November is National Adoption Month, and adoptees use the opportunity to #flipthescript on the pro-adoption narrative so ingrained in society by sharing their experiences and viewpoints. Here’s what I’m doing to #flipthescript:
When I tell people I’m a twice-reunited adoptee writing a book based on interviews about what it means to be adopted, they often ask questions about my journey and what I’ve learned from talking with other adoptees.
A new acquaintance went in a different direction last weekend, launching into a passionate story about her friend, an adoptee and adoptive mother who firmly believes closed adoptions are best, and that it is better for an adoptee to have no information about her origins.
Have I come across other adoptees who feel this way? she wanted to know.
I assured her that I haven’t, that of the 83 adoptees I’ve interviewed to date, none of them has expressed that opinion.
She had more to say about her friend’s point of view, but I confess I didn’t hear it. I had by then painted a smile on my face and waited not so patiently for her to finish her diatribe. Her tone was a bit self-righteous, and she was oblivious to how dismissive and uninformed she sounded.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered someone like this. Had I not been at a friend’s home for a social gathering, I would have taken time to explain that for millions of us, closed adoption has equaled an inescapable lifetime of confusion, dissonance and angst. Living as secrets marginalizes us and affects our self-esteem and how we interact with others. As a result of closed records we are second-class citizens cut off from basic details about our identities, including potentially live-saving medical information.
It wasn’t the right place to get into it, however, so I bit my tongue, and breathed an ironic sigh of relief when the conversation turned to the presidential election.
However, the woman’s comments and tone stayed with me on the drive home. I don’t know why. She is simply the latest in a long string of people — often strangers — who feel they somehow have the right to offer unbidden comments; question my feelings or decision to search for biological family; or simply dismiss my experience.
It’s not just me, either. Most of the folks I’ve interviewed have encountered similar receptions.We adoptees just can’t seem to shake the common notion that adoption is rainbows and unicorns. No one ever bothers to ask us what we think.Instead, somehow society thinks “adoptee” equals “child” and that we continue to need adults to speak for us.
But those of us adopted in the era of closed records are not children any more. It’s high time we had a voice.
So in stolen hours on my lunch breaks, after work and on weekends since last November, I’ve spoken to a wide-ranging group of adoptees: those in reunion, those who were rejected by their natural parents a second time, some still searching for biological connections, and others who have no desire to seek out the people who gave them life.
Each person has offered me an unvarnished look at what it feels like to live under a cloak of secrets and lies, not knowing your ethnicity, medical history, and basic information about your background. We’ve spoken, too, about why adoptees search for their natural parents; and what reuniting with biological family is really like.
Their stories are poignant and often heartbreaking. For some, it was the first they spoke of the dissonance and pain they’ve always felt over being relinquished; the trust issues they continue to struggle with; the guilt they carry over possibly hurting their adoptive parents as they seek to understand who they are; and the confusion that overlays their struggle to make sense of a dual identity and find their place in the world.
They are grateful for the chance to share their stories, telling me how much it means to finally have someone ask them what they think and feel.
It’s my privilege, I tell them. Maybe together we can finally #flipthescript.