The Myth of the Happy Adoptee

No guarentee that adopted kids will be happy.

Please Stop Believing that Your Child Will be Happier Without You

The adoption industry loves to tell mothers considering adoption how “happy” their adopted children will be when they are relinquished to their new families. It’s the guarantee of the perfect family;  happily married, vetted by the home study, ready and wanting to parent, fine homes, good jobs, and usually, more money. I was recently  reminded  of this during the recent Twitter discussions as the “happiness” of not yet born and already adopted children were proclaimed to be “happier” by the birthmothers and birthmothers to be.

It doesn’t seem to matter that adoptive parents are not automatically excused from the trials and tribulations of live. Somehow, we have got it in our heads as a society that the issue of infertility or the desire to be parents and not have that fulfilled  gives a couple a fee pass. As if there is a check box of life’s difficulties that get checked at one point and if you get a big X by infertility then you are immune from all other issues.

Of course this is not true and while many adoptive parents are lovely people who are good parents, I know enough adoptees that get adopted by people that really, seem seriously, bat shit crazy.  I have heard stories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse at the hands of adoptive parents  (and Yes, I KNOW biological parents are also abusive, but adoption does not protect a child from abuse that has not occurred yet). I have heard stories of adoptees who always felt like they didn’t fit in or that something was missing, even if they had super excellent parents. I have heard stories of adoptees whose parents got divorced, remarried, lost their jobs, got sick, had cancer,  and even died. In fact, I personally have mourned the loss of friends who were adoptive mothers and lost battles with cancer leaving their adopted children behind without any mothers.

No Guarantee of the Adoptees Happiness

Being adopted is no guarantee that your child will be happy.

Now of course, a mother wants to believe that her child is happy. It’s kind of key to the whole mothering experience. Pretty much everything we do is supposed to be for the benefit of our kids, and that pretty much goes across the board for any mother; adoptive, natural, parenting or relinquished. But as I say, if you relinquished you ARE giving up any control you really have to ensure that your child is happy.

If you relinquish and you think your child needs something, then there is a good chance that you might not be in the position to say or do anything about it. Oh, there is the possibility that the adoptive parents could really honor your place in your child’s life and value your contribution. There is a chance that they might listen to you and take your advice, but I have to say, there is a greater chance that they will not. After all, they DID go into adoption because they wanted a child of their OWN. They did  not go through the hopes and pay the adoption fees so they could follow your lead. Or, to quote the haters, birthmothers cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Say you relinquish your daughter to adoption and say, it’s a good open adoption. Say you actually know who the family is and you talk to them regularly and see your child over the years. What happens, say, if you think that Adad is being too strict over what your daughter is allowed to wear? What if she’s really artsy and creative ( like you, so you “get her”) and wants to look artsy, but Adad has a big conservative stick up his butt? Do you think you will be in the pace that you can tell him to ease up on her?  Do you think that he wants YOUR advice on how to parent? Do you think that maybe after you give your advice he might think ” Yeah right.. and you would up pregnant and couldn’t take care of your kid! I’m not listening to your advice!”

 You Don’t Know How Your Adoptee Will  Process Adoption

I have four kids and they are all pretty different in some ways.

Scarlett is sweet, but tough as nails and totally accepts herself and stands up for what she knows is right. She’s loud and a nudge and teases until you want to kick her, and then she will laugh.

Tristan is insanely sensitive, very hard on himself, more of a perfectionist and can’t take frustration and criticism. I spend a lot of time telling him that it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s not the worst thing in the world to have someone tell you how to improve, but just talking about issues makes him squirm.

They are full siblings, 20 months apart, and lived in the same environment their whole lives, yet, if they were adopted out, they would each have very different ways of feeling it. They had different ways of processing that their brother was lost to adoption.

The point being, Tristan might be the kid who is perfect and never talked about adoption and seemed happy, but wasn’t. And Scarlett might talk about it all the time and seem not Ok, but really be more accepting. I don’t really know since it ‘s all hypothetical, but I can tell you that when I was pregnant with them and when they were tiny babies, I had no idea WHO they would be and HOW they might handle something like being adopted. We can know the sex of our children, but there is not prenatal test to say whether or not they are “hardy” or “sensitive”.

On Twitter we went around and around about how the negative stories do not cancel out the happy ones and visa versa peppered with “not all adoptees feel that way”. I know that, I really do, but the things is.. if you actually do have a choice, why would you want to take that chance??

Your child MIGHT be a really intuitive adoptee who feels a great Primal Wound. They might be really different personality wise than their adoptive parents and it might show or they might not care.  Maybe they will feel lucky on Gotcha Day or maybe they will freak out at every birthday and everyone will assume they are over stimulated rather than feeling the loss they experienced at birth.  Why would you take that chance?

When we are pregnant, we don’t pump our own gas or dye our hair. We stop smoking and drinking and eat right. We watch our medications, don’t eat sushi, go in hot tubs or ride roller coasters. There is a  mass of other “don’ts’ that I forget since it’s been a while, but I think even goat cheese is “bad” when you are pregnant now. Bottom line, we do not do all these that MIGHT somehow endanger our babies.  Even if it’s like .00096% of all pregnant women who eat unprocessed cheese get the weird amoeba that could cause blindness in the fetus, we don’t take that chance. So why are we encouraging mothers, who really do NOT have to relinquish to endanger their babies with maternal separation?

What Scientific Research Says About Adoptees and Their Happiness

I just made available three studies I had on adoptees and the risk of suicide.

Then, I have another older post that discusses an 2008 study Adoptees More Likely to be Troubled from this adoption research here: The Mental Health of US Adolescents Adopted in Infancy

The 2001 Adoptee Research Study says:

Sixteen adopted adolescents (7.6%) and 197 nonadopted adolescents (3.1%) reported suicide attempt(s) in the past year. Counseling in the past year was reported by 36 adopted adolescents (16.9%) and 521 nonadopted adolescents (8.2%; P < .001). Adolescents who attempted suicide, compared with those who did not, were more likely to be female (67.6% vs 49.1%) and adopted (7.5% vs 3.1%)

The 2008 Adoptee Research Study says:

Nevertheless, being adopted approximately doubled the odds of having contact with a mental health professional and of having a disruptive behavior disorder.

The 2012 Adoptee Research results state:

For later adoption versus non-adoption, the estimated difference in suicidal thoughts was 2.9% higher during young adulthood for later adopted youth, 3.4% higher during early young adulthood and 3.5% higher during adolescence.2

The 2013 Adoptee Research Study says:

The odds of a reported suicide attempt were ∼4 times greater in adoptees compared with nonadoptees (odds ratio: 4.23). 


I mean, Ok, the suicide rates risk are slight, but what if your child is that 2.9%. How is it “better” to even expose your baby to the possibility that it could happen? I was thinking about these studies today and the people I know, in real non adopted life, who have lost a friend/ family member etc to suicide. Sadly, we know a few. The I thought about the birthmothers I know who have had their adopted child take their own life. They clearly outnumber the real life suicides. Now granted I do know a lot of other birthmothers, but I know a lot of regular people too and still, the adoptee related deaths are higher.

And it’s not just about mental health and suicide, it’s about all the other things that go into the adoption experience.  Why take the chance on someone else? Why put that all on your child that they must be alone in life and learn to deal without you. Why trust an agency or even a couple really, you have, maybe known a few months? Unless you are sure that you are going to beat your kid or poke the with hot coals or lock them in a box, seriously, they have a good chance with you. Or sure, maybe they will have a big house and people will love them, but will they KNOW them like  you know your baby. Your baby is made of you. She is part of you. No one else can take your place to her.

If you want to truly do what’s best, then you will find a way to parent and not take that chance, because there is no guarantee that your child will be happier or even just happy if adopted. Why take that chance?

Share on Facebook

About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

5 Comments on "The Myth of the Happy Adoptee"

  1. A-freaking-men!!! This is a brilliant post; yes indeed, why take the chance? Fabulous way to frame it! Just love this post!

  2. Victoria Gallegos | July 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm |

    Very good way of putting it!

  3. The research results provided seemed to favor adoption….I understood what you were trying to say, but the numbers (by percentage or volume) show non adopted kids a more likely to have the issues you chose to highlight. My baby has only been gone two weeks and I find myself going back through information again now trying to see if I might have missed something important. I have a less than idealistic view of adoption agencies, but birthmothers are either angry or happy. And the crazy thing is that their reasoning for being either way is exactly the freaking same.

    • That’s an interesting observation.. the happy or angry based on the same thing. I would love to hear more about how you see that. I have found that while its the same act, relinquishment, the feelings seem to be based on the overall experience, the feelings of control, and then the point in which they are in the journey.
      I would dare say that two weeks in what you are missing now is the time. What feels expected at to weeks post relinquishment, gets old at 2 years in, or 20 years in. At least that is my very general observation. There is a need to see the positive in the beginning go through it, to survive it and then when it continues, the need is to see what really happened and somehow undo.
      I am sorry you have joined us for whatever reason, but welcome to the sisterhood in any case.

  4. Happyadoptee | October 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm |

    I am adult adoptee, and also a licensed mental health therapist, specializing in areas of attachment disruption and trauma. About a year ago, I sought out my birth family and am now in regular contact with not only my birth parents, but my extended birth family, as well. I learned that the experience of relinquishing me was indeed traumatic for my birthmother, but I am so deeply, incredibly grateful that she made that choice. Growing up, my parents handled my and my brother’s adoption extraordinarily. I was a very intuitive child who sensed that “primal wound,” but I was also held, loved and cared for deeply by parents, whom I wouldn’t trade for the world. They are my parents, not my birth mother. My BMother is lovely, and I am so grateful to know her now. However, she and my BFather were teenagers when I was born. Not only that, but my birth mother has had a tumultuous history of substance abuse and mental illness (that predates my adoption). In the words of my therapist, I would be a different person if she had raised me. And not different in a good way. I believe, through my training as a therapist, I would be a scattered, insecurely attached child, because my BMother would not have had the tools to attune to me properly. My adoptive parents were in a much more stable place in life, and were healthy enough to attune to my needs and emotions well, despite my infant trauma. While my adoption affects me still today (via my attachment style), this marking has been a gift to me as a therapist, making me an intuitive and compassionate person who can see others’ pain well.

Comments are closed.

Want to Change the World?

Sign Up for the Adoption Army! "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead