Image by sippakorn yamkasikorn 

Adoptees are a diverse, yet invisible community. We live in plain sight, but our adopted status is usually unseen by others.

All adoptees share a fundamental core experience of separation imprinted in our unconscious minds. This separation of the child from the mother or primary caregiver can leave a deep psychic wound, regardless of the new life and new parents the child may subsequently inherit. The powerful effects of this type of developmental trauma can last a lifetime.

We adoptees aren’t the only people who have experienced early childhood trauma. The varieties of wounds a child may experience are countless. But adoptees, having been separated from our biological mothers, nearly always suffer trauma, no matter how well we fare later in life.

The Lost Orphan Within

Imaginally, there’s an orphan who lives within us. The orphan is homeless, restless, disconnected, and searching for something or someone it can’t find, including its very soul. For some, the orphan’s persistent presence may arise intermittently through feelings and behavior at any stage of life or circumstance.

If we’re lucky, it can serve as a guide or an ally. Also, like any unseen aspects of ourselves, if we deny its presence, it can haunt us.

innerself subscribe graphic

The lost orphan can be found in the shadows and brought to the safety and security of light. Disconnection can be healed by loving reconnection. No orphan is beyond redemption.

The Mystery of Loss and Disconnection

As a young man, even though I grew up in a supportive, upper-middle-class family, the mystery of my adoption weighed heavily upon me. The intense feelings of yearning and disconnection propelled me to search for my birth mother. From the beginning, my search was for my mother, not my father. She was what I felt was missing in me.

After spending decades searching, encountering many obstacles and seeming dead ends, I was finally able to put the disparate pieces of the puzzle together and find her. The day I spent with Jean, my birth mother, along with my half-sister, getting to know one another and discovering the ineffable bond between us was life changing.

As I prepared to leave, I realized that the last time my mother and I had parted, almost 40 years earlier, I was a 10-day-old infant and she was a 22-year-old woman about to give up her only child. I realized that her sacrifice was heart-wrenching in a way that only the two of us could know. Each of us carried the painful, implicit memory of our separation.

The Search for Shared DNA

Much later, in my early 70s, I received an email from 23andMe to which I’d belonged since its inception in 2006. Since my reunion with Jean 35 years earlier, I’d held little expectation that I’d ever discover more than I already knew from Jean (which wasn’t much) about my biological father. But this contact shared DNA evidence that we could be as close as first cousins on my father’s side.

Through this match, I discovered four half-sisters with whom I shared the same birth father. These revelations washed over me like whitewater roaring through a ruptured dam, flooding my senses. It revealed the last piece of the puzzle to the truth of my life.

No doubt I will discover more clues about my birth father and his family, but even so, his life will remain a mystery to me. Oddly, I don’t seem to care as much now. Perhaps I’ve tired of the search, but it’s more accurate to say that I’ve finally moved on. This orphan understands more about the home that I searched for through so much of my lifetime.

Adoptee Trauma: Impact and Response

As adoptees, our challenge is to distinguish the impact of the trauma from our response to it. While it may be cliché, it’s true nevertheless: Life is what you make of it. We need not live as permanent victims of trauma. The greater summons is to realize that we’re more than the many roles we’ve played through our lifetime.

As we strive to understand ourselves beyond the scripts of our daily lives, we may one day discover the deeper essence of ourselves — the very substance of soul

Copyright 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author:

BOOK: The Lost Coin

The Lost Coin: A Memoir of Adoption and Destiny
by Stephen Rowley

book cover of The Lost Coin: A Memoir of Adoption and Destiny by Stephen RowleyIn The Lost Coin, Stephen Rowley shares his lifelong journey-searching for his birth parents, seeking his true identity, and discovering his soul's calling.  As we accompany Stephen Rowley on this adventurous and reflective journey, we come to understand more deeply the trauma engendered when separating mother from child, and the unspoken restlessness and yearning for connection many adoptees feel.

"It is my hope," he writes, that we all "may discover the unique capacity within us to heal and even thrive, not in spite of the wounds we carry, but because of them."

For more info and/or to order this book, click here.  Also available as a hardcover and as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Stephen Rowley, Ph.D.Stephen Rowley, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist practicing in Bainbridge Island, Washington. His professional past includes serving as an elementary school teacher and principal, and a school district superintendent in Washington and California. He has been a college professor at three universities, teaching courses in educational administration and organizational theory. He holds a Ph.D. in Administration and Policy Analysis from Stanford University. His new book is: The Lost Coin: A Memoir of Adoption and Destiny (Chiron Publications, Sept. 2023).

Learn more at