It’s no secret that adoption impacts every adopted person differently. When sharing my story, I describe my separation trauma and relinquishment experience before I was adopted as three separate layers of the primal wound and mother wound:
- The rejection from my birth mother before I was born.
- The abandonment and rejection I received from her at birth.
- The rejection and abandonment I experienced from her after I searched and found her.
They all come with their own set of layered pain, and they all have impacted me immensely in every area of my life. We must distinguish the difference in all three, as they are different dynamics to the lived adoptee experience.
I am so thankful I have arrived at a place of healing, and I have learned so many lifelong lessons along the way. While I believe all the articles I have written over the last decade are beneficial in many ways, it’s not until the last year that I feel my articles come from a more well-rounded space. My anger and rage have subsided. While I still feel those feelings and consider them natural feelings to the lifelong adoptee experience, my messages are better received and come across as more informative.
I’m not sure how much research you have done on the prenatal bonding experience that a mother and child experience before their baby is born? That was one of the many areas I wanted to dive into because I know this time in my pre-verbal and prenatal life didn’t go as planned.
What do I mean?
I was conceived out of an affair with a married man, and he was a close friend of the family, at least ten years older than my biological mother. Unfortunately, my biological mother chose to give me up for adoption. After spending a lifetime searching for clues to my story, I genuinely believe that she rejected the pregnancy, including me, before I ever entered the world.
This is entirely different from being rejected and abandoned after entering the world. But, at the same time, they are all very significant dynamics to the adoptee experience.
I wrote an article titled “My Birth Mother’s Shoes,” and in this article, I had to dissect my birth mother’s life and get to the bottom of her story. Why? Because I wanted to take my anger, rage, and pain and bring some understanding and compassion into the picture. This is one of the most powerful steps to healing for adoptees.
“I learned that my birth mother was never seen without a drink in her hand, even throughout her pregnancy with me. She was considered an alcoholic by those close to her, and they told me stories about her life that helped me better understand her. During the 20 years of silence from her, I was angry. I was hurt. I was rage-filled, and alcohol was the only thing that made a bit of a dent in navigating through this pain. It didn’t help me process anything, but it helped me not feel the truth.”
One of the worst parts for an adopted individual is that we’re dealing with roadblocks to receiving our truth every step of the way. Some of us never find it at all, and others gather fragments of clues over a 40-50-60 year span, and we barely arrive at a place of understanding after our life is well over half over. (if we’re lucky) Some of us have spent every bit of our lives feeling incomplete, lost, and filled with mental torment because living in the unknown is a tremendous burden.
What does this have to do with being rejected before being born?
Once we can assess the truth of our stories BEFORE THE GRAND ENTRANCE into the world, it helps us form conclusions on why things are the way they are and why our biological mothers chose to give us up for adoption. It gives a glimpse of her era and how things were in her life.
This information is critical to the healing of the adoptee experience.
Every tiny clue matters!
Once I knew that my biological mother drank alcohol the entire pregnancy with me, it was like the lights flipped on. I knew at that moment that she couldn’t possibly bond with the baby in her belly for nine months. So she actually likely and purposely emotionally and mentally blocked any bonding out, and alcohol was the primary way she was able to do this.
She was a sick woman long before I ever came into the world or was conceived. I had empathy and compassion for her and learned that her biggest problem was her alcohol use which ultimately killed her in her 60s.
While I have been able to acknowledge and accept that she didn’t bond with me in utero but likely discouraged such bonding before I was born, I can’t deny this hasn’t had a lifelong impact on my life. Did I bond with her even when she couldn’t bond with me? Perhaps, I would like to think so, but that doesn’t change the dynamic of me feeling, knowing, and instinctively realizing that she didn’t bond with me. It takes two to bond, so I can safely say I believe I just answered my question.
Many people aren’t aware that this is even a thing, but I tell you, it is. While trying to piece my journey together to assess this dynamic, I have purposely researched how vital prenatal bonding is with our biological mothers and the post-natal bonding experience. I wanted to dive into this so I could understand myself better. For my fellow adoptees reading, I encourage you to do the same.
While we already know the bond that was broken when I was born and separated from my birth mother and how it impacts every area of the adoptee’s life. This is the same for anyone separated from their biological mothers because this is a traumatic experience for all. Therefore, I encourage you to research Attachment Theory and learn about the implications of being separated from your biological mothers at the beginning of life.
Bowlby’s Attachment Theory suggests:
“Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis suggests that continual disruption of the attachment between infant and primary caregiver (i.e., mother) could result in long-term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties for that infant. Bowlby originally believed the effects to be permanent and irreversible.”
What’s also shared:
“John Bowlby, working alongside James Robertson (1952), observed that children experienced intense distress when separated from their mothers. Even when such children were fed by other caregivers, this did not diminish the child’s anxiety.”
They found three progressive stages of distress:
- Protest: The child cries, screams and protests angrily when the parent leaves. They will try to cling on to the parent to stop them leaving.
- Despair: The child’s protesting begins to stop, and they appear to be calmer although still upset. The child refuses others’ attempts for comfort and often seems withdrawn and uninterested in anything.
- Detachment: If separation continues, the child will start to engage with other people again. They will reject the caregiver on their return and show strong signs of anger.
I believe in the reality that mothers aren’t interchangeable. I do believe, at times, a substitute mother can come into play, as in our adoptive mothers; however, the bond is nothing like that of the bond we are supposed to have with our biological mothers. I feel once the damage is done with the broken bond, nothing can repair it, and it can and does impact every area of our lives.
Research foster youth, foster adults, and adopted youth and adopted adults and see how the prison system, jails, treatment, and mental health facilities are over-populated with these individuals. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the aftermath of the primal wound and separation trauma. I could do the research for you, but I already have, and I encourage you to do the same.
But what happens when we are rejected before we are even born?
Rubin, a nurse specializing in maternity care doing doctoral work at the University of Chicago, perhaps laid the foundation for a theoretical construct of attachment that begins before birth states:
“She identified four specific tasks the women she observed navigated before childbirth: (1) Seeking safe passage for self and baby, (2) ensuring that the baby is accepted by significant others, (c) “binding-in” 3, and (4) giving of herself. These tasks formed a framework for her conceptualization of the psychological experience of pregnancy and, although she did not use the term “attachment,” Ruben states: “By the end of the second trimester, the pregnant woman becomes so aware of the child within her and attaches so much value to him that she possesses something very dear, very important to her, something that gives her considerable pleasure and pride.”
We can all acknowledge that this process of prenatal bonding can likely be interrupted when it comes to the feelings our biological mothers have about us when they are pregnant due to the very nature of the pregnancy outcome, I think this is noteworthy to investigate each adoptee’s experience.
I know that this dynamic in my journey has helped me understand myself. Yes, it was a hard pill to swallow that I believe my birth mother rejected the pregnancy and, in return, rejected me for the nine months she carried me. However, acknowledging this and accepting it as part of my story has brought me great healing and understanding of why I am the way I am.
If I’m candid and transparent, I feel broken because of this severed bond. Not only did my birth mother reject the pregnancy, but she abandoned me and rejected me after she gave birth. So while they are two separate things, I have often tried to take myself back to the days when I was in the womb and to try to process the feelings of my preborn self, to get to the bottom of what I might be feeling; at that time? Any chance of repair with her was shattered, because once I found her she rejected a relationship with me. Unfortunately, in my case this only added insult to injury setting me up for the biggest disappointment of my life.
In utero, I could likely feel the warmth of her body, but her coldness towards me was also felt. I could feel her desire to “get it over with” regarding the delivery and pregnancy altogether. I could feel her disdain and shame for conceiving a baby out of wedlock in 1974 and becoming pregnant by a friend of the family who was older than her and was married at the time.
I could taste the alcohol she drank daily as any attempt to dull the pain. What did that alcohol do to me every day of my life for the nine months she carried me? One can only speculate. She never sang to me; she never embraced my touch or the growth of her growing belly. Instead, her feelings of badness transferred into my tiny body, and I was born with the feelings of being bad that stayed with me most of my life.
While this all seems like a lot for an adoptee to navigate, walk through, and process, I can share that even when learning these things has been excruciatingly painful, it’s helped me heal.
I want to emphasize that it is critically important for every adopted person to know the whole truth about their beginnings and the story of conception. We need to know it, we deserve to know it, and it is life or death for us. Can you imagine not knowing who brought you into the world and not knowing your conception and birth stories?
I know you can’t because it’s unimaginable. But, it’s also inhumane to expect any human being to live through this painful and traumatic experience rooted in shame, secrecy, and lies. So, why are adopted adults still paying the price for others’ decisions and outdated laws from the baby scoop era?
While I hope this article sheds some light on the different layers of the adoptee experience regarding separation trauma and prenatal bonding, I encourage you to do your research and dig as deep as possible to uncover your truth. The truth holds the keys to acceptance and, ultimately, healing.
Let me also share that no one handed me this information. Therefore, it was up to me to fight the closed adoption laws and raise hell until I got my truth! Even when I was lied to my whole life, and I had people deliberately throw shade to discourage me from ever learning my truth, I kept pushing anyway. This is what I call THE FIGHT OF MY LIFE which is an article I wrote to describe what this struggle has been like.
For my fellow adoptees, have you been able to learn the truth of your conception? Do you feel like you bonded with your birth mother before you were born, and do you think she rejected the pregnancy? How do you think this impacted you?
Have you ever processed through this layer of the adoptee experience? If so, what did you uncover? If you haven’t, is it by choice, or are you lacking the information needed?
Thank you for reading and listening!
Pamela A. Karanova
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