaking of the separation of a mother and a baby. That means “to cease resistance to an enemy opponent and submit to their authority,”  however that doesn’t align with the possibility that there is an UNKNOWN area where a baby could be a stolen baby. 

Adoption Trauma, Separation Trauma, and Relinquishment Trauma all mean different things. I wanted to highlight this because I see “Adoption Trauma” used more and more. When I think a lot of the time, “Separation Trauma” is better fitting for what the person is trying to explain. 

Not all adoptees feel like adoption traumatized them, and not all adoptees feel like separation from their biological mothers traumatized them. We all write our own stories based on what we know and our experiences in life with our adoption journeys. I want to spark conversations with this article and thoughts that will shed light on this topic for anyone that hasn’t thought of these dynamics. 

I say, “Relinquishment trauma, compacted by adoption trauma,” when it comes to MY STORY, which fits me the best regarding my story.  It’s no doubt that no matter how you slice it, Separation Trauma, Relinquishment Trauma, AND Adoption Trauma are all very traumatic experiences. However, it is good to distinguish between them when we communicate our experiences to articulate our messages more clearly and defined. 

Adoptees, How do you refer to the separation from your biological mother?

Have you been able to learn if you were stolen or relinquished? 

How do you refer to your adoption experience or the experience of others who have been separated from their biological mothers and adopted? 

Do you use “Adoption Trauma” across the board, or do you distinguish the two as separate experiences? 

I am curious about others’ thoughts on this topic. 

Thank you for reading,

Love,

Pamela A. Karanova  

Facebook: 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

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