Adoption is a multi-layered process, but not just for the reasons you think. Yes, it involves the biological family, the adopted family, and most importantly, the adoptee/ relinquishee, but it is not limited to those three. You can say that adoption is a lifelong process in that it takes a lifetime for people to be able to adjust to it, cope with it, and flourish from it. The day the relinquishee meets his adoptive family for the first time is the day when this process starts, even though it might seem like this is its conclusion. It might be a conclusion—but only of whatever paperwork is involved, and the physical aspect of it all, such as moving. The psychological and the emotional work has just begun. There’s the biological parents who might need their own supports in order to cope with the major change (giving up a child for adoption is traumatic), and there’s the new family that will most definitely need support in order to adjust to the new situation and learn to best understand the special needs of their new child.
My own experience did not involve therapists. I was adopted into my family at a very young age, without as much as an actual name, and without much psychological preparation of my new parents. They had the means and they had the love, and at that time that seemed to be enough to be able to care for a new baby. Looking back, I know that we should’ve had a lot more resources and supports in order to make my transition more successful. I grew up feeling inadequate and confused about where and how I belonged, and I suffered years of consequences. I was unable to form healthy attachments, and I used drugs and alcohol to help me cope with shyness and shame. I didn’t know why I felt so much shame, but I did. I always talk about feeling as if I was under a giant microscope and that feeling didn’t leave me for a very long time. It became dulled once I introduced substances into my life, but the substances brought on more misery in the form of anxiety, depression, and other health problems.
I know that I was a good person despite the fact that I didn’t feel like a good person, especially when I would do something as a result of my drinking. I was unable to be a present father and a good husband for a very long time, and I lived my life almost separately from those closest to me. At the same time, I craved connection and felt terribly lonely.
Today, I know that a properly trained professional would’ve been able to help me overcome some of the issues I suffered in childhood and adulthood. Had we all worked with someone (or a group of professionals) to help us understand each other properly, we would possibly have been able to avoid a lot of heartbreak we all went through.
I was a person who had gone through an enormous trauma and nobody, including myself, knew it. Imagine if I were someone who was missing a limb or was sick with an illness that needed medical attention and if everyone—including my parents—around me ignored it? It seems cruel and impossible, but trauma can be just as debilitating. The problem with mental health issues is that we cannot always see them and that we are used to sweeping things under the proverbial rug when they flare up. As human animals, it is in our best interest to learn to mimic well-being and health. We learn from a very young age that appearing troubled or getting in trouble only brings negative attention. I see in photographs from my past a little boy who was sad and lost, and I wish someone around me had noticed and did something about that. Alas, I don’t dwell on my past, but instead use that experience to help others who might be going through difficulties.
If you know someone or if you yourself are considering adoption, are a relinquishee or love one, I strongly encourage you to invest in psychological services, in educating yourself, and in approaching adoption as a complex situation that always goes beyond the day the adopted person comes home. Treat it as an investment in your/ their future—because the future can be bright, we just need to keep shining light on it.