Emotions Adoptees Are “NOT Allowed” To Feel
Adoptees are often told they shouldn't feel incomplete. But they're also told they shouldn't feel fulfilled either.
It was surprising to me, when I first started writing out my story and combing the web for adoptee perspectives, how many adoptees felt guilt about wanting to seek their birth parents. I certainly did to a degree, but I didn’t realize what a common feeling that really was.
I was also disgustedly surprised, when I attended an adoption conference, at how many parents took their child’s desire to seek their birth parents personally, like they hadn’t been enough for their kids. These parents were genuinely offended. I urge adoptive parents everywhere to lay this feeling aside. This piece of the story is not about you. It is human nature to seek closure on a biological connection—it felt instinctual to me, anyway.
Adoptees should not feel pressure or guilt for wanting to complete a circle that was woven for them without their choice. They deserve to write their own ending—and as a parent it’s important for you to be there when they need help arriving at the conclusion.
One question that appears time and time again to adoptees: “Why didn’t your parents want you?” Granted, a lot of times this question is asked by an adolescent who genuinely doesn’t know how to address adoption or how to begin wrapping their mind around it. It is unacceptable, though, for an adult to expect a child to walk away from foster care or from their first family unscathed. There is brokenness there, and at some point that loss needs to be mourned. It may be immediate, it may be a decade or two later, and it may take a lifetime. There must be room to grieve.
This is a big one. Adoptees are an isolated population. When it started wearing on me that I needed closure in finding my birth parents, I couldn’t find anyone to talk to that had an inkling of understanding for what I was feeling. My brother was away at college and my parents could only empathize with me so much. I was afraid to talk too much about it because I didn’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings (remember the first section: Incomplete). But I felt so alone when I was mourning my own loss, 16 years after placement. It wasn’t until I dug into the internet and started putting myself out there by sharing my own story that I found any kind of relief from the abyss of uncharted territory. It still feels lonely sometimes, even though I have a huge family (adoptive, biological, by marriage) that loves me . . . because processing never seems to stop.
While the first three adjectives were negative, it is important to recognize the overwhelming positive. Even though there is some brokenness that requires mourning and healing, adoptees have every right to feel lucky, too. Or unlucky, if that’s your attitude. I consider myself lucky because I know the situation I left and I am forever thankful for what I was given and given back 19 years later through reunion. I feel lucky, and I’m not afraid to say so.
I get frustrated at ignorance regarding foster care and adoption. I mentioned in my article about Simone Biles that NBC and other news outlets proved they are nowhere near educated enough to report on such a sensitive subject. Which is sad, considering how long adoption has been around. It is okay for adoptees to get frustrated about interactions with people who say offensive things about adoption. It is okay for adoptees to feel offended when someone says our parents aren’t our real parents, or when someone makes us feel less than wanted. It’s okay that being called second-rate gets my blood boiling. It’s okay, because people have said these things to us for our entire lives (both maliciously and with good intentions) and after a lifetime of patient explanations and being the bigger person, it gets tiring.
For most of our lives, our adoption stories were written by our birth families and adoptive families. It isn’t until we get to the topic of reunion, or putting that option behind us, that adoptees have any real say in where their story will go. Adoptees have every right to feel silenced because of the life-altering decisions that were made for us. The old English Proverb: “Know where you came from to know where you’re going. Know who you came from to understand who you are,” is one of the biggest silencers of all. We’re different because of the anonymity of where we come from, but it does not have to define where we are going. The old English Proverb is different for us, because it is a lie. Where and who we came from is not our destiny. Our destiny lies in our own choices.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from “incomplete,” adoptees are also totally allowed to feel fulfilled in their lives as they know it! I wouldn’t change a thing about my family, even if I never reunited with my biological family. My family loves me unconditionally and never made me feel like I was anything less than their daughter and sister. A lot of adoptees are totally satisfied with their adoption story without reuniting with their first family, and don’t have questions they feel have to be answered. Sometimes not knowing is better than knowing at all. And that’s normal, too.
If you want to find birth parents or family, begin by visiting the new search and reunion information website.