I was separated from my mother at birth and had no further contact with her. For the first month of my life, I stayed in the hospital’s nursery for ‘babes for adoption’. After being assessed medically as free from disease and defect and suitable for adoption, I was placed somewhere unknown to me for an additional ten weeks, until the 12 months my adopting parents had been given to add a room onto their house, had elapsed. It was not an ideal start to life for any infant.
I remember vividly the moment I embraced the possibility that my adoption was trauma. I was attending a Professional Development workshop on Trauma and raised my hand to ask the question burning within me, quite oblivious to others in the room “you mean my being separated from my mother at birth was trauma?”
It’s the only explanation that makes sense of the difficulties I experience in my life. Yet if I look through support websites and texts on trauma, I find no mention of adoption as one of the early life experiences with adverse effects, or describes the adoptee as a survivor of trauma, except perhaps for intercountry adoptees who have been removed from their original culture.
The Inquiry into the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 implies adoption is trauma in its discussion: regarding “current areas of practice—including intercountry adoption—we need to avoid the risk of continuing the mistakes from the past. Some of these ‘mistakes’ identified by participants included:
- cutting ties between biological parents and their children;
- failing to provide young people with information about their heritage, culture and family;
- prioritising the desires of prospective parents to have a family over the needs of existing (and often vulnerable) parents and children;
- failing to recognise that family ties are for life; and
- the trauma of interrupting the bond between parents and children, which can have lasting effects for all.”
When separation at birth for adoption is recognised as trauma, it allows:
- adopted persons to identify and name the cause of the difficulties they experience, and to receive assistance from practitioners skilled in trauma interventions;
- adopting parents to understand the needs of the children they have adopted, seek assistance and training to provide a trauma-informed response;
- the dominant discourse of adoption as good for all involved, to be challenged at a time when there is pressure from groups such as AdoptChange to increase the number of adoptions;
- lessons from the past to challenge surrogacy and other ways of family formation, to ensure children’s needs are central.
Adoptees have a right to know that being separated from their mother at birth was trauma.