This post is dedicated to Cherry.
Is adoption really much ado about nothing as the prevailing view wants us to believe? Is the fact that the adoptive parents love the child, and that most people don’t even bat an eye anymore when learning that a child is adopted, mean that adoption is now a non-issue? Hardly!
I consider myself a test case since I grew up with 4 siblings, all of whom were biological kids. Some were the children of my adoptive parents and others the child of one adoptive parent and a stepparent. But what they all had in common was that they were being raised by or within close proximity to both of their bio-parents. Now I will admit that the ones being raised with divorced parents did ,have it a bit harder, but the effect was nothing like adoption. At least both of their parents were available to them and of course they knew who they were. My siblings all got to grow up with their blood kin. Their grandparents were their genetic ancestors. Their aunts and uncles were actually their parents’ siblings. They could see where they got certain physical traits and, in many cases, certain characteristics–while I had none of that. My stepmother in particular seems to have very strong genetics. I swear every one of her relatives looks alike. The shape of their faces, their noses, their skin tone, even their voices are similar. You could spot them a mile away. And if I may toot my own horn for a minute, maybe it’s a case of payback’s a bitch, but in my younger days, I was arguably the best looking child in the family. Ha ha! Thanks natural parents!
My siblings also grew up in the city where the vast majority of their relatives had been born and raised, and where they still lived. Since I was raised in the Mid-Atlantic and my natural mother was from the Northeast and my natural father was as southern as the day is long, you could say I was geographically a fish out of water. My siblings didn’t have a birth certificate from a state hundreds of miles away. They didn’t have huge holes in their identities. They didn’t have a mysterious past that was shrouded in secrecy by the closed adoption system. And they didn’t have a missing life story (i.e. their first chapter and prologue) that was simply lopped off without any concern to the consequences–and an unknown and denied medical history especially can lead to some very serious consequences. In so many ways, large and small, my experience was totally different than that of my bio-kid siblings. Yet it was treated in the family as if everything I was missing was a matter of no import.
Is it really true that we see adopted children as exactly the same as bio-children? That it doesn’t stand out when a child looks nothing like his or her adoptive parents and may not even be the same race? And for a child to have to dread yet expect the whispers, questions and puzzled looks. Is it just a matter of educating the public on this? Or is there still a stigma, albeit, hopefully, a lessening one? Adoption can and does affect one’s self-esteem, although how much and how negatively does vary with each person. And I would be remiss to not acknowledge that, as any parent can tell you, children are born with their own unique personalities. But I cannot accept the premise that being adopted does nothing to alter one’s personality. As I learned the hard way, the damage to one’s self-esteem can cause all kinds of long-term ramifications.
Take someone like the late famous adoptee Steve Jobs. I sometimes wonder if despite his monumental achievements what heights he may have risen to without the burden placed on his psychologically and emotionally by having been adopted (hard to imagine, I know). Now, of course, most people will look at his story and think adoption didn’t cause him any problems and was overwhelmingly for the best. But it’s hard for me to believe he was not at all encumbered by the fact that he was adopted when he started his search for his natural parents at just 18 years old, and after reunion kept up a close relationship with his natural mother and full sister. Besides, considering his adoption a great success story is giving tacit approval to discrimination. His parents had wanted to marry, and subsequently did, but were prevented by his maternal grandfather who disapproved of his daughter’s choice solely because of the first father’s ethnic background.
And for those of you who applaud adoption so loudly, would you really rather have been given up, never knowing where you come from? Never knowing where you got any of your physical and/or emotional traits? So often people tout the virtues of adoption on the one hand and yet in the very next breath mention some similarity they share with their biological families and remark on how meaningful it is to them. Maybe it’s some aspect of their looks, maybe it’s some talent, say, musical talent, that many family members possess, or maybe it’s some aspect of their Irish, Italian, Greek, etc., heritage. Adoptees should be allowed, if they so wish, to appropriate their adoptive family’s heritage and religion. It’s unfair to leave the adoptee out in the cold when celebrating heritage and holidays, but there are some things that can only come from biology. And we closed era adoptees are missing that until and unless we find our birth families. So, come on, people, let’s quit pretending that all those ties you have that are biological in nature are somehow insignificant. You may be fooling yourselves, but you aren’t fooling us.
And let’s not forget the oft heard comment that potential adoptive parents should not be expected to return a child if the first mother changes her mind before an adoption is finalized, because they have already fallen in love and become attached to the child. But the potential adoptive parents’ bonding with the child should never override the child’s right to her own family. Contrary to popular belief, the most salient issues in adoption are not the potential adoptive parents’ emotions and whether or not they feel bonded to the child. In case anyone needs reminding, ADOPTION IS ABOUT THE CHILD. A child should never lose his blood family and his entire background, sibling connections, etc., because potential adoptive parents would be in emotional turmoil if they cannot adopt a particular child.
I mean, I’ve loved my niece since the minute she was born, and if my sister needed me to take her for a while, I would have. But does that mean I was entitled to keep her forever if the temporary crisis had passed? Absolutely not! You see, it’s not about me. It’s about what would be best for my niece. And unless there was some extenuating circumstance–abuse, drug use, danger to the child, etc.–my niece belonged in her own family. All of the losses a child will face, and all of the psychological/emotional issues she will deal with as a result of being adopted, cannot simply be dismissed under the umbrella called “love.” It’s not often spoken about, but most people don’t just shrug off losing their entire families on both sides.
A commenter named Rebecca Yourig had this to say about adoption and those of us from split families on First Mother Forum:
“The children do so much worse with split family options. I’d give up my children in an instant if my life situation gave them low odds for a self-sufficient life. I wish they were all adopted.”
Anyone who says she would give up her children in an instant knows very little about adoption. It may sound noble but it is easy to give lip service when one has no intention nor is under any real demand to give up their child. And I hope this is just a question of semantics, I understand Ms. Yourig is referring to children in difficult/dangerous circumstance, but wishing all these children were adopted is harsh. Also, I’m not sure what century she is living in. Split families are the norm these days as much as intact families, that’s how the term “co-parenting” become part of our lexicon. As I have mentioned on many occasions, some children do need to be adopted and it is the best option for them. I have even given a shout-out to the family preservation community that we work in tandem with those adoptive parents who are eager to understand things from our point of view. But a blanket ‘I wish they were all adopted’ shows a complete lack of understanding of the realities of adoption (not all adoptive parents are paragons of virtue, nor is every child raised in a split family permanently damaged), and in addition to being naïve, is also callous.
You see, maybe some of us didn’t want a different life. Maybe some of us wanted the life we were born to, and like myself, were in fact born to a mother who would have done a fine job raising us. And there is never any reason for adoption when that is the case. How wonderful it must have been (and still is) for my siblings to have such a tight, secure connection to the people who raised them, and to have never wondered if they had lived the wrong life. But there will be no deus ex machina. It is up to those of us who have lived it to face the harsh reality and educate others about adoption. Speaking our truth is most assuredly not MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.