by Deborah N. Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan Roszia (1982)

Adoption is a lifelong, intergenerational process which unites the triad of birth families, adoptees, and adoptive families forever. Adoption, especially of adolescents, can lead to both great joy and tremendous pain. Recognizing the core issues in adoption is one intervention that can assist triad members and professionals working in adoption better to understand each other and the residual effects of the adoption experience.

Adoption triggers seven lifelong or core issues for all triad members, regardless of the circumstances of the adoption or the characteristics of the participants:

  1. Loss
  2. Rejection
  3. Guilt and Shame
  4. Grief
  5. Identity
  6. Intimacy
  7. Mastery/control

Clearly, the specific experiences of triad members vary, but there is a commonality of affective experiences which persists throughout the individual’s or family’s life cycle development. The recognition of these similarities permits dialogue among triad members and allows those professionals with whom they interface to intervene in proactive as well as curative ways.

The presence of these issues does not indicate, however, that either the individual or the institution of adoption is pathological or pseudopathological. Rather, these are expected issues that evolve logically out of the nature of adoption. Before the recent advent of open and cooperative practices, adoption- had been practiced as a win/lose or adversarial process. In such an approach, birth families lose their child in order for the adoptive family to gain a child. The adoptee was transposed from one family to another with time-limited and, at times, short-sighted consideration of the child’s long-term needs. Indeed, the emphasis has been on the needs of the adults–on the needs of the birth family not to parent and on the needs of the adoptive family to parent. The ramifications of this attitude can be seen in the number of difficulties experienced by adoptees and their families over their lifetimes.

Many of the issues inherent in the adoption experience converge when the adoptee reaches adolescence. At this time three factors intersect: an acute awareness of the significance of being adopted; a drive toward emancipation; and a biopsychosocial striving toward the development of an integrated identity.

It is not our intent here to question adoption, but rather to challenge some adoption assumptions, specifically, the persistent notion that adoption is not different from other forms of parenting and the accompanying disregard for the pain and struggles inherent in adoption.

However, identifying and integrating these core issues into pre-adoption education, post-placement supervision, and all post-legalized services, including treatment, universalizes and validates triad members’ experiences, decreasing their isolation and feelings of helplessness.

Loss

Adoption is created through loss; without loss there would be no adoption. Loss, then, is at the hub of the wheel. All birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees share in having experienced at least one major, life-altering loss before becoming involved in adoption. In adoption, in order to gain anything, one must first lose–a family, a child, a dream. It is these losses and the way they are accepted and, hopefully, resolved which set the tone for the lifelong process of adoption.

Adoption is a fundamental, life-altering event. It transposes people from one location in the human mosaic into totally new configuration. Adoptive parents, whether through infertility, failed pregnancy, stillbirth, or the death of a child have suffered one of life’s greatest blows prior to adopting. They have lost their dream child. No matter how well resolved the loss of bearing a child appears to be, it continues to affect the adoptive family at a variety of points throughout the families love cycle (Berman and Bufferd 1986). This fact is particularly evident during the adoptee’s adolescence when the issues of burgeoning sexuality and impending emancipation may rekindle the loss issue.

Birthparents lose, perhaps forever, the child to whom they are genetically connected. Subsequently, they undergo multiple losses associated with the loss of role, the loss of contact, and perhaps the loss of the other birth parent which reshape the entire course of their lives.

Adoptees suffer their first loss at the initial separation from the birth family. Awareness of their adopted status is inevitable. Even if the loss is beyond conscious awareness, recognition, or vocabulary, it affects the adoptee on a very profound level. Any subsequent loss, or the perceived threat of separation, becomes more formidable for adoptees than their non-adopted peers.

The losses in adoption and the role they play in all triad members lives have largely been ignored. The grief process in adoption, so necessary for healthy functioning, is further complicated by the fact that there is no end to the losses, no closure to the loss experience. Loss in adoption is not a single occurrence. There is the initial, identifiable loss and innumerable secondary sub-losses. Loss becomes an evolving process, creating a theme of loss in both the individual’s and family’s development. Those losses affect all subsequent development.

Loss is always a part of triad members’ lives. A loss in adoption is never totally forgotten. It remains either in conscious awareness or is pushed into the unconscious, only to be reawakened by later loss. It is crucial for triad members, their significant others, and the professional with whom they interface, to recognize these losses and the effect loss has on their lives.

Sharon is available for consultations by SKYPE and in person. She teaches classes, consults with agencies, runs support groups and a professional mentoring group. She resides in Southern California.  For more information, please visit her website www.sharonroszia.com 

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