An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Adoptive Parents Should Know
1. Adoption is not possible without loss. Losing one’s birth parents is the most traumatic form of loss a child can experience. That loss will always be a part of me. It will shape who I am and will have an effect on my relationships—especially my relationship with you.
2. Love isn’t enough in adoption, but it certainly makes a difference. Tell me every day that I am loved—especially on the days when I am not particularly lovable.
3. Show me—through your words and your actions—that you are willing to weather any storm with me. I have a difficult time trusting people, due to the losses I have experienced in my life. Show me that I can trust you. Keep your word. I need to know that you are a safe person in my life, and that you will be there when I need you and when I don’t need you.
4. I will always worry that you will abandon me, no matter how often you tell me or show me otherwise. The mindset that “people who love me will leave me” has been instilled in me and will forever be a part of me. I may push you away to protect myself from the pain of loss. No matter what I say or do to push you away, I need you to fight like crazy to show me that you aren’t going anywhere and will never give up on me.
5. Even though society says it is PC to be color-blind, I need you to know that race matters. My race will always be a part of me, and society will always see me by the color of my skin (no matter how hard they try to convince me otherwise). I need you to help me learn about my race and culture of origin, because it’s important to me. Members of my race and culture of origin may reject me because I’m not “black enough” or “Asian enough”, but if you help arm me with pride in who I am and the tools to cope, it will be okay. I don’t look like you, but you are my parent and I need you to tell me—through your words and your actions—that it’s okay to be different. I have experienced many losses in my life. Please don’t allow the losses of my race and culture of origin to be among them.
6. I need you to be my advocate. There will be people in our family, our school, our church, our community, our medical clinic, etc. who don’t understand adoption and my special needs. I need you to help educate them about adoption and special needs, and I need to know that you have my back. Ask me questions in front of them to show them that my voice matters.
7. At some point during our adoption journey, I may ask about or want to search for my birth family. You may tell me that being blood related doesn’t matter, but not having that kind of connection to someone has left a void in my life. You will always be my family and you will always be my parent. If I ask about or search for my birth family, it doesn’t mean I love you any less. I need you to know that living my life without knowledge of my birth family has been like working on a puzzle with missing pieces. Knowing about my birth family may help me feel more complete.
8. Please don’t expect me to be grateful for having been adopted. I endured a tremendous loss before becoming a part of your family. I don’t want to live with the message that “you saved me and I should be grateful” hanging over my head. Adoption is about forming forever families—it shouldn’t be about “saving” children.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I may need help in coping with the losses I have experienced and other issues related to adoption. It’s okay and completely normal. If the adoption journey becomes overwhelming for you, it’s important for you to seek help, as well. Join support groups and meet other families who have adopted. This may require you to go out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it. Make the time and effort to search for and be in the company of parents and children/youth who understand adoption and understand the issues. These opportunities will help normalize and validate what we are going through.
10. Adoption is different for everyone. Please don’t compare me to other adoptees. Rather, listen to their experiences and develop ways in which you can better support me and my needs. Please respect me as an individual and honor my adoption journey as my own. I need you to always keep an open mind and an open heart with regard to adoption. Our adoption journey will never end, and no matter how bumpy the road may be and regardless of where it may lead, the fact that we traveled this road together, will make all the difference.
I Am Not Broken. I Am An Adoptee.
Note: This post may be difficult for birth parents to read.
I have had a number of interactions with adoption professionals, adoptive parents, and other adoptees in the past 6 years, but especially since starting this blog earlier this year. A majority of these interactions have been very positive and I have often found myself walking away with a renewed faith in adoption and the wonderful things it has to offer. The interactions that have left me with mixed emotions have involved those who don’t seem to fully understand the need for adoptees to grieve their losses, and expect us to “get over it” or to just be grateful that we have families.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love my family and I feel so incredibly blessed to have them in my life. But, when I think about my life prior to my adoption, a range of emotions consume me. I feel pain, anger, hatred, and most of all, sadness. I was left in a subway station—abandoned and seemingly thrown away like somebody’s trash. Had I been left with a name or a birthdate, things may have been different. I believe that having the knowledge of something—that I was somebody to someone—would have made my abandonment a little less painful. But, my birth parents chose to leave me with nothing. I was a child without a name…without a birthdate…I was nobody.
Well-meaning people often try to tell me how much my birth parents loved me. I understand and appreciate the sentiments behind their words—I really do. But, rather than making me feel better about my situation, I have found that it actually makes me feel worse. Ever since I can remember, I have imagined every possible scenario of my life prior to my adoption. I have imagined myself with loving birth parents with no other choice than to abandon me and hope for the best. I have imagined myself with abusive birth parents who threw me away because they never wanted me in the first place. I have imagined my birth parents dying and their family abandoning me because they couldn’t care for me. Regardless of the scenario, they all end with my being abandoned.
I have a right to feel abandoned, because I WAS abandoned. I have a right to feel pain because the people who brought me into this world chose not to parent me. I have a right to feel anger and hatred for the people who were supposed to love me and always be there for me and ultimately decided to abandon me. I have a right to feel sadness. I have a right to grieve the loss of a life and a family that will never be mine.
It’s difficult for me to hear that my birth parents loved me. I don’t know that to be true, so how could anyone else possibly know? It is one thing for a birth parent to choose adoption for their child and go through a child welfare organization to do so, but I have to admit that I have always felt some resentment towards my birth parents for abandoning me in a random location—not knowing who would find me or where I would end up. For me, it’s easier to believe that my birth parents didn’t want me, because it allows me a sense of closure. I have no desire to know someone who didn’t want me. Believing that my birth parents loved me is just too painful for me to bear. It’s too painful to imagine someone out there loving me—someone out there whom I will never know. I know I look like someone, and I know my laugh sounds like someone else’s laugh. I know someone out there has a piece of my heart that I will never get back. I will live my life with questions that will remain unanswered, and I will forever mourn the loss of a complete stranger who made the decision not to know me all those years ago.
Sharing my story has been extremely cathartic for me. I have also been empowered by the realization that my voice matters and is actually helping others. But, I also realize that well-meaning people often have the urge to fix things and make things better. I get it. I tend to be a “fixer”, as well.
Through my volunteer work of providing crisis counseling and advocacy to victims and survivors of sexual violence, I have discovered the art of listening. I have learned that the moments in which nobody says a word can be just as powerful and therapeutic as those moments in which words of understanding, support, empowerment, and validation are shared.
I feel it is important for people to know that I am an adoptee, but I am not broken. Adoptees don’t need fixing—they need understanding. Trying to explain away an adoptee’s pain may help you feel better about the situation, but it minimizes the very experiences that have shaped our lives. We need to unapologetically be allowed to feel our pain, our sadness, our anger, and our grief. Many of us don’t need or want pity. We need the support of people who will allow us to sit with our pain without trying to mask it or minimize it or make it go away. The ability to acknowledge and confront our pain is essential to the healing process. We need to be able to feel our pain and heal in our own time. Please don’t ask us to “get over it”, because it’s not that simple and the healing process doesn’t work that way. Rather, please consider offering us your listening ear, your support, your validation, and your understanding. In doing so, you will make more of a difference than you will ever know.
An Adoptee’s Perspective: Is It Worth It?
When I started working in the adoption world a little over five years ago, I was an absolute proponent of adoption. I don’t think there would have been anything anyone could have said or done to make me believe that adoption wasn’t anything but wonderful. Working in the adoption world can be difficult at times, especially for an adoptee. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say something negative about adoption or attempt to discourage prospective parents from adopting, my kids’ college fund would be all set. The negative sentiments towards adoption can be difficult to hear sometimes, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be where I am today had my parents not chosen to adopt me. Working in the adoption world has brought a lot of my adoption issues to the surface, and has forced me to address many issues I had kept buried for most of my life. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work in this field and learn about the good and the bad sides of adoption. It has also helped validate and normalize many of the feelings and experiences I have had throughout my adoption journey.
I believe in adoption. I believe that every child deserves a loving forever family. But, I am also well aware that adoption is not easy or perfect. Mistakes are made, and children and families sometimes pay the ultimate price for those mistakes. Working in the adoption world, I hear the stories—good and bad—and I see a system that works for some and has failed miserably for others. I also see children who age out of foster care or live their entire young lives in orphanages, and I am well aware of the statistics on the difficulties they will most likely face.
As much as I believe in adoption, I know that adoption isn’t for everyone. You need to be extremely dedicated, open-minded, always open to learning, and incredibly thick-skinned to be an adoptive parent. Adoption isn’t easy. It’s not a lifetime spent on cloud nine, nor is it always a dream fulfilled for people wanting to add to their families. Regardless of whether they were adopted domestically, internationally, or from foster care—all adoptees come with issues. No matter how old they were when adopted, it’s unrealistic to believe that it is possible for a child to experience the loss of one’s birth parent and come out on the other side completely unscathed.
The adoption journey doesn’t end when your adopted child is finally in your arms. The journey is one that never ends. It is a journey filled with joy and it is a journey filled with heartache. It’s the realization of one dream and the loss of another. It will sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride that never ends. It is also a journey in which you may need to learn when to love and when to let go.
I have heard some parents say that they don’t know whether or not they would adopt if they could go back and do it all over again. But, a majority of adoptive parents have whole-heartedly said that despite the tears, the sleepless nights, and the sacrifices they have had to make throughout their adoption journeys—they still believe that it was absolutely worth it. If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is the fact that part of being a parent is experiencing heartache and knowing that you would endure it a million times over because your child is worth it. That’s how I feel about adoption. The system isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect, and children aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop finding forever families for children and teens and it doesn’t mean that we should stop believing in the good things adoption has to offer.
My story as an adoptee hasn’t been picture perfect. I didn’t talk to my parents very much about being adopted or all of the teasing and bullying I endured growing up. I think it was my way of protecting them. As a teenager, I acted out and did things I am not proud of and put myself and my parents through hell and back. I went through a phase of not really caring about anything, much less myself. In doing so, I thoroughly tested my parents’ love and support for me. But, no matter what I put them through and no matter how much I pushed them away, my parents were always there. Looking back at that period in my life, I am so thankful that I had a place to call home and for parents who were there to pick me up when I hit rock bottom.
Even though adoption isn’t perfect and it’s not always a fairytale, as an adoptee, I can unequivocally say that adoption is worth it. I don’t know what I would do without my parents’ love and support. My parents and I talk pretty much every day. Some days I don’t feel like talking, and other days I am off in another world, but I always look forward to those daily phone calls. I find comfort in knowing that I can just pick up the phone when I’m having a rough day and know that I will always have someone to talk to. I am blessed to have a family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with. Without adoption, none of this would have been possible, and I would not be the person I am today.
Words She Never Said
There must have been something in the water on Facebook this weekend, because when I logged into my account, I was greeted with a newsfeed full of photos of adoptees who were searching for their birth parents. The faces were young and old, black and white, and they all bore similar expressions of hope—hope that someone somewhere would see their photos and read the information on the posters they held that might lead them to their birth families.
As I looked at the photos, I realized that I found myself unable to relate to any of the adoptees who were searching for answers. All of the adoptees had clues and tidbits of information they could use to help locate their birth parents. If I were to create a poster, it would be empty. The only clues I have to the mystery of who my birth parents were are my face and the blood running through my veins.
So many birth parents out there are well-intentioned and selflessly relinquish their rights to their children because they aren’t ready to be parents or they can’t provide their children with the necessities and opportunities they need and deserve. Some have the opportunity to choose their children’s adoptive families and some enter into open adoptions. Other birth parents have their rights involuntary terminated as a result of abuse, neglect, and/or poverty. Sadly, there are also birth parents who never had any intention of relinquishing their rights and had their children taken from them as a result of corruption, kidnapping, and other horrible injustices. Lastly, there are birth parents like mine, who chose to abandon their children for reasons unknown.
As an adoptee who was abandoned and left without any identifying information, the questions that will never be answered cause me the most pain and heartache. The words left unsaid are the things I long to know most about who I was and where I came from.
I have no memories of my birth mother’s face. I don’t know if she ever held me or told me that she loved me. Did she sing me lullabies and rock me to sleep? Did she comfort me when I cried? When she looked into my eyes, was she reminded of my birth father or, perhaps, her own mother? She didn’t leave me with information about my name or the date and time I was born. She didn’t tell me if I was born at home or in a hospital. She didn’t tell me if I was a good baby or if I was colicky. She didn’t give me a photo of me as a baby—a milestone captured on paper that so many people are so blessed to have. She didn’t tell me why it took her a whole year to decide that she couldn’t keep me.
The words my birth mother never said—never left me with—have formed a void in my life that has left me feeling empty and incomplete. I would give anything to know the health and lifespans of my ancestors. While I was searching for medical answers of my own a few years ago, I would have given anything to have known if anyone in my birth family had lupus. I would give anything to be able to pass tidbits of family history onto my sons, rather than staring at the blank pages of their maternal family medical histories.
My birth mother never told me if my laugh sounded like hers. She never told me if I inherited my stubbornness from my birth father or my love of music from my birth grandmother. She never told me if I have siblings. I will never know who in my birth family shares my love for writing and photography. I will never know if my birth mother thinks about me or wonders about the person I have become. I will never know if she wanted me to find her. I will never know if I was wanted or loved. I will never know why she felt she couldn’t keep me or why she chose to abandon me.
The things she never said—the things she took with her when she left me behind—are keys to a mystery that will never be solved. The action of leaving me—of abandoning me—will forever be a source of pain and loss in my life. But, the words that I imagine were in her heart and on her lips when she left me are the words that give me hope. I hold onto the things she never said with the belief that those words were filled with love and sadness, pain and promise, and hope for the dreams she had for me.
The words that I hold closest to my heart are the words she never said.