Adoption and Options and Questions

A few months ago, I was chatting with someone about being adopted. The conversation was like many I have – the person didn’t know I was adopted, so they asked all the normal questions that ultimately reveal the major parts of the story. After listening, they smiled and said, “Well, aren’t you glad you were adopted?” I’m sure I said my normal answer, which is something along the lines of yes, and I’m happy I’m reunited as well (see prior post by similar name). But I can’t get the question out of my head, and I finally figured out the reason. 

Most people expect adoptees to be grateful/happy/thankful that they are adopted. Thus, they also expect adoptees to see adoption as the best/first/only choice for their lives. I think that’s one reason so many adoptions have been closed – no need to explore that other option of having your natural family because it wasn’t the best/first/only option. It was the alternative, and not even a good one. 

Yet, on the adoptive parent side of the situation, it’s a different story. Many people who adopt do so as the alternative/addition to having natural children. For some, basic biology keeps some from having natural children (e.g. infertility, same sex partners). For others, they have natural children and decide to adopt as well. I’ve heard countless adoptive parents make statements like, “We couldn’t have children of our own, so we adopted” or “We already had kids, and we decided to adopt as well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with adoptive parents; I have two and I love them. 

But would anyone ever say to an adoptive parent – “You’ve got this amazing adopted child, aren’t you thankful you couldn’t have natural children?” or “Now that you have your adopted kids, don’t you just wish you could get rid of your natural ones?” I think we would all be appalled (and rightly so) if we ever heard anyone ask those questions of adoptive parents, but adoptees are just supposed to be cool with a question that has very similar meaning. 

I don’t point this out to chastise anyone who has ever asked the question. I write about it because it highlights the complicated issues raised by adoption and the disjointed messages that are often presented. Adoption isn’t nearly as easy/clean/uncomplicated as we like to present, and it’s good to know that because it may help make futures adoptions easier/better/less stressful for everyone involved. Because, in the end, we are a society that still needs the process, so the goal should be to make it better. 

Is It Truly Part of My Identity?

Recently, I have been engaging in a series of dialogues about race that a friend started on Facebook. In a recent comment, I started a sentence by noting that I am not a minority, unless you count my Native American blood. My friend responded, “I would definitely count your Native American blood if you truly feel like it’s part of your identity…” and went on to address the substantive part of my original comment. I’ve been mulling over the implied question for a couple of weeks now because it’s bigger than whether my Native American blood is important to my identity. In truth, it’s a question about what, if anything, is important to my identity?

One of the interesting things about not knowing your heritage is that you can be from anywhere. I think it’s one of the reasons adoptees have a tendency to day-dream and make up stories about their origins. If you don’t have a “tie” to the genealogical history of your adopted family, then you can be the long-lost prince or princess who is waiting for the return of the king and queen. And, when you are hurt and confused by the abandonment part of your story, it’s actually pretty cool to envision you are from such an important heritage.

Of course, when the king and queen don’t return, you are left with a stark reality – your family is your family, but their heritage (from a blood line perspective) is not. No matter how many genealogy projects you are assigned by teachers who are understanding when you explain that you don’t know your blood line heritage, the compilation of materials they request that you gather from your adopted family still never really feels like yours. Even if you are proud that your paternal great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian, that doesn’t make you a Cherokee. And regardless of whether your maternal blood line can be traced back to European royalty, that doesn’t mean you have royal blood.

As silly as it may seem, I was pumped when my natural dad told me that I have Creek Indian blood in my heritage. And having the names of generations of my natural families made me want to start doing some genealogical research; I even signed up for a free account to search. But then I started thinking – while this is my blood heritage, I was 37 years old when I found it and it’s no more a part of me than the genealogical history of my adoptive parents.

So, here I sit, with two distinct histories – one by nature, one by nurture – and I think it’s somewhat fraudulent to claim either. And that is the very real answer to my friend’s question.


I am a Selfish Adoptee

As you might imagine, I read numerous blog posts about adoption. It’s helpful to see what other adoptees, natural parents, and adoptive parents say about their respective journeys. Most of the time those posts give me encouragement, but occasionally one will frustrate me. I read one of the frustrating ones about a week ago.

The writer was an adoptee who has been told it is “selfish” to search for members of her birth family. She posted questions that have been posed to her throughout the years, including: “Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?” She also cited an online comment regarding a question posed on about adopted children seeking their biological parents without their consent. In short the comment read, “The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents…”

If understanding where you come from is selfish…

If knowing your medical history is selfish…

If desiring to have a relationship with people who carry your DNA is selfish…

If wanting to expand your definition of family is selfish…

If hoping to find someone who looks like you is selfish…

Then I am a selfish adoptee. And I wear that moniker with pride because getting to know my natural family equals the blessing I had in being raised by my adoptive one.

For those who regard this as “selfish” in a negative way, I raise this simple question, “Can you ever really have enough connections to people who love you and understand you?” Because that’s what I have in both my natural and adoptive families. And I wish more people had that too!

Adoption and the Greeting Card Industry

Last night, I went to the local mall in search of Father’s Day cards. I found the card for my adoptive dad with ease. And then came the struggle. Finding a card for my natural dad.

Before you jump to conclusions, let me swiftly say that my relationship with my natural dad is progressing as expected. Not too fast, not too slow. Definitely not like my relationship with my natural mom, but that’s because she overwhelms my natural reservation about becoming attached to people.

No, the issue with finding a card for my natural dad isn’t because I’m dissatisfied with the relationship. It’s because the greeting card industry doesn’t think about situations like mine. So, when the very nice lady at the store asked, “Are you finding everything you need,” I found myself responding (very honestly) “Hallmark doesn’t make what I need.”

Because I can’t talk about how he’s always been there. And I can’t talk about memories from when I was a little girl. And I can’t say how lucky I am that he raised me. And I can’t say he’s always been my hero.

The cold, hard facts are that I don’t know him very well, though every discovery points to the fact that we are very similar. And I have approximately 8 hours of memories with him, not years and years worth. But that doesn’t change the other cold, hard fact – he’s my dad and I love him.

It’s not just difficult buying cards for him. I struggle every time I look for a card for my natural mom, my natural brothers, etc. etc. Despite living in a world where thousands upon thousands of people are adopted, the greeting card industry has yet to figure out that we need cards designed for our situations too. Perhaps that will be my next career – writing cards for adopted kids to give their natural family upon reuniting.

In the interim, I will search (and search) for cards that say something, without saying too much. And then I’ll write my own words to try to explain why the sentiment on the card is appropriate and legitimate. 

Oh, and just so you know, I did find a good card – well, it’s good after my additions!

You Can’t Be Replaced

You can’t be replaced. Read the words again. You. Can’t. Be. Replaced. If you haven’t heard that in your life, you need to know it’s true. It’s one of the many things I have learned by being adopted. In order to explain myself better, I’ll need to tell you the respective stories of my adoptive parents and my natural mom. I don’t pretend to tell the story from their point of view, but am expressing what they have shared with me.

My adoptive parents were young when they married – 18 to be exact. They had my brother shortly thereafter and tried to have other children. They wanted at least 5, but there were other plans for their lives. My mom was 22 or 23 when she miscarried a baby, a tragic event by itself, but it was made worse by the discovery that she had cancer and would be unable to have additional children. They had my brother (who was 4 or 5 at the time), but were determined to have more children. So, while in the midst of battling cancer, they set out to adopt.

My natural mom was 16 when she found out she was pregnant with me. She was five months pregnant by the time she shared the information with her parents and after a couple of weeks of discussion, she moved to Memphis, TN to have me and put me up for adoption. She labored over the decision for the final months of her pregnancy – frequently wavering between keeping me and letting me be adopted. She was told I would be better off with another family and that she would have other children, which would replace me and relieve her anxiety about having me adopted.

Meanwhile, my adoptive parents waited patiently for a child. The primary battle with cancer was over and my mom was getting healthier and healthier, which enhanced their prospects of receiving a child.

After I was born, my natural mom waited 10 days to finally “sign away” her rights to be my parent. And shortly thereafter my parents received word that they would become my parents.

My natural mom did have additional children – my brothers – but she never stopped wondering about me – because people aren’t replaceable.

My adoptive parents raised me, but I am confident that did not resolve the grief they experienced in losing a child – because that child wasn’t replaceable either.

As for me, despite having amazing parents and the coolest big brother anyone could ask for, I lived with a hole in my heart – a hole that demonstrated my natural parents weren’t replaceable either.

Now, I have all the people I was supposed to have in my life – my natural parents, my natural brothers (and, at some point I hope, the sister I have thanks to my natural dad), my adoptive parents, and my adoptive brother. I have lived without some of them in my life in the past, but now I can’t imagine what that would be like in the future.

My natural parents couldn’t be replaced. I couldn’t be replaced. I couldn’t replace the child my adoptive parents lost. Because no one can be replaced.

And that goes for you too. You are who you are, where you are, and with the people you are for a reason. You can’t be replaced. Trust me, I’ve been part of a process that seems to suggest it’s possible, but it’s not. Please know that – you are unique, special, important, irreplaceable.

Crazy Questions for an Adopted Kid

Turns out, when people discover you are adopted, they ask some very crazy questions. I’ve had my share over 37 years, and I thought I had heard all the crazy ones UNTIL I reunited with my natural family. The questions got even crazier at that point. My personal favorite crazy question from the “reunited” set of questions comes in a pair – how do your adoptive parents feel about your reunion with your natural family AND is it weird having two sets of parents?

Let’s see – how do my adoptive parents feel about my reunion with my natural family? Well, I think they feel fine. Turns out, we don’t spend all of our time talking about that reunion. We have our own family traditions, conversations, etc. that typically are the focal point of our time together. While they will ask how things are going, they don’t seem interested in “prying” for details. I know they support me – in fact, my dad said he was surprised it took me almost 37 years to go exploring – and they have genuine care and concern for my natural family that is expressed in asking how they are doing. So when people ask how my adoptive parents feel, I’m not sure what they expect me to say. Maybe they are hoping it’s turned into a “free-for-all” worthy of the Jerry Springer show when I mention my natural family – people LOVE drama. Perhaps they imagine hurt feelings expressed in long silences and tearful glances – again, people LOVE drama. Maybe they imagine we are all one big happy family in the less than 10 months since the reunion – the thing people love MORE than drama is a HAPPY ENDING. Perhaps it’s even their way of saying, “How dare you look for your natural family?! Don’t you know your parents wanted you when they didn’t?” – yeah, that one really irritates me and I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced it from people who seem a bit judgmental about the reunion process.

After we settle the “how my parents feel” question, the next most common question is whether it’s weird having two sets of parents? Seriously?!? THAT is your question? Nothing about how the reunion is going? Nothing about how much I have discovered about my identity because of the reunion? Nothing about how great it is to discover you have a grandmother again (because all of your grandparents in your adoptive family are now gone)? Nothing about how cool it is to have two more brothers and aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.? You want to know if it’s “weird” having two sets of parents? I don’t know – is it weird having more than one kid? Because that’s how I like to think this thing works. I have two sets of parents – four parents total (not including my parents-in-law). They are all different. I have a unique relationship with each of them. I love each of them for who they are and value what they mean to me. I am blessed. Is it weird? No more than you having more than one kid or dog or friend. It’s my reality – and I love it.

Now, for those of you who have asked these questions – please don’t be offended by this post. I know you mean well in asking – so do all other adopted kids. It’s just funny when you are on the receiving end of the question, trying to figure out how to answer it. No harm, no foul, no worries. Okay?