November was National Adoption Month and this year I participated in a very successful campaign to get adoptee voices out into the public: called “Flip the Script.” Timehop graciously reminded me that three years ago I was singing the praises of National Adoption Month and expressing my gratitude, this year I was sharing the complexities of being adopted. Something I’ve only let myself think about in the past year.
Being adopted is complicated. You cannot separate adoptees into happy and mad and assume those that are “mad” can be dismissed because they must have had an unusually bad experience. Adoption is a life long process. It can be confusing when an adoptee who has seemed happy all their life suddenly is sharing all of these negative feelings. I’m sure I took many of my family and friends by surprise. There is a theory that helps explain this process: Adoption Reconstruction Phase Theory. It’s not as simple as saying some adoptees are happy and some are mad; many adoptees go through these phases over the course of their life; and many don’t. The Declassified Adoptee conducted an interview with the creators of the Adoption Reconstruction Phase Theory: check it out here.
Adoption support and practice has changed drastically since I was adopted. Now parents are entering into open adoptions, keeping connections open with birth families and taught how to help their child grieve their loss. For me and many before me, our parents were given a newborn, told we were blank slates and to treat us as if we had been born to them. They even changed our birth certificates to make it look as though that is what happened. The problem is, we were not blank slates. We experienced a painful separation with no way to communicate or remember this loss. We needed the space to explore this loss. Our parents loved us, but were never given the right tools to help us grieve; didn’t even know we needed to.
So unfortunately, many adopted children grew up unable to talk about how it felt to be adopted, the questions they had, the hurt. We were shushed (and are still) with mixed messages from all around us and quickly learned adoption wasn’t something we could talk about- unless it was the happy stuff. The feelings of loss and sadness are suppressed and we become grateful for the life we now have; after all it’s our only choice. Like so many have said and I said about myself: at least I wasn’t aborted. Take a minute and think about how this attitude could be painful. My choice is unwanted or dead. Yuck. The reality is most birth mothers are choosing between parenting and adoption NOT abortion and adoption. Adoptees are often told they are special and chosen, but deep down many of us question our worth; question love. After all, love has been defined for us as leaving; “your birth mother loved you so much she wanted a better life for you.” This concept can be true and make sense for an adult; to a child it’s confusing. When I told my 7 year old daughter my birthmother did not feel as though she could take care of me her response was “of course she could, all mommies can.” And that simple childlike thinking causes many adoptees to believe that certainly there is something wrong, something unlovable about themselves. These feelings are nearly impossible to erase.
The general public, and many (not all) adopted and birth parents do not want to hear us. They do not want to acknowledge the pain and hurt many of us feel. They want to view adoption as the best thing ever. After all adoption equals love. Don’t get me wrong, adoption has its place and can be a huge blessing, but it’s not an easy road. Honestly, I would love for people to say, “wow I get it; it really must be hard to be adopted”- but I know that will not come easily. Those conversations will mostly stay within the confines of adoptee networks because we get it; we lived it.
What I want more than anything, and what I hope anyone can agree upon, is for us to at least be seen as adults who have rights. The fact that I cannot have a copy of my own original birth certificate and laws demand that I be babysat while I search out my biological family members makes me angry. An anger that will cause me to fight for justice.
Really we just want a seat at the table. We want lawmakers and adoption agencies and adopted parents to understand what this means to us. How not having access to our own information is taking a piece of our identity from us; possibly our life if we don’t have crucial medical information. How many of us will never feel complete until we understand all of who we are: it doesn’t matter if what we find is good or bad- we need our truth.
THIS is why we flip the script.
Listen up people: if adoption is about the kids then I suggest you start listening to the kids who have lived it and are now grown adults. Don’t you think we could help influence best practices in a way that truly benefits who adoption is supposedly for??
Or maybe you’d like to admit that adoption (infant and international: not from foster care) has become a billion dollar industry benefiting adoption agencies and parents who need children??