Researchers in Australia estimate that at least one in 15 people are affected by adoption.
This figure doesn’t just relate to the adoption triad of: birthparents; adoptees; and, adoptive parents; but also includes extended family members.
In fact, it’s proposed that adoption affects four generations:
- Parents of birthparents / parents of adoptive parents;
- Birthparents and adoptive parents;
- Adoptees / siblings from birth family and adoptive family;
- Children of adoptees.
In addition to these intergenerational layers of people experiencing adoption, are the implications of the different types of reproductive procedures that have been introduced. Domestic adoption was the most prominent form of adoption, however in more recent years adoption of children from other countries has significantly increased. The use of surrogate mothers and sperm donors are other types of reproductive procedures currently being utilised around the world.
Adoption has long been considered a positive event, espousing the belief that a family looking to increase in size can provide a loving and nurturing environment for a child to grow up in. However, research has demonstrated that adoption can also be very challenging!
The Experience of Loss
One of the central elements of adoption is one of loss; in fact, without loss there is no adoption.
The birthparents relinquish the child they are genetically connected with; adoptees lose their connection with their biological family and history; and, adoptive parents suffer the loss of never having a biological child of their own.
Yet society dictates that everyone in the adoption triad ignore their losses and be happy and grateful for what they have. Adoptive parents are to be happy that they now have a long awaited child; adoptees are to be eternally grateful for being “taken in” by a family; and birthparents are expected to forget all about the baby, and move on with their lives.
What is Disenfranchised Grief?
The type of sorrow experienced from these losses is called disenfranchised grief. If an individual is disenfranchised then they are deprived a right to something, and intuitively (if you have never suffered this kind of loss), it may seem strange to imagine how one could be deprived the right to grieve. Still, society tells us what is and what is not acceptable in many different areas of our lives. An example of this is what to wear and when to wear it.
Disenfranchised grief takes this to another level, not just including rules about how we grieve, but rules about who is entitled to grieve and, in turn, who is supported in their grief. The stinging pain of these societal expectations can be excruciating when a relationship is not acknowledged. Grief becomes disenfranchised when we don’t have societal validation of our loss and grieving process. Society says we shouldn’t be grieving, so we feel like we can’t talk about it. We can’t find support. We feel alone. We think our feelings are wrong.
The Impacts of Adoption
Disenfranchised grief can manifest in different ways for different people, with no two people experiencing it in the same way.
Adopted adults may reflect on their adoptive status, and create a series of questions about their biological family. These questions are particularly prominent during life transitions such as adolescence, marriage, the birth of children, or in later life/old age. Some common questions or themes may focus on:
- Birth family members, search and reunion;
- Having a need to know more about your origins, and gaining access to your adoption records;
- Many adopted people feel guilt based on a belief that their need to search for birth family members conflicts with their connection with their adoptive family;
- Feelings of not belonging or feeling different – being unlike your adoptive family;
- Some adoptees experience an ongoing fear of rejection;
- How do I tell my family that I have made contact with birth relatives?
Similarly, birthparents seldom forget the experience of relinquishing a child, remembering the child’s birth date and wondering:
- What type of life the child has had?
- Are they happy?
Conversely, adoptive parents may be considering:
- What do I do if the child wants to locate their biological family?
- Does this mean I’ve been a bad parent?
These questions in the context of disenfranchised grief have the potential to create unhappiness and confusion in the lives of people living through the adoption experience.
If you are someone who is feeling the impacts of adoption and would like to understand more about your feelings, help is available. I would count it a privilege to assist you in working through your grief, and to support you in gaining clarity about the adoption experience. Together, we can develop strategies to help you improve happiness and acceptance in your life.
Author: Leonie Sanders, Dip Mgt, B Psych (Hons), M Org Psych, MAPS.
Brisbane Psychologist Leonie Sanders has many years of experience in developing an in-depth understanding of adoption and its impact. Her therapeutic approach is holistic, evidence-based and systemic, dealing with families or organisations as systems of interrelationships, while dealing with the whole person physically, emotionally and socially.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Leonie Sanders, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.