Last week I witnessed a private interaction that needs to be seen by a wider audience, for it addresses the fallacy that if adoptees are happy and connected to their (adoptive) parents, it follows that they will not have any adoption issues. Can there be a “Happy/Sad” of adoption?
At the request of the question asker and with the permission of the question answerer, I share their exchange here.
Question (from an adoptee): Can you see the distinction between how an adoptee feels about their own adoption and how adoption is practiced now? Can you explain in words others can hear that an adopted person who had a “good experience” can actually have serious concerns about adoption today and speak out about it?
Response (from an adoptive mom): Of course the personal adoption experiences of the hundreds of adoptees I’ve come to know vary greatly. Yet a constant theme I hear is a feeling of wanting to belong, to be loved and cherished. (Sidebar: how is that different from any of us?)
Their future trajectory can be greatly impacted with how their individual sense of self is nurtured during childhood. A vast majority of the adoptees I know love their parents tremendously and deeply, but that has really nothing to do with also wanting their own truth. I know countless adoptees who struggle with wanting to bring their adoptive parents IN to their inner turmoil, but are extremely concerned that their efforts will be misconstrued, feelings will be hurt — or worse.
I know for me as an adoptive parent that we love our kids SO much, we want that love to be ALL they need. But it’s not, and in most cases, never can be. Parenting is for the long haul and it’s good to remember and recognize that little hiccups along the way are normal for any family.
Love and Sadness
Yet we adoptive parents have additional layers that we have to accept. When we as a society (and as parents) began to LISTEN to the adoptee voices out there, we could understand that even with a huge and unending amount of love, there can still be a deep, unexplained sadness within our children.
We’re often unprepared for this sadness, whether our kids know their birth families or not, because when many of us adopted our children, our training came from agencies that were grounded in the closed- adoption model, even if they had begun to stress open adoption. It was so easy for everyone to focus on that magical outcome — bringing home our baby.
Needs: Theirs and Ours
I am ashamed to admit that before adopting, I was focused on my own desire to “feel whole” by being a mom. I knew how I would love, cherish, nurture, and provide a great life to a child (and we did) but inside I wanted to own all that. (Others couples who become pregnant are allowed those feelings of desperately wanting to experience parenthood, but we as adoptive parents can be made to feel very guilty for having these same feelings. That’s where some hurt can begin to creep in.)
Despite all the love we have for our son, sadness and hard talks still came. We ventured down an openness path unprepared. I swallowed up books by James Gritter and others to get some sense of the walk we were on. I sought out resources and LISTENED and LEARNED, mostly from other adoptees.
Having an open adoption solved a lot but didn’t solve everything. My son is now 24, still means the world to me, and we’re closer than ever. Still an inner sadness remains. That’s a heartbreak for a mom who loves her son so much. And so I get the denial and the hurt from the parents’ side of things. By and large, our hearts HAVE been in the right place. Yet we are not always able to give them everything they need. They NEED sometimes to search and see the faces that may look like their own. They NEED to hear their chapter one from the people who know it from the actual beginning. They NEED more than us, and we NEED to be okay with that.
At the Heart of the Need
A few years ago, a middle-aged adoptee and I were having a cup of coffee. She had long been reunited with her birth family and had told her story publicly. She looked me in the eye and said, “Can I ask you something that I’ve always wanted to know from my adoptive parents?” I said, “Of course.” Her words hung over our table.
“Are we enough?”
I looked deeply back at her and replied, “Yes. A resounding Yes. YOU. YOU. Exactly YOU are the ones your parents wanted to raise and be their daughter. You were not second best. Or their second choice. YOU. YOU were THE ONE.”
From that day forward, I made this point clear to my son YOU. I am grateful to be YOUR mom.
When an adoptee’s voice is squashed as being ungrateful and unappreciative — and diminished as too sensitive or overreacting — their loss is magnified. We as parents should spend our time learning about and supporting those very common feelings. It can’t be about our feelings anymore. Once we filled our crib, many of us were sent us on our merry way, often ill-prepared for adoptive parenting. We must give the microphone to the adoptees and let them speak to us and teach us.
If you’re lucky enough (as I was) find a nonprofit organization whose dedication is about the lifelong journey and where all voices are appreciated, GO. Be in the room. Be kind. Listen to the voices who can teach. Advocate to make adoption better by recognizing that love and loss can coexist side by side.
Linda is an adoptive mom who was among those who embraced open adoption early in the movement — in the 1990s. Reach Linda directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Greg Sain – Created with MS Paint, Public Domain