Is adoption the psychological equivalent of a kidnapping?

Anaclitic depression is a syndrome occurring in infants, usually after sudden separation from the mothering person. It is a predictable response seen in infants who have been separated from their mothers for prolonged periods of time, resulting in a disruption of the mother-child dyad. Symptoms include apprehension, withdrawal, detachment, incessant crying, refusal to eat, sleep disturbances, and, eventually, stupor leading to severe impairment of the infant’s physical, social, and intellectual development.” —Judith Land

Was I kidnapped? Every adoption is different but in my case all the elements of a kidnapping seemed to be present, at least as viewed from the perspective of a small child. I was ripped out of the arms of my beloved foster parents, the only people I had ever known, and handed to strangers. The social worker helped my adoptive parents strap me in a leather harness to keep me from running away, a practice I learned to endure the first few years of life. I was sick to my stomach. I hated it when they put their faces close to mine. They said I looked somber. I kicked and screamed and threw hissy fits when they touched me. My adoptive mother had never talked baby talk before; she didn’t understand my normal gestures for hunger, upset stomach, sickness, bathroom, and tiredness. I refused to allow her to pick me up and intentionally pooped in my pants. I kept my head down until she held her nose and made an ugly expression, a practice I continued beyond the normal age.

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Kidnap Victim

Anaclitic depression is a syndrome occurring in infants, usually after sudden separation from the mothering person, which in my case was the Foster mother. My adopted parents were childless and unprepared for my arrival. The cold and traumatic experience of being callously given to strangers triggered psychological behavior often associated with children who are kidnapped.

My facial expression was dour. I acted stoically and standoffishly, and locked myself inside an introverted shell. I was in no mood to communicate with adult words. I never smiled because I was unhappy. I pouted and refused to cooperate. My adoptive grandmother had a wrinkled face with long, white, hairy eyebrows and little, bony fingers. I didn’t like her staring at me; it was frustrating hearing her speak Italian, a language I didn’t understand. My heart was hollow. My mood was desperate. I was nauseous and sad. I was afraid and uncertain what was to become of me. My adoptive father kept me on continuous display in front of his friends and relatives. It was evident to everyone that I had been severely traumatized.

My body language was rigid and my facial expressions were forlorn. I stood in the corner, fiercely defending my personal space, leaving several sympathetic neighbors to speculate if the trauma of separation caused by an adoption was the psychological equivalent of a kidnapping (my father had a rather unscrupulous reputation). I glared at a strange man who lightly poked me in the stomach to produce a reaction. When he jumped backward in feigned alarm to elicit a smile from the crowd, his antics frightened me. I tensed my muscles and stared awkwardly at the crowd. My adoptive mother was frustrated. She turned her back and left me alone. She asked my adoptive father if she could trade me for a boy, as they had originally planned. He became very angry and demanded she improve her parenting skills—and that is how the first day of my adoption began.

The sullen and forlorn expression on my face was indicative of the trauma caused by the primal wound and genealogical bewilderment that I had experienced at the dawn of life when I was removed from my mother’s breast and again when I was literally torn from the arms of my beloved foster parents, the only people I had ever known, and given to my celebratory adoptive parents. The lingering sounds of my primal screams in the cold morning air as I was dragged away from my foster parents left them swimming in tears. The unhappy memory of the events that occurred that day lingered in their hearts forever. The bond between a mother and her child is the strongest bond found in all of nature. All infants have an instinctive need to stay near their mothers for survival. Scientific studies prove that separation induces severe psychological stress, causes deviations from normal behavior that is predictable, and provides scientific evidence that show the negative effects on the well being of humans and animals.

Adoption day is a big event for the parents, a day they eagerly anticipate for many weeks and months, but for the innocent and unsuspecting child who is radically shaken and dramatically confused by the sudden and unexplained presence of strangers in their life, it is a mysterious day of dissimilarities and variances that radically alters their essence—a day of unexplained upheaval and fear that has the potential to highly traumatize the child. In my case, “Gotcha Day” seems to have had all the psychological elements of a kidnapping…

Judith Land


Author’s Note:

This blog generated over 2,000 views, likes, shares and comments in one day on social media; far too many for me to respond to individually. For that reason, I decided to add an author’s note to add focus and clarity to the discussion.

The thesis of this essay is about public awareness of predictable psychological effects to a child resulting from the breaking of the maternal bond, a critical event in the life of children put up for adoption that may lead to anaclitic depression. The interrogative expression open for discussion and examination in this article is the theorem that breaking the bond between a mother and a child due to kidnapping may be the psychological equivalency of adoption because anaclitic depression may occur in either case, and for the same reasons. In other words, if a mother-child bond is broken due to death from cancer, a hurricane, a car accident, suicide, or willful relinquishment of the child, it makes little difference to the child. The child equally suffers from the loss of the connection with the mother in all cases, regardless of the circumstances leading up to the event.

(In this instance, many readers have completely missed the point of this article by confusing “psychological equivalency” based on specific psychological effects to the child that are entirely predictable based on scientific research with “moral equivalency” arguments that are entirely focused on the ethical and moral choices of the parents and adoptive parents, which is highly fertile ground for debate, but not precisely relevant to the topic. Obviously, kidnapping and adoption are not morally equivalent and no one should make the assumption that is the point I was making.)

Everyone is forced to go through transitions in life in response to altered circumstances and changing realities. How we cope with change has a lot to do with our past experiences, those who guide us, and our personalities. Most of us have had the experience of moving to a new town; transferring to a new school; leaving houses, bicycles, neighborhoods and friends behind; changing partners and personal relationships; getting divorced; suffering accidents and failing health; losing loved ones, friends and pets; joining the military; getting fired, demoted, laid off and changing jobs. We create some of these events, others we have no control over, but in all cases, the quicker and the smoother we make the transition, the better our lives will be.

Perspectives from all sides of the adoption triangle are needed to fully understand this issue, and everyone is encouraged to join the dialogue, but I think a few readers have missed the point by focusing solely on the benefits and advantages of adoption and the better outcomes adoption can produce later in life, rather than addressing the value of human bonding and the effects and perceptions of the event as viewed from a child’s perspective. When a child is young, they find it difficult to speak; it is only through our interpretations of their body language, actions, and facial expressions that we learn to interpret what we think they are feeling. I concur with the premise that adoption has many benefits over other forms of welfare, orphanages, and other forms of institutional care based on my own personal experiences of living in a nice neighborhood, going on vacations in foreign countries, receiving a new car on my 16th birthday, and being provided with the education of my choice, but the point I am stressing is the complications that arise when we are abruptly forced to adjust to radically altered circumstances, including breaking the bond between a mother and her child, recovering from natural disasters, the death of a loved one, accidents, war and post traumatic stress. Adoption is a monumental event that radically alters the life trajectory of the child. Children are inherently afraid of strangers; separation from the mother automatically triggers predictable nervous behaviors that are scientifically documented. Warm cookies and milk, hugs and smiles, a secure comfortable environment, and prayers can help many individuals cope with unexpected transitions in their lives but many of the effects that occur happen in the mind and are not readily apparent or attached to the cause and effect. There are many facets to adoption. Most children can’t fully comprehend the situation and aren’t able to speak for themselves. Often, it is only in adulthood when we reflect on our early experiences that the symptoms become clear and we are capable of clearly expressing how we felt about the situation, then and now. That is the point I was trying to make in this blog and the direction I was hoping to lead the discourse.

I appreciate the positive feedback that I have received from so many avid readers, concerned parents, and adoptees and I apologize to those who were offended by this post. Adoption was an ethereal journey of the mind and soul for me, and it still is. Adoption is a highly complex and polarizing social topic that provokes profound emotions in the minds of adoptees and everyone concerned. There are many aspects of the topic that need further discussion and clarification and many who can benefit from an open dialogue. With the health and welfare of so many children at stake, the habit of life-long learning should be encouraged and promoted. I hope everyone will continue reading and avoid slamming the door on new perspectives that offend and opinions that challenge conventional wisdom. As a society, we need to encourage a rational and collective civil approach to this topic. Reading is the key to knowledge and a better life; those who chose not to read have no advantage over those who can’t.


Adoption Detective | Adoption Story | Kidnap | Foster Parents | Parenting

Adoptarea Detective | Adoptarea Povestea | rapirea | maternali | Părinți

About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. She has reached readers in 192 countries. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
This entry was posted in adopted, adoptee, Adoption, Children, Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Is adoption the psychological equivalent of a kidnapping?

  1. Delana says:

    My daughter had been in and out of hospitals and moved from various orphanages and girls schools, finally ending up in a special needs’ orphanage at the age of 5 1/2. When she turned 6, one of the workers took our daughter into her residence on the orphanage compound to prepare her for life in a family and to talk with her about a family coming to adopt her. Unfortunately, I think in her little mind, she thought this worker was going to be her new mom (I am sure with all of her many transitions, she hoped and wished as much). Then two months later we came. We had a great visit at the orphanage, but when it came time for us to take her with us, the turmoil she went through, the look on her face, the screaming, the tears . . . I am certain it felt like a kidnapping to her. She has now been with us longer than all of her collective experiences from infancy to age 6. And I am thankful for the lovely young lady she is. Adoptive parents need to understand the grief their child is experiencing. They need to prepare themselves for the trials…and be strong…and ask the Lord for help when they don’t feel strong. Before going to meet their child for the first time, parents need to go through counseling on PTSD and grief so they know how to be what the child needs (and don’t show up expecting/hoping the child to meet some kind of need they–the parents–have).

    Thank you for sharing part of your story!

    • Judith Land says:

      You must be a wonderful mother. Adopted parents are virtuous by nature. Life is a never ending journey for individuals who are orphaned, fostered, and adopted. They must guard against the effects of the primal wound; genealogical bewilderment; lack of self-identity; circumstances and influences beyond their control; and other forces that cause them to drift aimlessly. Overcoming fear of the unknown to rid oneself of distress and torment is a monumental task requiring maturity, an enduring purpose driven life, and strength of character formed by a durable commitment to substantive values.

  2. Pingback: “Adopted? Metamorphose yourself into a butterfly.” | Adoption Detective | A True Story by Judith Land

  3. catalina says:

    hi there, I noticed the titles at the bottom are translated to romanian. are you romanian? Just wondering, I am, originally 🙂

    • Judith Land says:

      Catalina, You have a unique history and background and a very interesting personal story to share. I am always intrigued by individuals whose life’s trajectory has been severely altered through no fault of their own. International adoptions can be highly complex and expensive. Development of a thorough and accurate self-identity can be a daunting task for children adopted from foreign countries. People in the West were highly disturbed by images of tens of thousands of abandoned children suffering abuse and neglect in Romanian orphanages. Europeans and Americans were outraged and quickly adopted thousands of children. Many foreign charities came to help, but in 2001 Romania placed a moratorium on international adoptions, and officially banned the practice four years later, citing widespread corruption in adoption practices across borders. Nearly a quarter-century later, the fate of Romania’s abandoned children is still an unresolved issue. Many in the field say there are tens of thousands more on the streets who aren’t being counted. Romania remains a relatively poor country, and the legacy of Ceausescu’s policies hasn’t been completely erased. The laws of countries vary in their willingness to allow international adoptions. I am not from Romania but do have European connections that intrigue me. Judith

      • catalina says:

        Hi! No, I’m not an adoptee, however I have read this recent horrifying article hinting at how the children from those orphanages have fared:
        This is why I am very much FOR a solid and safe social security system!!
        Also why I seriously side-eye anybody who goes to Africa/the Carribean (the current ‘fashionable’ places to do it) to “help the orphans”….

      • Judith Land says:

        Catalina, How can we forget the images we have seen of the tens of thousands of children living in orphanages in Romania; scenes of neglect and cruelty reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps during WWII. Many of those children we observed in the past are now stricken by drug abuse, HIV and tuberculous; living like rats in the nightmarish tunnels and sewers beneath Bucharest with children of their own. Judith

  4. catalina says:

    …and comes back with photos of children who cannot give consent to being photographed – charming *rolls eyes*

    • Judith Land says:

      Sweet Catalina, “Rolls eyes” is the act of looking upward with an expression of contempt, often combined with a sigh, used to indicate frustration and annoyance with the stupidity of a person or thing. No audio is needed to express ones disbelief, annoyance and impatience with others. It is an annoyed and bored expression or feeling that expresses contempt. The speaker is not to be believed and you aren’t interested in what they’re saying. It is an action that summarily sends a strong message predictive of a future of a relationship when there is no hope for resuscitation. A blank glassy stare means no hope and may be indicative of an endemic of illness, home sickness, post traumatic stress disorder, genealogical bewilderment, or an outward expression of the residual effects of the primal wound. A blank stare indicates a lack of understanding enough to know what it is that you don’t understand, or you already know everything you’re being told. A blank stare may be the result of an unsolvable mathematics problem or, perhaps, the listener doesn’t even know what language is being spoken. When an orphaned infant or child rolls their eyes or sits with a blank stare it is indicative of a provocative concern that triggers concerns about the psychological health of the child. Judith

  5. catalina says:

    if I can help you with finding anything out about your roots, I’m fluent in reading and writing Romanian, and may visit the country at some point in the future!

  6. Linda Smith says:

    You have described my daughter to a T 3 year reunification. 22 and sits like a statue, reach out to her to be met with crossed arms, fake laugh.

    • Judith Land says:

      Dear Linds, Adoptees share so many things in common. That is why the topic of adoption resonates with so many people of all ages in every culture. Public libraries are filled with scientific proof about the effects of mother daughter separation and the severe effects it causes but those of us who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t. Many of the benefits of adoption are clear, but there are other hidden consequences and sufferings that are difficult to identify and describe. With age comes experience and wisdom. Those who learn to survive come to the conclusions that a fake laugh is better than no laugh at all; it is better to live than exist; and it is better not to cry because it happened, but smile because its over. Riding a bicycle is about moving forward and keeping our balance. The path to inner peace is generally characterized as seeking forgiveness…

  7. catfishmom says:

    I can so relate to this post. My adoptive dad always smelled strange to me. I did not want him to hug me at all. He was and is a workaholic who was not home much at all. My mother was passive and left me with babysitters most of the time. They are both so self absorbed and think they were wonderful parents. My adoptive sister has a host of issues. I did as well but hid them from my parents, trying to be “good” and compliant. I really believe that I suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Then I meet my biological family on my dad’s side and find out that there is a lot of mental illness there which also explains a lot. It seems that I had a double whammy of both biological predisposition to mental illness and my neglectful upbringing only made that worse. I am just beginning to accept that I have mental illness and that I can have power over that. But you can’t affect a change when you don’t know.

    • Judith Land says:

      Catfishmom, I feel for you. You have a valid point. I can definitely see comparisons between adoption and the Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the potential danger, risks and hardships endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. Whereas, in adoption the situation is a permanent and lasting relationship to be endured indefinitely. But life goes on, we must learn to strive to live rather than simply exist. I am fond of saying that life is like a bicycle; we need to continue moving forward while trying to maintain our balance. Keep your chin up and never cry because it happened, smile because its over. Judith

  8. Pingback: Is adoption the psychological equivalent of a kidnapping? | Adoption Detective | A True Story by Judith Land | C C P Exposed

  9. gooddaytotry says:

    i am sorry but out of 1000 crisis pregnancies did only 2.3 percent actually want to lose their baby. I wish the general public would wake up.

  10. Judith Land says:

    To those who wonder what is real and what is embellishment or fiction, I offer the following. Much of what we remember is based on the stories that are repeated back to us. Mementos, souvenirs, and photographs trigger recollections about significant events in our lives that can also help us remember how we felt about them then and now. In my case, recollections of my first year of adoption remained vivid in the minds of everyone involved because so many extraordinary events took place. In the words of the young social worker who handled my case, “Your adoption was the most complicated and extraordinary case I ever handled during my entire thirty-year career.” A priest and the social worker had circumvented normal protocols by accepting large financial contributions offered to them by my hot-headed Italian father in exchange for getting him the boy he wanted, but there was a mixup and I arrived as a girl. My foster parents thought they had already been approved to adopt me. They were shocked and saddened when I was forcefully torn from my foster mother arms under nefarious circumstances. My foster sisters cried their eyes out. My foster sister Barbara wrote a note telling me she loved me and stuck it under my sweater before I was taken away (my adoptive mother confirmed that she found it). My foster father chased the social worker in his car to find out where she was taking me and immediately hired a detective to find me and bring me back. The detective located my father, but he was intimidated and chased away under the threat of violence. My Italian grandmother hardly spoke english but passionately waved her hands in the air and vehemently expressed her opinions about everything. My adoptive mother kowtowed to my father. She was unprepared for motherhood. She took detailed notes at the time my adoption occurred describing my stoic demeanor and unusual reactive and fearful behavior that she shared with me in adulthood. During my adoption search I interviewed every single person involved in my adoption, the priest, the social worker, foster family members, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and every knowledgable person remotely involved. I took copious notes and tape recorded and transcribed every single interview. For that reason, many of the written words in my story are the exact words that were spoken and recorded. I believe all of the incidents and pivotal events described in my story are accurately portrayed based on the collective memories of everyone involved. Thanks to all of you for asking how I was able to remember so many details about my adoption day.

  11. Judith Land says:

    Dear Readers, Last Saturday, I unexpectedly became an official ‘persona non grata’ in some adoption circles. As punishment for posting this postulate describing my personal feelings about the experience of being adopted as being similar to a kidnapping in the primitive uncomprehending mind of a child, numerous groups including, “Adoptive Families, Adoption Search Registries, Adoption Healing Network, and Canadian Coalition for Open Records and others” totaling over 19,000 subscribing members, removed the post from their Facebook sites and banned me from making any future contributions. Wow! It is humiliating to receive so much venomous criticism for sharing my personal experience about adoption, the most significant event in my life. I am humiliated by the severity of the rejection and the punishment I received for expressing how I feel about being adopted, then and now. Normally characterized as the quiet shy type, naturally polite and soft-spoken, I am overwhelmed by the vehemence, fiery rants, and tyrannical responses laced with profanity that I received from members of these groups in response to this post. Ultimately, it is through reading and the sharing of ideas that we learn from others. Libraries are a great achievement of American society, but for those who choose not to read, they have no inherent advantage over those who can’t. Thanks for listening. Judith

  12. Judith Land says:

    From: Mike Slayter
    Judith….how are you? Your postings are always thought-provoking, certainly for me at least. We live in a very strange world whereby we are seemingly understood by the masses one minute and then condemned the next by the masses re: our views, observations and beliefs. Sadly…..and I know that you realise this….is that there are inconsistencies from the masses (vis af vis) (in relation to) understanding points of view. I say this only because of what you may be feeling with various responses to yours of late. I hope all of that has settled down by now and that you do not feel intimidated by others who simply do not understand or appreciate the nuances…

    Mike: Thank you for your heartfelt response and thoughtful encouragement. Last Saturday, I wrote a blog describing the adoption experience from the child’s perspective based on my own personal experiences and recollections. The profanity laced feedback I received were highly vindictive and uncivil, leaving me to wonder if our society is collectively evolving toward a period of reduced sensibilities, less tolerance for the human spirit, respect for history, and a lack of appreciation for the humanities. Communication in this age of fear, illness and anxiety is becoming less civil, less tolerant, more profane and argumentative and faster paced. Good manners are lacking. Polite discourse is passé. Name-calling, rudeness, shouts of profanity, the automatic rejection of conflicting ideas and denigration of the messenger characterize much of our social dialogue today. Text messaging, Internet slang, initialisms and computer-mediated communications are the new norm. Collective responses are reflective of a mob mentality where opposing ideas are shouted down because there is no tolerance for them. There is less respect in the tone of our collective voice. Persons with an alternative perspective are cursed. Sadly, it is true; the vehement rejection and scrubbing of my thoughts and opinions from the public record is highly denigrating and humiliating. Judith

  13. Judith Land says:

    There are four kinds of adoption—nefarious, forgivable, warranted, and praiseworthy. What guidelines do you think should apply to the fair and ethical distribution of adoptable children? In my case, I was physically wrestled out of the arms of one parent and given to another far wealthier contributor. What happened was unconscionable. Should children be treated like scarce commodities and luxuries and be distributed based on the adoptive parents ability to pay, as was clearly the case in my situation? What are the consequences of giving the wealthiest individuals, one race, religion, region, or nation favored status and preferential treatment? My life’s trajectory was radically altered in response to a large bribe paid to a priest and a social worker by my adoptive father. Requirements were waved and normal protocols were not followed because money spoke louder than words. The actions of the priest and social worker were unethical in response to a large financial reward. I was perfectly content in a loving family with four daughters. The only reason I was uprooted and given to another family was due to bribery. Few readers have reacted to the ethical choices made by those in authority. I was blessed by the wealth of my adoptive parents and the advantages money can provide but I feel sorry for my foster parents who really wanted to keep me. They were so aggrieved by the dishonorable underhanded way they were treated that they moved out of the state where they were living. I feel sorry for them. They hired a detective to find me and fought to have me legally returned but to no avail. They were loving parents of good character and moral substance. I graciously thank them for the unconditional love and care they provided…

  14. Judith, I am a Naropa undergrad in Boulder, CO…and happenstantially ran across this post of yours while writing a similar statement into my thesis on adoption- the similar statement being I was relating the experience of the adoptee to Stockholm Syndrome. Would you enjoy being interviewed for part of my thesis process? I’d be curious to hear from you as an adoptee, your philosophical positing about adoption etc. is my school email 🙂 look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for sharing your voice. More and more we need to speak up as adoptees, not to overshadow the voices of the others in the triad…but because there is wisdom and perspective to be shared.
    Blake (25 yr old Adult Adoptee and Peace and Conflict Studies major)

  15. Botendaddy says:

    Adoption also has a deep and ancient anthropological basis among humans. It’s a beneficial thing in many respects to welcome a child into a tribe. Think about churches and organizations of strangers welcoming new people. We all come into the world as strangers. We don’t have to keep it that way. It’s often a survival mechanism for a tribe as well. Life is harsh in general in myriad ways. I agree that adoption is also about loss and trauma. My daughter cried bitterly when we got her. We can’t fix that. It’s tough on adoptive parents as well. We had no ulterior motive other than our first child had died. There is no magic wand to be waved to make everybody happy, but we just do the best we can. I know people who have birth children and nightmarishly bad relationships with them. I suppose the only people you can take it out on are the birth parents because there is no-one else available. I’ve told my daughter than when she graduates high school she is free to do whatever she wants and seek her own path. Of course God’s only true commandment is love. If we just follow that, we can surmount any obstacle.

  16. Ian Minielly says:

    Your story is breaking my heart. As foster parents who had a child from birth and who wanted to adopt before a nefarious agency and DHS supervisor decided a family member was the better option, after this family member threatened them with a lawsuit of course.

    For seventeen months we were her parents. From birth to 17 months and we wanted to adopt her because she was our daughter. If you could have seen her face and how she clinged to us when they gave her to the family member. I doubt my wife and I ever get over this travesty and I can only hope and pray our lost daughter does and will overcome the adversity. The harm these cretins have done to this child is beyond comprehension, but they did it and seemed to relish hurting her and us.

  17. Lara/Trace says:

    JUDITH! (Sorry this reply is years late) I am truly sad (sickened) to read this reaction to your story and your personal truth. Being bullied and battered (for your words) is SICK! I really think the adoption industry used the word ORPHAN to gather steam and collect more monies when in fact, there are few orphans in this world. I was not orphaned, I was abandoned.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.