Written by Mark Jones, Youth Network Leader
This is a story about an adoptee that comes in two parts.
Part one is my own experience of being blind to how crucial my adoption was to nearly every aspect of my life.
Part two asks why this apathy toward adoption seems echoed by society, and the impact this might have on other adoptees in understanding their own experience.
I believe at the heart of the issue is that the difference between the biological birth and adoption is not properly seen or understood. We make adoption invisible by acting as if the experience of adoptive children in the family is indistinguishable from that of biological children. And I think we do that for the same reason I didn’t want to think about my adoption. It’s too difficult and brings up too many painful issues. I believe this is why adoption was commonly hidden from children in the past, and may still happen today. It comes from an unwillingness to confront issues in adoption that adoptees will instead have to face on their own. We see this unwillingness to confront post-adoption issues today in the lack of community supports that exist for adoptees, and the lack of understanding that even adoptees have of their own experience. There is skepticism for why someone should require support after he or she has been adopted into a permanent loving family. Even though an adopted child is loved equally within a family does not mean that their experience getting to be a part of that family was the same. By definition, the adoptee had a different experience than someone born into a family, an experience that lasted at least nine months. Talking about the bonding that occurs in utero or in the first weeks or months between a mother and child goes beyond the scope of this blog, but I want to include this to help start the conversation about the effects of the adoption experience and what should be done about it. It is a fact that the adoptee had a different experience than that of the biological child by at least nine months. The mother that brought them into the world was not the one that raised them. I believe this is a real and significant difference that needs to be talked about.
I believe this is why adoption was commonly hidden from children in the past, and may still happen today.
To admit that the adoptee has a different experience than the biological child is an unsettling idea for both the parents and adoptees. Once a difference is acknowledged, the natural follow-up question is, what kind of difference? And why? Is there something that we should do about it? Parents may not want to admit these differences because they may feel like less than parents. Adoptees may not want to admit to it because they might feel disconnected from their family. Put simply, there’s a fear of the family being disrupted, that the parents will be replaced or the child cast aside. But a different type of family is no less a family. Ignoring the differences is destructive and does not acknowledge the profound experience the adoptee had upon relinquishment. I eventually opened up to my parents about how I felt about my adoption and I felt closer to them for it. They didn’t get angry or upset at how I was feeling, but chose to listen and try and understand. Blood does not make them my parents. What makes them my parents is that they loved me every day for the past twenty-four years.
Even as I sit here, writing about this feels like wading through molasses. It’s difficult to talk about. Most of the time I don’t want to think about it, or feel foolish when I do. There is still a part of me that does not believe my adoption matters, that questions whether I should be writing this paper at all, or encouraging a community of adoptees to form. Despite all of the evidence otherwise, despite all of the conversations I’ve had, all the realizations I’ve made about why I feel the way I do around people, or why I act the way I do. Despite the way knowing about my adoption has helped me make improvements in leaps and bounds in understanding who I am, I still doubt. I’m still angry, and I still shy away when I feel like my adoption experience doesn’t matter because I was adopted as an infant and I should have nothing to complain about. And that scares me, it scares me because I think of how post-adoption issues really are invisible, how there feels like there’s a force constantly pulling me back into denial. The truth is I’m still trying to figure out what that is.
Despite it being few and far between, I found the connections I was able to make with other adoptees to be invaluable. The first time I talked openly about my adoption with someone other than my therapist was with a group in Toronto. I remember the way they looked at me, it was one of understanding, and it was a look I didn’t realize I craved. I was afraid that I was the only one feeling the way I was and would be forced to handle it on my own. But what I felt instead was a glimpse at something invaluable for adoptees; community. I believe we need to build an adoptee community where people can connect with others who have a level of unspoken understanding of their experience. I think this community starts with adoptive parents coming together, which then allows the children of those parents to connect, and those children can grow up into youth and young adults who continue to grow that community. And so I encourage you, that if you’re adopted or are an adoptive parent, that you find a community and help it grow. Maybe the Adoption Council of Ontario can help you, or maybe you start something yourself. Keep the conversation open, keep the community building.
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