Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I LOVE ADOPTION!!


Recently, when talking to an adoptive parent and explaining a talk I will be doing in November about supporting adoptive families, the parent exclaimed loudly, “I LOVE ADOPTION!!”

It really took me off guard.  He was practically cheerleading me to go out there and promote adoption.  I think I burst his bubble when I then explained that my presentation comes from an adoptee viewpoint first. Dead silence.  With rare exceptions, most people are silent when I mention that I have a different view as an adoptee, or they look at me funny as if to say, “There is another view?”

Of course, this parent was not adopted.  And it’s his right to love adoption.   But his comment has weighed on me.  And whenever something weighs on me, I begin writing blogs about it in my sleep, so I decided to get out of bed and put my thoughts on paper (so to speak).

This may come as a shock to some, but I don’t love adoption. I am adopted and I don’t love adoption.  Some days I don’t even like adoption.  (oh no, here she goes, getting all angry about her “bad experience” . . . . .)

I want to explain why I don’t love adoption and why I love permanence for children instead.

If somebody LOVES adoption, by default, they are also implying that they love everything that led up to the reason that child needed to be adopted.    Not true, you say?  Well, at least consider that when you tell an adoptee you love adoption, that is what they may hear you saying.

I have a suspicion that when somebody loves adoption, it is because of the love and joy it brought to their lives, to their families lives and to their child. And that is noble.

However, I can guarantee you if you asked that adopted child, once they were old enough to reason this out, it is not adoption per se that they love.  They love being loved, having stability, being safe, having their needs met within a family.  This is what they love, not adoption.   

Adoption was the result of not being safe, not having stability, not having a family that wanted to parent (or couldn’t parent for whatever reason).  

Adoption gets too much credit. 

Adoptees can love their adoptive parents and still not love adoption.

When I was thinking about why exclaiming one loves adoption didn’t sit well with me, I had to think about what I loved instead.  I love permanence.  Permanence gives everything that children need (love, safety, stability, needs met), but does not require a legal relinquishment (sometimes), a long drawn out case file (sometimes), could potentially include adoption, but may not need to include adoption.

For example, when a child can grow up with a loving biological family, that is one example of permanence.  Or if that is not possible, the child grows up with a loving aunt, uncle, grandparent, adult sibling, etc. To me, that is better than adoption because the child has her family unit on some level, even if the first family (mom/dad) are not in tact. 

Then there are other forms of permanence such as an informal adoption (biological family raises child together without involving courts), guardianship and legal custody that can give a child a loving family without the need to relinquish, change a child’s name and sever all ties to the biological family and culture. 

Adoption by non-relatives should be the last resort.  Adoption by non-relatives implies that there was NOBODY AT ALL IN THAT CHILD’S BIOLOGICAL FAMILY who could successfully parent and that is heartbreaking to an adoptee. 

So, please understand I don’t love adoption and many days, I don’t like it one bit because it sets me apart from the majority of people who grew up in the families they were born to.  It makes me different than most people. Adoption makes me sad on many days.  One of the reasons, I recently shared with my husband is this:

If I could have back all the hours and hours I spent digging up bones and spent searching for my birth family, I could have learned an instrument, a language or gotten a master’s degree with that time.  I can never have that time back.  And I can never stop feeling the anguish from being a child and adult who was kept in the dark about their family (and continues to not know half of my parentage). 

I am not asking you to feel sorry for me; however, please understand why I do not love adoption. Adoption took away my original name and hid it from me.  Adoption took away any knowledge of my biological family growing up.  Adoption delayed my identity development.  Being adopted made me feel less than others when I reached an age to understand how much I lost and that those around me had it right at their fingertips.

I cannot and will not promote adoption as a way to save orphans (I strongly dislike the term orphan because of its negative connotation but that is another blog) when I know that most “orphans” have biological family living close by and are not in fact orphans at all.

So why even bother with all this adoption work if I just don’t love adoption?

Because people need education about adoption from an adoptee viewpoint – desperately.  We have become an adoption-loving country without understanding that when you announce you love adoption, you are also implying you love relinquishment, trauma, coercion, loss, secrets, discriminatory laws, etc. 

Maybe you don’t love adoption as much as you think you do. 

In any event, please be sensitive to the adoptees in your lives who may not love adoption as much as you do.  Of course, we love our families (whether birth or adoptive); however, I have never one time ever heard an adoptee exclaim, “I LOVE ADOPTION!”




Monday, September 4, 2017

To Tell or Not to Tell (About Being Adopted)

There was a discussion today on Facebook about situations in which adoptees or others within the adoption community come in contact with families who have revealed to them, but not their child, the child's adopted status.  In other words, the family believes that they have not arrived at the "correct" age for telling of this important information.

There are various viewpoints and approaches one can take when you become aware of this.  The two most common that come to mind are:

1.  You can choose to say nothing and mind your own business.
2.  You can choose to educate the family from your perspective.

#1 is the easy, conflict-avoidant way to be able to go on with your day and (hopefully) not be rehashing this in your head for another week or two.  It is politically correct to stay out of other people's business.  No risk involved.  Move on with your life.

#2 is more difficult, because you have to think of a way to approach the situation so that the family is able to hear you without becoming defensive.  Before you decide, consider this:

There may be really great reasons that the family has not told the child.  There may be serious emotional barriers, especially in an in-family situation that would cause the family to take the path of least resistance.  There are fears associated with telling a child they are adopted (will the child feel different, less loved, will they love us less?).  Every stage of development brings on new concerns when it comes to telling a child they are adopted.  Especially during the teen years, when identity is forming, waiting until this age can be risky.

I don't have the one-size-fits-all answer.  I don't have the magic age.  I can't tell you specifically what to do in your situation (if you need support, find an adoption-competent therapist).  However, I can tell you what I did.

Because I have both the view of being adopted and am also an adoptive parent, I thought about how my parents handled it (did I agree with their methods?  How did it make me feel?) and then I thought about how this approach would affect my daughter emotionally.

The #1 concern I had around the telling of the adoption story is that my daughter trust me to always tell her the truth.  So, with that being my goal, I knew that I had to always make decisions to meet this goal of truth-telling.  Our story has parts of it that are difficult to tell.  Like all adoption stories, if you get to the root of the reason there was an adoption in the first place, there is trauma, heartbreak and difficulties that led to the decision.

What my parents did:  The adoption agency where I was adopted from educated parents in 1965 to tell their children they were adopted.  I never felt unloved as it related to my being told I was adopted.  Because I was told at an age that I can not remember, I just accepted it as "the way things were".   However, I am fairly certain my parents had specific information on my birth family that they chose not to tell me.  (my birth name was listed on my adoption paperwork; however, I was not aware of this until my late 30s).  In the closed era, I would imagine most adoptive parents kept quiet about the details of their child's past.  My parents were no exception.

In weighing the approaches of my adoptive parents, I came to this conclusion:  I was thankful they told me very young I was adopted.  I was not happy that they withheld my birthname from me.

Because of my personality, I knew that nothing short of telling the truth was going to be something I could live with.  From my daughter's birth, I kept a journal with her story in it (since obviously when she was an infant, she couldn't read it or process a telling of the story yet).  I wanted to be sure I did not forget things that were important to write down.  I saved photos, mementos from the hospital . .. anything I thought she might want to see when she was old enough.

I must admit it saddens me when I learn of people who have never told their child they were adopted. . . . it grieves me when I hear of an adult who is still walking around never being told.  In my heart, I feel that it is one of the most deep betrayals that someone can bestow upon you.  I know there are people who will say that because their adoptive parents loved them so much, that this "not telling" is acceptable.  I disagree with that.  If you knew that your child had a history of a specific medical disease (because you learned the information from the birth family) and you did not reveal it to the doctor and use that information to help to diagnose and treat a condition in your child, that would be considered medical neglect.

Well, by not telling your adopted child they are adopted, is in my view, psychological and emotional neglect. It is a very important piece of your child's identity that they have a right to have.  It should never be withheld to assuage the fears and insecurities of adoptive parents.  I don't have the magic age and I don't have reassurances to give you that your child will take his adoption as no big deal, like I did mine . . . .but I will tell you that if you choose not to tell . . .there will be negative consequences to that child and to your relationship.

But . .. back to the original question.  Do you mind your business or do you attempt to educate?  I truly believe it depends on the relationship you have with the person confiding in you.  Are these complete strangers who are just dumping information on you?  I would probably just let it go.  Is this a family you are close to because of some club or group you are both members of?  I may attempt to educate.  The information is out there for people who want it.  The difficulty is breaking through the fears of the family who have not told.  One conversation may not change their minds.  A testimony from somebody who has been in the trenches may just make them feel guilt and dig in their heals.  We really can't control what other people do in their families.

One thing I have found quite interesting is how many people ask me if my husband and I have told our daughter the truth.  I used to get annoyed by this question, but now I see it as an opportunity to educate.  Yes, she knows the truth and I wouldn't have it any other way.