An adoptee I follow on Instagram recently wrote, “Learning about adoption from adoptive parents is like learning about race from white people.” While I recognize the value found from every side of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents), I see what she intended to communicate with that sentence. Those most impacted directly by adoption are where our learnings should primarily come from.
I was placed for adoption in 1993. I have a duality of joy and grief in my adoption story, as I’m learning all adoptees carry. Alongside the significant gains I experienced in life with my adoptive parents, I also spent 19 years really struggling with my identity as I processed the loss of my biological family. I longed to have both kinds of families present and active in my life, but this was not my story until 2012.
Elevating the marginalized triad voice
It’s easy to find the topic of adoption spoken of on the internet. The problem is, the first thing you’ll encounter is the perspective of adoptive parents. That perspective is the heaviest and loudest in our world, and it’s not because the other triad sides aren’t online. Adoptees and birth parents are writing books and blogs, leading classes and conferences, and offering their insight to any who will listen. These voices have been all too often silenced or dismissed because the adoptive parent narrative is ‘nicer.’
Who wants to confront their heart to adopt by examining motives and insecurities? Who really desires to dialogue about the primal-wound-trauma their adoptee will experience when separated at birth when the whole reason they want to adopt a baby is to ‘avoid the traumas of older adopted children’? It’s not necessarily enjoyable to be faced with the reality that as an adoptive parent, you may have already kept your child from their own story due to your own fears more than what your child has needed for wholeness and healing. But isn’t your adoptee worthy of you learning how to avoid creating that kind of you-centered environment? While acknowledging that your feelings as an adoptive parent are valid, but are a gauge, not a guide?
These are the kinds of things only adoptees can most fully speak to – because we are the ones marked by these unintended consequences. We’re the ones who can best say, “this is what’s hard about being adopted” and “this is what enabled my losses to be coped with healthiest.” An adoptive parent can tell you that from their vantage point, but unless you ask an adoptee, you’re leaving out the triad voice you hope to include in your family. Can you honor them well if you’ve never learned from one of them?
Keeping your adoptee’s perspective the priority
Most people want to be congratulated or praised when sharing that they plan to adopt. It’s totally trendy and seldom met with caution. Few people expect to be met with hard questions when considering adoption, but that is in large part how an adoptee will respond. Because they’re not thinking about the adoptive parents primarily, they are thinking about the adoptee and how they will be impacted by what is sure to be both joyous and grievous. Their responses won’t be “for you,” hopeful adoptive parent- They will be in advocacy of your adoptee.
How can we truly adopt well without considering the experiences of our child? How can we know about that impact unless we’ve asked someone who has lived it? We can’t.
I hope you’ll consider challenging those in your life who have adopted or are considering doing so to talk to an adoptee. Invest in a conversation with someone who has experienced the only choiceless position in the adoption triad. Ask them what was helpful and what was hard about their upbringing. Remain open to the learning of how significant their birth family is to them, that you might ensure your adoptee remains connected to theirs. Set aside your preferences and preconceived ideas about adoption, and invite them to reset your posture as you learn about the ways you can avoid being a part of coercion, functional-saviorism, and spiritual bypassing in adoption. For the sake of your adoptee, might you get to know another one?