Adoption is a loaded word full of heart, loss, and catharsis.
Adoption is also a word that can mean different things to different adoptees. As an
adoptee myself, it is important to show you my viewpoint and help you sift through
some of the myths and truths inside the minds of adoptees. People ask me all sorts
of questions when they find out I was adopted – and some of those questions or
statements are not as light or easy as they may seem. I want everyone to understand what being adopted is like, which is a big part of why I wrote my book Through Adopted Eyes, that includes my story and stories of 50 other adoptees. My perspective is that of a Russian Adult Adoptee adopted with a closed adoption, adopted at the age of 18 months. Most of these myths come in the form of statements or questions that people have communicated to me.
Myth: Real parents are the birth parents. “So, what about your real family?”
Truth: I have a birth family and an adoptive family – they are/were all real. Terminology is so important.
I do not think any of my parents (birth or adoptive) were robots or aliens – and they were all alive at some point. Right? So, to me, the word ‘real’ is very confusing. I often say, “oh are you asking about my birth family or my parents now?” Sure, I understand that when people say this, they most commonly mean my birth family. I do not want to, in any way, diminish the real role my birth parents played in my life. I am forever grateful for my birth parents and I do
care for them. I also do not want my adoptive parents to have to be called my adoptive parents all the time either – they are just my papa and my mama. It would be so weird for my parents to introduce me as an adoptive daughter.
Foster parents- check in regularly with your foster child to see what they would like to
be called. Talk to your biological family pre-placement about what terms you all are comfortable being called to respect expectations. This talk may open the door for more
important conversations too!
Adoptive parents – it is better to just talk about your child and if adoption comes up,
talk about it only in a positive way (especially in your child’s presence). If someone wants to discuss all things adoption, tell them you would be happy to discuss it at another time away from the child. This is not a sign of embarrassment about adoption or your child’s story, this is respecting your child enough to let them share what they are conformable with when they are old enough they can talk about their story as much as they want. I only heard my parents speak positively about adoption and they often reminded my sister and me how loved we are and that we make a great team.
Myth: “Do you want to find your birth family?” – a question that requires a simple yes or no answer.
Truth: I was just asked a difficult and very personal question.
This is a loaded question and it always surprises me that this is the often one of the first
questions I get. I often feel the pressure to just say a simple yes or no but it is not that simple. The person who asks the question does not know my origin story or that I do not know a whole lot about the circumstances surrounding my adoption anyway. It is such a hard question to answer because while I love and care for my birth family, I cannot predict the future. I cannot tell you what will happen if somehow, I meet these people who are unknown to me. Would it be good to meet? Bad? There are so many things that would have to happen in order to find them, and just thinking about that is emotional. This question then may cause me to think about what they look like, what they do, and if they are okay. An adoptee might want to find their birth family, but others are unsure or not ready. This question brings up a lot of loss and grief without the person who asks the question knowing what they just said.
My advice: Don’t ask this question, especially to adoptees you do not really know! If adoptees want, they can share. A better question to ask to international adoptees would be “what is your favorite thing about your heritage?” Another option: “what trait are you most excited to pass down to your biological children?”
Myth: Happy adoptees, and those adopted as infants, have no hurt feelings of loss or
Truth: ALL adoption involve loss and then requires grieving – grieving looks differently for every adoptee.
Adoption is wonderful and adoption has the potential to positively change many lives. It
is wrong to assume that adoptees who were adopted as infants do not grief about the loss of their birth family and birth identity. Adoption is confusing. A part of me is forever thankful adoption is a big part of my reality and my life. Another part of me is stuck in the unknown and confusion that is adoption – wondering about all the ‘what if’s’ in life. People grief in different ways. Everyone needs to find healthy ways to deal with questions that are almost impossible to know. For me, my faith and writing down my thoughts are critical parts in helping me know my identity and worth are not determined by relinquishment or adoption papers.
My advice: Don’t try and guess when or if your adoptive child is grieving. Just leave a line of communication open about all things adoption – they WILL grieve. So, when your child DOES grieve, be there to provide safe arms to run to. Safe sometimes speaks louder than love.
Myth: Only an unadjusted adoptee would want to seek out their birth family or heritage –
besides the adoptees were saved anyway.
Truth: A search for any kind of answers is not about anyone but the adoptee – it is not
about you. Adoptive parents are there to parent and serve, not save.
While some adoptees want to find their birth families, others may want to just find out
about their heritage, medical history, identifying information, and find something about their origin. Others may not want to find anything. Put yourself in the adoptee’s shoes. As an adoptee, especially from a closed international adoption, there is little that I know. So, when I took a DNA test confirming what percentage Russian I was - I was pretty excited. Think about not knowing any medical history. The willingness or ability to find anything can also vary from adoptee to adoptee depending on how much information the adoptee knows, how old the adoptee was at time of finalization, and from country to country. I support any adoptee who wants to find their birth family or more information.
Keep in mind that just because an adoptee wants to find out something about their
birth identity does not mean they disrespect their adoptive family. In my mind there is my birth family and my family- and my search to learn more about my Russian culture that was lost from me does not have anything to do with my current family. I am thankful my parents always supported my sister and me in learning more about our birth heritage and culture and always spoke about adoption openly and positively. A safe and loving home does not remove questions or wonder or grief about why the adoption had to take place. It is okay to ask, wonder, and grieve.
My advice: Let’s support adoptees, no matter how much or how little they are willing to
explore. Every step an adoptee takes to connect with their beginnings is emotional, personal, involves grief, and should only be met with support. My adoptive parents were open and willing to talk to my sister and me about all things Russia and adoption. I never saw them as my saviors, but as loving parents.
I love talking about adoption. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about some of the truths adoption holds.
This post was written by Elena Hall – Author of Through Adopted Eyes: A Collection of Memoirs From Adoptees
If you want to learn more, you can purchase her book on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692161090/ref=tsm_1_fb_lk?fbclid=IwAR2UXISMekMR4Amh7h7aqdVsAyJt65X8iRtokZgKgnmNi68Pu_YnF5jDhVE
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