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Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Adult Adoptee Unhappiness: An Alternative to Primal Wounds

Much discussion over the last several months has been devoted to the Primal Wound idea. A number of adult adoptees have stated that because they are unhappy with family relationships now, and because they were separated from their birthmothers, the unhappiness must have been caused by the separation. I, on the other hand, have suggested some other factors that could have the same effect and that I believe to be much more likely than Primal Wounds. I also expressed concern for adoptive parents who are given the idea that their children have an almost untreatable emotional scar.

Neither side has convinced the other, and I really wasn’t going to mention this matter again, but today I read a very relevant article about an issue for adoptive families, and I want to summarize and quote some parts of it. The article is in the January 2011 issue of “Zero to Three” and is by Eda Spielman of the Center for Early Relationship Support in Boston. The title is “Post-Adoption Depression: Clinical Windows on an Emerging Concept” (pp. 35-40). Spielman discusses in detail this possible cause for difficulties in adoptive relationships.

Spielman notes the many experiences of powerlessness that accompany the decision to adopt and the process of adoption, and describes the physical and emotional reactions that June Bond has n called post-adoption depression syndrome. These reactions, which Spielman calls “a salient descriptor of a significant minority of newly adoptive parents”, have many parallels to the perinatal mood disorders sometimes experienced by birth parents. The parents’ emotional reactions can be both caused by the challenges of parenting, and themselves causes of challenging developmental difficulties.

Spielman mentions as a particularly challenging area the use of abilities for mentalization or reflective function. These abilities have to do with a person’s capacity to observe another’s experience, to know that experience is separate from one’s own, and to be interested in the experience and thoughts that lie behind behavior. Spielman suggests that these functions may be particularly difficult for adoptive parents: “To fully consider the early experience of their child is to ‘think about the unthinkable’-- namely, what it may feel like to be abandoned, given up, or left by a birth parent; what the early period of life may have been like; and, possibly, what it may feel like to then leave again the orphanage or foster home that was home for weeks, months, or years.”

Commenting on adoptive parents who do not feel depressed but irritable and disconnected, Spielman notes, ”These parents can be seen as particularly vulnerable to acting out on their feelings because they have no perspective on them.” She goes on to say, “Other adoptive parents are haunted by their imaginings of their child’s past to the point of preoccupation and confusion about whose experiences belong to whom. They may have difficulty finding the boundary between being open to considering potentially painful questions and assuming the meanings and reverberations of these early experiences, An adoptive mother sought help around sleep problems. She had her own early loss issues and was overwhelmed by the pain she imagined her child felt at having been abandoned at 3 months of age. If she put him down to sleep and he expressed any distress, she felt she was repeating his early abandonment. She found herself preoccupied with thoughts of his early suffering and felt paralyzed with fear that she was causing him more anguish. The challenge of mentalizing is to balance empathic understanding and separateness, to feel for the other but know one’s own experience as distinct from that: “I will try to understand your feelings but know they are not my feelings.’ “ (Nor, I may add, are the infant’s feelings the same as the feelings the adult would have if now placed in the same situation.)

Post-adoptive depression, and the constraints it puts on parent-infant interaction, may have impacts on the development of communication, social relationships, and attitudes toward other people and toward the self. As more is understood about this problem, it’s to be hoped that vulnerability to depression in adoptive parents can be detected early and support systems can be put in place, just as we would try to do for a birthmother with signs of a perinatal mood disorder. One useful step that could take place right now is to stop claiming that Primal Wounds curse all or many adoptive families-- a piece of disinformation that may be more than a parent with post-adoption depression can cope with.


  1. Maybe adoptive parents need to stop being such a bunch of narccicists who make everything about themselves.

    1. It seems that the need to invalidate the "Primal Wound" has backfired. Post adoption depression is of the adopting mother. To try to medically remove the adoptive mother's empathy for the adopted child's trauma is wrong, as it is a tie that might sustain their bond.

    2. Perhaps you could elaborate on this.

  2. That would be good advice for all of us,I'm thinking. But adoptive parents often do find themselves in a position where it's hard to do this without help.

  3. "One useful step that could take place right now is to stop claiming that Primal Wounds curse all or many adoptive families-- a piece of disinformation that may be more than a parent with post-adoption depression can cope with."

    Seriously? The Primal Wound is what many children who have lost their first Mothers go through. It is NOT about, nor is it "against" the adoptive parents. Once again, you have shown your feelings how adoption is about the adoptive parents. Newsflash, dear Doctor- adoption is supposed to be about the child.

    How ridiculous that you seem to be blaming the child for an ap's "post adoption depression".

    Paps need to be educated BEFORE adoption that a stranger's child will never be the same as a child of their own. Any post adoption "depression" they may have is NOT the same as the NATURAL,hormone induced depression many women have after giving birth to their own children. Once again, ap's are trying to compare themselves to the child's biological parent.

    "Many have stated that because they are unhappy with family relationships now, and because they were separated from their birthmothers, the unhappiness must have been caused by the separation."

    For someone who slams adoptees for generalizing, you are doing just that.

    The adoptees I know (including myself) do not blame their relationship issues with their ap's on the separation from their first Mothers. Most of us blame our relationship problems with our ap's....on our ap's.

    It is NOT the child's responsibility to fix their ap's. Not their wounds from infertility, and not their wounds from realizing that they are not bonded to a stranger's child in the way they had hoped.

    The only help paps and ap's need is education. They need to know that raising a stranger's child is NOT the same as raising their own child. They need to realize that an adoptee will bond to them, but in a different way. An adoptee will never be "as if born to them", the myth that the industry loves to sell. Just like the puke-tastic "poem" for ap's says- two different kinds of love. Different does not have to mean wrong, nor does it have to mean bad. It's just different.

    Ap's cannot "love away" any wounds their adoptive child may have from losing their first Mother. They cannot "fix" the fact that their adoptive child is now in a family full of strangers and is, in most cases, nothing like their adoptive family.

    What they CAN do is respect their child for who they are- a child of another woman, who was bonded to her on a cellular level. They should respect those boundaries. Adoption changes our names-not who we are on a cellular level.

    1. I'm both a birth mother and an adoptive mother, and I agree totally with what you say, Linda. Post-adoption "depression" is nothing at all like the hormone-driven post-partum kind. I love my adopted son, and I love my birth children, but I cannot say the feelings are the same. I love my husband too, but not the same way I love my children.

  4. Respect for the child, and for all members of all families, is what I have in mind. It's not "blaming" when we query what role each individual or factor played in the complex transactions that determine a developmental pathway. Understanding those roles and providing accurate information about them is a way of expressing respect for human beings as they function in all types of families.

    If you could explain what you mean by a "cellular bond", that would be a constructive contribution, and might help me and others understand what you believe a Primal Wound is.

  5. I agree with Linda that the primal wound, or whatever you will or won't call it, is a curse on the *adoptee*, not the adoptive family. It's something I lived with that didn't have a name until I read Verrier's book several years ago.

    When you say that "many adoptees" blame the primal wound for poor relationships with their adoptive parents, this isn't true for me. Please don't use "many" when you don't allow it of others! I have a wonderful relationship with my aparents. I love them and am bonded deeply to them. The primal wound, for me, is not about my aparents or what they did or didn't do. It's about a loss stemming from the FACT that I was separated from my mother. I have felt a profound loss my entire life, and it manifested itself in my infant behavior, per my amom. You can chalk my infant distress up to gas, or poorly fitting clothing, being to hot, or whatever you like. I cannot argue with you, because I was an infant and didn't have words to record my experience at that time. You would have to have an in-depth conversation with my mother, who read "The Primal Wound" several months ago and told me that it helped her to make sense of the way I behaved when she brought me home from the agency, nearly 42 years ago. What Verrier says works for ME and MY family. I don't say that it applies to everyone, nor am I a victim who leads a clotted life because of it. I am an intelligent, high functioning human being. Probably better functioning and better educated than many children raised by their natural parents. But I still feel a wound that I didn't invent at the age of 40. It's ALWAYS been there, for *me*. That's all I am saying or have said in these past months. I know you have an alternative explanation. Fine. But it's my life.

    I respect what Verrier has written, although I don't think the way she universalizes things is helpful. I disagree with her once she says everyone is cripped irrevocably by the separation. If people don't like Verrier's theory, they don't have to accept it or apply it to their lives. It's that simple.

    In your post I hear you using an anecdote about an adoptive mother being emotionally crippled and a poor parent due to post-adoption depression. I am sure that post-adoption depression exists, and it should be treated. What I have problems with is saying that aparents shouldn't read "The Primal Wound" or any of what you call folderol because it isn't based in science, and it is potentially upsetting to them. Where are the studies that follow aparents who read "The Primal Wound" and those who don't (in a randomized study) to show correlation between reading PW and post-adoption depression and possibly poor parental attachment and parenting? They don't exist, as far as I know. So I raise an eyebrow when you blame us adult adoptees for making aparents' lives difficult when we talk about how adoption has affected us. Aparents, like any good parents, should examine their motives and prejudices, and deal with them as individuals.

    Should no parents read parenting books because they feel depressed if they don't measure up to the prescriptions? It would make for very few "allowable" parenting books.

    I recognize that you reject the primal wound because it's not been proved to your satisfaction by science. Fair enough. But please don't tell me what I "probably" experienced or didn't experience, or what was "probably" at play. As far as I know, you weren't there to observe, which is the gold standard to you for drawing conclusions.

    I know there are confounding factors in many studies. I know it's hard to prove things. I don't claim the primal wound as gospel that must be adhered to by everyone. It is not a cult. It provides ONE framework that some adoptees, like myself, find useful for discussing what we experienced.

    1. There is a cellular bond that mothers and infants share. Recent studies have discovered fetal cells in mothers' bodies long years after the child was born and vice versa. Lived experience has proved to me that such a bond exists. My natural children feel like part of me. I love my adopted son, but neither of us sees ourselves in the other.

    2. Pam, everything you say in your two comments has been addressed elsewhere in this discussion, so I'm not going to reply further at this point.

  6. Ms. M., you seem to be saying that you find PW a helpful metaphor for yourself. I wouldn't be arguing about this if it weren't for people who present it as not metaphorical. Linda speaks of a "cellular bond". Does she mean an attachment that's so intense that "it might as well be part of the cells"? Or does she mean something that actually forms part of people's cells?

    As for ideas making adoptive parents' lives difficult-- such difficulty is bound to influence their treatment of their children, and in the long run can have ill effects on the children's experiences and their development.It's the same issue as perinatal mood disorders causing developmental problems in the children-- treating the adults may be the most effective way to relieve the children's problems. That's why I'm concerned about disinformation being circulated.

  7. Whether the PW exists or not, I am confused as to how acknowledging it is any different than acknowledging the loss of an older child in terms of how that would impact whether or not the Adoptive Parent becomes depressed. Why is the PW theory (which is largely not acknowledged) singled out as causing depression but not other losses in adoption ( ones which are largely acknowledged)?

    If it is depressing to acknowledge that an infant experiences abandonment that wouldn't be able to be recalled by memory....wouldn't it also be depressing to acknowledge the abandonment of an older child who can recall their experience by memory?

    So if the solution is to stop talking about the PW to avoid parents feeling depressed, we'd have to stop talking about any losses to avoid it.

    I think the additional variable here might be that individuals may adopt infants because they think infants will be impervious to adoption-and-loss-related issues to find out that they may not be. Whether any given adoptee who talks about adoption-related issues says they from being impacted by separation at birth or from processing the concept of losses and differences brought about by adoption through each stage of development growing up, being adopted as an infant does not guarantee an adoptee will be pain or issue free.

    If a loss, any kind of loss, exists, it exists. It doesn't go away by not talking about it--certainly not for the adoptee. Wouldn't it be better to acknowledge that any adoptee, of any type of adoption or pre-adoption circumstances, has the potential to deal with issues of loss or adoption-related issues and for parents to be aware and for all involved to seek the guidance of professionals if there is any depression etc. involved?

  8. I would certainly acknowledge all these things. What I reject is leading families to interpret ordinary child behavior as indicating intense grief and needing to be treated in that way-- treatment that may create concerns that did not actually exist before.

    I would like to see people talk about all subjective and objective losses and the ways human beings deal with them step by step in the course of development. Focusing on a notional PW as the cause of feelings of loss can stand in the way of processing later perceived loss by talking about that loss, as Amanda suggests we should.

    In any case, what I talked about in the original post was maternal depression following adoption, but not necessarily caused by any characteristic of the child or the child's history. I pointed out that maternal depression interferes with care and emotional responses, that this can occur for adoptive as well as birth mothers, and that it is reasonable to examine this observable factor as one possible cause for the lifelong distress reported by Ms. Marginalia and others.

  9. and, I have to add, I do acknowledge portions of the PW concept. But I did not come to agree with it because of reading Verrier's book; I only read her book recently. It was from reading parenting/birth books and taking classes when preparing for the birth of my child that caused me to reflect on my adoptee-self. I realized that I was getting a set of recommendations because I was parenting that were probably ignored when it came to my own adoption as an infant. That seemed like a huge contradiction to me.

    And, I have a wonderful relationship with my parents. The PW, for me, has little to do with how I view or have bonded with them.

  10. "Focusing on a notional PW as the cause of feelings of loss can stand in the way of processing later perceived loss by talking about that loss, as Amanda suggests we should."

    One of my favorite adoption authors/researchers would probably agree with those that say that there is no Primal Wound. I agree that focusing on the PW may leave issues of other possible causes untreated. However, likewise, ignoring the PW when something may be caused by it seems unfavorable based on the same concept. Why completely disinclude the PW when there are many Adult Adoptees who have been greatly helped by it?

  11. While maternal depression may interfere with care and emotional responses, discounting grief a newborn may be experiencing due to the unnatural separation from his/her first Mother is bad parenting. It's irresponsible.

    When I say "cellular level", I mean just that. We were one with our first Mothers before birth. We know her voice, her rhythms- sleeping, breathing, reactions, etc. We were connected to her in way that is impossible to be connected to a stranger- whether that stranger is a nurse, foster care giver, or adoptive mother.

    Im curious as to whether or not you have given birth. Unless one has given birth, I think it is impossible to understand the bond between natural mother & child.

    My own a Mom understands this difference, as she had a child after she adopted me and my a brother. I wont dispute her claims of not loving all three of us the same, but the bond she had and continues to have with her natural born child is different. Even she, a lady who loves to live in the land of denial when it comes to adoption, lol, admits the bond is different.

    The following link sums up how I feel about the primal wound. It is MY "wound", or issue, problem, whatever you want to call it. But it is real, and it should have been recognized when I was a baby, and I should not have been forced to live "as if born to". I have 4 real parents, I am a product of all four. Two, connected by a cellular level, two, on a real life level. Now that I am in reunion, I know how ALL of those levels are important.

  12. Amanda, could you explain in what way you feel the PW concept has helped adult adoptees?

    And, Linda, I still don't know what you mean by a bond at the cellular level. Is there some place in the cell where this happens? Mitochondrial DNA, maybe, because that comes from the mother?

    I'm asking these questions seriously and would appreciate your thoughts about them.

    Sorry, I almost forgot to answer Linda's question. Yes, I have given birth twice, each time after a period of infertility, miscarried once, no abortions, no adoptions in either direction, two grandchildren so far. Breastfed for a total of almost 3 years of my life, and agree with Eudora Welty's character who said "a woman never feels so good as when she has milk in her". Why, were you thinking I don't know how people feel about their kids? I'm pretty sure I do-- but that personal information really has nothing to do with the topic under discussion.

  13. I agree that some adoptees might feel alienated from their adoptive parents or have bonded poorly due to post-adoption depression. But once again, this model probably does not explain my own feelings of loss. My amom has no history of depression at the age of 72. While I cannot say that ot is impossible that she rejected me, I think it is highly unlikely given all the accounts within my afamily.

    I never said that I believe in the PW as a metaphor. You are putting words in my mouth. My feelings of deep sadness and loss predate words, according to my amom. I was quiet and withdrawn even at 10 weeks. You could potentially write this off as my temperament, except that those who know me in real life can attest I am far from quiet and withdrawn. Focused, maybe. All of this is buried deep.

    You asked Amanda how adult adoptees have benefited from Verrier's book. As I said before, it helped me make sense, at the age of 40, of something that lay deep inside myself and that had always been there. I don't believe it cripples me or makes me a helpless victim. It is part of who I am and has been integrated into my experience and sense of self.

    As I said before, there are shelves of books in stores on parenting that are guaranteed to make one parent or another feel inadequate or sad. If the PW is useful to some adoptees to explain their loss, why censor it on the chance that there will be a depressed adoptive parent? I know you don't agree with it, but that doesn't mean we all think the way you do, or that you should arbitrate what adult adoptees feel, read, or discuss. Why is it that adoptive parents' feelings trump adoptees' feelings? I know today's adoptive parents have the capacity to help or harm their children, like any parents. But I will not shut up to make them "safe."

    Adults are free to read, critique, throw out, or accept what they will. They don't need to be censored.

  14. "Much discussion over the last several months has been devoted to the Primal Wound idea. A number of adult adoptees have stated that because they are unhappy with family relationships now, and because they were separated from their birthmothers, the unhappiness must have been caused by the separation"

    What a ridiculous and insulting comment.

    I for one, have satisfying relationships with my adoptive parents. Your enmity and lack of respect for adoptees is very alarming to me considerting your profession and self-described 'adoption expertise'

  15. Ms. M-- it's not a metaphor, then? It's an event that ought to be observable in some way?

    Joy21, be your family as it may, people on blogs have said exactly what I said here. I didn't make it up.

    My expertise is about infant and child development. I don't see how claims about adoption can be incongruent with what's known about early development and still be given credence. There's nothing inimical or disrespectful about that position. I'm paying respect by being willing to discuss a matter which to most psychologists would not be worth much consideration, and in fact I find your beliefs very interesting and worthy of attention. However,I think they're implausible relative to what's known about early development.

  16. Yes, Jean, from many of your rants on a few anti PW blogs, it really did seem to me, and other "woundies" that you had not given birth to your own children.

    I disagree, though. Our "personal information" and experiences have everything to do with the topic under discussion. If it were not for the experiences and "personal information" of the adoptees you seem to enjoy dismissing, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

    I'm not sure why you cannot grasp the concept of "cellular level". Surely you are aware of this cellular activity: The fusion of the ovum's and sperm's nuclei forms a diploid cell and completes the first stage of pregnancy.

    Every cell in our body has the same family of genes that we get from our natural parents. Genes are located in the nucleus of every cell.

    I don't think our mtDNA is a factor, although "most" adoptees will attest to the fact that their pain stems from losing their first Mothers. We were inside of them, we knew them in an intimate way before we were born. No offense to my first father, lol.

    I'm not a geneticist. Im just a bastard who has had my own children, and I've lived with genetic strangers. I have also been in reunion with both sides of my first family, and I know the "cellular" bond I have with them- it's natural, it's biology. It's that simple.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Then provide a link. I don't believe you.

    Your "expertise" is subjective. The ideas you promote are not even mainstream. The infant/mother dyad is widely recognized.

    You strike me as very mid-last-century American in your thinking. People who have actually had the experience you are speculating about are telling you, "You are doing it wrong" yet you keep going. That makes your deficiencies obvious. I mean I know that is all you can see, so that is all you think there is.

    You are simply wrong. Also, I find it quite rich even for you, to dismiss adoptees relating their experience because it isn't "scientific" enough for you, but you speculate wildly about a whole host of other scenarios.

    Then you come back with these disingenous questioins, "oh tell me more about it" ? If you were interested in the adult adoptee experience you would read their blogs instead of preaching in ignorance.

    As far as being connected to my mother on a cellular level? Yes, I was. I was formed out of her body--her cells made up mine. Her egg is half of me, we share ancesters. I am not understanding why this is so very perplexing to you.

  18. So, am I right in thinking you don't actually mean anything about cell functions-- what you mean is that you experienced your mother's body, and that experience guided your development? And that your biological relatives give you some sense of familiarity that you don't find in other people?

    I don't know whether you believe me, but I am just trying to figure out what you think. I thought maybe I had it with mtDNA, but I guess not.

    Hey, how about this: what if two women's ove were fertilized in vitro, then each was implanted with the other's ovum. Which mother would you expect each baby to be attached to, the genetic one or the gestational one?

    1. I don't entirely agree or disagree with anything you've said Jean. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the topic, because this grief feels almost... new to me. Yet old in an odd way...
      all I can say is that I want my mom to be my mom in ways you couldn't imagine. More than anything. I've always known I was adopted but I've suddenly been overtaken with this feeling of loss, and shock, and grief. I've known my birth mother for years, but I can't tell you the pain I feel that I'll never really be my mother's daughter. That's all I want, that's all I've ever wanted, because I love her so much. I know that's not scientific, and I haven't read the primal wound... but this is how I feel after having my daughter. It's like it's only sinking in now. I've just started to grieve now... and it's awful. I thought I was fine, I thought it didn't affect me...

    2. Dear Nikki-- I am so sorry that you are experiencing such distress.

      You don't say how old your daughter is, but you seem to say that your present bad feelings came after her birth. I am wondering about perinatal mood disorders/post-partum depression as factors in your present sense of grief. I hope that you will go to your OB/GYN and ask to be screened for depression. (I suggest that person because nowadays OB/GYNs are probably the best trained in recognition of this type of mood disorder.) Depression can be and should be treated.

      I don't mean to suggest that depression is the only thing at work here. Everyone, adopted and nonadopted, goes through periods of re-processing our relationships with people who have been "mothers" or "fathers" to us. Those periods can be quite uncomfortable, and for obvious reasons they are likely to be linked to the birth of our own children. However, if depression is a factor, it complicates the emotional work we are doing and makes it harder for us to think through our own experiences and attitudes.

      I hope you will go for depression screening and let me know what happens. Your experiences could be very helpful to others who find themselves in the same position.

    3. Alright, it seems that you aren't interested in posting my other reply. You only want people to post things that you think you can come up with a counter argument with.
      Like I said before, I've been told over and over that I had unprocessed trauma. And I couldn't figure out why. I thought it was because I had been abused. But then I ran over my whole life and realized... I've never experienced abuse. I used one of the PTSD tools a psychologist gave me a long time ago.
      And I was extremely distressed when I wrote the above statement. Hearing that I needed professional help was actually further rejection for me. But I was already starting to process some deep-seated stuff.
      The trouble was, that I thought you had to be related to someone in order to love them. Either that or it had to be a sexual, romantic love.
      It took me over a year of processing information in my head to realize that love is actually just putting someone needs ahead of yours. That has been my adoption journey. I didn't need the primal wounds book to figure it out, because I've never read it, but you were right that I did need to talk to someone. (they ruled out depression right away of course)
      And, watching the kid's movie "Frozen" over and over again helped a lot too. It's like I learned something about myself each time I saw it.
      I feel like everything I've ever known has been transformed, and it's amazing. Sometimes you have to go to a really dark place before you can see the light.

    4. I've posted everything I've received from you. Maybe you didn't complete the process.

      I see that you didn't tell me the whole story before, but instead made it sound as if the problem was quite a recent one.

      The PW people think you do have to be related to someone in order to be "attached" to them, so I'm not sure how you see your conclusion as related to their view.

  19. A link to what, Joy21?

    As for my questions,you can take this opportunity to explain your positions to people who don't ordinarily read adoption blogs, or not. It's up to you.

  20. I meant "ova" above, of course, not "ove", whatever they might be.

  21. A link to the blog saying that the adoptee blames present day unhappiness in relationships on their separation from their mother.

    I must say that for a resercher you are decidely incurious about your subject matter.

    If someone wants to read my position, they can follow my link. I actually don't believe you have a big readership and it is a handful of women whose point of view I am already familiar with and vice versa so I won't waste my time. I don't appreciate your misleading assertions about adoptees and their belief systems.

    I am disappointed as per usual in your lack of integrity.

  22. Isn't that what Ms. Marginalia said in her comment above? Or is the problem here about the word "relationships", which I would use to mean all social interactions, not just sex?

    No,I don't have a big readership, but as Spencer Tracy said, "it's cherce".

  23. By the way, I'm signing off for the night.Tomorrow will be another day,with any luck.

  24. Noooooooooooo, she said specifically she did not. Your comprehension or lack therof, is alarming.

    I am not surprised there is not a link and this all is an invention of your imagination. Typical.

  25. I can only tell you about what I feel, what I have always felt. I have a psychological wound. It is not observable. Would you ask that about someone who underwent a different kind of trauma, by their own admission? Since you cannot see the wound, it doesn't exist? I was an infant when separated from my mother, so I do not have words to tell you what it was like. My natural mother had PTSD--diagnosed by a medical doctor--and doesn't remember anything of my birth, so she cannot speak to it. My adoptive mother brought me home at 10 weeks, and as I have told you, noticed that I was listless and closed off to the world. I shrank from touch. This is not normal. She wondered what it was about at the time. You can explain it as you like, but I know what I feel, and the primal wound helped me put a name to it.

    I do NOT have attachment problems in ANY of my familial relationships, natural or otherwise. I don't know where you got that from. Please don't misquote me. I have a long-standing psychological wound that manifests as intense anxiety. *I* feel this stems from my separation from my natural mother. You don't have to accept this, that's fine. It's not your life. But please don't tell me that I cannot feel what I feel because it injures adoptive parents.

    I don't understand the comment about sexual relationships. Where did anyone say anything about it?

  26. "Hey, how about this: what if two women's ove were fertilized in vitro, then each was implanted with the other's ovum. Which mother would you expect each baby to be attached to, the genetic one or the gestational one?"

    That is one of the most fucked-up, unnatural situations, and I wish no child was subjected to that. Obviously they'd be attached to both, but what effects that might have on their psyche are anyone's guess. Humans need to quick fucking with everything.

    Also: You are not an adoptee. You have no right to dismiss - or question - what so very many adoptees feel explain them and their experiences. Adoptive parents just need to get over it. Adoption is a major traumatic loss, in many ways, and they should realise it. It is also not the same as raising your own child. They need to be aware of the loss, trauma, and likely effects adoption will have on the child over their lifecourse.

  27. Here's a link: . Concern about rejection certainly counts as a relationship problem, as would social anxiety (although I don't really know what Ms. M. is anxious about).

    Afamily, that was a thought problem. I was just trying to understand what you all mean by a biological bond. I don't understand why you say the children would be attached to both. Are there two or more biological mechanisms you have in mind?

    As for non-adoptees not discussing adoption, that would seem to mean that none of us adults should discuss what babies might feel, either.

  28. "These abilities have to do with a person’s capacity to observe another’s experience, to know that experience is separate from one’s own, and to be interested in the experience and thoughts that lie behind behavior. Spielman suggests that these functions may be particularly difficult for adoptive parents"

    It's called empathy. Most narcissists don't experience this.

  29. Very true, but it can be difficult for those who are not narcissists also, and can be made more difficult by circumstances. That's what Spielman was getting at.

    Mary Dozier has done some useful work involving training foster parents to be more sensitive to small cues children give them-- there is particular difficulty for empathy when emotion is not clearly expressed.

  30. "Hey, how about this: what if two women's ove were fertilized in vitro, then each was implanted with the other's ovum. Which mother would you expect each baby to be attached to, the genetic one or the gestational one?"

    Goody gumdrops! That sounds like an oh-so-modern-now-a-go-go social experiment we can do with babies and then dismiss them when they become adults and express their feelings of disapproval.

  31. Nope, another misrepresentation. I don't see anywhere in that blog where the author claims that the reason she doesn't get on with adoptive parents is due to her connection with her mother (natural) She seems to think they had problems of their own. Which they may have. Not all adoptive parents can bond with adoptees, some have RAD. Okay kidding about that last bit, sorta.

    But the problem seems to be in your ability to understand. It seems to be turned off for some reason. So for whatever reason, you think it is okay to misrepresent adoptees as a class of people too stupid to understand their own experiences. Like we don't have enough shame and stigma associated with us.

    As far as your ability to interpret meaning, I don't know if you can. You read people's bald faced statements like "I have a good relationship with my aparents" and interpret that to mean "I can't get on with my aparents because I pretend to have a mystical connection with my birth lady" I mean that is craaaaaaaaaazy.

    Ms. Marginalia explains why she is anxious. Your lack of ability to listen is not something we can help you with. That the people you are speaking about are telling you that you are doing it wrong should be reason enough to give you pause and start reading and listening.

    That fact that it doesn't speaks to your lack of ethics and integrity.

  32. That's not how I read it, Joy. I'll leave it to other readers to see how they interpret it.

    Meanwhile, I don't see any reason to post further personal remarks. I don't make them, and I don't expect you to if you want your comments to be seen here. You can entertain yourself at your own blog, and I'm sure you will.

    Mari, I can't imagine that you really believe that that "experiment" was anything but a point for discussion.

  33. You misread it. You misrepresent people to and treat adoptees like leveraging points for your agenda.

    Shame on you.

  34. I have told you that I have been anxious for as long as I can remember. I cannot spell it out more clearly. No, I don't have social anxiety disorder, no, I do not have problems attaching. I feel that the loss of my mother at birth affected me profoundly and reired my limbic system. This los was compounded by my having no primary caretaker for 10 weeks.

    You clearly disagree with me, and I have said that's fine. But to say "I don't see what Ms. M is anxious about" is very dismissive.

  35. I said I don't know, not "I don't see". And it seems that you can't describe it either --not that you should have to-- so I don't see why it's dismissive of me to say I don't know.

    Your friend's comment was a personal remark, so I haven't posted it.

  36. I intended to write "rewired" my limbic system.

  37. Which friend? I am talking to you as an individual.

    We are going in circles. I have told you what I know and what I feel. It doesn't fall under your umbrella of empirical data, so you keep asking me to provide data. I was an infant without language. Emotions are powerful, and early life experiences can have profound effects on how infants, and the adults they become, make sense of the world.

    You are right that I shouldn't have to justify what I feel. It is my experience, but vivisection cannot show any "truth" beyond what I can recount and my amother can describe.

    You seem to want to diagnose my anxiety as something with other roots. I have seen many psychiatrists and therapists who are willing to make reasonable leaps of faith and accept my recounting of my experience. That is, in the end, what matters to me, as it is what I must live with.

    Other adoptees who feel similar things are not so fortunate, and are told that adoption is an event with loss that is small in the big scheme of things. We don't make this stuff up just to annoy you. Really.

    I am finished here.

  38. I know you meant rewired and limbic. Too bad these things can't be edited more easily.

    I don't know how vivisection got into the picture, though.

    I'll be finished for a while,too.

  39. So MY trauma may have been "too much" for my adopters to handle and because of that I shouldn't talk about the trauma inflicted upon me as an infant? Let me make sure I got this part right, I shouldn't talk about it because it might be too much for an ADOPTER to handle? Oh ok then. I'll just go back to shutting my ungrateful, angry mouth.

    Holy narcissism Adoptoraptor Man!

  40. When something is too much for an adopter to handle, that means that the adopter does not do as good a job with the child as might be possible. If the adopter doesn't do a good enough job with the child, that means that emotional and cognitive problems may develop. When emotional and cognitive problems develop, the adopted child may grow to be an unhappy adult.

    I haven't said you shouldn't talk about your difficulties.What I have said is that to claim an implausible Primal Wound-- and to make an industry of this kind of claim, as some "parenting" books do-- is to do a disservice to everyone involved in adoption, to create concerns that can go beyond what adoptive parents can cope with, and thus to put obstacles in the path of children's optimal development.

    Are you following me now?

  41. Hi Jean,

    I'm confused over 2 things:

    1) the resistance to both acknowledging the existence of pain in others and

    2) denying the need to address it in order to protect some adults who may not be able to handle it.

    Denial is never the best approach to problems. It doesn't make it go away & can even make things worse. As a researcher in this field & as a mother yourself, certainly you have come across studies documenting how babies see their mothers as an extension of themselves for quite some time, rather than separate entities. When mother is there, they feel secure & complete. Although they can eventually adapt to substitute caregivers when necessary, those are not the same. Babies know their own mothers. If a child lost his/her mother to death, would you ignore the suffering & loss there too? In the young child's mind, it's the exact same thing. Mother (and a part of themselves) is gone, whether it be from adoption or from death. They do not grasp the difference of why Mother is gone. They are unable to put that experience into words at the time. They will still need to process their associated grief.

    Any adult who cannot understand the concept of a child grieving over losing his/her mother, entire family & everything else familiar to them, is really not the best candidate for trying to parent that child.

    The time to educate & prepare, as well as determine the psychological fitness of the adult is BEFORE any adoption transpires, not after. Verrier's book, and others that explore this area, are valid resources that should be required reading for anyone interested in raising other people's children. Telling people that adoption trauma is not real is a disservice to both adopters & adoptees. Yes Jean, it may go beyond what those with unrealistic expectations can cope with. Those are exactly the ones who should be screened out from the pool of prospective adopters. Even with home studies, far too many unqualified applicants are slipping through the approval process. Adopted children deserve the best-informed & mentally-healthiest adoptive parents available. We hear so much about how there are too many prospective adopters these days. By eliminating all of the emotionally-weaker applicants, the total quantity can be reduced, leaving only applicants of the highest quality. Be advised that depression in adoptive parents is not the same as post-partum depression, and should not be acceptable when there are many adults without mental illnesses who could be providing care for the children. Adoption is supposed to provide a better home for a child. It’s also meant to be a service for CHILDREN in need, not adults in need. Clearly not every adult can handle it or should try. (Some of them might do better having biological children where these adoption issues will never arise).


  42. Part 2 continued...

    As others stated, adoption is simply not the same as parenting your own children. Even having the best of adoptive parents does not negate the pain of losing that first family any more than a remarriage takes away the pain of losing the first spouse to death. The second spouse didn't cause the pain and cannot erase it.

    I ask you to think back to a time you lost a loved one. Was that pain real to you? Can you prove it? If you were young, did your pain still count? How young would you have to be for it to not matter to others? Would you have been able to repress your pain in order to not make someone else uncomfortable? Would that have been fair? Of course not, and that should not be expected from any child. Anyone who has experienced the pain of loss or has common sense knows it is real. It should be universally recognized.

    Not sure what your sources are, but I have never seen any claims either here or on any other sites from adult adoptees claiming that the quality of their relationships with adoptive parents have anything to do with causing a primal wound. It happens upon the separation from the natural mother. That's before the adoptive parents entered the picture. I do not believe the voices of adult adoptees that have direct experience with this should be dismissed and distorted as they have been here. They only want validation & to prevent more children from experiencing this unnecessarily. I hope your readers will ask themselves who in their right mind would be opposed to that and why? Thank you,

    julie j

  43. I find it interesting that you are willing to completely dismiss the Primal Wound concept but you are willing to quote a speculative theory about depression in adoptive parents as though it is gospel - is this based on your opinion? On your personal experience? Because most adoptees I know who agree with Verrier's theory do so because they have lived it. She is not the only psychologist who has written about prenatal bonding and what separation of a child from their mother will do to a child so I don't believe that you should dismiss her quite so quickly. I also don't agree with your theory that bad adoptive parents will cause the same problems as those explained by infant detachment from their biological mother. I know far too many adoptees who love and respect their adoptive parents because they have been wonderful parents and yet the adoptee still feels a sense of loss and deals with a myriad of self esteem and abandonment issues. I would be interested to hear what your credentials are that you can dismiss one form of depression with no proof and promote the existence of another with no proof. Are you a practicing psychologist? Neurologist? Have you studied the brain chemistry of babies? Are you an adoptee, or a birthmother or an adoptive parent? Exactly what gives you the right to debunk one theory and promote another?

  44. An adoptee (a person who has lost both their parents, their identity, extended family and ancestral knowledge/roots) may get all the support and validation needed while growing up. The adoptee could have had the best darn adopters in the world, yet the loss is still present.

    Remember, there are identity secrecy laws and societal and family expectations placed on the adopted person to, well, be the adopted person and play out that role of son or daughter to the adopting individuals and everyone else.

    Whether an adopted person is happy and functioning is so not the point, just as someone who feels that his or her loss began at infant separation from mother or later in life need not be questioned.

    The Primal Wound acknowledges that a child had a mother before adoption. That’s a big DUH, yes?

    What adopters can't cope with, generally, is the reality of another mother and father, identity and connection to a blood family (and wasn’t so kind of the government to legally seal birth certificates and amended birth certificates from mothers and their daughters and sons to help adopters cope with that fear?). PW and other books on the subject of separation, IMO, would be hard for adopters to swallow, because it challenges the erroneous belief that children will, as along as there's love, be "happy" about being adopted and not preoccupied with finding their family and identity.

    It’s really scary to think that a concept as rudimentary as the PW could alter the manner in which a child is raised and supported through their developmental years.

  45. Julie, once again, no one has denied the pain that is all too plain in these communications.
    What I have said is that the idea of a Primal Wound, an emotional scar due to separation from the birth mother, and posited to occur in the early weeks or even days of the child's life, is not congruent with what's known about early development. There's every reason to think that there are other causes for these difficulties.

    Because of this lack of congruence, I suggest that it's important to look for alternative causes of the difficulties experienced by some of the commenters here. Most developmental outcomes have more than one cause, but I pointed out work on post-adoption depression which could plausibly be related to the bad outcomes individuals are reporting.

    It's my point,too, that children should be prevented from experiencing problems in development. But I don't see how that would be achieved by "validating" a cause for unhappiness that I see no reason to think exists-- and please don't rush to read this as saying that I don't think the unhappiness exists-- I mean I don't think this cause exists. You yourself have named a number of other causal factors, so why do we need to assume the existence of an event that is not only not observable, but completely implausible in relation to other things that are observable?

    There seems to be so much confusion in the way these words are used.I say there's no PW, people reply "But we are unhappy!" Is PW just shorthand for adult misery in adoptees? Is it a socially-constructed concept? Or do you all really believe it's what I would call a "natural kind"? When people start talking abpout "cellular bonds" I can only assume that you are talking about "natural kinds", but honestly I don't know, at this point.

  46. Eremintha, my CV is posted on this blog for December, 2009, if you really want to know my background.

    I'm not at all sure what a neurologist would have to say about any of this, though.

  47. Michelle, please see my comments to Julie, above. And tell me, would you say that the PW belief is no more than an acknowledgment that there was another mother, as you say? To me,that would mean it's a metaphor, and a meaningful one. But when I've said that in the past,people have insisted that it is not a metaphor.

    But I don't know why it's surprising to think that a concept can alter child care and relationships. Look at cultures where males are highly dominant- boy/girl twin pairs show us the results of feeding the boy until he's stuffed, then giving the girl the little that's left. Mothers who believe a child may die behave differently than those who don't think that. Why would the belief that a child is suffering in a way you can't help NOT influence behavior?

    It seems to me that people are using the term metaphorically, otherwise they would not be so agitated when I say "you're unhappy, but there's no PW". If it were a non-metaphorical use, it would be possible to separate out the unhappiness and the speculative cause of the unhappiness.

  48. I am a mother who has given birth 4 times, one early miscarriage, first child surrendered to adoption. Breastfed the kids I raised for at least two years each, kept them with me all the time in infancy.

    I am happily reunited finally with my surrendered son, and see very little difference between him and the sons I raised, in terms of happiness, adjustment, etc, even though I did all the "right" things and his mentally sick adoptive mother did not, plus he spent time in foster care. So my anecdotal evidence, for what it is worth, does not support primal wound theory,

    Also, even with all my sterling mommy credentials, I too do not know what is meant by "cellular connection" between mother and child. What about Dad, half the cells that make up the zygote that becomes the child are from him. If you are talking "emotional connection" or even "mystical connection", sure. These are things we feel that cannot be proven or disproven. But when you start talking about cellular connections, you are in the realm of science and need precise meanings.

    I feel a definite emotional connection to all my children, and did from when they were born, and that includes my surrendered son. I also can see a genetic connection, which like most reunited parents, I find delightful and astonishing at times. But Primal Wound, or cellular connection? No, I do not believe that, for me or my children, nor do they.

    Like Dr. Mercer, I am not attacking the feelings of those who feel differently, but the faulty science and fuzzy concepts used to back up that belief.

  49. Although it will not please some of the commentators here, what Mercer says about infant attachment is mainstream and validated everywhere--on parenting websites, in new books, etc. Take, for example, the book about that's been out for a year and has received near universal critical acclaim--"The Evolution of Childhood" by Melvin Konner, which looks at mothering and child development from an evolutionary standpoint.

    From his Salon interview:

    "But as you point out in the book, human pregnancy is actually much shorter than would be ideal for the development of the child."

    "Babies should probably be born after 12 months of gestation, not nine. In the course of our evolution we began standing upright, and then started to expand our brains. But the birth canal, which was adapted to upright walking, was disproportionate to the big brain. We solved that by pushing babies out when they’re really too young.

    "As a result, they’re not very socially or emotionally appealing or competent when they're first born, and parents often get disappointed taking their baby home from the hospital. It's not until three months in that you get the baby gazing into your eyes and turning you into mush. That’s when babies start smiling pretty much at everything that goes "goo goo gaga," and parents tend to fall in love with their babies."

    "So why aren't babies likable during their first three months?"

    "There are a number of possible causes. There’s a whole theory in evolution now called parent-offspring conflict, which becomes obvious in certain situations like weaning or in the teenage years. The idea is that as much as we love our children, they love themselves more than we love them. In the entirety of human history, until very recently, human newborns had a hugely high mortality rate in the first month of life, so it may have been adaptive to mothers to postpone their greatest attachment to the baby until a couple months later, when the baby has a much higher chance of surviving."

    And from the Times Literary Supplement review of this book, unfortunately no longer available on the web:

    "While the infant is indiscriminate in the affections in the first half year, this changes abruptly at some point in the second half, when it consolidates its attachments."

    You can find more info on the book here:

  50. Jean, I have no clue about primal wound or trauma caused at separation. Discussions on infant separation from its mother, however, started long before PW was published. Maybe people needed an explanation to why they felt a void, pain, confusion? I really don't know.

    Do I "believe" in PW as a scientific theory? No, but that doesn't mean anything because I know nothing about the science of birth and mother/child separation. When I read PW it validated the connection I had to my mother before separation. To be honest, I think I skimmed the part about the actual wound, maybe because I was separated from my mom when I was two. But if others feel that this applies to their own life or situation, that's their choice, it doesn't effect me, and I certainly don't feel the need to try and prove their ideas or feelings' right or wrong just because there’s no scientific data to prove the theory valid or not. We could analyze at every self-help book on the planet and challenge every approach to every behavior, thought, feeling, yet people will grasp concepts that make sense to them. To me the PW is just another book on the shelf and adopted people are quite capable of figuring out how its content reflects their own feelings.

    I find the PW hysteria and the fear that it has single-handedly imprisoned the minds’ of adoptees quite hilarious.

  51. I don't get what "cellular bonding" is either. Can somebody explain the exact mechanism by which this works? We're all foreigners in our mother's uteruses. Only the placenta keeps spontenous abortion from occurring throughout pregnancy because of tissue rejection.

    Familiarity with a voice or heartbeat does not add up to a day-old neonate having the cognitive or emotional maturity to be able to call a substitute mother *imposter*. Whatever occurs in adoption, including the growing awareness of loss, it is cumulative and dependent on the child's ability to observe, feel, and think. Two different things being proposed--biological trauma or deepening awareness based on experience.

  52. Are you saying that adoptees who are "unhappy" are unhappy because their ADOPTIVE PARENTS suffered from some sort of unrecognized post-adoption-depression-syndrome? ...and if we can eliminate PADS in adoptive parents we'll have nothing but happy adoptees?

    Do you honestly believe that mothers and babies are interchangeable and that babies don't recognize their own mothers or miss their mothers if they become separated?

    Here's an idea for a study. Newborns are asked to choose between two women, the woman who gave birth to them and a complete stranger. Do you think it's likely the infants will choose the strangers?

  53. I see in your profile that you are in the education field and that you are a professor. What I don't see is how this qualifies you to disregard a psychological theory such as the Primal Wound.
    In terms of neurology, I thought perhaps if you had done research into the brain chemistry of newborn babies you might be able to say unequivocally that a primal wound cannot exist in babies.
    I guess I'll have to ask again - exactly what gives you the right to debunk one theory and promote another?

  54. Erimentha-- have a look at my CV,posted on this blog for December, 2009, if you want to know my background. But please understand that the PW is not a psychological theory, and Nancy Verrier is a MFT, not a psychologist.

    As for the neurological issues, go to (I think it's org,maybe com) and you'll see that leading developmental scientists argue against the relevance of brain mechanisms unless there is also behavioral evidence that correlates with the brain data.

    As for the right to debunk, in the U.S. we all have this under the First Amendment, and in other countries there are other guarantees. The point is not how I can prove my authority, but whether my information and logic are correct. Perhaps you need to do some further study before you come to a decision.

  55. Mari, yes, that's right,I believe that babies in the first days and weeks of life respond only to the quality of care they get, and not to the specific person giving the care. Deeply committed caregivers are likely to give better care, and that creates a confusion between what the caregiver is doing and "who the baby likes".

    And, yes,I am suggesting that an adoptive parent who is depressed can change the developmental trajectory for the baby. This happens for birth parents, as is well known. The influences of babies and caregivers are transactional-- each influences the other,and the mutual influences change over time. Why would you think this is not also the case for adopted babies? You seem to be denying one of the best established principles of infnat development.

    Naturally I don't suggest post-adoption depression as the sole factor in an adopted baby's development. But as some people have said that their unhappiness means that PW must have happened-- I'm bringing up a possible alternative.

    How would you know which person a newborn "chose"?

  56. Jessica, thanks for bringing up the Konner book. He does a nice job of pulling some of these things together, and I think makes it pretty obvious what the mainstream view is.

    I do have to say that I always boggle at evolutionary psych's explanations. Of course nothing could be more fun than imagining how it would all have worked back in the environment of early adaptation, but basically what you end up with is a "Just So" story! Never mind,it all keeps us psychologists off the streets.

  57. Well, skimming the pages of the Konner book off of Google Books I'm seeing lots of words like BIOLOGY, GENETICS, and EVOLUTION. I'm seeing studies and comparisons of different animal species' behaviors but so far nothing about mothers and babies being interchangeable. I doubt the author of the book believes that they are, but who am I? A person who hasn't read the book, a person who is not a scientist, and a person who is adopted and truly disgusted by ongoing, unnecessary damage that is inflicted on children by a bunch of quacks who spin the words of scientists to make it seem as if it's proven that adoptive families are no different that biological families.

  58. Evolutionary psychology is a interesting topic, but I agree that it's about as evidence-based as Kipling. I do like Kipling.

    We can extrapolate a bit about possible early human behavior by looking at other primates and guessing, but it is no more sound than anything else not observable. We don't have access into the nuances of family relationships of the Paleolithic.

    I will grant that my pain stems from a variety of sources, but none of your suggestions fits my case. If you could come up with a magic bullet, I woukd welcome it. All the same I don't like being told, "You can be sad, but not about THAT."

  59. As an all-around skeptic, I have a bit of cynical attitude around adoptive mother depression as well as primal wound. Post-partum depression in biological mothers has a hormonal basis, combined with the stress of new motherhood, or in my case 43 years ago, the stress of not having my baby with me and his father abandoning us.

    I don't get it with adoptive mothers though. Nothing hormonal is going on, and adoption is a goal that most have strenuously pursued and gone through a lot to reach. These are not women blindsided by an unplanned pregnancy, nor hopefully unprepared or unaware of the rigors of being mother to an infant. They should not be also struggling with marital problems, financial problems, a lot of other things that young biological moms are also dealing with in addition to a new baby. Why are they depressed when they finally got the much-wanted prize?

    From a surrendering mother's viewpoint, they were supposed to be more emotionally stable, have more to give a baby in every way than us.
    So I was fairly well disgusted to hear that adoptive moms suffer "post adoption depression" even after all the rigorous screening they supposedly go through to be able to adopt. I do not doubt that those suffering depression have less to give a child, and a harder time caring about that child. What I do not get is why?

    Admittedly this hits close to home for me. A big part of why I finally surrendered my son after some time in foster care was that I was suffering post-partum depression (misdiagnosed, they treated it like I was depressed for no reason). So the agency in their wisdom gave my child to a woman who had mental problems that got worse and worse, including agoraphobia, paranoia, chronic lying and abuse. I got better. She did not. My son lived with it until he was old enough to leave, and he did, and cut himself off from her.

    I'm afraid I am a hard-liner on this one, women with mental problems should not be approved to adopt. Adoptees have enough to deal with without a crazy or depressed mother too.

  60. All I can see from Konner's comments is that human infants are far more incompletely formed when they leave the womb than other animals. Which anyone with some biology background can tell you.

    Also, I've been depressed and anxious pretty much since birth, or at least as long as I can remember. But I'm not adopted, and I can't blame that on my limbic system being rewired because of separation. And if you're using other separations as a cause, my identical twin sister was in the NICU for a week or two after birth. And she doesn't have the same issues I do.

    Why are you so invested in thinking separation from your biological mother is the cause of your problems anyway?

  61. Mari, Nobody has said that adoptive and biological families are just the same. What I have said is that there's no independent evidence to suggest a "cellular bond" between birth mother and baby,or a PW caused by separating them. I've also pointed to research showing that the outcomes for early-adopted children are substantially the same as for nonadopted children, and that if you look at Rutter's work on the English-Romanian adoptees, the differences are not great even for late-adopted,post-institutional kids.

    These statements are not the same as saying there are no differences between the two groups.

  62. A couple of things about your comments, Mary Anne. First,I don't think the role of maternal depression in adoption was even suspected when your oldest son was born. But even today, this is pretty subtle stuff. It's not as though a caseworker says "oh, Mrs. Smith is in awful shape, but that's okay, it's only an adoption". Unless there's an extensive history of depression, it might be far from obvious that a given woman will become distressed when caring for a child-- and in fact, whether she does or not can depend on characteristics of the child and on events in the environment that might not be thought of as relevant (a nephew or niece gets very sick, for instance).

    In my opinion,it's a real problem that we don't help depressed mothers, adoptive or otherwise, much more than we do-- even so much as to let them know that their feelings are an aspect of depression rather than just being evil people who wanted a baby and now don't like it! New Jersey had a state-wide program for several years called "Speak Up When You're Down", but I expect you know which programs are the first to go nowadays. (I did a train-the-trainers job for that program and thought it was excellent, and I hate like heck to see it go.)

    Treating maternal depression properly would be the cheapest and most efficient way to assure better child and adolescent mental health and to prevent certain long-term adult issues.

    Incidentally, I think someone commented recently that post-adoption depression could not be the same kind of thing as post-partum depression, because the latter was hormonal. Without wanting to exclude hormonal factors completely, I would point out that maternal mood disorders can occur as late as a year after the birth, long after most hormonal changes are resolved. In my opinion, the big stress on the hormonal component has occurred because there is such a lack of public sympathy for maternal depression-- but, if you say the problem is biological, then people think "oh, all right, that's NOT HER FAULT". If there's no stated biological component, then it IS HER FAULT-- she needs to pull her socks up, not be such a big baby, etc. and she certainly doesn't need to be encouraged by offers of help and support. This is the attitude that proposed a death sentence for Andrea Yates.

    Other than a hormonal component (and by the way,in other mammals, just being around babies changes females' hormone production), there are many factors that can cause maternal depression. One has been referred to as "ghosts in the nursery" (Selma Fraiberg's term). This vivid expression refers to the occurrence of emotionally difficult periods when a child is at an age such that a problem occurred for the parent when the parent was that age-- or for a brother or sister of the parent. We probably all know that we handle certain developmental periods better than others-- some feel overwhelmed by the demands of a young infant but are just amused by obstreperous toddlers, and others are the other way around. Similarly,we may respond to certain stages with distress and even depression if they resonate with past experiences or even family stories about what's dangerous and frightening.

  63. Ms. M., I don't argue with how you feel or what the cause feels like to you. (How could I, or anyone else?) But I don't see how the cause you name can in itself be possible-- it seems to me that if such events existed, there would be other ways than personal stories to know that. And I don't like to see adoptive parents become pre-occupied with concerns that can take the place of other more important matters, as I've seen happen as a result of Eldridge's "Twenty things" book.

    Human beings have so many different ways of regarding adoption.The original Hawaiians said it was immaterial what people a child was born to. Muslims say,if I understand it correctly, that while fostering is fine, an adopted child cannot be a "real" member of a family -- also, that if a woman breastfeeds a child other than her own, it would be incest for those children later to marry. Europeans have had this thing about "bastardy" and the differences between people of different legal statuses (except if the King was the baby-daddy, then all was fine). All those attitudes and social constructions make it really hard to get to the basic causes and effects and to tell them apart from how anyone feels.

    I don't have a magic bullet. All I have to offer, frustratingly,is the possibility that these problems have multiple causes and multiple solutions. I believe that the best way to pursue the issue is by more detailed study of how mothers and babies of all kinds develop their relationships, and I think that has to be done in real time, by observation, rather than by individual stories and memories.

    One more thing: if what the adult adoptees who have commented here say about their theory of their development is true, that fact would totally alter what's now thought about early emotion among developmental scientists. If you could figure out how to produce evidence supporting your beliefs, that would be a very important contribution. Developmental scientists are not going to do it, because they (including I) don't think you're right-- so it's up to you.If you could do it, though,you'd get everyone's attention very fast!

  64. "Also, I've been depressed and anxious pretty much since birth, or at least as long as I can remember. But I'm not adopted, and I can't blame that on my limbic system being rewired because of separation. And if you're using other separations as a cause, my identical twin sister was in the NICU for a week or two after birth. And she doesn't have the same issues I do."

    Theorclair, people can have similar psych issues that don't have the same root cause. If you're not adopted, then being adopted certainly isn't the cause of your problems. Yes, many people are anxious as far back as they remember. It's not a competition. They are different experiences. I might ask why you are so invested in saying that I am wrong? What's it to you?

    I cannot speak to your problems or what caused them.

    Separation from my mother is something that happened. It is a fact. I was thinking about what Jessica said about an either/or: feelings of loss related to separation from the mother, or feelings of loss that develop over time as part of experience. I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I would say that both apply to me. No, I can't prove it to you, but I am okay with that.

  65. I don't think it's constructive to demand of each other "what it's to you" or "what right do you have", etc.

    Actually, the situation Theorclair mentioned, with identical twins one of whom is ill, is particularly difficult for a mother to process and can affect interactions between the mother and each of her children. The death of one of a pair of twins is hard to mourn, as "the baby" is both there and not there,at the same time.

    Those two twin situations can have parallels in adoption that might be worth following up.

  66. "And I don't like to see adoptive parents become pre-occupied with concerns that can take the place of other more important matters, as I've seen happen as a result of Eldridge's "Twenty things" book."

    Can you (Jean) add here what 20 things from the book prevent an adopter from effective parenting? What "other important matters" are you talking about and how does adoption related truths interfere with those other matters?

    What I recall about the book is that it asks adopters to be mindful that the adopted child has a family and identity which should be acknowledged. So, in your opinion, adopters should not be reading books on the adopted person's losses and reality of their missing family, as this may cause adopter depression and neglect?

  67. The book is called "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew." I didn't say there were 20 things in the book that are problematic.

    There's actually one big thing in the book that is a problem. That's the belief that we can conflate the experience of a baby separated at birth with that of an older child separated after an attachment relationship has developed.

    Eldridge,like others committed to the PW concept, believes, against all evidence, that emotional attachment begins prenatally. You'll notice in the front matter of the book that she has a blurb from Nancy Verrier and one from Martha Welch, the holding therapy proponent. On p. 51 she refers to the position of APPPAH (Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health)that all babies separated from their mothers are in shock-- a term that refers to a physiological state but is in fact not detectable as a problem of full-term babies, despite Nils Bergman's interpretation of his studies of preterm or perhaps LBW infants.

    These assumptions lead Eldridge to advise parents to think and act as if newborns are suffering from profound grief. Parents of newborns have as one of their own developmental tasks the job of paying attention to infant cues and learning the specific baby's "language" which communicates his or her needs and interests. Making parents think that grief is behind normal newborn communicative actions causes confusion in "reading" the baby. While interactive mismatch and repair are a normal and probably necessary part of the parent-child relationship, mistaken beliefs about grief can cause communicative mismatch and interfere with repair. Parents and babies may as a result become less and less confident about communication, rather than more and more.

    It's an entirely different matter if a child is old enough to have had a relationship with a familiar caregiver. Misinterpreting that problem makes adults try to "cheer up" or entertain the child, when comforting is needed. In that case,of course Eldridge's advice to pay attention to the loss is very valuable, and would be especially important for families with children adopted from Russian institutions, where many have been having regular visits from their biological parents until they're brought here.

    As is so often the difficulty when people write popular books about early development without understanding the enormous differences between gestation + exterogestation and later development, Eldridge lumps together events that don't belong together.

    By the way,some APPPAH people think you can remember your conception (just like Scientologists).

  68. Now I know what they would say about my problems - it's trauma from splitting into two!

    I do have a memory from about two and a half, but that's as far back as they go. (And it's flat, for lack of a better term - there's images and actions but no feelings or any sense of time.)

    Ms Margalina: you were seperated from your biological mother, and you have these problems. That doesn't mean the seperation caused those problems. I only mentioned myself because I have quite a few of the issues some Primal Wound believing adoptees say they do, and I was not adopted.

  69. "That doesn't mean the seperation caused those problems. I only mentioned myself because I have quite a few of the issues."

    Thanks for sharing your opinion, but it is no more than that. Your opinion.

  70. Ms. M., I'm not sure why I posted your reply to Theorclair, except that I have been posting what you've had to say.

    Theorclair did give her reasons for her comment, and it appears to me that it is actually an opinion, derived logically from observation of other people's lives as well as her own-- if "no more", it's also "no less". Real opinions are a different matter from the unexamined prejudices that commonly pass for opinion.

    But I have a question: why does it seem that there are few or no male proponents of PW, at least ones that are visible on the Internet?

  71. So theorclair knows me better than I know myself? Point taken.

  72. Oh, Jean, there are a few male proponents of PW, go to an AAC conference male adoptee workshop, or anything to do with Adoption Crossroads.

    I finally realized after years of attending these things and reading the books that I learned virtually nothing about my son because he deals with things very differently from the men who are outspoken about adoption issues and join adoption support groups. He actually seems more emotionally healthy than the minority of male adoptees who dwell on their adoption issues.

    It was all interesting and dramatic and I met some nice guys and some not so nice, but it did not relate to my situation in real life with my real son. In some ways, I got a false picture of what my son might be like and might care about before I got to know him.

    As to the issue of non-adoptees having many PW symptoms, I see that in myself and other non-adopted friends as well. I think it is because the check list of symptoms is broad enough that many people suffer them, for many and diverse reasons, but if one is adopted, they can say "aha, PW is why I feel this way!"

    And no, my issues did not begin with surrender either. I was a highly imaginative and anxious child, despite being the much wanted daughter of older married parents, surrounded by relatives I look like, never left with anyone but a relative as a child, I did not know what a baby sitter was, and never separated from my mom. I was a depressed teen, and surrendering in my early 20s did not help any of that, but was not the cause either,

  73. On the issue of post-adoption depression, just to clarify I do not think my son's adoptive mother's mental illness had anything to do with adoption, just that she was a mentally sick person already, who got worse as she got older. She already had a much older biological daughter when she adopted. I think they wanted a boy to balance out the girl. My son had no idea why they adopted him, they never talked about the fact that he was adopted.

  74. Hi,

    I am an adult adoptee and I know that this experience, along with many other critical events, have helped to influence how I perceive the world as it is.

    My first response to this article was how appealing the authors ideas must be to a lot of people. Fact is adoption was prevelent throughout the first world until the late 1970's. Millions upon millions of people were affected and all were told that this social experiment would produce only postive outcomes for all involved.

    Research clearly shows that as laudiable as those objectives may have been, they were far from correct. In fact the only and I mean the only first world, western country that still participates in the adoption of children at any meaningful rate is the USA.

    My first response to this "challenge to the primal wound" theory as you so put it, is this - if there is not a psychological experience common to adoptees how do you account for the very real, tangible statistics on the abnormal rates that adoptees experience suboptimal socio economic outcomes. They account for around 30% of all teenagers admited to alcohol and drug facilities. They are over represented in almost all mental health disorder categories. Without more extensive funding for long term studies its difficult to know why some adoptees end up worse off then others. But none of those discrepencies supports your hypthothesis that there is no common psychological experience for adoptees.

    Fact is so many people want to beleive your argument is true. How many birth parents, adopted parents and adoptees would just love to know that nothing detrimental occurs to adoptees.

    As with all writers who challenge the status quo, you hand pick a small number of studies to discredit the dominant thought and support your viewpoint. Fact is there are so many studies that show babies who are separated from their birth mother for any reason for any extended period in the first 12 months, experience significant psychological stress. Fact is you do not know, nor do any of us, what long term damage that might cause. What we do know is that it causes something detremental. So why do it? Would you choose that for your children? Wouldn't you choose the less ricky option?

    Fact is parents in ALL OTHER 1st World Countries have spoken. They do NOT agree with you that aoption is OK. Amercian parents need to have people like you telling them that their adoption industry is good and ok - IGNORE the research, IGNORE the first hand accounts, IGNORE the rest of the WORLD.

    Adoption is MORALLY, PSYCHOLICALLY and just plain wrong. Children deserve their parents and those who struggle deserve our support and help. They don't need us telling them to give away their kids.

    FACT is we now know how INCREDIBLY damaging separation of children from parents is; that unless the home life situation is irreparable and there is no hope, the kids stay with the parents, because to separate them, no matter how well meaning, always causes more harm to the kids. No kid, no matter how bad their parents, will ever choose to lose them.

    Don't you or anyone else who isn't an adoptee tell me that losing my parents was a good thing, something that caused me no harm. You go tell that to any other child older than a baby who can articulate their experiences. Don't tell me that just cause I can't recall these experiences in my conscious mind that they caused me no harm.

    Maybe you mean well. I don't think so. Your speaking for people as though you have credability. You don't.

    If you want to believe this thinking ask yourself why does the rest of the world not adopt and has not done so for over 30 years?

    1. I'm afraid I don't understand the connection you make between poor psychological outcomes for adoptees and the existence or non-existence of a "primal wound". Depending on their backgrounds, adoptees may have experienced early abuse and neglect from biological parents, or abuse and neglect in foster care or institutions, the trauma of being given up by parents convinced that they are offering the child a better life, abuse or neglect in an adoptive family, and/or the uncertainties and worries of wondering what their real background might have been. These all seem to me to be adequate to be the causes of distress in adoptees who report feeling distressed (as they are for non-adoptees in many cases). Why do you need to drag in the "primal wound" when none of the evidence about development indicates that there is such a thing?

      As for attacking the practice of adoption itself, it would be my wish to offer material support to bio parents to make it possible for them to keep their children. This does not happen often, of course. So, do you think that under present circumstances it would be better for a child not to be adopted, but to stay with a bio parent who cannot or does not want to care for the child?

      I would strongly agree with you that persuading bio parents to give up children by promising material advantages for parent and child is an evil practice.