adoptee meets dead birthmother

#flipthescript 1: Why Are Adoptees Doing It?

Have you seen the #flipthescript movement taking place during National Adoption Awareness Month? Conversations in Adoption World have historically been dominated by adoption professionals and adoptive parents. But increasingly since the 1970s, the voices of birth parents and of adult adoptees are being heard. Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston of The Declassified Adoptee explains further via video clip in the announcement for the new book for adopted and fostered youth, Dear Wonderful You.

adoptees flipthescriptImage: Tracy Hammond

For several days as we close out November,  I’m turning this space over to adoptees. 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.

Today’s #flipthescripter is Tracy Hammond, an adoptee rights activist and a “baby scoop” era adoptee. She is a part-time metal-smith and jewelry artist. She is widely known for the broken heart adoption pendant she created and sells on Etsy (the Kay Jeweler debacle originally joined us) — that’s her work in the image above for this series.  Tracy writes about her experience being an adoptee on her blog at Adoptee Path.

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When I think back on my childhood I can never remember once being asked how I felt about adoption, or being an adoptee. My adoptive parents never discussed my first family when I was growing up. They were the pink elephant in my adoptive parent’s home.  Only once when I was an adult did my adoptive mother ever mention my birth parents — and that was to tell me their ages. She claimed that was all she knew and the subject was never brought up again.

The only comments I got were people asking if I would someday look for my biological relatives, and telling me how lucky I was to be adopted because I could have ended up in an orphanage.

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

As an adult, when I speak out about my own opinions and experiences on adoption, I find people are not listening to me. This is why #FlipTheScript is so important to National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). You rarely hear from people who have lived the adoption experience.  By its very nature, adoption should be centered on “the best interest of the child.”

Yet others speak for us. This carries on even after we grow into adults. When the narrative of adoption excludes the chief stakeholder — the adoptee — the system is broken.  If adoption is about finding homes for children who need them, shouldn’t we then consider that adoptees need to be the strongest voice in the narrative of NAAM?  These are our very lives and well-being that NAAM is supposed to be about. But more often than not, it’s the adoptive parents’ voices, or adoption professionals being heard.

The exclusion of the adoptee voice is nothing new. But adoptees stepping forward and saying we need to #FlipTheScript is new. Why do our voices need to heard? Because only someone who has lived as an adoptee can understand adoption’s effects on forming who we are. When we are ignored, the lessons we have learned the hard way are not heard. When our voices are marginalized, we aren’t able to effect positive change.

Our society has a completely outdated viewpoint of adoption. Old narratives and misconceptions are still being rehashed during NAAM when we should instead be moving forward. Here are a few to start with.

Gratitude: It saddens me that adopted children are still being told “how lucky they are” because it implies they need to be grateful to be adopted. It’s something done to them that they have no control over. I can recall my Grandmother and Great Aunt telling me I needed to behave better than my non-adopted cousins because I needed to show my gratitude for even being in their home since I wasn’t a “blood relative.”

I know this archaic mentality still exists because we see a variation of the narrative each NAAM.  The complexity of losing your first family and being told you need to show gratitude to your adopters all at the same time is incredibly difficult and wrong for anyone to hear, let alone a child. The harmful psychological effect this has on children cannot be overstated.

Gotcha Day: Mine was called “My Special Day” and all it did was point out the months that separated my birthday and the day my adoptive parents brought me home. That “celebration” ripped open my wounds yearly. I spent decades wondering where I was and what was happening to me during the in-between time.

For many adoptees, birthdays are not happy or joyful, because our births were not a joyful time. For many of us it marks the first, last, and only time we saw our mothers. Losing your first family is not something that should be celebrated. For each family formed through adoption, another one is ripped apart. For me this is real, tangible pain that never goes away.

Adoptive parents who want to have a celebration can celebrate being a family on some day unrelated to a birthday, homecoming, or adoption finalization.  That is the humane and considerate thing to do. Burdening a child with the complex emotions that result from celebrating their losing their first family is a practice that should be abolished.

Many adoptive parents might cite that their child seems to have no ill effects from the celebration, but having lived it I can tell you that I wasn’t able to accurately verbalize my emotions on being adopted. I felt as though I needed to walk on egg shells and appear as if none of this bothered me, or that I never thought about my first family, my loss, and my pain. My adoptive parents did not listen, and they wanted things to go smoothly. Denial was their method to deal with this.

Adoptive Parents are Angels or Super Heroes: Another narrative we see each year during NAAM is that adoptive parents are somehow better than other parents, that such a selfless act of adoption was to “save that poor orphan.”

This is a major misconception since infant adoption makes up the majority of adoptions in this country each year. In my opinion adoptive parents are not angels, super heroes, nor angelic super heroes. They are individuals who have the ability and resources and drive to adopt a child. They want a child, and they get a child. We gloss over the commodification of children that happens with the way we do adoption.  I know exactly how much I cost to adopt, and it turns my stomach to know this.

Through posts like this one in 2014, I am hopeful that NAAM 2015 will take a more adoptee-centric focus. We have a lot to say and through our collective experiences we can help effect the changes that are desperately needed.

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Tracy Hammond will be a contributor to the second volume of Adoption Therapy. The first volume of Adoption Therapy, edited by adoption publishing mogul Laura Dennis, is available on Amazon. I highly recommend this book (and I wrote the foreword to it).

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Other Posts in the #flipthescript Series:

 

20 thoughts on “#flipthescript 1: Why Are Adoptees Doing It?”

  1. Best summation of what it is like to be adopted I have ever read from the Humanist Adoptee
    1.Unlike a child who has lost his or her parents through death they are not allowed to grieve. Adoptees are expected to be grateful for the family they now have. The public perceives it as disrespectful to the adoptive family and is discouraged.
    2.Adopted people are viewed to have had a better life. Some adoptees do get a nice, stable home but it comes along with the trauma and grief of losing their original family. Statistically adopted children are at an increased risk of child abuse and later in life drug and alcohol abuse.
    3.Adopted people have their records sealed and are unable to open them in most states. Not all adoption agencies reported the correct facts or passed on information. Many adoptees that were able to reunite with their biological families found that they had never received updates, photos and letters given to the agency. They also found their reason given for surrender was incorrect and also things like cultural heritage, family medical history and siblings.
    4.Adopted people can never go home. There is a misconception that at 18 a child can do what they want and be a part of both families. Most adopted people are a part of two families, but are neither fully a part of either.
    5.Adopted people experience genetic bewilderment and the lack of mirroring. Being able to see how tall you will be or how your body is shaping through puberty is more than a mere curiosity. It is essential to being able to transition from child to adult.
    6.Denial of information regarding ancestors. The adopted person wonders not just who gave birth to them , but if they are related to someone famous or have an inherited trait or skill. Adoptees wonder what jobs they should have and think about the legacy they want to leave behind for their own descendants.
    7.Birthdays are triggering for adopted people. Most people whether they were a planned pregnancy or not are visited in the hospital by family. Photos are taken at birth and the first bonding begins between mother and child. For most adopted people their birth was a sad occasion with decisions made for them that not only affect their adolescence, but the rest of their lives.
    8.Children adopted internationally are sometimes the victims of coercion or kidnapping. They are not only losing their family heritage but an entire culture and way of life.
    9.Adopted people are used in pro-life arguments. They are seen as poster children for anti-abortion groups. it would be wrong to assume that every one of those relinquishments actually averted an abortion. Many women placing their baby for adoption may never have considered abortion in the first place. Adoption rates almost always include foster care from children removed from abuse or neglect that were never candidates for abortion.
    10.When having their own children, adoptees often relive the trauma of their adoption. They realize how vulnerable they were and how much they love the child they have brought into the world. It is hard to imagine how someone could give the most precious thing in the world away because of their current financial situation. It is then that many adoptees feel the loss of adoption. It overshadows what should otherwise be a joyous time in their lives.
    11.The lack of birth family connection can be a strain during childhood. Much like those who have a loved one who is presumed missing or dead the adopted person thinks of them often. Sometimes it can become an obsession and disrupt their lives.
    12.Adopted people because of the stigma and shame of the history adoption have self esteem problems. Just growing up away from where they belong and not having the most basic things like being told how much they look like their sibling, parent or other family member can be an emotional strain. while the adoptive parents and children feel as though they are a family, other extended family or the public may not feel the same about their family bonds.
    13. One is not simply adopted on one day or date. Being adopted is a life long part of the adoptees identity and can carry onto their own offspring. Every time the adopted person looks in the mirror or at their own children it is a constant reminder of their true origins. When the adoptee is watching a news story about breast or prostate cancer or reads a new study on family history regarding heart disease they can not help but think of their birth families.

  2. Thank you Tracy, for the thoughtful, truthful writing. I’m an adoptee from 1955, who certainly can relate to what you said.
    I might add, that in addition to losing their birth families once, adoptees can also lose them again. As an adult, I found my birth parents, and all of my birth family (I’m one of 17 children), only to lose them all over again, when they decided to meet just once, and “call it good”. It was a double rejection by mother and family. I’m still glad I found them, and know the inside truth, more or less, but holidays and birthdays are still painful, and I guess I’ll always feel like I’m in limbo, somewhere between two worlds… and not really belonging to either one. I’m in the process of writing it all out, and attempting to make sense of it, but resigned to the reality that I can change none of it. I’m glad adoptees voices are now being considered and heard… our time has come.

    1. Wow. One of 17…that’s a lot of siblings! That double rejections must have been so weighty. I’m sorry you’ve endured that, and I’m glad it sounds like you’re finding inner strength. I’d be interested in ready your story if you decide to make it public.

      1. If you send a private email, I could send you the story I have so far if you’re interested. It’s a work in progress… just like me!

  3. Thank you for sharing, Tracy! I love hearing from adult adoptees, for many reasons. The number one is, I’m not adopted. Obviously, each adult adoptee is going to view the world differently, and yet, there are always themes and perspectives I need to learn from . My children are still young. They communicate loudly via their actions and they’re learning to use their words. Birthdays have been difficult. Of course, I could guess reasons why they could be difficult (or read books by people with Phds…) and I can try to help my children verbalize it. However, having the perspective of many adult adoptees on the subject has given me a much deeper understanding of how my children may be feeling and has helped me to be more compassionate with them. Thank you again. There is so much to learn from people who live as adoptees and I would much rather learn from your voice than from the person who has spent years studying adoption without gaining insight from adult adoptees.

  4. This post gave me so much to think about. Thank you Tracy for being brave enough to share your thoughts. I imagine you’ve gotten a lot of push back for doing this, so it is appreciated.

    What stuck with me most was the difficulty experienced around celebrations, such as birthdays and adoption finalization days. Our society places so much emphasis on being “happy” during those periods (similar to major holidays) that it’s understandable why there would be push-back. But your point that these periods are reminders of what is lost is important. What also rang true, though, was the negative emotions caused by feeling forced to repress these feelings. This I could completely relate to as I’ve had similar experiences with my birthday and having to suppress things because doing otherwise wasn’t considered important.

    What I’m wondering is if instead of avoiding these periods to celebrate altogether, instead the emphasis should be on allowing the adoptee a safe opportunity to explore this more. When the adoptee is grieving the loss that occurred that day, allowing them the time they need to mourn and process, maybe ask questions and even learn more about the experience. What I’m wondering is if there’s a way to help the adoptee reclaim those days, helping heal the wounds and even lead them to a reason to their own version of celebration. We do this with funerals (opportunities to remember and celebrate the life of those who are no longer with us) and other periods of transition. In your opinion, is it also possible here?

    1. Hi Christy,
      To answer your first question on push-back, I was disowned by my adopters 8 years ago. I have no contact with them, nor a desire to. So, no I have no push-back that I experience. My first family accepts me as I am.
      To answer your second question, To be honest, in my opinion I do not think the primal wound can ever be “healed” per say. Rather we find ways to deal with our brokenness, realizing we will never “be just like everyone else”. The formation of “who we are” is affected by the act of adoption. Each adoptee is different, however I think the most important thing is to allow the adoptee to decide how and when things like birthdays are handled. Not to push a celebration onto them, because more often than not they will do whatever everyone else wants because we feel as though we need to please. That is the most important thing, let the adoptee drive the process.

      1. Thanks for the response, Tracy. Again, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

        A follow up question is, when do you start this conversation about celebrations about adoption? There’s a push when kids are younger to celebrate birthdays because everyone else does. For older children and teenagers, I can easily see this conversation happening (and frankly, I think it should be happening for ALL children), but how and when to start is my big question.

  5. My children were adopted in the 60’s and it was a very different time. Most adoptions were not publicized and most records were sealed. That’s just the way it was. If you had no family experience with adoption, it didn’t seen strange or unhealthy or hurtful to the child. The Open Adoption movement was not even on the horizon. As the only Adoptive mother in my circle of friends I had no support group to turn to for advice. There were a few books, but I don’t even remember which ones I read. I was simply clueless and just muddled through.

    I can see now that practically everything I did was wrong by today’s standards. It makes me sad, but there’s not much to do to change it now since both my boys are in their late 40s. The oldest searched and found his birth family. It did not end well and he still has issues of rejection. The younger son has never expressed the slightest interest in searching for his birth family. We did manage to get some (very limited) health information from the State agency he had been placed with. No names, etc. and he didn’t want that – he just wanted health information.

    From my perspective now, I can actually see both sides of this. At the time, an open adoption would have terrified me. I was very nervous about the birth mothers changing their minds.

    Our adoption story has had its ups and downs, as any family story does. I am pleased to learn that things are changing for adoptees and their needs are being more fully met.

  6. Suzanna, my heart breaks for the difficult position you were in. I can’t imagine how isolating and disempowering things were during that time period.

    I think during that era, that the Either/Or mindset perpetuated fear and insecurity for adoptive parents and shame/secrecy for the birth parents and adoptees. I hope we can find a better way to do this — a Both/And way to do it that serves all better.

    My best to your family.

  7. Thank you for writing this (and to Lori for posting it). I recently saw the #FliptheScript video on someone’s blog and it was fascinating to hear these words.

  8. Funnily enough I have been feeling like I have forgotten something really urgent and important all day today and just now found out from my late aunt’s year book that tomorrow will be my 39th got day (at 11 months old)…. I never new the exact date before just now….
    I found this article trying to find out if my body memory could possibly remember the anxiety and grief of they day and cause the deeply unsettled feelings I always have at this time of year… No matter how old I get that grief still catches up with me, no matter how happy and safe I am I become terrified…

    1. Andrea…I totally get that. It happens to me too. Anniversaries of traumatic events can trigger us for no apparent reason, other than it’s that time of year again. If being relinquished or rehomed coincides with a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, it rubs it in even deeper, because everybody else is happy and celebrating and you’re not – similar to National Adoption Month, right?

      It was somewhere around this time of year that my mother left me in the temporary care of my grandparents – with the intention of coming back for me, but instead I got adopted overseas to other relatives. I strongly believe the body remembers every traumatic event that the brain blocks out in its attempts to protect us, especially when we’re too young to understand what’s going on.

  9. Cristy-

    “ A follow up question is, when do you start this conversation about celebrations about adoption?”

    Its an easy one, simply you don’t, ever. That’s the whole point, for every family formed through adoption, one is torn apart- Look at it this way, would you want someone celebrating the day you suffered a major loss? The point is celebrate being a family on some unrelated day to the adoption- and unrelated to adoption…. But to celebrate being a family, call it a family day- the child knows they are adopted, they get that… they understand that is how the family was formed without calling it out.

    Best to you and your family,

    Tracy

  10. So what do I think about the flip the script? I think it’s a shame that all this effort could have been used to advocate for children in foster care, instead of having a campaign about how much your life sucked.
    I’ve really gave a lot of thought lately to adopting a teen out of foster care. After reading all the flipthescript stuff, I must say I’m discouraged.

  11. I would like to clear up that infant adoption is a very small percentage of adoption in the US. A majority is through the US Foster Care system. Actually only 2% of pregnancies end in adoption.

    1. That may be true that a small percentage of pregnancies end in adoption, but here are the percentage of adoptions that are private, foster and international:

      “nearly 45% of adoptions are estimated to have occurred through private arrangements.”
      “40% were through the foster care system”
      “less than 15%”

      That’s from Wikipedia using 2000-2001 numbers, which I bet have changed somewhat.

      And to me, #flipthescript isn’t about discouraging people from going the foster adoption route, but about having people tg into the process better prepared for what they may face, not going in with blinders.

      I’ll have a guest post tomorrow that addresses this in a sideways manner.

  12. As a woman who was adopted in the 1950’s I’m sure my parents (adoptive) did many things wrong. But I always knew I was adopted, they shared all information with me, and helped me search.
    I was the youngest person to go to Louise Wise agency for info—14. They laughed at me. Fortunately my father was waiting for me outside as I had told him he couldn’t come in with me.
    My mother told me she asked them if there was a group of mothers she could talk to as I did have problems—they turned out to be an unusual series of real problems.
    The agency did point us in the direction of a camp where a larger than usual percentage of campers were adopted and knew it–not common in the late 1950’s–1960’s.
    If I say I loved celebrating both my birthday and my adoption day people think I’m being defensive so….
    The only person in our extended family and family of friends who didn’t welcome me completely was my father’s mother. He had been supporting her and told her he couldn’t give her as much money or time.
    That all said I think it very important to search and very important for records to be unsealed. Adoptees are the only group to be called “children” throughout our life span.
    My birth mother didn’t like me. I didn’t fit her fantasy. And I thought I was supposed to be the one with a fantasy!
    I found my birth father’s family a few years ago and my oldest sibling won’t tell the rest about me as I’m younger than he is and y’all know what that means! If I had been older than him he would have gladly. I respected his decision because I’m that kind of person. Don’t think it’s right but….

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