The effects of a forced adoption can be psychological, social, physical, and economic. The effects will vary from person to person, as will the severity. A person’s age, education and socio-economic status will have a bearing on how the individual is affected.
Аustralian Institute for Family Studies (AIFS)
The majority of the information in this section comes from Past adoption experiences, a report published by AIFS. The report was commissioned by the then Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (now the Department for Social Services). It states that:
…the key focus of the study [was] to improve knowledge about the extent and effects of past adoption practices, and to strengthen the evidence base available to government to address the current needs of individuals affected by past adoption practices…
The research shows that people will experience the effects of adoption at different stages of their life, and that these will be lifelong and intergenerational. Further, the research suggests that people affected by adoption, especially forced adoption, experience higher than average mental health problems. Some effects are common to everyone, such as issues with self-esteem and identity, but there are differences. For example, the impaired self-esteem of some mothers may have resulted from an inability to defend themselves against bullying. But an adopted person’s impaired self-esteem may derive from a belief that they were unwanted by their parents. The effect is similar, but the cause different.
Effects on Fathers
Strong efforts should be made to redress this knowledge gap. Fathers were routinely not recorded on birth certificates, so research relies on fathers who identify themselves and are willing to participate.
From the limited research available, some common effects have been noted. Most fathers reported that their wishes and interests in regard to the mother of the child and the child were ignored. Their parents were just as likely as the mother’s parents to pressure them into adoption. And fathers in this situation experienced shame and guilt in a similar fashion to mothers.
Most men did not conform to the stereotype of a boyfriend who abandoned his girlfriend as soon as it was known she was pregnant. AIFS found that the majority of mothers defined their relationship with the father as consenting. The refusal to include fathers on birth certificates contributes to a perception that fathers were uncaring and deserted their partner. This perception is likely to discourage some fathers from speaking about their experiences or searching for their child.
Some men who offered to marry or otherwise support the mother of their child were rejected by the mother’s parents or by the professionals involved. In some cases, when the mother was under the age of 16, the father was threatened with arrest for carnal knowledge. This could have resulted in criminal prosecution and imprisonment.
In summary, fathers were stereotyped as uninterested in their children and, when they tried to become involved, treated as irrelevant and unimportant.
Fathers who responded to the AIFS study carried out the same mental health tests as mothers. Almost all had PTSD symptoms, with slightly more than one-third considered likely to have PTSD. They also reported a perceived lower quality of life than the national average. Like mothers, the psychological distress was likely to be lowered by an enduring relationship with the child lost to adoption.
Secrecy in adoption practices has contributed significantly to the negative effects of adoption. From the moment an unwed mother realised she was pregnant, an emphasis on secrecy fostered shame, guilt, loneliness and fear. From the moment the child was born, secrecy generated feelings of grief, confusion, loss and abandonment.
The legacy of secrecy in record keeping continues to contribute to the stress experienced by parents and adult adoptees finding and connecting with each other. Many people who contributed to the Senate Inquiry and the AIFS research affirmed that being open and honest about their experiences had had a positive impact on their life, whereas secrecy reinforced negative feelings they had about themselves.
The word trauma is widely used in relation to adoption, and especially to forced adoptions.
The Oxford English Dictionary provides two definitions for trauma, one physical and one psychiatric. The latter definition is:
A psychic injury, esp. one caused by emotional shock the memory of which is repressed and remains unhealed; an internal injury, esp. to the brain, which may result in a behavioural disorder of organic origin. Also, the state or condition so caused.
In the first historical example the dictionary gives, it cites William James in 1894 describing traumatic repressed memories and ‘thorns in the spirit, so to speak’.
Trauma can result from a wide variety of experiences, such as violent assault, surviving a natural disaster, experiencing war, physical accidents, and so on. Generally, the emphasis has been on a direct or indirect threat to survival, or being a witness to death and serious injury. Since the 1970s, however, trauma has become more widely known and understood. In particular, veterans of the Vietnam War have presented with a diverse range of mental health problems. More recently, events that are not life threatening but impair psychological integrity and wholeness are referred to as trauma. Forced adoption is considered to be in this category.
Some trauma survivors develop a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is defined as:
a condition which can develop following exposure to an extremely stressful situation or series of events outside the usual range of human experience, which may manifest itself in recurrent nightmares or intrusive vivid memories and flashbacks of the traumatic event, and in withdrawal, sleep disturbance, and other symptoms associated with prolonged stress or anxiety. (Oxford English Dictionary Online)
It is important to understand that not everyone who suffers trauma develops PTSD, and that not all people affected by forced adoptions consider themselves victims of trauma.
In relation to adoption, PTSD is much more common in mothers who experienced forced adoption. The age of the mother at the time of birth and the harshness of her experience are key factors in the likelihood of her developing PTSD. The little known about fathers affected by forced adoption suggests that rates of PTSD are also likely to be higher than the national average. In adopted people, the AIFS study concluded that one in five exhibited symptoms of a severe mental disorder, such as PTSD.