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If we’re ever to get real about adoption, adoptees must be heard

I met Dave, a fellow adoptee, on the phone the other day. He was telling me about himself and his work, and mentioned that while growing up, he always felt like the odd one out in his family.

“I’m adopted,” he confided, then explained he doesn’t know how much of his talents and skills to ascribe to nature and how much are the result of nurture.

“I’m adopted too!” I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for a new acquaintance, but he didn’t seem to mind. For each of us, it was like finding a member of our tribe amid a world of strangers. There was no need to explain the lifelong “nature/nurture” wondering, feeling like the odd one out, or anything else. We knew exactly what the other meant.

Too bad it’s not the same when we speak to the rest of the world.

Nature vs. nuture: I see reflections of myself in my daughter, Catherine, but that doesn't prevent me from wondering about the rest of what it is to be me.

Nature vs. nuture: I see reflections of myself in my daughter, Catherine, but that doesn’t prevent me from wondering about the rest of what it is to be me.

This is National Adoption Month.

All over the Internet adoptive parents and their supporters are celebrating their good fortune with abandon. Yet, as is so often the case, adoptees like Dave and me have been left out of the conversation.

On its Facebook page last week, Hearts for Open Adoption posted a treacly meme about how adoption isn’t about giving up anything or anyone, not for first mothers or adoptive parents. The post went on at length about the love these two pieces of the adoption triad give and receive, but didn’t — ahem — mention adoptees.

At all.

So I posted a reply that read, “What about us adoptees? I would argue we give up quite a bit, actually.”

I was prepared to launch a dialogue about our missing identities and medical information, about our lifelong searches to figure out where we fit, and about how many of us are never able to figure it out … or else learn in the end we don’t truly fit anywhere, and must try to make peace with forever standing alone.

But I didn’t get the chance. No one replied or attempted to engage me.

No surprise. I’m only an adoptee, a forever child meant to be quietly grateful for my circumstance and to never question or wonder.

But like many other adoptees, I’m determined to flip the script this month, to join the growing chorus of adoptees speaking out loud about what it is like to be adopted (read some of them here).

We may indeed be grateful to have had pleasant childhoods and supportive families, but really, the matter is much more complicated than that.

Again and again, society’s message to us is that it is somehow wrong to want to know who we are. We are admonished to consider everyone else’s feelings before our own, to leave well enough alone, lest we upset our adoptive parents or our natural families.

(Time and again when I was searching for my first mother, people would ask, sotto vocce, “But what about her privacy? What about your adoptive parents?” I bit my tongue every time rather than shout, “But what about me?!)

Still, most everyone takes for granted their ability to know their true self. How can we adoptees possibly overlook the absence of that knowledge and understanding for ourselves?

Why should we have to?

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


23 thoughts on “If we’re ever to get real about adoption, adoptees must be heard

  1. ABSOLUTELY!!!! Yes what about us!?!? It sickens me to death when I hear all about minorities and their issues. I feel like screaming you all dont know shit about feeling left out, not good enough, depressed, confused, angry, frustrated?!!! Finally after searching for over twenty years. Due to laws in MD not allowing any information until laws changed several years ago. Sadly after my Mother had passed on her death bed begging for forgiveness. My Sisters had no idea what she was talking about as they had always been told they were the only two. Not true and I’m not the oldest we have an older brother who lives in Howard County Maryland. Yet at the age of 46 now 47 his adopted mother refuses to inform him about us. He suffers from depression and it might be too much. BULLSHIT BITCH!!!! That’s the whole fng problem he knows he’s different. I can’t tell you the difference in my life since contacting my sister’s. They welcomed me and my children with open arms. Immediately saying when I mentioned I’d found my half sisters I was incorrect. We’re SISTERS were FAMILY and there is no half in family. So many problems plaguing my life gone. Yes I’m full of sadness my Mom died not knowing she was loved, it was OK and all I ever wanted was to let her know I loved her. Exchanging photos I learned I’m her twin and we both have a passion for horses and are alike in so many ways. I’ll stop for now as to not ramble too much. Thank you for posting this doesn’t even come close to how I feel.

    Posted by Sally | April 21, 2016, 6:34 pm
  2. Yes, yes, yes to everything you wrote. I’m adopted too!!!! Making that connection that someone you’ve met is also adopted is like finding a kindred spirit, no matter how different the circumstances are. I am pushing 50 and have been reunited with my birth family for about 8 years. Even if it didn’t fulfill every childhood (and perhaps childish) fantasy I had about them, it did settle something in me that had festered my entire life. I am glad to just know who they are, what they look like, the little details we wonder about before we know anything. Our voices matter and they count too, even if people are uncomfortable with that. The challenge I believe for many of us, is that we are so conditioned like you said to think of others first, to not rock the boat, to hold our tongues. Lifelong patterns are hard to break, especially those relating to such deep and emotional issues like our adoption. Thank-you for your words and your voice.

    Posted by Vanessa | April 20, 2016, 5:04 pm
  3. I am an adoptive parent and these issues are always on my mind. I want my son to know who he is and that he is loved. We have an open adoption with his birth mother and her family. She chose us and we met with her multiples times before my son was born including me going to the doctor with her at her request. She chose not to parent because she could not. We seek to honor her in every way we can. We see her, her parents, brother and my son’s 1/2 brother on a regular basis. We are truly blessed that my son’s birth family can be a part of his life. His birth dad chose not to be part of his life. He didn’t want to be involved and went to great lengths to not be involved. I still however know who he is and I search for him on a regular basis to keep track of where he is living so that one day I can answer my son’s questions as best I can. I am so happy that open adoption is more common now than it used to be. It bothers me when people say they are proud of me for adopting like I am doing a noble deed. I wanted a family but could not conceive. But through this I have found a purpose to be helpful and loving to another family and to allow my son to know he is loved by all of his family.
    I pray that you and others who have been searching find peace.

    Posted by Esther | February 10, 2016, 9:30 pm
  4. Your last question of, “Why should we have to?” has one simple answer – we don’t. Yes, I know that’s oversimplifying it a bit (well, oversimplifying it a lot!) but the answer is still the same – we don’t have to conform to anyone else’s expectations of us as adoptees. Not our adoptive parents, not our birth families, no one. Yes, it’s much easier said than done, especially given the way in which adoption and adoptees are typically viewed by much of society – but it’s possible nonetheless. More than that, we owe it to ourselves to be true to ourselves and pursue answers to whatever questions we might have. I’m not saying that we should be intrusive to our birth mothers/birth families – but we have every right to ask questions and seek answers that satisfy us and not just accept what’s offered (and how it’s offered) because we’ll appear ungrateful and unappreciative if we don’t.

    I’m 50 years old and my adoption was open – well, more like semi-open. As a result, I had far more information and answers than most adoptees of my generation – yet, I still have questions that have gone unanswered. I still don’t know my birth father or his family – so I very likely have siblings/half-siblings and an entire branch of my family that I know nothing about. As much as I know, there’s still so much information about health and medical history that I’m still clueless about. I have an ongoing relationship with my birth mother and I appreciate that. But sometimes that relationship is draining, because our conversations are often all about her and not so much about me. When I complain to friends, I get the, “Well, you just have to be grateful that . . .” Yes, I am grateful – but don’t I have a right to be angry, hurt and/or frustrated while I’m simultaneously being grateful? I know the answer to that question, even if others don’t, and I’m past the point in my life where my words and my actions are about appeasing the thought processes of others. I just hope that other adoptees can find their way toward their own path of being true to themselves and their own needs, even when the people around them don’t quite understand.

    Posted by Camilla H. | November 11, 2015, 8:45 pm
  5. Thank you for this insightful post and interesting comments. I was raised by a single mum and my maternal family. My Father contacted me when I was 40. When I met him and got to know him a little, a piece of a jigsaw settled in me, that I didn’t even know I was missing. Good luck with your journeys and raising awareness of adoption from all perspectives.

    Posted by RuthsArc | November 11, 2015, 6:00 pm
  6. I am the mom of three boys. Two came through foster care at ages 4 and 7. They had a relationship with an older sister who went to live with her father about the same time they came to live with us. Both families have worked at keeping them in contact. I feel that we have done a good job given that they live 5 hours away. Our first child was also through the foster care system but in a different way. He wasn’t taken by the courts, his birthmother called them and asked for their help. Sadly she died in a house fire before our son turned 1. I searched for years to find his birth sister who I knew about. Finally 3 years ago when he was 13 I found his sister on Facebook. And that turned into finding a brother that we didn’t know about and an aunt who wanted to know him. We don’t get to see anyone super often. But he has access to them by phone and computer. My heart feels like we have found missing pieces to our family. But what I really want to know from someone who lives the life of my child….what else can I do?

    Posted by Juanita | November 10, 2015, 1:12 pm
  7. Awesome! Posted it on the Access FB Page. Karen

    Posted by One Of Three | November 9, 2015, 2:20 pm
  8. Adopted people don’t always have god outcomes in their adopted families. For some of us, we were not only not nurtured, but we were also neglected and abused as many people in their biological families have been.

    Sadly, I am one of those people. I don’t have to be grateful for my adoption of my adopted parents…period.

    Posted by catfishmom | November 9, 2015, 11:22 am
  9. Unfortunately, National Adoption Month ignores two of the main components of adoption — the women who gave birth and were not allowed to raise their children, and the children taken from them. So many adoptive parents forget that they are not raising children who were brought by a stork from a cloud somewhere. Their views of a birthmother are that she didn’t want to raise her child so presented a “gift” to a more deserving set of parents, then went off to live without the burden of a child.

    Reality is that, given the opportunity, all the birthmothers I know would have happily raised their children. But society, mostly in the form of our parents, was embarrassed that we broke the norms, became pregnant and didn’t marry. We were told we would be cruel to our children to raise them, that they would be pariahs, teased, tormented about their illegitimacy. We wouldn’t be able to offer them things like bikes and ballet, things that parents who married first could give them.

    No one thinks that the adorable newborn they brought home will grow up, will question where she came from, what ethnicity she is, where she got her talents and personality. For too many adoptive parents, questions rock the boat, threaten the “as if she were born to you” idea they were given along with the child. I know one set of parents who went so far as to reject medical history from their daughter’s birthmother because “she has our medical history.”

    Adoption is not perfect. Yes, there are children who need homes, who have been abused, abandoned by their birthparents. That is what National Adoption Month was created for — find homes for them, not homes for newborns coerced from their families.

    On the other hand, Terri, if it weren’t for my connection to adoption, I would not have met you, or a lot of my friends. So there is a positive side. Just wish it weren’t so painful overall for all of us.

    Posted by Karen Waggoner | November 9, 2015, 10:35 am
  10. I say a great big, loud – Amen! You flip that switch, Terri! ❤

    Posted by reiadm | November 9, 2015, 8:27 am
  11. I think the birth mother, the child she put up for adoption and the couple who adopts that child are all treated as “outsiders”. None of us fit the model of a “normal” family. Many times over the years, right up to just recently, I would be talking to someone about you and/or Traci and would be asked a question I couldn’t answer. I would reply, “My daughters are adopted so I can’t answer your question.”

    The individual looks at me like I just grew a second head and says, “Oh! So they aren’t yours then. Why would you take on somebody else’s kids?”

    Really? Did you just say that to me? I can’t post my comment to them here but needless to say I put them in there place pronto. Hmmmm, perhaps that’s why I seem to have less “friends”!!!

    You hold your head up high. And don’t ever forget how much dad and I love you, and the family you’ve given us. I just wish that finding your mother and that side of your family brought you more peace within. Maybe it just needs more time. Sometimes the pieces to the puzzle fall in place slowly. But when they do, the result is so much sweeter.

    Posted by murphyslaw | November 9, 2015, 8:16 am
    • You’re right, Mom. All of us are “Other,” trying to fit in the face of a set of unattainable ideals labeled “normal.”

      The deck is stacked again each of us; it’s challenging not to simply live out other people’s expectations for us.

      I love you and Dad, too. Thank you for supporting me through this journey and understanding what it means for me to take it.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | November 9, 2015, 8:45 am

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