My (fill in the blank) is Adopted But Is Not Interested in Searching

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If I had a quarter for everytime somebody said the statement, "My ______ is not interested in searching" I could go on a nice vacation.

Somebody said it to me me this week.  I cannot remember who but I remember it being said and it causes my mind to swirl with emotions and begin to shut down.

I react to this statement viscerally because I'm sure it could have been said about me at some point in my life.

And on top of that, I feel that this statement is a way of  negating anything I ever said to that person about my own adoption search, anything that they have ever heard me say about adoption or read that adoptees experience being adopted -- and even everything they heard from their adopted friend/cousin/niece/nephew/grand child) who doesn't want to search gets thrown into the box.  Then the box is labeled "Adoptee who Doesn't Feel Like You."

It may sound dramatic and you may accuse me of over-reacting and that's o.k.  Because I've heard it so many times that I completely understand why it is used so much.  People like neat categories to help them make sense of things they can't control.

"Adoptee A is a bit of a rebel and has 'problems' -- his birth father was an alcoholic."

Adoptee B is an honor student and is not interested in searching."

See how that works?

I actually overheard a conversation similar to this at work a few years ago which prompted a blog on a similar topic.

It's an Us versus Them--- US are the adoptees who search and speak out about our adoptions and learn that their birth families are less than perfect.  Then there is THEM-the ones who never even think about it let alone act on it!   It's a way of separating us into two camps, both camps opposing each other.

We have in Camp 1 -- the inquisitive, questioning, outspoken, wanting answers, bad, adoptees who won't let it rest and we have in the opposite corner . . . .

Camp 2-- the compliant, happy, contented, good adoptee who accepts what he/she is told about her adoption and never questions that narrative (even in her own head).

Yesterday I read a life-changing article titled What We Lost: Undoing the Fairy Tale Narrative of Adoption by Liz Latty. I urge you to read it from start to finish.  This paragraph really jumped out at me:

  "As a child, I never let on that I didn't feel as excited as my parents did to celebrate my Special Day.  This is a complicated hallmark of an adopted childhood.  Adoptees often take on the emotional labor of holding our difficult feelings in places where no one can see them because we want to protect those around us from feeling hurt.  There also often exists a very real and primal fear of further rejection.  We understand we are loved and we understand love is tenuous, so we hide our feelings away because what if we didn't?  How will you feel?  Will you be mad at me?  Will you be hurt?  Will you love me less?  Will you send me back?  I don't want you to feel sad or think that I don't love you, so I hold this hard truth.  I hold it for you.  I celebrate this day, in this way, for you."

We hold many hard truths.. We hold our feelings inside as a way to protect you.  We don't tell you how we had an urge to yell at the teacher for assigning a family tree assignment.  We don't talk about how we are thinking about where our birth mothers are because we know it will hurt your feelings.  We try to pretend the comment about us not looking like the rest of the family didn't hurt our feelings.  We don't mention that we wanted to throttle the cashier at Walmart for asking us if we feel lucky to be adopted.  We don't tell you about the kid at school who said our real parents didn't want us.  We don't tell you about the girls in middle school who said we were weird for being adopted.  We don't tell you about how the next door neighbor commented about how "you never know what you are going to get" about the adoptee in his family.  We didn't mention about the choir teacher asking if we were were grateful we were not aborted (because whether you acknowledge it or not, my being adopted somehow prompts people to ASSUME I was seconds away from being aborted). 

If you live in a family that does not value the discussion of feelings, you can fly under the radar like I did.  My parents just assumed I was a kid who did not have many feelings (they never saw beneath the veneer that I am a highly sensitive person).  I learned to never discuss what I was feeling in my childhood home.  It was never safe and I don't mean in the sense that somebody would have been violent.  I just never felt safe to talk about my feelings. 

Have you ever watched the television series Dexter?  It's about an adoptee who is a serial killer.  In the show there are flashbacks to Dexter growing up and being trained by his adoptive father on how to channel his killing instinct into a "positive" way (he only kills bad people who have killed others). He trains and teaches Dexter how to FAKE his feelings and emotions so that other people will see him as normal.  Dexter is able to fit in at work, in his neighborhood and even with his unsuspecting girlfriend.  As I watched this last night, I was thinking about the irony of how this applies to real life adoption.  

Adoptees will do whatever it takes to attempt to fit into their families -- many times the cost is their silence. That is an important takeaway for adoptive parents who read adoptee blogs to understand.  We are taking a giant leap of faith by admitting how we feel now -- it may be after we are all grown up, but we do it to support other adoptees.  Adoption is complicated.  It does not fit into neat little boxes.  You can't put us in two separate camps, because the truth is a non-searching adoptee this year becomes a searching adoptee next year. A compliant, happy adoptee this year can become a sullen, angry, grief-stricken adoptee next year.  You can't control it.  The boxes don't help.  They shut down the conversation. Adoptees have been well trained to hold pain for others and not grieve their own.  We know what we stand to lose and we won't open up unless we feel safe.



  1. I recently switched camps. I never wanted to search because I thought it was impossible and why would I want to find the girl that threw me away like garbage. My thinking changed this past summer prior to turning 40. I wanted to know my heritage and especially my medical history, as a cancer survivor. I receive backlash all the time from adoptees that had "great adoptive parents" and feel no need to search. I love that others, especially adoptees, are trying to tell me what I want is wrong.

    1. Hi Aimee! Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry that happened to you. Sounds like you need a good support system of other adoptees who "get it". I wish you the best!

  2. As a mother, I can say this... you have to look at the whole picture - the bad adoptee who has issues and is a mess is the one to look and find a horrible family. The good adoptee who is perfect and wonderful doesn't look and of course her bio's were college students who were geniuses and who did the right thing.

    Essentially I see it as yet another way to make sure that no matter how hard we try to work out the issues surrounding adoption, our relationships and our lives, people will not understand that it doesn't need to be fixed, that it is not their business and that you can be a little nightmare and have great bio parents and you can be a little angel and have nightmare bio parents.... there is no magic recipe.

    I am sorry I looked. But I always hold out hope that someone else has a great reunion, over comes the odds and works out their relationship. If any of you see that, let me know. Then maybe I won't feel like searching is the wrong thing to do.

  3. Lynn, thanks for the gift of your honesty and your willingness to be the lightning rod so that others may know they are not alone.
    The pressure to conform to the and-they-lived-happily-ever-after fairy tale is immense. To contemplate the possibility that this is not what happens in adoption rocks the cultural boat. It SCARES people. They are not ready for the truth. People prefer to cover up the complexity and pretend that adoption is an event that cures 3 people's problems--baby, mom and AP-- painlessly and permanently.
    Labeling those who search and or speak out as "ungrateful" or "angry" is another subtle way of sustaining the myth. It also punishes outspoken adoptees for daring to point out that adoption has "baggage", (painful baggage for all, but especially for the adoptee who had no say in what was decided for them.) By identifying this group as Angry Adoptees a divide is created among adoptees. It also serves as an "example" of what happens to adoptees who have dare to point out that adoption is not all rainbows and sunshine.
    They are dismissed as unappreciative--and worse. This demeaning also serves as a warning to other adoptees who may be sitting on the fence wrestling with their own adoption-related Hard Stuff, wishing they could search, fearing repercussions from adoptive families who may feel hurt by their child's need to connect with birth family. IMHO, adoptees deserve the same rights of non-adopted personas to know who they are, where they come from and not to be expected to bottle up their search for truth.


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