Suffering in Silence
Suffering in silence is one of the most toxic symptoms of adoption trauma. (And one of the most common.)
To the uninitiated, “adoption trauma” seems like an oxymoron; after all, if adoption is a good thing, how could that possibly be traumatic?
It’s a fair question, of course. Yet all adoption is borne of loss. So what does this mean?
It means that every adoption happens only because somebody has lost something or someone that was integral to their happiness. Adoptees gain a surrogate family when an adoption is done, but traditionally, adoption means forever losing your place in your biological family, losing your birth identity, and sometimes losing your cultural identity, as well. Adopting couples have infertility, meaning they lost the opportunity to produce a child genetically related to them, and they lost control over their own bodies in that process. Birthparents have lost control over their bodies, too, when unwanted pregnancies have occurred, and in the process of placing a child for adoption, they voluntarily lose the opportunity to raise that child– “voluntarily lose being a true oxymoron, right there.
And every loss in life impacts us to some extent. Negotiable losses result in alteration; more significant losses result in trauma. Every loss requires some process of adjustment and adaptation in order to move forward in a healthy way. Adoption trauma can cause cause lifelong issues, if not addressed, which is why it is so important that those suffering adoption trauma be heard and validated, so they need not suffer in silence.
What suffering in silence looks like
Seventeen years ago, she chose adoption for her baby boy. She was in a fog of her own making at the time; a single mom already, she and her boyfriend were unsure of where their relationship was going, and she wanted her newborn son to have the sort of security and stability her life did not offer.
She placed with a couple who had adopted previously, so her baby would have a sister in his adoptive home (just as he would’ve had, had he grown up in her home.) The couple was willing to have her and her boyfriend visit, but in the backwash of grief she underwent at relinquishment, she felt unable to handle that. Her boyfriend did have several visits with the baby, but in time, it was too awkward to go without her, so the visits ended and contact dwindled to nothing more than a letter and photos the adoptive family sent them once in a while.
Years went by. The adoptive family got used to the birthparents not being in touch. They could not have known how many times a day the birthparents stopped to think of their son, however. They didn’t know how the sight of every toddler in a stroller caught their hearts in their throats. They didn’t have any idea how the birthmother kicked herself for not having availed herself of the opportunity to visit when she could. Would they have responded differently, had they known? We’d like to think so, but some folks do, and some folks don’t.
Every holiday, the birthparents hope for a call or a card that too often never comes. Their own families don’t understand why the birthparents keep thinking of the child they’d lost, not understanding that as loving parents, they can’t not think of him. Their adoption loss has impacted their health, their relationship, their other children, and even more. They can talk about their feelings with the agency staff and they can attend the agency’s birthparent events, but short of that, there are few outlets for their grief in a society that abhors abortion but seems to prefer that birthparents be unseen and unheard.
Adoptees can suffer even more debilitating forms of adoption trauma, especially when they have been the victims of closed adoption practices that deprive them of needed answers and access to their birthfamilies. (There’s no way of knowing yet how the son of the above-mentioned birthparents may have been impacted by the absence of them in his life, nor whether the parents who adopted him have likewise suffered in their own season of silence.) Adoptive parents also can find their adoption experience leaves them feeling unsupported, or inadequate, or overwhelmed by their child/ren’s needs or by the expectations of their child/ren’s birthfamily, after all.
Remember this: anyone who suffers in silence while/after placing, adopting or being adopted deserves support and relief, rather than judgement and isolation.
What can help those that suffer?
Those who suffer in silence and/or who struggle with adoption trauma need to know their losses are recognized. Denial can be debilitating, even when it’s well-intended, so find ways to “be present” for those who are grieving an adoption loss, no matter how long it’s been or how “positive” their adoption experience seems to have been for them.
This can sometimes be difficult for well-meaning friends or family members who may think the adoption survivor should “just focus on the positives,” or who feel somehow responsible and therefore indicted by their emotions, or who consider their losses self-inflicted. Learning about the meaning and impact of adoption trauma is an essential part of understanding what it is and how to help those who suffer from it, so they need not be suffering in silence.
Simple activities like “active listening” (hear out those who typically suffer in silence, and then repeating back what they said by saying “so you’re saying you feel ____”) goes a long way towards helping them feel heard. Inviting them to talk about their lost family member(s) or just referring to them by name can be a comfort far more often than it’s not. Sending a loving note on adoption-related anniversaries (“I know this may be a hard day for you and I just want you to know I remember”) or forwarding resources like articles on adoption loss or counseling events can help them know you care.
If you yourself are a survivor of adoption trauma, please know you do not have to suffer to silence (nor is it healthy to do so.) Therapy is available, and can be a lifesaving resource for those who previously felt all alone in that ocean: click here to find a therapist who specializes in adoption trauma.
And even if you don’t consider yourself “traumatized” yet you are suffering in silence, then keep in mind that you are not alone! There are more resources online for birthparents, adoptees and adoptive parents than ever before. Abrazo maintains private Facebook groups for adoptees, birthmothers and adoptive parents, in which our clients can find affirmation and support; similar groups abound for those whose adoptions occurred elsewhere, too. If you need help finding one, feel free to contact us.
Suffering in silence heals no one, but finding affirmation and peace has the power to change the world– for every adoptee, birthparent and/or adoptive parent who feels heard and acknowledged at long last.