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. 

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Why I’m Thankful to be Adopted and Reunited

For many adoptees, the adoption process creates an either/or type of scenario. You can either be with your natural family or your adoptive family. You can either be happy you were adopted or upset you were adopted. You can either love your adoptive family or your natural family.

For me, my decision to reunite with my natural family took away those restrictions. I have a both/and scenario, and as I reflect this week on the things for which I am thankful, I thought I would share the adoption-related ones with you.

  • I’m thankful to be adopted because I was raised and nurtured by a loving, encouraging family. My mom, dad, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. etc. are pretty cool people who have each impacted me in a unique and positive way.
  • I’m thankful to be reunited because I now get to be nurtured by another loving, encouraging family. My mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. are also cool people who are now placing their positive impressions in my life.
  • I’m thankful to have been adopted in the State of Tennessee because it recognized twenty-something years ago that adoptees have a natural right to their history and have been releasing identifying information at the request of adoptees ever since.
  • I’m thankful for a God who, while certainly not making my adoption occur or necessarily even wanting it to occur, was traveling with me every step of the way and blessing the choices others had to make.
  • I’m thankful the path chosen for me led me to my husband, Jeff, who supported me in finding my natural family and graciously welcomed my natural mom into our home so that we can develop the relationship that started 40 years ago while she was carrying me.
  • I’m thankful that more and more adoptees are speaking up about their experiences because it helps me see that my responses to being adopted are similar to others, which means they are normal.
  • I’m thankful for individuals in my life who treat both of my families with equal respect rather than suggesting one is more “real” than the other.
  • I’m thankful for the peace that has been created in my being because I now know the origin of who I am, both in nurture and nature.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Becky

Why I Share My Voice on Adoption

Yesterday, I posted a very raw piece on Adoption, Reunion and Forgiveness. The overwhelming response I received was supportive, affirming, and loving. And most of that response was public, so you can read it on Facebook. I also received some other responses (less encouraging), and while I’ve addressed those privately, I also feel some need to publicly address the general sentiment behind the less encouraging responses. So, here goes.

First, I want everyone to know that I didn’t search for my natural family because I have anger, resentment, etc. for my adoptive family. Part of the reason my natural parents chose to allow me to be adopted is because they hoped I would be raised in a loving home with two parents and, hopefully, even a sibling or two. I experienced just that – 2 parents, 1 big brother, lots of extended family, love, encouragement, and some pretty amazing opportunities to experience different parts of the United States thanks to my dad’s job as a preacher. I wasn’t rebelling against them when I started thinking about searching at a young age, and I certainly wasn’t rebelling when I finally went through the search process at age 36. Nor was I looking for something they never gave me. I had everything I could have asked for and then some. No, my search for my natural family was not about my adoptive one.

Also, I don’t think my adoptive family should feel responsible for my internal struggle growing up. While they loved and supported me the best they knew how, there was nothing they could do to take away my pain. My adoptive brother, upon reading my blog post yesterday, said, “I wish I could have understood your pain to be there for you in a better way. Sending my love to you.” This is the same brother who held me in his arms when I was 12 years old and crying about where I belonged and wanting to meet my natural family. He may not even remember that moment, which took place the summer I lived with him and my sister-in-law, but I’ll never forget it. Because he was doing all he could and I loved him for it, but it still didn’t make the pain go away, and I think he knew it. It’s a slightly askew analogy, but I think expecting my adoptive family to be the answer to my pain is like expecting a best friend to be the answer to the pain that comes from a spouse cheating on you. The love, support, and comfort of friends is incredible, but it can’t take away a hurt that has a different source.

And, I recognize that my natural parents did what they thought was best and it’s not my intent to hurt them when I write. I know they believe I was “raised well” because they’ve both said it. In fact, my natural dad recently said something akin to, “I can’t regret what happened because…look at you.” While we’ll never know what my life would have been like with one or both of them, I am confident I’ve had a great life with my adoptive family. So, I’m not trying to make my natural family feel bad or second guess their decision when I write.

Which brings me to…I’m not sure why I feel “compelled” to talk about my situation. For those who know me, you know how surprising it is that I’m sharing anything personal. I’ve actually had people tell others about me, “you can know her, but never really know her.” So, this whole process is difficult for me. I do believe writing helps me. I hope it helps others. Because I’ve read the results of some studies, and the data suggests adopted teens are approximately 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. 4 times! I can’t help but think that’s true not only because of the pain they’ve experienced, but because they don’t know how to talk about it, and don’t know others have experienced it, and don’t see how they’ll ever learn to live with it. I remember being 12 and being lucky that I had a big brother who listened and held me while I cried. I guess I hope the adopted kids who aren’t so lucky will stumble on my blog and it might help a little.

And, finally, why am I writing this public response to private comments? Because the sentiments behind the comments that sparked the paragraphs above:

  • That adoptees only search when they have bad adoptive families or are rebelling against their adoptive family or should have enough gratitude to their adoptive family that they never search
  • That having a great adoptive family should take away all pain an adoptee might experience (in other words, you had a great family, get over it)
  • That speaking your pain once you are an adoptee in reunion is disrespectful to your natural parents
  • That adoptees always make everything about adoption or are selfish or are just trying to get attention

are some of the reasons that adoptees often feel like they have to bear their pain alone. And you can help them understand that’s not true!

Thanks to all who assumed pure intent from the beginning!
Becky

Adoption, Reunion, and Forgiveness

Forty years into my life as an adoptee and three years into my life as an adoptee reunited with natural family, I have come to an interesting revelation. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the concept of forgiveness. Yes, I’ve experienced wrongs against me, and I’ve addressed those matters with people, and I’ve said “I fogive you” and I think I have forgiven them, but I’ve never had to forgive something really big in my life. Until now. 

Here’s the thing about being adopted. Your story always begins with someone (in my case, two someones) giving you up. We use a ton of fancy words for it and provide lots of affirming explanations for why it happened, but the fact is your beginning is an end. And endings are painful, even if they are for the best. And for me, the pain was real. Often unspoken. Frequently ignored. Rarely understood. Always stuffed down. But real. Because no matter how much I believed that my natural parents loved me and did the best they could for me in allowing me to be raised by other people, I still felt abandoned. Not worth choosing. Not worth fighting for. Hurt. And those feelings don’t go away easily. Depsite the fact that my natural mom gave up her whole life in FL and moved to WV to build a relationship with me. And despite the fact that my natural dad has opened his heart/mind to a relationship with me. And despite the fact they both tell me and show me that they love me. The hurt fades, but it doesn’t disappear. 

So, now I think I understand a little more about forgiveness. Because some days, I look at my mom (and my dad) and still feel the pain of a child relinquished. I still feel the hurt (though not as strongly) that has marked an internal struggle for my entire life. And I think how easy it could be to write her (and my dad) off as the source of all that hurt. But then I look in her eyes (and his too) and see the person who lives with the pain of having hurt me and I think about the relationship we have already forged, and the hope of that relationship growing. And I think forgiveness is the only way that I can get out of my own way to enjoy relationships with people that God gave me as family and has blessed me with an opportunity to make that mean more than just sharing genetics. 

Becky

Playing with my Brother

Some of my best memories are anchored in Seneca, SC, where I spent 5 years. Seneca was a great place to be between the ages of 5 and 10 as our house was nestled at the bottom of a hill in a small neighborhood, with a wooded area and creek running right behind it. The best part of my Seneca memories involve my (adoptive) brother, Shawn. Seven years older than me, he was nonetheless my first (and best) friend and playmate. We spent many days (and some nights) playing “ninja” in the woods, riding our bikes, damming up the creek, and playing highly competitive games of wiffle ball and touch football with other kids from the neighborhood. While I knew I was adopted, it didn’t really have a daily impact on my life because I was too young to recognize that having another mom and dad somewhere meant I might have other siblings too. So, I soaked up those experiences with my brother, and stored the moments in the vault of my memories.

Three years ago, when I talked to my (natural) parents for the first time, I found out that I do have other siblings – 2 brothers and a sister – all younger than me. One of the “mixed emotions” of the reunion process (and there are many) is that while I have had the blessing of an awesome relationship with Shawn, I missed out on having any relationship with my other brothers and sister. And while I would love to create memories with them like I have with Shawn, you can’t force any moments in the reunion process without stressing an already fragile fabric.

But, when moments arise, you can soak them up, and I had a few moments with my youngest brother, Jared, last week in Pensacola. At 40 years old, it’s a little difficult to imagine playing with you brother for the first time, but it’s effectively what happened as Jared and I went on a sailing adventure with our aunt, uncle, and mom (he got to steer the boat; I got to help hoist the sails), attended a baseball game, and played a game of cards with our mom, aunts, and cousin. During those moments, I learned more about Jared and the ways we are different, and the things we have in common. And, mostly, I just experienced them so they can go in the vault with my other treasured memories of playing with one of my brothers.

I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to play with my other brother (time and distance is a major barrier) or my sister (she doesn’t know about me yet), but I am thankful that I have had the experience with 2 of my 4 siblings.

Becky

Advertising Children Available for Adoption

I am about to violate almost every best practice I try to follow when posting on my blog because I’m writing:

  • While my thoughts are still not fully formed in my head
  • About an item I perceive as a problem without posting a solution
  • On a topic I suspect may be controversial.

But, I have to write and I have to write now to get the thoughts out of my head so I can enjoy a family and friend day in Pittsburgh, PA watching the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Pirates (sorry, local friends, go Cards!).

A few weeks ago, I was scanning my News Feed on Facebook when I saw a beautiful photo of 3 children that a friend had posted. I clicked on the photo and began reading the caption and came face-to-face with my first advertisement for children available for adoption through a foster agency. Many of you likely read that last sentence and wondered where I’ve been living because this is a fairly common practice (I’ve now discovered), but I didn’t know that at the time and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I was adopted as a baby, and there were no color photos advertising my birth weight, general temperament, health status, favorite binky, etc. for prospective adoptive parents to scan to determine whether I might be the right choice for them. Nope, my adoptive parents just had to wait and see what turned up when they went to pick me up. I say that to say, I’ve only been in foster care a short period of time and it was while all the paperwork processing was taking place for my parents to adopt me. So, I don’t know the trials, heartaches, etc. that come with being a child in the foster care system and waiting to be adopted while babies seemingly stream through the adoption process with ease (another post for another day).

Yet, I have to think there is a better way to attract prospective adoptive parents than an advertisement that is shared in the newspaper, via websites, and on Facebook. And here’s why…in my research on this trend, I found tons of agencies that take this approach and one such agency project explanation read:

“By photographing these children in their best light, capturing their hope, their vulnerability, their pride, we bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens each year.”

As an adoptee, I struggle with many of those concepts. “Best light” gets me because it sets the stage for belief that parents are going to get that “best light” kid and not the one who has legitimate struggles based on their circumstances, which may be why so many foster children have difficulty finding permanent placements with families. “Vulnerability” gets me because it sets up a “savior” complex for the adoptive parents and a “rescued” complex for the child. “We bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens” gets me because not all people who would feel “called” to adopt after seeing one of those ads should do so!

But what really gets me, and the reason I had to write this today is one simple matter; think openly and ask yourself where you have seen ads similar to this before? I imagine you will think of the exact place I did – your local humane society. And that’s the part of this that burdens my adoptee mind and heart. Advertising children for adoption in the same way we advertise animals for adoption just seems wrong to me. And perhaps adoption agencies did it long before humane societies did, but for the love of humanity, where was the outcry from the adoption world that taking this same approach for animals was degrading to children? And, if the history is that we did it with animals first (I have to admit I haven’t looked it up because I don’t think my mind can handle the potential answer), then…wow…just wow.

Posted by:

Baby Girl (last name redacted)
7 pounds, 13 ounces
18 and 1/2 inches long
34 cm head size
32 cm chest size
Sleeps on her side with a blanket over her ear
Likes formula
Normal health

(which likely would have been my ad at birth)

History Matters

My natural mom is currently visiting family this week, specifically my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces. I told someone about her visit earlier this week, and they responded, “Why didn’t you go with her?” I stood there in stunned silence for what seemed like a really long time before I responded, “Because it never even occured to me.”

One of the fascinating things about being adopted and reunited is that you get to see the ties of genetics and still understand and respect the strength of history. For a lot of my natural mom’s life and the large majority of my natural brothers’ lives, their family unit was each other. For the majority of my life, my family unit was my adoptive parents and my adoptive brother. 

While I share genetics with my natural family and history with my adoptive family, my natural mom and brothers share both genetics and history. I’m not suggesting that makes their bond stronger, but it certainly makes it different. Different enough that I never had a single thought it would be desired or even appropriate for me to visit too. 

For some, that might be sad, but it’s really not to me. The fact is, my natural family shares a history that I have no place in, and while I am excited to create a history with them, there is also a time and place for them to celebrate that history without me. 

As I write this, they are enjoying their last night together for this visit, and I hope they are having a blast!

Becky