I was reminded once again of this attitude by someone who, of course, is not adopted. And I must admit, upon hearing this, I was taken aback. I spend so much time online in the adoption reform community, and with supportive friends in my real life, that I had forgotten this is not some naïve attitude from back in the day. It was said to me recently by someone who is a highly educated professional. I thought (hoped) these attitudes had gone the way of the poodle skirt.* The subject came up when I learned that an elderly acquaintance of mine was looking to find her natural father and discovered that many of her closest family members were not supportive of her search. That’s when some of the know-it-all non-adoptees had to chime in with comments like, “She knows who her father is. Her father is the man who raised her”, etc.,…ad nauseam. I pointed out that she couldn’t get her medical history from the father who raised her, and that her natural father is the only genetic maternal grandfather her own children will ever have. It is hard to speak one’s mind about adoption, whether it is about wanting to search, or the desire to know more than just one’s medical history, when it is the non-adopted who have been accepted as the experts on the subject and who feel free to remind us of the party line.
So, here is my plea to the non-adopted: Please don’t tell us that knowing our biological origins doesn’t matter–no matter how much time has passed or how little information we have to go on. It matters to us…very much. Just accept that you may never fully understand how important this is. But accept that we need this information for our sense of wholeness and our peace of mind. And if we hit a roadblock in our search, please don’t say things like , “just forget about it” or “move on.” You don’t understand what this means to us because you take the knowledge of your genetic connections for granted. You, who are always talking about your family and making endless references to your similarities. Your similarities in both physical characteristics, “Everyone on my father’s side of the family has blue eyes”, as well as behavior, “No one in our family is very athletic”, et cetera.
And know this: it’s not only about our medical history. Of course, one’s medical history is vitally important, but our desire to know our biological roots goes much deeper than that. It’s about knowing where we come from. We’ll tell you we only want to search because we need our medical history, because that seems to be, at the present time, the only acceptable reason for an adoptee to search. Most everyone is aware that science continues to discover more and more links between one’s biological heritage and his or her medical history. Even the United States government is encouraging citizens to learn their family medical history with the launch of its public health campaign called the Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative .
So do me a favor. Try to keep in mind that adopted persons have been put in the situation of being raised apart from our blood relatives–and, in most cases, not even knowing who they are–without our knowledge or consent. It is a situation that only a very small percentage of the world’s population has to endure. You may think you know so much about adoption because of what you hear in the media, which, by the way, makes me especially empathetic toward those children adopted by celebrities. I think those adoptees would have a very time expressing their own feelings about adoption when the party line is still so pervasive. But sometimes “actions speak louder than words”, as in the recent situation with Rosie O’Donnell’s adopted daughter Chelsea (nee Kayla) immediately leaving her adoptive home, upon turning 18, to go and live with her first mother. And, in my opinion, some famous adoptees belie their “I’m just fine with being adopted” attitude when it turns out they conducted a search for their original parents while still in their teens.
And while we’re on the subject, let me also make a plea to legislators: Taking away our right to know our biological origins, by denying adoptees the right to our original birth certificate, is a huge thing to steal from a person. And it is a theft. It’s a theft of our feeling like a complete human being on this planet. One’s genetic origins are a huge part of human existence. They are certainly not the be-all and end-all of human existence, but it is a denial of our rights as human beings on this planet to withhold this information. I do believe we adoptees share in our adoptive parents’ history and ancestry, but, like everyone else, we also have true genetic links to the past. We are all tied genetically to people who came before us in history, through our maternal and paternal lineage, and everyone should have an equal right to know these connections, insofar as they can be known.
For what gave you the right to play God with our lives? To determine who will or will not have the right to know this most basic aspect of their human existence? Especially when those of us so denied never had any say in the matter? You may say you have the legal right to deny us our information, but you can never defend that you have the moral right.
So let’s finally put the party line to rest and listen instead to those of us who have lived this experience. Of course, some adoptees have no interest in knowing their natural parents and biological ancestry. And that is their prerogative. They are to be respected for their feelings and desires, too. But I agree that one is not somehow a ‘better’ adoptee if he or she is ‘just fine’ with being adopted. There is a lingering sadness that can come from being placed in a closed adoption, and that sadness can lead to unresolved grief. That’s not something anyone should wish on those nearest and dearest to them who happened to have been adopted, or on anyone who was raised without knowledge of their true biological parentage.
*I can’t say I actually knew what a poodle skirt was being too young for that fashion era 🙂