Disclaimer: Here are two questions that seem to come up in conversations either with our own friends or family or on adoption forums etc. Obviously, I am just learning about all of this. I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be. These are conclusions that AH and I have come to with research and learning and prayer and conversation. Our opinions on these matters may change, but this is what we're going with right now.
How old does a baby have to be to experience trauma?
Many experts agree that trauma to the mother even while the baby is still in utero can leave lasting neurological impacts on the developing foetus. After a baby is born, he has not learnt how to separate himself from his mother and therefore, sensing that his mother is in danger may cause his little brain and body to panic that he too is in danger. If something happens to mother, baby cannot recognise that he might be able to go on living without her. His little brain is telling him that if mother dies, baby dies. So even if a baby is not abused; living with abuse or danger can cause extreme stress to the developing mind. If a baby is being abused (physical, sexual, neglect), that stress may be compounded.
This is one of the many realities that must be faced in adoption. Sadly, our children are coming to us for a reason and that reason is not happy. In a perfect world, there would be no need for adoption. Birth parents would be given the supports they need to raise their children with help from the community. No one would be alone and children would be raised by "the village" if a parent was unable. When our children come to live with us and be loved by us, it is bitter-sweet because it means that they have been removed from the most important relationship of their young lives.
Should a child be told about trauma that they are too young to remember?
The simple answer is "yes". Children will ask questions about their past. They will ask questions about why they were adopted. Their past belongs to them, not me and I have no right to withhold it from them. Having knowledge about their life will help them understand some of their behaviours and fears.
We will be careful to use age appropriate language. We will be careful to consult professionals about the best ways to talk about these subjects. Luckily, anyone who knows us knows that we are not afraid of subjects that some people may find difficult. I could have been voted "most likely to become a sex-ed teacher" in my high school yearbook (not that that was a category). Anyone who knows us also knows that we're kind of (understatement?) socialist thinkers so we won't be portraying our kid's pasts with stereotypes about "bad people". Colouring their birth-parents and situations as "bad" won't help our children. In fact, telling a child that they come from "bad" people may give them the belief that they are "bad" as well. I am thankful that AH and I are blessed with these outlooks.
I don't mean to make this entirely negative. Out of adoption can come beautiful, diverse, loving families who have a special outlook on the world. I just want to be clear that it is not all beautiful. I want to be clear that the trauma experienced by our future children, no matter how old they are, is very real. It is something personal that belongs to them. It is something that we must show respect for if we want to gain their trust. We want to gain their trust. When they trust us, they will be able to release some of their anguish and learn that the world isn't so scary after all.