“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, on my first birthday 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.
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 a year later, 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…
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.
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