Removal, relinquishment, via bereavement or forced separation across geographical boundariesregardless of the circumstances surrounding the event, it is always going to be traumatic.
For those children who have not only experienced a primary severance of connection, but multiple placements (and losses) since, their grief must increase incrementally, becoming further compounded by each new start.
Trauma has a multi faceted impact on people, from the physical to the psychological and relational and everywhere in-between. We know a lot about trauma from eminent scholars and scientists in the ﬁeld like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Daniel Hughes, Babette Rothschild and Antonio Damassio, to name a few, we know because of people like Allen Schore and Sue Gerhardt who have written more recently and so accessibly about pre and peri natal brain development and the effects of cortisol on the brain.
We know because it’s there. It can be seen in the eyes that bear an ever present layer of sadness.
I have a really terrible memory, not just in a ‘where did I put the remote- oh, it’s in the fridge’ sort of bad memory but a full on wipeout. Before the age of 10, I have a handful of memories, if I were to draw a timeline, there would be a big blank space and then later on some more smaller, less profound ones.
I sometimes wonder if it’s a result of something like cortisol that could have caused this- was there something in the separation that caused my amygdala and hippocampus to go ofﬂine? did something in my brain short circuit, when as a baby, I cried and cried and the right person wasn’t there?
When I met my birth mum she told me that when her own mother found out that she was ﬁve months pregnant, she beat her with a wooden coat hanger all over her body- what does that do to a person stress-wise? What happens in other cases where a child isn’t immediately removed from that environment but left to suffer until agencies intervene? Layer upon layer of trauma. More obvious trauma.
And I get that we need to focus on that, and there is so much more understanding about the effects of trauma on the brain and how to parent therapeutically and empathetically to support positive connection and develop healthy new neural pathways, it’s wonderful that science and reality are starting to level with one another.
But what of children that are ‘just’ given away? There are loads of us- not as common these days of course, but from when records began thousands upon thousands of babies have been relinquished and adopted. I’m not entirely sure that we are included in the trauma informed rhetoric because ‘we would have never known any different’ but my experience tells me that being separated from my birth mum is probably one of the most traumatic things that has happened to me. I was 10 days old, so how can that be?
How can it be that I grew up with a pathological fear of rejection, abandonment issues, nightmares, bed wetting, low self esteem, destructive coping strategies, poor concentration, an innate disrespect for authority, identity issues,a wonky moral compass, eating problems and a need to always be doing 10 things at once?
When I think back now on those early years, I feel like I was a stone knocked down a narrow alley, scratched and bowled, over and over, submerged in a shame, so quiet and pervasive…was a
chemical to blame? Is this the pickling in cortisol that the clever folk talk about? Because my birth mum didn’t use drugs and she didn’t drink, she did sport and ate well – so I cant help but come back to the separation, was that the bit that broke part of me?
I think the adoption world is much more trauma informed now, and it gives me a lot of hope that children who have been adopted in more recent times will have the beneﬁt of parents who are willing to learn and understand their experiences from their perspective, and potentially be able to access external support when needed rather than keep things under wraps or try and cope alone.
I would like to think that any child who is relinquished (at any age) or placed in care or removed or abandoned or has survived the many ways that attachment can fail is afforded the understanding that what they have experienced is a trauma and is supported by the system accordingly.
a. Serious injury to the body, as from physical violence or an accident
b. Severe emotional or mental distress caused by an experience
a. An experience that causes severe anxiety or emotional distress
b. An event or situation that causes great disruption or suffering
The separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.
My fact, at least.