Adoption and Intergenerational Trauma

Sam
6 min readApr 12, 2023

As the daughter of an adopted father I have always felt like there was a void in my family, or something that was missing from my life that I couldn’t quite explain. My dad is the second eldest of four children. He was adopted by my grandma in the 60’s when things were done quite a bit differently than they are today. My grandmother took him in when he was a baby. Alongside my dad, my grandma has three other children, two adopted and one biological daughter.

Adoption is often viewed as a very black and white topic in our society. Most people are grateful to be adopted and believe that it can only be seen as a blessing. And adoption is a blessing for many people. It can provide opportunities that otherwise never would have existed for the adoptee. It can provide a loving family, a home, and a chance at a good life. All of these things may never have been an option for some people if adoption did not exist. There is however another side to adoption, a darker side that not many people openly talk about; that is the mental and emotional trauma that can be caused and passed down from generation to generation from never knowing where you truly come from, and the pain of feeling rejected your entire life because of adoption. It’s a taboo topic that seems almost awkward to even write about. I know that in my own personal experience with my dads adoption I have avoided speaking out about it because I worry about hurting my family’s feelings but the more I read about others experiences with adoption, the more I realize that this is a real thing, and that adoption can often create years of intergenerational trauma in families that is very difficult to heal from, especially if the adopted child never confronts or deals with their own emotions. In my case, my father.

We as a family have never really spoken about the pain that we feel when it comes to my dads adoption. I never really thought about it much until more recently when I became pregnant. When you become pregnant you are asked a long list of questions regarding your health and your family history, but that list of answers becomes fairly short when you don’t know one-half of your biological family. It’s had me thinking a lot more about the fact that my dad is adopted and we don’t know what runs in our family, where his side came from, who my grandparents and great grandparents are, or were, and if they’re even still alive. I often wonder if they ever think (or thought) about me, or about the person I turned out to be. I realize how much that has weighed on my life and my own self esteem and self image which I think goes a lot deeper than I’ve ever cared to acknowledge. Identity becomes a very strange and elusive thing when you don’t know where you come from. I am sure my father feels the same way to some extent but has never been able to talk about it with me. He has always been closed off emotionally. He is a man of few words and over the years we have drifted further apart from each other making it even more difficult to connect with him. I have read that adoption can cause difficulties when it comes to forming emotional attachments which has definitely been an issue in our family. For so many years I have wondered why my dad did not want to be more involved in my life. It is hard not to take that personally when you are young and vulnerable. It has created even more isolation and loneliness. But the more I research adoption the more I understand that this is likely caused from his own upbringing and passing it down and therefore creating the path for intergenerational trauma in our family lineage.

I think there are various types of families that choose to adopt for various reasons, and various different ways those families choose to handle the topic of adoption within their home. There is the type who openly talk about adoption and make it known very early on in their child’s life, and then there are the families who keep it more hidden and don’t like to talk about it too much. Ours was somewhere in between. I knew from a young age that my dad and two of his siblings were adopted, and that one of his sisters was blood related to my grandma. That was about it. When we were kids I never noticed much of a difference between myself and my cousins who were related to the family by blood. Again, I didn’t really think about adoption as being anything more than what it was. As I got older it felt more apparent to me who was blood and who was not. My brother and I clearly fell into the “not” category. My grandma, bless her heart, was never really able to show her love to me in a way that I felt loved. She has always had a much closer bond with her biological child and grandchildren than her other three kids/grandkids. I have no idea if this is intentional or just another side effect of adoption. To say that it doesn’t hurt me or bother me would be a lie, especially when those feelings are stacked on top of the rejection I inherently feel about my dads adoption. This in turn has created a large divide in our family and has caused me to feel like a black sheep.

Adoption can be a lonely place. I of course was not adopted, but the trauma that was inevitably caused by my dads adoption which resulted in his own difficulties forming loving relationships with his kids has created a lonely place for me personally. Of course there has been a lot of other history in my family and not all of the divide can be directly related to my dads adoption, but I think it built the shaky foundation in which we started on, which began long before I was ever introduced to the world making it feel impossible to rebuild sometimes.

How do you move forward and away from family intergenerational trauma?

I think the first step is acknowledgment. As I am now a mother I have the power to break free from this chain of family trauma knowing the damage to ones self image that it can cause if not addressed. I know that it will be difficult to change old habits. Having this knowledge will help me to avoid pushing emotions under the rug and will allow me to portray a healthy image to my daughter reassuring her of where she comes from. Hopefully by setting these intentions early on I can forge a new path and build my family up on a more sturdy foundation.

I assume adoption works very differently today than it did back in the 60’s and that family history is likely a requirement in order to complete the adoption process. It is obviously a personal decision for the adopting parent on whether or not to disclose any amount of information on the birth parents at all to their adopted child, but if you can retain that information so that when your child or grandchildren grow up to be adults and do want to know where they came from, you are able to provide that information to them. Even just for medical reasons. As a woman having a child I would have appreciated knowing if there were precautions I should have taken, or things I needed to know about before conceiving a child of my own, and having that information available to me would have helped so much both on a mental and physical level.

Adoption can be both isolating and integrating. It can be both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It can give a person a place, while also making them wonder where their place in the world is. It’s a double edged sword, a catch 22.

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Sam

34 year old Canadian, living abroad in Mexico. These are my stories before, during, and after becoming a mom.