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Does a Young Child Understand the Pain Involved in Adoption?

Does a Young Child Understand the Pain Involved in Adoption?

This is my response to Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan’s  article in Adoptive Families Circle: Does She Know?

Love this sensitive, well-written post.

It is clear that you are a psychologist and know how important it is to include the story the birthmother may have had, even though it may be quite different to your sensitized version. But your daughter knows she is an adopted child, and while she may at this point not show you that she feels different, you know she does.

From my own experience, although I am much darker than the family and community in which I grew up in than your daughter may be: the fact that I was different was first and foremost on my mind at all times. And no one knew about it. I was happy, well adjusted, and very well behaved… I know I was pretty much an exemplary child because somewhere deep in my psyche, a feeling lurked that I could be sent back to where I had originated. I did not want that.

Parents (and I have to include myself) don’t really consider the reality that children don’t say everything they think or feel. When I was little, I tried to protect my White parents from them being insulted because of me. When I talked about this with my White adoptive sister, decades later (she was considerably older than me) she was, time and again, surprised and amazed at what I had done and how I had interpreted situations. In my case, acknowledging issues surrounding a birthmother and her sacrifice surfaced much, much later in life. There had been no secrets as to who she had been, but there were secrets as to why I ended up with the White family. –



  1. Christine Rhyner  May 31, 2016

    Very interesting. I believe young children are totally aware of their adoptions & not so pleasant emotions that come with it. My kids are Vietnamese & Chinese, adopted by my German-Swiss husband & myself- Italian/Irish/German. I remember my daughter completely catching me off guard with sobbing into her cereal bowl one morning. I still feel such pain for her as she told me, ‘My OWN mother didn’t even want me.’ While we had always been open about their heritages, encouraged conversation, and tried to make it a part of another way families find each other with God’s help, I was blindsided. She had NEVER previous to that said a word about being adopted. And as a parent you feel a blur of so many emotions in that moment but have to totally dump them temporarily to comfort your child. She seems to feel the loss & grief more than her brother. In fact, the moment she was handed to me at 13 months old she wailed, then went into a deep depression where I couldn’t reach her. She cried every night until she was 4. She has bonded more closely with my husband, which is Okay, at least she bonded. But yes, kids know & can feel deeply. Every mother’s day I talk with her about a mother who loved her enough to carry her for 9 months, make sure she was in a safe place to be found and that she will always carry a piece of her first mother’s heart in hers wherever she goes, who she becomes. It’s humbling and an honor to be her mother, but I can never give her this missing puzzle piece of who she is.

    • Catana  June 23, 2016

      Dear Christine,
      I’m rather appalled at not having seen your lovely note regarding the birth mother until today. I’ve not been able to blog for a while as I have to move and am downsizing… Priorities. I know.

      In any event, Thank you for writing to me. One never knows how a child reacts regarding the woman who gave it life. I find that children of a different race ultimately learn to appreciate their life with the new “white” parents. That is particularly the case when they are taken back to their origins. I know several European families who have traveled to Asia, S. America, and Africa with their kids. Once the children recognize where they came from, things begin to slowly change (in appreciation of the opportunities that are available in the developed world.) The pain of separation also makes adoptees suffer from PTSD that at times impacts their physical health. This I can attest to, at my advanced age.

      As far as I can see, you are doing everything in your power to show your children you love and care deeply for them, but above all, that they are safe with both their new parents.

      My personal email address is should you wish to contact me again.

      All the very best to you and the family, much Love and Light,


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