Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”?

I’m continuously looking for this paradigm shift – when adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and the mainstream media/society will finally accept and legitimize the trauma, pain, and challenges adoptees face. If we really strive to do what is best for adoptees, the perpetuation of a purely rosy, happy scenario in which adoptees must be grateful needs to come to an end. Our pain should not be shamed or condemned. Our narratives, wherever we fall on the spectrum of grief to happiness, must be respected.

Light of Day Stories


To some people, this is old news (“The Primal Wound” came out in 1993.) To some, it’s a startlingly new concept. I’d argue, though, that “adoption as trauma” exists on a spectrum, as does trauma itself: some people recover well and easily, some people are forever wounded, and most are somewhere between.

A mainstream view is that adoption is a happy event: a child needing a family gets one. How, then, is adoption a trauma? That sounds so negative and scary, especially to an adoptive parent, and to an adoptee.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that adoption is all about gains and losses, joy and grief, a balance that shifts often throughout life. I also believe if we took a deep breath and viewed adoption as trauma—trauma that can be overcome, trauma that some people may experience to a small or large degree—we would be better able to…

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6 responses to “Does “Adoption” Really Equal “Trauma”?

  1. Are you familiar with Sherrie Eldridge’s books? Much of what she writes dovetails with your desire for a “shift”.


      • I highly recommend
        1.Twenty Things Adoptive Kids wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
        2.Questions Adoptees Are Asking: …about beginnings…about birth family…about searching…about finding peace
        3. 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed..Discover the Unique Need of Your Adopted Child and Become the Best Parent You Can

        All of these have enlighten myself (dad) and my girls (now 16 and 19 from Nanning).


  2. I think adoptive / prospective adoptive parents are certainly becoming more aware. Other people (including grandparents, friends, etc.) not so much. The stumbling block, I think, is the adult view that going from a bad (or, at least, not optimal) situation to a good situation should be cause for joy: “You’re getting out of the orphanage in that poor country and going to live with well-to-do parents who can’t wait to lavish love and affection on you. Aren’t you happy?” (think Anne of Green Gables)

    Of course, small children don’t see the world this way. May I also say that I’ve come to detest the idea (usually implied if not outright said) of gratitude in adoptees. People don’t generally tell biological parents that, “You’re doing such a great thing!” when they announce that they are expecting, nor do people typically tell biological children how “lucky” they are. Bah.


    • Yes, Jim. I totally agree. I hate the “oh, how great, you adopted” comment. I won’t even get started on the “lucky” comments. Awful.


  3. Is adoption traumatic? Yes and YES! I’m always so surprised when I say that and people look at me like I am insane. My six yr old son, adopted at age 3.5, still insists when he was adopted all of nannies and friends in his orphanage died. And in his heart, they did. My ten yr old was adopted at 12 mos. Her grief and terror took years to heal. And in many ways that path will be lifelong. Does that mean life in an institution was better than a family? I don’t believe so. But to say my children had trauma and loss erased just because I was overjoyed to be their mom, that is disrespectful to their journey.


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