One question three ways:
At its bluntest: when is the worst time in one’s life to be adopted?
Asked more reflectively: what age at time of adoption creates the greatest risk for negative consequences in an orphan’s life (e.g., at birth, or up to age 2 or so when language is acquired, or from post-language to puberty/adolescence, or after then, &c). This, bearing in mind (1) that each person’s experience differs from others’ in concrete ways, (2) that nothing clearly marks or flags any given age of life in the first place, and (3) that the very arbitrariness of age as a window on the topic may already make it suspect.
Or, one more time: what factors, at any given age of an orphan’s life, exacerbate the negative consequences of human trafficking (e.g., what especially influences those adopted at birth, those adopted up to the linguistic era of their lives, those from post-language to puberty/adolescence, &c).
I ask, because characterizing these differences would seem to lower the risk of talking past one another when trying to contextualize individual experiences within the social field of human trafficking itself. As someone adopted at birth, for instance, my issues differ but may also become clearer in the light of the experience of someone adopted post-language/prepubescent, &c.
I guess I can only speak from personal experience here, but being adopted at five years of age, losing my language, and having my parents not acknowledge that I had a life before the adoption felt pretty bad. For example, my adoptive mother used to get hurt feelings when I would mention my birth mother. She would say that she couldn’t compete with an angel, and basically shame me out of openly talking about her. To this day she still draws her own distinction by referring to my birth mother as my “bio mother” and calling herself “mom” in contrast. Not really sure if I’m speaking to what you’re asking about but I guess that’s what’s coming up for me. Adopted at five was pretty damaging, especially when the parents I was adopted to were attempting to work out their own issues by getting me.
Thanks for your reply. It sounds very much like you are speaking to the question. Younger children might not have such concrete memories of a former life and without language could not express it anyway, so that is a distinction.
For me, any talk of genetic contributors amounts to the same sort of “family story” (or rumour) like that as a child I smiled a lot. It is a story that I “naturalise” because it has been repeated to me but also because I have no memory of any counter-narrative. I do not have the “benefit” of any early parental bonding but I also don’t have the direct experience of the loss of that. I don’t have the “comparative parenting” factor. I recall one time my adopting father (who I wanted nothing to do with at the time) said he sometimes worried (or something like that) about my adoption, and I told him, “I never think about it unless you bring it up.” In your case, you could bring it up.
If I’m not unduly poking at things, what was the loss of language from and to? And how did that work? This seems like a really important issue in this age range.
I spoke Bulgarian when my parents adopted me, and due to the lack of cultural connection with anyone whom I could speak it with, I lost my first language within about three months.
So much of my parents’ biases against people of my ethnic and cultural background rubbed off on me, and I’ve since had to do a lot of work to undo that damage. They were paranoid that all of the Bulgarians trying to stay in contact wanted money and would take advantage of the remaining connection, so they cut it off. What connections were left were negatively described – prejudiced statements were said either in front of me or to me. I’m also half Iraqi, but my parents, for a long time, didn’t know whether I was Iraqi or Persian, despite having paperwork stating my ethnic heritage. So I was also subject to racist commentary about Arabs and people of Islamic heritage, and still am.
My experience of loss is coded in trauma. I have “PTSD” and “Attachment disorder” because so much of the loss and trauma that I experienced were witnessed and remembered. It didn’t help having parents who weren’t willing to recognize and address those issues. Rather than doing so, my parents internalized my need for healing as a front to their own inabilities, and issues, which were already present in the relationship, but went unaddressed for years until my boundaries were pretty seriously crossed by one of my parents about five years ago. That experience, to me proved so much of what hadn’t been owned up to in my upbringing. Objectification, exotification, and a general lack of awareness around my parents own issues, which they were trying to work out through me.
Obviously, every experience is different. My adoption into my family came with denial of my difference for years until the appropriation could no longer be hidden, and manifested itself in some really ugly ways.
I would add that there’s something about knowing vs. not knowing. I think that not knowing can sometimes be more difficult than knowing, with the caveat that denial of the knowing can in many ways be just as bad. I experienced the latter. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had it been the former.
Losing my family at 5 days old was devastating. I spent 5 days with my mother in the hospital, then 3 weeks in foster care. I don’t consciously remember anything, but have always felt a deep loss. It was considered rude to ask any questions about my past. The attitude was, why would you want to know about those people? They gave you away. We took you in. It was a life filled with lies and pain. I had to listen to my adopters trash my parents, and I couldn’t defend them. I can’t imagine losing your family at any age to be a good thing.
An adoptee I know was adopted at age four; she too lost her language. I once said to her that maybe learning Arabic would be easier for her, because it was “already wired”. In fact, it was the opposite. It was so obliterated, she had much more trouble with the language than I did. I find this devastating.
I once made reference to the three/four weeks prior to my adoption as having as much weight as the 45 years after (at the time I said it). There’s something about the extinguishing of this time period that is disturbing in and of itself, beyond what we know to be the loss and trauma of separation and adoption.
It almost seems like the longer this time period, the more effort to erase it. To avoid the guilt perhaps of erasure, APs strive for newborns, and then pre-birth matching, and then beyond this, surrogacy (logically pushing this in one direction). This erasure comes with so much cultural and political baggage as Mirella is pointing out.
Then the expansion of that “moment” as IwishIwasadopted is saying is something else. Meaning, how many adoptees spent time with “pre-adoption” foster parents in Korea? How many children were shopped around? There’s a whole file at my orphanage of children “returned”. I’m always stunned by the expressions of infants just-adopted in photographs. Often the only ones not smiling.
Then there’s the flip side of this which is the child old enough to make a claim. I remember the case of a young man in NYC foster care who “opted out” of being adopted. He didn’t want to complicate his life, and preferred to “age out” of the system.
I was adopted at four weeks. I spent the previous weeks in a M&B Home being cared for by my mother; only minimal contact was allowed for breastfeeding, bathing, changing purposes, no cuddling allowed and the feeding regime was strict. It was however better than what followed and gave me the sense of identity which has blessed me all my life. I’ve never had to question who I am or where I came from. Nevertheless I suffer the trauma of mother-loss and adoption. I was that child wearing ‘the mask of adoption’ in photographs. What I have learned from the stories of many, many adoptees is that all adoption has it’s consequences in terms of our health, mental health and that the worst time is maybe after the mother tongue has been firmly fixed and when the dislocation is felt so keenly – any time after around age 4 or 5. It’s very individual of course but so much worse for those of us who lose our culture, language, country as well as biological family, often suffering many other ‘dislocations’ along the way with changed placements.
I was born in Romania and I was adopted by Americans at age four. It’s been one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. The more I try to understand, the more I realize the incredibily deep consequences. I’ve been back to Romania, and I struggle to find my way in my family and life. I’ve been trying to relearn Romanian and that has been an excruciating challenge. I do not wish this life on anybody.