adoption suicide

#flipthescript 15: No Easy Button in Adoption

Tracy Hammond is a baby scoop era adoptee and adoptee rights activist. This is her second post here in this #flipthescript series (the first: Why Are Adoptees Doing It?),  in which adopted people take over the microphone in this space for November’s National Adoption Awareness Month.

You may not agree with everything that is said in these #flipthescript posts. You may even find parts of these posts hard to read. But I believe there is value in listening, in being willing to see a viewpoint different from your own, in uncovering your own triggers and fears, in understanding how adoption is experienced by some people.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

A Lamentable List

L’Wren Scott, 50
Emilie Olsen, 13
Charlotte Dawson, 48
Michael Blosil, 18
Casey Brooks, 18
Sam Halpern, 53
Alicia Hirsch, 28
Joseph Tae Holt, 32
Jean-Claude Baker, 71
Fisseha Sol Samuel, 20
Nicholai Troy Methvin, 26
Jane Pertzborn, 41
Thaddeus Farrow, 27

You might wonder what people listed above have in common. They are all adoptees, listed at the age when they committed suicide. Rarely discussed, one of the consequences of adoption for an adoptee can be suicide.  From young to old, from domestically born to internationally born, the above list captures a cross section of this issue. 

Adoptees & Suicide

In a 2013 study, researchers found that adoptees carry a risk 4 times greater than their peers to attempt suicide.  While the majority of suicidal behavior studies involving adopted persons focus primarily on adolescents, a 2006 Swedish study looked at adult national and international adoptees and suicidal behavior among adult adoptees.  It concluded that “international adoptees had clearly increased risks for suicide attempt and suicide death,” and that “national adoptees had lower risks than international adoptees, but had increased risks compared to non-adoptees.”

Adoptee suicide is a very real and serious issue, and members of the adoption community need to address the seriousness of adoptee suicidal behavior early and often. I never knew that I carried a higher risk of suicidal behavior until I was 39 years old. At 39 I could look back at the 9 year-old I was who tried to hang herself in her closet one winter night. I can see the 15 year-old I was who held a gun to her head, and realize I was predisposed to suicidal behavior by the very nature of being adopted. When I look at the list above, I wonder how many of those adoptees were ever informed that they carried a higher risk of suicidal behavior than their non-adopted peers?

Just Adopt!

Adoption came front and center during the 2016 presidential race. The polarizing moment for the adoption community happened during the Vice Presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine. Governor Pence stated “I tried to stand for the ancient principle of the sanctity of life. I am also very pleased that Indiana became the most-adoption state….” 

Mike Pence implying “just adopt” in reference to abortion during the debate shows his ignorance about adoption issues. It’s dangerous to imply that adoption has no downsides, that it is an easy exchange for abortion. In Pence’s mind there is apparently an Easy Button that women and women’s health professionals aren’t aware of. Carry to term, deliver, surrender infant, ignore possible consequences… slap that easy button.

adoption suicide

There is no Adoption Easy Button.  Adoptee suicide is a very real possible consequence of adoption.

We MUST Have Hard Conversations

Adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and the greater adoption community need to address the higher suicidal behavior risk that adoptees may carry earlier and more transparently if they hope to reduce the incidence of such a devastating outcome. Speak to your adopted children early and make suicide part of the discussion. It’s extremely important that adult adoptees be part of the ongoing conversation, since it’s a lifelong risk.  

I know that some adoptive parents may read this and think that this article doesn’t apply to their family.  They think their adopted family members seem okay.  I wonder how many of the adoptees listed above had family members who thought so, too.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255

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adoptee meets dead birthmother
Tracy with her birth parents at their first meeting.

Tracy Hammond has been in reunion with her biological family since 2013. She writes about her experiences on her blog Adoptee Path. In addition to writing projects, she works as a business analyst in the insurance industry. She devotes her remaining energy into her work as a metalsmith and jeweler. She is the owner of Tracy’s Gem Shop on Etsy, and is widely known for her broken heart adoption pendants which are featured in Flip the Script: Adult Adoptee Anthology.

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Other Posts in the #flipthescript Series:

6 thoughts on “#flipthescript 15: No Easy Button in Adoption”

  1. The list of names was chilling and a smart way to start this wonderful essay. Thank you for raising awareness. I wish adoptees didn’t have to suffer so much, but I am glad that we get to share our stories, for this, I think, is where the healing starts.

  2. Silence, assuming all is completely rosy, being blind to grief/loss issues and, avoiding Difficult Conversations about adoption complexity exacts a high cost for adoptees. We must educate parents and professionals on how to be the Adoption-attuned* support their children need them to be.

  3. Thank you for publishing this – when it’s socially acceptable to obliterate a persons past through adoption, it makes sense that obliterating one’s self is just as acceptable.

    When we choose to require that the adoptee bear the entire burden of adoption by pretending that it’s the same as biofamily, we deny the adoptee experience and further alienate the sense of self.

    Further, if one believes in an afterlife, at least in death the identity of the adoptee’s original family would finally be revealed- given the overwhelming preponderance of sealed records.

  4. Thank you, Tracy, for shining light on a very difficult and most often uncomfortable subject. I appreciate the way you brought in facts and statistics, and then blended it with your personal story.

    I particularly liked the way you started the article — with the list of names and ages of adoptees who had committed suicide — and ended it — with the lingering question — I wonder how many of the adoptees listed above had family members who thought so, too. Thank you!

  5. I’m glad you’re speaking out about this. I hope that agencies and those that facilitate adoption are doing more follow-up and training after babyhood. Like quarterly check-ins until adulthood so they can highlight known issues. I noted the same point in Pence’s answer.

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