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#NAAM2018, #RaisedonLies, Adoption

In search of my better life

One of the arguments proponents of adoption often raise is that it gives adoptees a better life.

Better than what? And who’s to know? 

Ask a non-adopted person to discuss adoption and they’ll probably tell you it’s a chance to give a child a better life. Maybe, and maybe not. One thing that’s certain adoptees like me, though, is that being adopted means having a different life than we might have had, one defined by a distinctive set of emotions and experiences.

Is different better? Not always.

For the adopted person, “different” often equals “other” — forever being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole of someone else’s making.

De Misfits

De Misfits by Jan de Boer/Flickr

You were getting ready to say,  “Everyone feels that way sometimes,” weren’t you?

Please. Stop.

Adoptees aren’t aliens. We share the same human experience as everyone else. The difference is that our life journey is framed by a complicated, confusing sense of identity: the person we are struggling to understand the person we might have been while we figure out who our authentic self is.

For those of us relinquished during the closed-adoption era, the struggle is further complicated by alack basic information about our origins and family history. We run through these mental gymnastics with few facts to go on.

Karen Caffrey, an adopted friend and therapist, once explained to me that for adoptees, life’s typical milestones — adolescence, embarking on a career, getting married, having children — are extra challenging to navigate because of our sense of identity is complicated by having been relinquished.

I know just what she means. I have a great life — love and support from family; terrific friends I don’t deserve; an exciting career that has me learning new things constantly.

Yet I struggle to live it.

Being adopted marks me. I second-guess myself constantly: Do I measure up? Am I doing it right? Can I blend in with everyone else or can they tell how unsure of myself I am? Could I please stop apologizing for myself? Worse, I hold myself in reserve or push people away rather than risk being rejected, ironically keeping myself the outsider I hate being.

Is it a better life? I’ll never know.

 

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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.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “In search of my better life

  1. You’d know best of course. I’ve been lucky, I guess, that I don’t feel my being adopted has ever haunted me with anything other than curiosity. But in the most generalized, statistical — and admittedly, not in a useful way at the individual level — I tend to think that benefit does outweigh harm in the adoption arena. All else being equal, putting up children for adoption tends to spring from desperation and dysfunction, and adopting springs from a desire to raise children. These factors make for good tie breakers when trying to handicap how things will turn out. Environmental factors having nothing to do with biology matter so much to someone’s emotional development. And those factors can skew positive or negative whether someone is put up for adoption or not. In the end, the legal fact of adoption is bound to be just a piece of a puzzle built of all the things life offers. More directly, I wonder if you’d feel differently if you’d simply been raised differently or somehow had different life experiences as an adopted person. To get your take more fully, I think I’ll have to read your book!

    Posted by mypretentiousballoon | November 4, 2018, 6:44 am
    • I hope you will read it. The book will reflect the adoptee experience from many points of view, not only my own. I’ll be sharing a wide range of insights rather than the one-note (and tone deaf) viewpoint that makes up the current dialogue surrounding adoption.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | November 4, 2018, 3:48 pm
      • It’s possible I’ll even see my own experience in a different light. And don’t get me wrong — I certainly think that my being adopted has left me with some doubt and confusion about who exactly I am or am supposed to be. But I’ve felt my life has been more been tinged rather than deeply shaped by the adoption. It’s entirely possible that I’ve been misattributing some of my less desirable personality traits, in part because I’ve had a lot of less than ideal experiences to which to attribute them.

        Posted by mypretentiousballoon | November 5, 2018, 9:04 am
  2. Hi Terri. I wonder how you ascribe the self doubt to the adoption. Seems it could contribute of course, but it might be equally, or even more so, a matter of genetics or other circumstances. Surely many non adoptees experience self doubt and many adoptees don’t. I’m a chronic self doubter and reflector but I don’t attirubute it necessarily my adoption. It may contribute, but I attribute it more to an unstable child environment and innate personality — factors that any child could experience, adopted or not. In some ways, this self doubt/reflection — I consider them intertwined — I see as a strength. Just curious. Nice piece.

    Posted by mypretentiousballoon | November 3, 2018, 7:16 pm
    • Hi: I know everyone is different. For myself, I see a distinct connection between the two. My life is a study in trying to prove to myself and others that I am not a mistake. Unfortunately, after nearly 53 years, I still don’t quite believe it.

      Posted by Terri S. Vanech | November 3, 2018, 8:01 pm

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