Navigating the Emotional Aftermath: PTSD, Grief, and Placing a Child for Adoption

Navigating the Emotional Aftermath: PTSD, Grief, and Placing a Child for Adoption

 Navigating the Emotional Aftermath: PTSD, Grief, and Placing a Child for Adoption

By Susan Vickers.

The decision to place a child for adoption is one of the most profound acts of love and sacrifice a parent can make. Yet, this heart-wrenching choice often comes at a significant emotional cost, leaving birth parents to navigate a complex labyrinth of grief, trauma, and healing.

The Trauma of Letting Go

For many birth parents, the process of placing a child for adoption can be a traumatic experience, triggering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms can manifest in various ways:

- **Re-experiencing the trauma:** Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares about the adoption process or giving birth can feel inescapable.

- **Avoidance:** Birth parents may avoid people, places, conversations, or situations that remind them of the adoption, leading to emotional numbing or detachment.

- **Negative thoughts and moods:** Persistent negative beliefs about oneself, distorted thoughts about the adoption, and an inability to experience positive emotions can take hold.

- **Hyperarousal:** Irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, and problems with concentration can disrupt daily life.

These PTSD symptoms can be overwhelming and disruptive, making it challenging to move forward.

The Grief of Letting Go

While PTSD is a distinct condition, birth parents also experience a profound sense of grief after placing a child for adoption. This grief is a natural and expected response to such a significant loss. However, it's essential to differentiate between normal grief reactions and PTSD symptoms.

Normal grief reactions may include:

- Feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt that come in waves and diminish over time

- The ability to experience positive emotions and find joy in other areas of life

- Bittersweet memories of the child

PTSD symptoms, on the other hand, tend to be more severe, persistent, and disruptive to daily life. They may include intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours, emotional numbing, and a heightened sense of threat that does not diminish without treatment.

It's also possible for birth parents to experience both complicated grief (prolonged, severe grief) and PTSD simultaneously after an adoption, especially if the circumstances were traumatic.

Finding Healing and Support

Navigating the emotional aftermath of placing a child for adoption is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and professional support. Seeking counselling from therapists experienced in adoption-related trauma and grief can be invaluable.

Joining support groups can also provide a sense of community, validation, and shared understanding. Maintaining open communication with the adoption agency can offer closure or continuity, depending on the type of adoption chosen.

While the path to healing is not an easy one, it is possible to manage the emotional impact of placing a child for adoption proactively. With the right combination of professional help, community support, and personal self-care strategies, birth parents can work through their grief, trauma, and guilt, ultimately finding peace and acceptance.


The Susan Vickers Foundation is dedicated to supporting and empowering care-experienced individuals, including those who have been fostered, adopted, or grew up in the care system. Here are some ways the foundation can help:

Providing Counseling and Mental Health Support

The foundation recognises the emotional trauma and challenges faced by care-experienced individuals. It offers counselling services and mental health resources to help them process their experiences, build resilience, and heal from any past traumas


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