November is Adoption Awareness Month, and while the campaign was originally started to bring awareness of the large number of children in foster care awaiting adoption, adult adoptees have also been educating people about their experiences, in the hopes that misconceptions about adoption begin to change. To that end, here are ten adoption truths from adult adoptees:
1. Every adoption experience is different.
From pre-adoption circumstances, to how parents dealt with adoption and how that affected each adoptee as they grew up, every person who was adopted lives a different life with different parents and different emotions. There are deeply painful experiences and extremely positive experiences, like that of Darrin L., who shares, “I have no negative thoughts at all about adoption. I was adopted by fantastic parents into a huge, dynamic, extended family who all loved me, like my parents did. What could be negative about that?” Darrin has no negative feelings about his adoption, but also acknowledges that not all adoptees feel the way he does; there’s no one-size-fits-all adoption experience.
2. For many, adoption has an element of loss.
Biological mothers lose their child to a different family, children lose their original families on varying levels and there is a loss of knowledge of things like family medical history or family stories and language. Linda C., another adult adoptee, likens it to a one-way glass and wonders, “Did I get my birth mom’s features and mannerisms? I’ll never know.”
3. Adoptees can love their parents and still feel positive and negative emotions about adoption.
People who were adopted often feel they can’t express negative emotions about adoption because they don’t want their parents to feel bad. Linda C. confesses to using her biological mother against her adoptive mom during tense moments in her teen years. “I sometimes would throw out that my ‘real mom’ wouldn’t do or say what she was saying,” Linda confides with regret. “It’s hard because that utopian parent image is always hovering like a window of hope. Biological kids don’t have that option to fantasize about.” It’s entirely possible for adoptees to love their families, yet still feel angry and sad that something was missing from their life or from having too many unanswered questions. It’s natural that the complexity of adoption yields many complicated emotions.
4. Not all adoptees want to connect with their biological families.
Seeking birth family is a personal decision for adoptees, but each step in the process can be full of differing emotions. For Darrin, it wasn’t on his radar. Linda feels it wasn’t fair to disrupt her birth family’s life, although she did sign up for the registry where both adoptee and a birth parent must enrol before contact information is provided. Her birth parents’ names never came up, so she feels they just didn’t want to meet her, yet since her parents’ passing, she wonders more and more about the parents and family she knows nothing about. Adult adoptee and mother of three Michelle B., laments, “I would have rather left the stone right where it was and never turned it over,” as her experience meeting her birth mother was a difficult one. Some reintroductions of birth family go well and enrich an adoptee’s family circle, while others are extremely painful endeavours.
5. The “feel-good story” perspective presented by the media isn’t always the full picture.
Let’s face it — creating and living as a biological family isn’t always easy, so why would adoption be all rainbows and unicorns? Humanity loves a happy ending, but pretending all adoptees got one the moment they were adopted isn’t fair and invalidates the multifaceted aspects of what adoption can be for each adoptee.
6. Biological mothers are also humans with feelings.
They are not all drug or alcohol abusers, pregnant teenagers, mentally ill or impoverished. Not all birth moms were careless, or wanted an easy pass on motherhood. Only adoptees themselves are truly entitled to have varying feelings toward their birth mothers as they are the ones most affected. While some of these descriptions do fit in some circumstances, even the hardest of stories behind a biological mom’s choices warrant at least some compassion and understanding, if not agreement. Birth mom Susan B.* has visits from her son every few years, yet grieves daily. “Your world is forever changed, but your child is always on your mind,” she explains, sadly. “You wonder about their milestones and everyday life. Every holiday and birthday is gut-wrenching. I still think about my son so much, and he’s a teenager now, that I will occasionally set a place for him at the dinner table, and when I realize what I did, I end up crying on the kitchen floor.”
7. Not all adoptees want to discuss adoption.
It’s just good manners to ask if someone is comfortable with questions about adoption and accept it if they are not. The internet has created a world where young adoptees are having their intimate stories shared, sometimes without consent or the understanding of what that consent really means. While in some cases it’s obvious a child was adopted (like trans-racial adoption,) many adult adoptees feel their story is all they had coming into an adoption, so it seems only fair they remain the keeper of their own details.
8. Celebrity adoptions are viewed in the media through a very limited lens.
As Linda C. confirms, “Celebrities have made adoption seem trendy, easy and glamorous. People don’t understand the day-to-day life of adoption can be challenging, for parents and adoptees. The realities of adoption aren’t shown by most of the media.”
9. Parenting can be affected by adoption.
Ashley M., an adoptee and mom of a seven-year-old son, says, “Shortly after my son was born, I felt overwhelming anger towards my biological mother because I couldn’t imagine letting anything be more important than my child’s welfare. During early pregnancy, many people urged me to consider adoption, but I didn’t want my son to ever wonder if his mother truly loved him. I find myself constantly assuring him he’s loved, as if to make up for the empty space I’d had as a child, despite having wonderful and loving adoptive parents.”
10. Adoptive parents are only one part of the equation.
The children who were adopted and their biological families should also have their stories told, if we are to gain a comprehensive understanding of all that is good and bad about adoption. Even Darrin, with his lack of negativity about adoption, cautions, “People should know what they’re getting into, if they’re adopting. They’re raising a child; it’s a big responsibility.”