Adoption and a PTSD Diagnosis
In Part 1 of this article series, I offered a definition of trauma and explained how a traumatic event is a perception of that occurrence. The conclusion that I arrived at was that adoption is not a guaranteed traumatic event. While there may be a grief process after placement, that does not mean that every birth mother will experience her adoption decision as a trauma.
Keep in mind there are many other related dynamics and circumstances that surround adoption for every birth mother. For example, I struggled with feeling abandoned by some of my friends and family members. Those losses were traumatic to me, but the adoption itself was not.
While I still grieve the loss of my role as a custodial and legal mother to my child, I have experienced intense psychological symptoms from being disowned by a great portion of my family. This brings us to a discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is what happens to the brain after a traumatic event occurs and it is unable to process that trauma in a healthy and healing way.
What is PTSD?
Before we get into the definition of PTSD, it’s important to know something about the overseeing organization. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reviews mental health issues and determines the definitions, descriptions, and diagnostic information for every mental illness. In 2013, the APA put out a new mental illness manual — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-5. In previous editions of this manual, the APA categorized PTSD as an anxiety disorder.
As of the last revision in 2013, the updated DSM-5 now characterizes PTSD as its own diagnosis, instead of falling under the umbrella of anxiety disorder. Today, PTSD is defined and characterized by the DSM-5 as a situation in which:
- The person has been exposed to a traumatic event that involved: actual threat or threatened death or serious injury; a threat to the physical integrity of self or others; or a response of fear, helplessness or horror.
- The person re-experiences the event through recollections (images, thoughts or perceptions); distressing dreams; a sense of reliving the experience (illusions, hallucinations, etc.); and intense psychological or physiological reactions to cues resembling those of the event.
- The person avoids the stimuli (such as thoughts, feelings, places, activities, etc.) associated with the trauma and resulting response.
- The person experiences symptoms of increased arousal, such as insomnia, irritability, hypervigilance and more.
- The person experiences any of the above symptoms for more than a month.
- The person feels clinical distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
PTSD For the Layman
In other words, PTSD is when a person’s brain cannot process trauma, and the person suffers long-term because of it. There are mixed opinions on whether a person can heal from PTSD, or if it may just go into remission. Regardless, a sufferer of PTSD does not wish to continue suffering and will ultimately find ways to cope, whether through healthy or unhealthy means.
If you suspect you may be suffering from PTSD, please seek diagnosis and treatment from a medical professional promptly.
Does Trauma in Adoption Guarantee PTSD?
Remember, if trauma is an event of perception, and every human has a different way of processing a traumatic event, then it cannot be concluded that adoption is or is not a traumatic event in and of itself.
Trauma is experienced differently by every individual, so whether a prospective birth sees adoption as a trauma is up to that woman and her brain. Perhaps she ends up seeing her choice for adoption as traumatic but does not carry it with her in the form of PTSD. Perhaps a birth mother does not see adoption as traumatic at all and chooses adoption with a fulfillment of satisfaction and peace.
Therefore, adoption itself is not traumatizing; the level of possible trauma is left in the eye of the beholder. If trauma is experienced from choosing adoption, then, depending on a birth mother’s response, it may or may not develop into PTSD.
My Trauma is NOT Your Story
I have read many anti-adoption stories from birth mothers who have a biased view on adoption based on their own traumatic experience with it. These stories break my heart because I know the hearts of these birth mothers are broken. Every time I come across one of these articles, I pray that the author finds peace within herself. I pray that she find her very own unique and fulfilling path of healing.
I believe that every adoption experience is different for every birth mother and that I cannot judge another’s adoption experience through my own experience. As an advocate for birth mothers and healing for ourselves after placement, I find the discussion of trauma and PTSD as it pertains to choosing adoption as a paramount topic that I have yet to address specifically.
So here I am, a woman dealing with PTSD from recent and past events, detailing certain conditions and circumstances surrounding my own adoption decision, tackling this important subject in this three-part series.
In recent decades, PTSD has become a more frequently discussed topic in society, and treatment and coping methods are more widespread throughout the country than ever before. In Part 3 of this article series, I will discuss healthy coping mechanisms for trauma and PTSD, offer additional healing resources for birth mothers, and offer a personal statement for other birth mothers suffering from any trauma associated with an adoption decision.
This article is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please speak with a medical professional if you have concerns regarding your mental health.
Lindsay is a guest blogger for Considering Adoption. She placed her son for adoption seven years ago and hopes to use her experience to support and educate other expectant mothers considering adoption, as well as adoptive families.