This picture shows a crying infant in a basket on the Nile River. It is Moses. Does anyone hear his cry? Learn a surprising answer to his cry.

Does the Bible Validate An Adoptee’s Primal Wound?

I’ve heard this story told again and again, but no one ever stopped at the word that stood out like neon to me.

Moses, the Biblical adoptee, cried when his first mom put him in a tar-lined, covered basket in the alligator-infested Nile?

Yes…it says it right here:

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him 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. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying (emphasis mine), and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. (Exodus 2)

So, what’s the big deal?

All babies cry, right?

As I studied what the word “cried” meant, it became abundantly clear what I and millions of other fellow adoptees and foster kids experience when separated from our first (second, third, etc). families.

Defining the Cry

The root meaning of crying is: (Thesaurus)

  • to weep
  • bewail
  • sob
  • weep continually
  • weep longer
  • weep bitterly

Even though culture and times were different, Moses experienced the same challenges those who lose families face today. Everything familiar disappeared and for the first time, on a sensory level, he experienced what relinquishment feels like.

Many adoptees today reflect relinquishment’s reality.

How Other Adoptees Describe “Cry”

“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.” (Dr. Richard Gilbert, from Jewel among Jewels Adoption News)

Other adoptees say:

  • I wake up at night and cry, but I don’t know why.
  • Something inside doesn’t feel right.
  • I am crying on the inside but the tears won’t come.
  • I need my parents to understand that I have an invisible wound.
  • I need the freedom to cry.
  • I need comfort.
  • If I were a diabetic, they would give me insulin. If I were deaf, they would give me hearing aids. Why don’t they do anything for my wound from adoption

What Experts Say About the Cry

“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

How God Responds to the Cry

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 Parents Can Validate the Cry

Parents and counselors may want to consider using these questions and activities:

  • If you could sum up your adoption experience in one word, what would it be?
  • Describe your perception of  being separated from your first family (parents bringing me into their house; baby in a basket, baby in a dumpster, baby on the steps of a church, parents picking baby out, parents so happy when they lay eyes on you, the day you lost your birth mother, etc).
  • Draw a picture illustrating your perception of adoption/foster care/orphanage from using only your left hand (or right if you are left-handed).
  • How do you think your birth mother felt at your birth? Your birth father?
  • Do you ever feel like you are crying on the inside, yet tears won’t come? If so, how long does the feeling last?
  • What do you need most when you are feeling confused and mixed up inside? List specific ways of getting this need met.
  • Write a letter TO your birth mother about how you were traumatized when she disappeared from your life.
  • Write a letter to yourself FROM your birth mother, expressing thoughts and feelings you think she would want you to know about her reasons for placing you for adoption and how she feels about what you have just said in your letter to her.

Verses that Comfort the Cry

  •  Psalm 91:4“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
  • Psalm 139:13“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  
  • Psalm 139:15“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”  
  • Psalm 139:16b“all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Who planned every day of your life?

Feel free to use any of this material.


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