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Does Adoption Leave a Scar?

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

I try really hard on this blog to bring you thoughts and ideas that you might not have heard before. I try to speak not only from my personal experience in the foster care system, but from helping numerous clients through the criminal justice system and from listening to the stories of countless individuals who have chosen me to share their stories. I want to try and tackle the issues that are difficult to talk about; those that we try to box up and pretend aren't happening. After Foster Care Awareness Month, I wanted to share a point of view that I can't speak to - Adoption. So, it is my pleasure to bring you a guest blog from Anne Heffron, Author of You Don't Look Adopted. Anne was born in Manhattan in 1964 to a young college student who gave her up for adoption. Fifty-one years later Anne returned to Manhattan to find the roots of her story, the story that began with her birth instead of the story that began "The day we got you." This journey is the subject of her memoir "You Don't Look Adopted," an account of the perils and blessings of adoption. Before turning to memoir, Anne co-wrote the film "Phantom Halo" with her writing partner, Antonia Bogdanovich. "Phantom Halo" was first shown at the 2015 Austin Film Festival and won Best Picture at the 2015 New York International Film Festival. She and Antonia currently have a screenplay, "The Rabbit Will Die" in development. You can learn more about Anne and her work on her website. Love to hear your thoughts about her work, and suggestions for our guest bloggers.



Sandra Bullock has been in the news recently because of something she said about adoption during an interview for InStyleMagazine:

Let’s all just refer to these kids as “our kids.” Don’t say “my adopted child.” No one calls their kid their “IVF child” or their “oh, shit, I went to a bar and got knocked-up child.” Let just say, “our children.”(

My parents almost never said I was their adopted daughter. It would have made me feel like a paper doll stuck in a world of “real” people if, in a public setting, my parents had introduced me that way. However, to suggest that “adopted” should be dropped, as an adjective is a dangerous move because “adopted,” in my book, also means “special needs.” If you drop “adopted,” you drop “special needs,” and there is nothing more most adopted parents’ want that to think than they have a child of “their own,” one that is no different than one they might have created themselves.

The child might want that, too.

But it’s not true, and it denies the child’s experience, and that is like ignoring the fact that a child broke her leg while she was skiing and telling her that her leg is still straight and so she is fine.

Sooner or later, she’s going to fall down.

When a child loses her first mother, there are all sorts of things that happen to the brain and the body of both the child and mother. Part of developing as a human being is the continuation of the connection and relationship between the body/mind of the mother and the body/mind of the child. Sever that connection and you sever that natural way of being in the body.

This damage needs to be addressed. In a perfect world, there would be health clinics for children who lost their mothers and the mothers who lost their children.

The clinics would have neurologists on staff who understood the damage done to the brain and who would have protocols to help address and repair the damage. There would be foster care competent and adoption competent therapists on staff. There would be body workers who would know how to address trauma held in the musculature and nervous system of the body. There would be craniosacral workers on staff to help work with the Vagus nerve in order to calm the body and to have the internal organs feeding information to the brain that everything was okay, the body was safe.

Do you hear how many people it would take to help bring these children and mothers to optimum health? It takes a village, but it takes a village to raise any child, so this isn’t really bad news: it’s just news. Adopted people and people raised in foster care need extra help.

Yes, it’s true that trauma is the translation of an event, so it’s possible for a person to come through relinquishment and foster care and adoption unscathed, I imagine. Many adopted people claim they are fine without special treatment, but I have to argue that many of them say this because their parents told them it was true. I have yet to meet an adopted person not physically or mentally scarred by their experience (addiction issues, attachment issues, chronic physical ailments, etc., etc. etc.), and as someone who wrote a book about being adopted and as someone who co-leads healing retreats for adoptees and who hears from many, many adopted people as a result, I can tell you I know a lotof adopted people.

In a Facebook post, Sandra Bullock wrote, I’m tired of hearing from everyone that he is not my child, that he is not my blood. That I am a so-called “Adoptive Mother…I am a Mother. I need no other label or prefix.I know I’ve adopted him and I am proud of it. He may not have my eyes, he may not have my smile, he may not have my skin tone, but he has all my heart. A mother is a person who raises, loves and provides for the child. It doesn’t matter if you share the same blood or not.

Again, I understand the impulse behind her writing, but blood matters. If my parents say blood doesn’t matter, that’s implicitly asking me, their child, not to have curiosity about my roots. It’s denying the need for me to be curious about my roots because, if blood doesn’t matter, then roots don’t either. It’s asking me to be someone I’m not, and that means you adopted not a child, but a chunk of clay you want to sculpt in a way that feels most right to you.

The beauty of adoption is that a child is given a home and love and the structure of family life. The tragedy of adoption is when people want to pretend the child’s life started the day he or she arrived in this new home, and if you erase the child’s past, you erase part of your child.

And that’s a recipe for disaster.

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