Can Adoptees Remember Early-Life Loss?

Moses’ life normalizes the adopted life. He blew it like many of us, yet went on to be one of the greatest leaders of all times. Also, God called him “friend.”

Moses’ First Mom, Jochebed

Jochebed felt her first labor pain late in the afternoon and by nightfall she had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. It was a bittersweet experience for Jochebed, for death was crouching at her door. Pharaoh, the wicked king of Egypt, in a desperate attempt to keep the Israelites from flourishing and ultimately dethroning him, issued an edict. He ordered Israelite midwives to kill all male Israelite babies at birth. The God-fearing midwives, however, did just the opposite. They welcomed the babies into the world and tenderly placed them at their mothers’ breasts. When Pharaoh learned that the midwives were sparing the lives of the Israelite babies, he was furious and commanded that all male babies be drowned in the Nile River.

The Circumstances and Prayer

As her baby began to suckle, Jochebed’s heart began to race, for she could hear the sound of Egyptian soldiers passing by. How would she ever keep the baby quiet? If the soldiers heard him cry, they would tear down the door and immediately kill him. If only Amram were home. He would know what to do. But he was forced into slave labor laying brick and mortar at Pharaoh’s palace. How disappointed he would be to have missed the birth of his son. Knowing that the soldiers lurking outside could seize her baby at any given moment, Jochebed prayed, “Oh, God, please show me a way to save the life of my baby.”

As she prayed, the idea of placing him in a protective basket came to mind. “Yes!” she said to God, arms outstretched. “This is what I shall do when the time is right.“ When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile” (v. 3-4). Miriam, the baby’s sister, stood at a distance to see what would happen.

Moses’ Adoptive Mother, Hatshepsut

About the same time, Pharaoh’s daughter, Hatshepsut, went to the Nile to bathe and heard the frantic cry of a baby. “She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him” (v. 5-6).
(The root meaning of crying: weep, bewail, sob, weep continually, weep longer and weep bitterly.)

Certainly at a few weeks of age, when Moses was put in the basket in the crocodile-infested Nile, he had no concept of God. Probably all he had were sensory memories (sight, touch, hearing, taste) of what was familiar–the sound of his mother’s voice, the sweet breast milk, the sounds of the happy voices in the home where he was born, and the soft breasts from which he nursed.

As he was placed in the basket, all that was familiar disappeared. For the first time in his life, he might have felt like an orphan. He had no awareness of Jehovah–the Being who is absolutely Self-Existent, the One who in himself possesses essential life and permanent existence. Even though his mother wasn’t there with Moses when he was floating on the Nile, Jehovah was. Jehovah’s strong hands were holding him up and keeping him safe. Psalm 63:7-8 says, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I stay close to you; your right hand upholds me.”

How Other Adoptees Feel

I am adopted! Someone didn’t want me. This became my story, my scar and my struggle. When I learned of my adoption, compounded by dynamics in my family life, I ‘heard’ only that someone DIDN’T want me. I was rejected somewhere and somehow, I was now different. All of this became the energy force that kept me, motivated me and often controlled me on a lifetime course of anger, debate, searching and stubborn determination to prove that ‘they,’ whoever the natural parents were, were wrong to give me up.
–article for Jewel among Jewels Adoption News by Dr. Richard Gilbert

Learning about Adoption

What I discovered is what I call the primal wound, a wound which is physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual; a wound which causes pain so profound as to have been described as cellular by those adoptees who allowed themselves to go that deeply into their pain. I began to understand this wound as having been caused by the separation of the child from his biological mother, the connection to whom seems mystical, mysterious, spiritual and everlasting.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child,
by Nancy Verrier

The loss inherent in adoption is unlike other losses we have come to expect in a lifetime, such as death or divorce. Adoption is more pervasive, less socially recognized and more profound.
Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self,
by David M. Brodzinsky, Ph.D. and Marshall D. Schechter, M.D.

Can a baby under one year ‘remember’ this traumatic separation from his original parents? No, he will probably not remember these events as a series of pictures which can be recalled. What is remembered, or preserved, is anxiety, a primitive kind of terror, which returns in waves in later life. Loss and danger of loss of love become recurrent themes or life patterns. What is preserved may be a profound moodiness or depression later in life, the somatic memory of the first tragic loss, which returns from the unremembered past even, ironically, at moments of pleasure and success. What is preserved is the violation of trust, of the ordered world of infancy in which love, protection and continuity of experience are invested in people. The arbitrary fate that broke the first human bonds may damage or shatter that trust, so that when love is given again it may not be freely returned. And finally, what is preserved is likely to be a wound to the embryonic personality in the first year which may have profound effects upon later development.
Every Child’s Birthright, by Selma Fraiberg


2 responses to “Can Adoptees Remember Early-Life Loss?”

  1. Sherrie Eldridge Avatar

    Thank you for stopping by! Have you and your son been reunited? Just the words “forced adoption” wreaks of pain. We’d love to hear more of your story if you are comfortable sharing.

  2. rosinaus Avatar

    Coming so close to another mother’s day when my son lost to forced adoption did not recognise the day, your post reminds of how complex our reunion is.

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