Sometimes I wake up with a really strong urge to write. Well, first I eat and get caffeine started and then I write. I woke up today thinking about adoption. Adoption in general and my own adoption story. This probably stemmed from talking on the phone with both of my moms yesterday. I write moms, but in reality I can only call one mom. I’ve always had a hard time giving up that word. I wasn’t good at assigning “mom” it to another female. My mom-in-law will tell you that I call her by her first name, even though, she was and still is like a mom to me. I call my first mom by her first name too, even though she is my biological mom. It is my adoptive mom that gets “mom” most of the time. The rest of the time, when I’m not entirely happy with her, I’ll call her by her first name. Although, never loud enough or near enough for her to hear. It’s not that I assign more value to the word “mom” either. All of my “moms” have influenced my life for the better, loved me, and cared about my well-being. I love them all for who they are. No hierarchy of labels required. They are my family.
I think, therein lies the struggle of an adoptee. We wonder about who the real and only “mom” really is and is there room for more than one “mom”. If we wonder who the one and only “mom” really is, then we wonder about to whom the “daughter” can only belong to and if we wonder about who the “daughter” belongs to, then we wonder if we belong to anyone at all. On twitter, I asked the question to many in the adoption community if all adoptees were abandoned? Responses were as follows: “I would say no, since some were taken by courts.” “I can only speak for myself. YES. I was abandoned.” “I don’t feel abandoned.” Responses varied and were individualized as expected, but what became clear is that the language of adoption becomes muddied depending on who, in the constellation you are talking to or with. The adoptee may or may not have been abandoned, but may have always been told that story line in one form or another.
As adoptees, we are often left with parts of our story omitted, changed, falsified, or softened by the courts, our adoptive parents, our communities, and even our country. While that may be seen as a standardized way to help a child understand the complexities of adoption, it becomes a burden when the child becomes an adolescent or an adult and wants to know and understand the complexities around their adoption story. How can an adoptee trust and love the “mom” that was told abandoned them, but now is hearing she really didn’t feel she had any other option and would have never abandoned them given different choices? How can the adoptee trust the “mom” who told them that they were abandoned, but is now telling them that the system silenced and shamed the other “mom” so that she didn’t feel she had another option? How can an adoptee trust a system that was supposed to and often promised to give the adoptee a better life, but rooted the whole process in lies and a national cover up by falsifying legal court documents and forbidding that now grown child access to those documents?
Some days, I feel we have come so far in adoption, but then when I hear the language and process of adoption still marginalizing the voice of the adoptee, I know we still have a lot of work yet to do. I recently passed on a book from Betty Jean Lifton to a mom wanting to learn more about adoption. The book is called, Journey of the Adopted Self. Ms. Lifton was an adoptee herself and her thoughts about being adoptee and putting those thoughts in print were spot on and continue to be relevant today. It took me 21 years to read the book, because I wouldn’t let myself process all that was in there. It is hard to read about the trauma of adoption, but we need to keep reading, understanding, and learning about the trauma of adoption. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from the book, “They (meaning adoptees) must accept that they cannot fully be the birth parents’ child any more than they could fully be the adoptive parents’ child. They must claim their own child, become their own person, and belong to themselves. It’s a formidable undertaking and too late to turn back.”
I believe it is our job to help adoptees do just that.