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Why We Need to Give Voice to the Adoptee Experience

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.


With my biological father, Ken, at our first meeting in March.

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.


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.


15 thoughts on “Why We Need to Give Voice to the Adoptee Experience

  1. Hi Terri, I can’t imagine an adopted person not wanting to know his/her biological information, but I wonder if you should seek out the friend of this person to get his/her side. If you haven’t met someone with that perspective, wouldn’t it make sense to include it in your book? Also, you may find that this person was misinterpreted by his/her friend and has feelings deep inside that were not shared with the person you met. Anyway, like always, I enjoy reading your blogs…and I love what your mom wrote! 💗

    Posted by Paige Lund | November 4, 2016, 7:23 am
    • Thanks, Paige. My goal, absolutely, is to include as many viewpoints as possible. But you miss the point of my post. The woman wasn’t interested in having a discussion or asking my point of view. She didn’t offer to connect me with her friend or give me a chance to invite her friend to chat with me. She just steamrolled her way into a monologue. This unfortunately, is typical and the result of an ingrained (and flawed) mentality society has about about adoption.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | November 4, 2016, 8:16 am
  2. I puzzle sometimes about why so many people in our society seem to be so very attached to a certain happy view, not so much of adoption, but of adoptive parents. I remember when I was growing up that many times I was told that I must be emotionally messed up because I was adopted, even by people who didn’t know much about me beyond that fact. At the same time, however, I was constantly told that I must be grateful and that my parents must be wonderful people. They are. I don’t disagree with that fact, but the conclusion that they must be wonderful people because they adopted two children struck me, and continues to strike me, as a false one. So, in my experience, people only view it as “rainbows and unicorns” from one side. Me, I was the burden, the stray animal that was saved from an unnamed horrible fate. For the adopted person, there’s a pressure to be a “well-adjusted” adoptee, yet the suspicion that you might not be always hangs over your head.

    I have, however, experienced exactly what you’ve said about people who were no part of the adoption triangle who refused to hear what I had to say. They knew exactly how it was and didn’t want to listen to adoptees. It is, frankly, infuriating, having other people tell you what your experience is or should be.

    Still, I have to wonder, why are people so attached to this myth?

    I’m generally pretty positive about adoption. When a friend wanted to adopt and asked me questions, I was very encouraging about it. In so many aspects of life, we understand things as being complex and complicated and having positive and negative aspect. Why don’t we see adoption this way?

    Posted by fojap | November 4, 2016, 6:23 am
  3. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that society thinks that “adoptee equals child…” I once had an uncomfortable discussion with someone when I told them that, “I am adopted.” They corrected me and informed me that, “No, you WERE adopted.” People don’t realize that what happened to us as children stays with many of us and becomes a deeply felt part of our identity. I am adopted, always will be. It’s who I am. Thank-you for another wonderfully written article.

    Posted by Vanessa Sager | November 3, 2016, 9:31 pm
  4. Your interviews, and eventually your book, are holding space for all of us as adoptees. A place not only to share our stories but to feel validated and stronger in the voices of other adoptees too. Thank you!

    Posted by Kristin | November 3, 2016, 6:46 pm
  5. I am an adoptive mom. I am Terri’s mom. That was an amazing day for me, not to mention terrifying! Then I got to have that experience all over again when we adopted our second daughter.

    I have never understood why adoption has to be cloaked in secrecy. It makes it seem shameful, or worse.

    When you adopt a child, how can you not consider that one day he/she will want to search for his/her biological family. Or that the biological family will one day search for him/her. It’s so natural it’s like breathing in and out. And how can a woman who has given up her child not consider that when this baby grows up it is more likely than not that he/she will one day find her.

    I am thrilled that Terri has found both her maternal and paternal families and continues to understand herself more and more.

    There’s room for all of us. We all belong in her life. Let’s move on and get real. The powers that be should be making it easy for adoptees to get ALL the information and support they need to connect with their roots, not making it impossible.

    Posted by Murphyslaw | November 3, 2016, 4:02 pm
  6. Well said! Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by faithinflipflopssite | November 3, 2016, 2:06 pm
  7. Bravo Terri! Well said!


    Posted by Paige Adams Strickland | November 3, 2016, 9:08 am

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