TRIGGER WARNING ⚠️ This is a raw and honest reflection of my own experiences. For adoptees, this may be triggering. This may not reflect your experience. That’s ok ❤️ Your experience is valid and worthy of acknowledgement too. For adoptive parents, this article will more than likely be a difficult read, but I encourage you to do so anyways.
Adoption is not an Instagramable Fairytale
I see all the adoptive parents pouring their hearts out about how blessed they feel.
I can’t help but think of all the adopted people who will not be celebrated this week.
Many of us will not see posts about how blessed our adoptive families feel to have us.
Many were never adopted and therefore don’t have an adoption to celebrate.
For us, this is just one more moment of unconditional love that we are not privy to.
Please, celebrate your adopted children. Just don’t forget all the adopted souls who were not celebrated and continue to feel unwanted.
The adopted child’s burden
Even when a baby is adopted at birth, it is an emotional experience for everyone involved, down to the nurses and social workers. EVERYONE wants this to be the best choice for the child. EVERYONE wants to see the child thrive. Most babies are not sent home with such a big role. All the adults want confirmation that they all “did the right thing.” The pressure is massive on an adopted child. We are expected to be gracious, appreciative and excited about being in a new family (because the message is our old family was so horrible, we should be grateful to have been separated from them). Whether the baby came from extreme neglect and poverty or was a “standard teen adoption,” the experience for the baby is the same. It’s trauma. A child, no matter how young, being separated from their family, will experience trauma. Trauma can be mitigated and treated so the impact is minimized.
We sometimes think when a child goes from one parent who is struggling, to a new parent we consider to be fit, that they will cognitively understand this change and appreciate the new family. This may be true of an older child but to get to the point where you would actually prefer to live with strangers, than at home, you would likely have experienced years of trauma, prior to deciding you wanted to get out. The point is every adopted child is a traumatized child and needs to be treated as such.
Their birth family is still their family. Some feel more connected than others to their roots but often the one’s who “want nothing to do with them” feel this way because they do not want to face the intense emotions of their trauma. Flight is a very common choice for trauma survivors. You don’t push them. You respect and honour where they are in their journey but let them know they are safe to discuss their thoughts and feelings about this, if they choose to. Also let them know it’s ok to have mixed feelings about the whole thing. It’s ok to feel angry and abandoned while still a little curious. It is such a complex process that of course there are going to be a pile of intense and unexpected emotions.
Remembering to centre the voices of adoptees
Unpopular opinion: Adoption week is so often not about adoptees; it’s about glorifying and martyrizing adoptive parents. Which, in turn, perpetuates the narrative that adopted children are more of a burden than biological children. Imagine if your parents were put up on a pedestal just for agreeing to be your parents? Imagine if that perceived moral pedestal caused them to feel a sense of entitlement to a “good life”? What if the burden of creating and maintaining that idyllic life is on your shoulders? It’s toxic within the context of a biological family, yet “understandable” within an adoptive home.
“I had a baby, now I deserve a good life and this baby will give it to me.”
If this is something you relate to, you may want to explore that more deeply with a therapist.
Not all adopted children were “treasured” many were child slaves
For as long as there were children, there were orphans. There is a long-standing history of orphans NOT being treasured and valued.
In the past, most orphans were actually “adopted” with the intention of getting free child labour. The adopted child was to be unconditionally grateful for the opportunity to be a child slave, whilst often living in neglectful conditions, subjected to harsh abuse.
In the Catholic religion, a child born to an unwed mother is a “Bastard.” I was born a bastard and was often called one throughout my life. When I told my parents about being called a bastard, they blamed me for telling people I was adopted. I was not aware that I was supposed to hide our families shameful secret…
The Bastard child is considered subhuman. The church perpetuates this narrative of us being untouchables. Vessels of shame. Even at 37 with 2 of my own “legitimate” children, I cannot be baptized in a Catholic Church. They told my bio mom I was going to a Catholic home but I was not… because I couldn’t. I am not allowed to be Catholic because my mom was unwed when I was born. I have no desire to be Catholic. What I take issue with is the churches focus on shame, in relation to unwed mothers, was one cause of my early trauma. The “othering” from conception.
Then there is the tragic experiment done on a whole orphanage of babies. They only fed them and changed them on a schedule and didn’t offer any other affection or stimulation. All the babies died. They died of loneliness. Babies who had been abandoned died of loneliness. The knowledge that did come from that horrific experiment is we now understand the vital importance of physical connection, yet the orphans were sacrificed simply to prove that love is a need.
Adoption cannot be discussed without discussing racism
Just look to the foster care system for an example of how systemic racism impacts orphaned and taken children. Many children who are put up for adoption would not need to be with the proper social supports in place. Many children put into foster care are there due to racism and a culture of white-superiority. Too many parents feel incapable of being parents because of the lack of support their parents received. Until our society provides struggling parents with adequate supports, we are choosing to traumatize children, instead of support families.
From my understanding, historically and even today, most parents chosen to be adoptive parents or foster parents, are white. Further perpetuating the colonial ideal that life in a “white” home is far superior. It also perpetuates this classism/racism where a child should feel grateful for having the opportunity to be raised in a white middle-class home.
The racial divide between adoptees is even greater because the colour of your skin can literally impact the level of care and nurturing you receive. If that’s not the harshest consequence of systemic racism, I don’t know what is. From what I understand, this is not exclusive to orphaned and taken children. The colour of one’s skin, the shape of one’s eyes, the sound of one’s voice can all impact the level of care and nurturing someone may receive, in a variety of settings.
I can’t write this without acknowledging my own racial privileges, in relation to adoption. I came from a white mother, with a line of parents waiting to adopt me. I was wanted. I was adopted at 2 weeks old, significantly reducing the impacts of attachment trauma. Although my only known heritage was “European Decent” (my bio mom had blonde hair, green eyes and freckles. My adoptive mom looks more like me because we both have brown hair), I had a unique experience where I have olive skin and dark features and grew up in a very “white” area. I always had the question “what are you?” Like multiple times a day, my whole life. Then I get to tell them I’m adopted and I don’t know “what I am.” Then starts the guessing game.
Turns out…. I’m white 🤷♀️ to be honest, I was disappointed. Through my greater understanding of systemic racism, I realize how much even my slightly ambiguous whiteness has benefitted me, as an adoptee. Simply being homeless as a teen, I think it was easier for me to find people to take me in. I don’t know if the black babies were also in “high demand” at the orphanage I came from, but my parents knew several adoptive families and all the children were white and so were the families, despite being close to a large, predominantly black community. I believe my mother said they asked for a white child because they thought it would be less of a challenge. I’m sure she would be extremely upset if she knew I shared that because she prides herself on being colour-blind.
There is also an overwhelming gender-bias in the adoption and foster system where there is a preference for females. Especially as children age, their gender becomes more and more influential on their chances of being adopted or fostered. In so many other areas, males have the inherited benefits but in adoption, it is females. Why? Probably because we’re seen as less of a risk. Less chance of “challenging” “unmanageable” behaviour. Females are not less susceptible to trauma so it is simply a choice being made based on a bias we have, as a society, against boys. A fear that masculine energy cannot be controlled. If you feel ready to adopt but not ready to adopt certain children, YOU ARE NOT READY TO ADOPT. Until you see yourself as able to provide a loving home to ANY child, you are not ready to adopt. This journey is still about you fulfilling your own needs and goals, not being a parent to a child who desperately needs one.
As adoptive parents, you do choose to hold a much deeper burden than most parents but that burden is your own healing. There is less grace for an adoptive parent who struggles to appreciate their role as a parent. You do have the burden of being grateful for whatever kind of child you get. Because EVERY child deserves to have someone who is grateful for them and you chose to be that person for this child.
“Yeah but what about all the children rescued from abusive drug-addicts?”
These families need support and often that involves removing the child from the abusive parents care. But…. We can’t stop there…. We need to ask ourselves “how did the parent get there?” Drug addiction is a manifestation of trauma. Most abusive parents were abused themselves. So how many systems failed this parent before they ended up here?
Adoption is not even a little bit about adorable Instagram photos. Adoption has been a socially accepted word for child slavery in the past. Many adoptees are sexually assaulted by family members. Abused. “Othered.” The Black Sheep. The Scapegoat. Our adoptive parents trauma is placed on our shoulders to fix. Along with the inter-generational trauma we bring with us. Our in-utero trauma. And simply the knowledge that we were unwanted at a time when we needed our people the most. Along with often being unable to fulfill our adoptive parents martyr complex, we continue to feel inferior, throughout our lives.
We aren’t inspiration porn. Our stories are not all fairytales in palaces once we find a “forever-home.” We continue to be the rock that causes all the ripples.
I am the rock
Even before I was born, I was the rock.
I was the rock the day my Dad laughed and said, “not mine!”
I was the rock when my Mom told her adoring parents about the sin growing in her belly.
I was the rock; the grieving pain of knowing your child’s innocence is lost.
I was the rock that brought fear about how one little mistake could impact so many lives, forever.
I was the rock, in my Mom’s belly when she had to leave her birthplace, the comfort of home, siblings and friends…
I was the rock of shame, the sin carried like a hidden cross on her back.
I was the rock that simply had to be sent away, to hide the sinful shame of her mistake.
I was the rock, when my mother birthed a beautiful baby girl….
Biggest dimples and brown eyes, yet still…. the rock.
That baby smiled so brightly, desperate to be the rainbow and not the rock.
But that rock got handed over to the nuns who told the young mother….
“you’re doing the right thing for your child. This is the most loving thing you can do….
because you do not deserve this baby and this baby does not deserve you.”
I was the rock, as I laid in that nursery, trying desperately to be seen as the rainbow, by all the strangers going by.
Then I was the rock, when that sweet baby got sent to a home with strangers, hoping desperately for their rainbow.
But I was the rock, not the rainbow….
I cried and screamed for my inherited connections that were forcefully broken….
And then celebrated.
I was the rock who made my new mother feel inadequate and desperate just to stop the crying.
How I have always longed to feel like the rainbow, but….
When we say trauma is like a rock being thrown into still waters…..
And the ripples are the effects the trauma has on your life.
For me, I am the rock.
Advice for Adoptive Parents
⁃ Acknowledge and treat your own trauma; before and during your parenting journey.
⁃ Educate yourself on consent based parenting. This is even more crucial for an adopted child.
⁃ Educate yourself on Attachment Theory and how to support attachment.
⁃ Reach out to and connect with adult adoptees. Be open to difficult feedback and honest conversations.
⁃ Resist “othering” your child in conversations or during challenging times. (“Our adopted child is…..” or “your just not like your brothers!!”)
⁃ Learn as much as you can about your child’s bio family and culture of origin.
⁃ Celebrate your adopted child. Let them know what a treasured gift they are, just as they are.
⁃ Help your child to connect with their bio family and/or culture of origin, at a pace they are comfortable with.
⁃ Have something you love, to always go back to; biking, hiking, painting. Don’t loose your identity in being “the family that adopted.”
⁃ Make it your life’s journey to learn how to hold space for big emotions. You can never know too much about this topic.
J. Milburn (Adult Adoptee)