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Contact with a birth mother, especially when this is mediated by an experienced counsellor, is usually hugely beneficial. The opportunity is provided to acknowledge, validate and allow for any expressions of loss and answer unspoken and subliminal questions. Conversely, allowing a birth mother information can help ease a profound burden of guilt and grief. A lack of knowledge of the outcome and progress can be a prolonged mental torture for her (Coleman & Garratt, 2016).

What if the process causes unnecessary pain and rejection?

As a parent, it is normal to want to shield your child from unpleasant information. However, there is a misconception that children can escape pain they do not remember. Whether or not your adoptive child has an explicit memory, there will always be an awareness of loss at some deep level. There is on some level always the question: “Why was I giveaway-able?” Joe Soll, a professor of psychology, himself adopted, reiterates this idea. He warns adoptive parents that “adoption is a life-long process” and, since bonding occurs between mother and child before, during and immediately after birth, their separation is something tangible and not to be brushed aside. Parenting an adoptive child, he writes, is to parent someone with unique needs.

Even if their paths never cross, the ghosts of the natural parents are always present in the adoptive family, and the ghosts of the child and the adoptive parents are always present in the birth family

Joe Soll in Adoption Healing... A Path to Recovery (2000)

Withholding information and avoiding frank discussion overlooks an adoptive child's need to know their birth and adoption story in an age appropriate way from the start. If this is kept secret, a devastating sense of betrayal is felt on discovering inevitably that they were adopted. Keeping a scrap book and continuing knowledge about your childs birth family can maintain a vital to the past. In order to help them in this healing process, it is important to avoid distorting the truth. Lori Gottlieb, in the quote below explains, that withholding information as a way of protecting children is a myth:

Here’s something important to understand about family secrets: They’re rarely as secret as people think they are. Children especially are attuned to what’s unspoken in their households, in the sense that they “feel” the secret, even if they don’t know its content. The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas wrote about what he called “the unthought known,” referring to something that a person knows on some level but can’t put into words. Secrets are like that: The child knows that there’s something to be known, but doesn’t know what

Lori Gottlieb in The Atlantic (2018)

In the light of this insightful quote, we can see how outdated the consensus is that not telling the truth is a way of “protecting” your child. It is in fact a profound breach of trust. To forbid a search or to deny a connection with their past could hinder your child's emotional maturity and quest for identity. It may directly negate or contradict their inner feelings and experiences. There also should never be the assumption that if they are asking questions about their birth parents it means that they are unhappy with you. Natural curiosity is not an indication of your failure as an adoptive parent.

An adoptive parent should take care to avoid any verbal and non verbal message that criticizes or ignores birth parents, or tells the child they are “special”, “different” and “lucky they are adopted” in a way that places undue pressure or expectations that they must always be happy (Tartakovsky: 2018). For example, the child’s birthday is the anniversary of their separation from their birth mother and is often accompanied by mixed feelings. They should feel comfortable to reveal feelings of sadness or loss (Soll: 2000).

Warding off early pain leads to amnesia about one’s childhood. The thread to the child one once was is broken, leaving no trace of past experience. Consequently, the wounded person is unable to experience her own feelings because her capacity to feel is no longer available

Kathryn Asper

If an adoptive child’s search is not validated and their “what ifs” are ignored, it worsens and prolongs their sense of loss and grief (Logan & Smith: 2013, 125). Needless to say, this depends on their particular characteristics and circumstances. However, the majority of adoptees indicate that contact with their birth parents contributed towards their security (Logan & Smith: 2013, 28).

What if I lose my child and they no longer see me as their true parent?

A fear can exist with adoptive parents that their child's contact with birth parents will result in a connection that would supersede their own. However, this fear should not cause them to discourage contact. Studies of adopted adults seeking contact with birth relatives have shown how important the process was in fulfilling their need to form a complete sense of self and develope a narrative that locates their identity in genetics and social context (Logan & Smith: 2013, 47). Furthermore, contrary to common misconceptions about the outcome of adopted people making contact with their birth parents, the opposite effect is actually more common. Finding out about biological ties and their history does not typically change the parent-child relationship or make adoptive parents any less their “real” mother and father. Instead, researchers in adoption have found that post-adoption contact is beneficial for their relationship with their adoptive parents. There exists a need to identify with being adopted in order to properly heal, develop their identity and “come to terms with oneself in the context of the family and culture into which one was adopted" (Darnell et al.: 2017)

In conclusion, allowing post-adoption contact is a way of respecting both the birth mother and adoptive child’s experiences of loss. Of course it is not unproblematic and will involve painful feelings and memories.

References

Coleman, P.K. & Garratt, D. 2016. From Birth Mothers to First Mothers: Toward a Compassionate Understanding of the Life-Long Act of Adoption Placement. Issues in Law & Medicine. 31(2):139–163. [Online], Available: https://ukzn.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=119547632&site=ehost-live&scope=site [2020, November 17].

Darnell, F.J., Johansen, A.B., Tavakoli, S. & Brugnone, N. 2017. Adoption and Identity Experiences Among Adult Transnational Adoptees: A Qualitative Study. Adoption Quarterly. 20(2):155–166. [Online], Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/10926755.2016.1217574 [2020, November 17].

Gottlieb, L. 2018. Dear Therapist: Should I Contact My Birth Mom? The Atlantic. 18 April. [Online], Available: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/04/dear-therapist-should-i-contact-my-birth-mom/558245/ [2020, November 11].

Logan, J. & Smith, C. 2003. After Adoption: Direct Contact and Relationships. London ; New York: Routledge.

Soll, J. 2000. Adoption Healing ...a path to recovery. Second edition ed. Baltimore, MD: Adoption Crossroads.

Tartakovsky, M. 2018. How to Tell Your Child They’re Adopted. [Online], Available: https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-tell-your-child-theyre-adopted/ [2020, November 17].