The Adoptees’ Untold Story, Part 1
Every November, adoptive families gather to celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month. Adoptive parents share the story of how they become a “forever family.” Organizations such as David Thomas Foundation provide resources and education.
But what about the adoptee’s side of the story? They are the most affected by adoption but have the least control. Their story is often drowned out or minimized. Not all adoptees feel like celebrating in November. After all, all adoption begins with loss; the birth family loses their child and the adoptee loses their roots.
Angela Barra* is an adoptee advocate. She, like other adoptees, wants her feelings acknowledged, her voice heard and understood. Below is an interview with her about some topics important to adoptees.
My adoptive mother was ill most of my life and died when I was 22. Although we had a complex relationship and she made mistakes, she loved me. She wanted me to succeed and supported me in my passions. Mum was tough on me, but she was battling a serious illness and I wasn’t an easy child. (I had a speech impediment and we think ADHD) which impacted my studies. I overcame these adversities and I think Mum’s tenacity was part of my inspiration to succeed. The fact that I am adopted and never felt good enough also plays a part, too. My brother (their biological child) and I have always been close. We lost our father five years after Mum, but my broader adoptive family is also amazing. I truly love them, and I am attached to them. They never made me feel I was anything less than an authentic family member. My adoption wasn’t an issue for them, but it was for me. Hidden underneath my bubbly exterior lurked anxiety and confusion.
Before you read this interview, I want adoptive parents to know this: I love my adoptive family dearly and have their support to speak about the issues I’ve experienced. My activism is not a critique of adoptive parents but rather adoption itself.
When did you first realize/understand you were adopted and what that meant?
I found out accidently when I was age five and in my first year at school. I was eavesdropping on a conversation my mother was having with a friend. I went to school and asked the teacher what adoption meant. I was confused and in shock. I don’t remember what happened when I got home that day. I do remember my adoptive mother always spoke lovingly about my natural mother, She promised to help me find her when I got older. I’m forever thankful my adoptive mother was so supportive and open.
How was your childhood affected by your adoption?
I was told that I was special as a child and I hated that. I didn’t want to be special. I wanted to be normal. I feared being rejected and felt confused by adoption. My adoptive mother used to tell me that my real mother must have loved me very much to give me up. On reflection, that statement designed to comfort me suggests the concomitant of love is abandonment. Further, I held idealized notions of my natural mother, which she could never live up to in real life – no one could. My adoptive mother said I wasn’t cuddly as a child and there was a struggle between us. I frequently ran away; not far but that fight or flight response was primed from my earliest memories. We really didn’t have any support. It’s clear I was an adoptee struggling but it wasn’t identified. There was no-one who specialized in attachment or understood adoptee trauma. I felt like an anomaly and a bad child! It wasn’t until I met other adoptees and read books (e.g., The Primal Wound) that I realized I wasn’t alone and other adoptees experienced the same emotional and behavioral issues. I now understand my response was normal!
Why are many adoptees angry towards adoptive parents and how to prevent or address that?
I cannot speak for all people who are adopted and like any community we’re diverse. Most of the adopted people I talk to are not angry at their adoptive families but rather the industry itself. Case in point, I engage with lots of locally and internationally and one of the recurring themes is that our voices are often omitted from mainstream adoption discussions. That is, opinions and discussions on adoption are frequently sought from adoptive or prospective adoptive parents and celebrities. We’re treated as ‘forever children’ or ‘infantilized’ but we grow up and we have a voice.
What do you want adoptive parents to know?
As a child, my adoptive family and I had no support in terms of navigating adoption. I experienced ongoing issues, which I can link to being adopted. Your adopted child (or children) may experience a myriad of emotions surrounding their adoption and this will evolve. Don’t shy away from reading and engaging with diverse adoptee platforms. Try not to be defensive if you read or hear adoptee accounts that challenge your notion of what being adopted means. Being open with your adopted child and creating a loving and safe space for them to navigate this complex path is paramount.
In what way can professionals in the adoption field provide better post-adoption support? Do you have suggestions for adoptive parents who need post-adoption support for their complex emotions and struggles regarding adoption?
This question is difficult to answer because I’m based in Australia. I’ve found it difficult to find therapists who understand adoption and the adoptee experience which is disheartening. What I recommend is that professionals and adoptive parents listen to adoptees who are sharing a different narrative, so they can appreciate different perspectives. I don’t want to impose a regime on anyone and can’t say whether or not their adopted child will respond the way I did. However, there are useful resources (e.g. adoptee blogs, books and other online resources) and forewarned is forearmed.
Do you think there are situations where it’s better for a birth parent to choose private adoption rather than keep the child?
If by private you mean it’s not regulated and for-profit, absolutely not! If a mother chooses to place her child for adoption, who am I to deny her that? However, we must dig beneath the surface and question the reasons. Researchers Fronek and Cuthbert (2011) discuss the structural inequalities that typically underscore adoption. A question was asked, “How many wealthy mothers give up their child for adoption?” To that end, I can’t fathom what it’s like to essentially be forced to give her child away because of poverty. How can society accept this? Rickie Solinger’s book, Beggars and Choosers – How The Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States speaks to the issue of choice, or lack thereof.
How do you feel about overseas adoption?
I was domestically adopted, however, I believe we should be working with communities to help families stay together, which links to the discussion on poverty. There are agencies to support low-income communities and families, and I would prefer these models be highlighted. There is increasing scrutiny on the issues of orphanages, and J.K. Rowling has been vocal on this matter. Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers – Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption speaks to this as does Roelie Post’s Romania For Export Only: The Untold Story Of The Romanian Orphans. Further, the Dan Rather story on International Adoption was disturbing.
Part two of Angela’s interview will appear in Conscious Talk’s November 30 issue.
* Angela’s answers and viewpoints do not reflect those of all adoptees.
Read Angela’s Huffington Blog for further adoptee thoughts.
#adoption #adopteevoice #flipthescript
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