How might we “celebrate” adoption differently if we knew more about it? Who might we learn from on adoption that we haven’t yet asked?
The Importance of Adoptee Voices
Most people have heard about adoption from the people who’ve gained the most from it: adoptive parents. Few people have learned about adoption from those who’ve lost in the process: biological parents and adoptees.
It’s pretty obvious when someone hasn’t learned from anyone impacted by adoption besides adoptive parents. Their announcements on social media are void with any mention of including first families, empowering moms to parent first, or ensuring their potential future adoptee has their culture and story maintained. Language like “our baby” or “fill the hole in our family” or “find a birth mother” consume internet feeds each day. These queries lack education, sensitivity, or seemingly any desire to recognize the traumatic separation about to occur for their family to grow.
If I could sit across from you right this moment, I’d pause to ensure you heard my understanding of the goodness in adoption. The healing and wholeness possible for adoptees through gaining a forever family is surely something to celebrate! But too often, in my experience as an adoptee, I see only celebration and little acknowledgment of loss.
Trauma is Always part of Adoption.
I was placed for adoption at birth into a wonderful adoptive home. My parents provided me with an amazing childhood! And yet, I still experienced the trauma of having been separated from my biological mom. She, too, experienced the loss of connectedness to me and the trauma of placing a child for adoption. So when National Adoption Month rolls around, my heart beats with the longing to remind people: adoption isn’t just for celebrating.
Now, an adoptive parent myself, I’m learning the importance of holding the duality of emotions in tension with my daughter’s story. Of course, there is joy and healing in her adoption, but there is also tremendous loss and grief. If I were to spend this month (or any for that matter) focusing solely on what her presence has brought to our family and how blessed we are, I’d miss out on the opportunity to invite her to process her pain and to acknowledge her first mom’s too.
It’s usually at this point that adoptive parents often want to stop listening. “Pain?…Well, you don’t know how much worse our kiddo could’ve had it.. And besides, we’ve waited for them for so long! We don’t need this negativity surrounding our adoption”.
There are many things wrong with statements like the above, but namely: ignorance to how much more there is to adoption than gain and parental fulfillment. To best love and care for the adoptees in our lives, we have to acknowledge their whole experience. And if we’re their parents, I’d argue it’s our job to ensure we’re offering ample opportunities for them to process and be validated in their losses. Best case scenario, we’re leading the way in acknowledging grief, seeking inclusion with their first family wherever possible, and dismantling the “unicorns and rainbows” sentiment that has surrounded adoption for too long.
A Widened Perspective
The next time someone mentions National Adoption Month, may you respond having been further educated from the experience of someone most affected by it: an adoptee. Your part in creating a more emotionally inclusive adoption world comes down to your willingness to ask the hard questions, pose the difficult truths, and mention another perspective. Maybe it’s as simple as responding to an adoptive parent saying, “I’m so glad ____ is thriving in your family. What has it been like for them to talk about their first family? In what ways do they express their pain of losing them to you?”
It can also look like reaching out to local organizations supporting mothers who have placed children for adoption. Read their many stories on Instagram via the #birthmom or #birthmomvoice. Consider their loss, and remember their experience the next time you or someone you know is frustrated for how “long they have to wait for a baby.” A baby another mother is choosing to lose is not something to feel entitled to but to mourn.
Maybe National Adoption Month isn’t just for celebrating. Maybe it’s for knowing better and doing better, for the sake of every member of the adoption triad.