As a Registered Psychologist with the A Child’s Song team and an adoptee myself, I was asked to provide some personal reflections regarding National Adoptive Awareness Month. So, here goes.
My first reflection is the title “Adoption Awareness Month”, as if I, and so many other adoptees are not aware of how adoption has impacted our lives. Throughout this blog, I have chosen to refer to this month as “Adoption Appreciation Month” and I want to reflect on some of the ways in which appreciation plays a role in adoption for me.
Early Experiences with Adoption
As a little girl, I was blissfully ignorant of my adoption, while at the same time, being aware that I was different than my parents, my siblings, and extended family members. I was about 5 years old when I was told that I was adopted. For me, that information was a significant source of shame for many years. My adoption was shrouded in secrets and my adoptive parents were given a lot of false information about my biological parents’ history. I kept these secrets close to me and did not talk about my adoption for many years. In fact, it was not until I was pregnant with my second child that I found out that I had been given a different name at birth. That information was astounding to me and took time to process.
As I reflect on my own experience and have listened to the experience of many of my clients, I have come to understand that adoption is a life-long journey. The challenge is how to embrace this journey, coming to come to terms and embracing adoption is its own process. One of my dear friends, also an adoptee, helped me to feel safe enough to speak up about my adoption experience. I had to wrestle through a lot of shame to do that.
Through my early discussions with her and now having the privilege of working with adult adoptees, I have a new appreciation for the way I experience the world, which is similar to the stories of other adoptees. I think there is the appreciation that I don’t really fit in anywhere completely. I can notice that I am almost always a little off-kilter, often on the outside looking in, belonging but not really belonging.
I also have an appreciation for dysfunction-with the emphasis of keeping FUN in the dysfunction. My life now includes a myriad of relatives…which is overwhelming and entertaining. One day I realized that I couldn’t make any of this craziness up! I have acquired an appreciation for the turmoil, chaos, and pain that coming to terms with the lived experience of adoption. There is so much hurt at times, periods of loneliness and feeling abandoned, and not really ever being quite sure of anything.
The Joy and the Pain
From my work in the field of trauma, I have come to appreciate that I do carry the trauma of adoption with me. It makes me often feel tentative, shy, and withdrawn but also can give me moments where I can speak up with authority and be perceived as being an “expert”. At the same time, I have appreciated the joy of adoption. I was often told as a little girl that my father chose me and was insistent that I was the one he wanted to bring home. That thought gives me joy.
My experiences as an adoptee have contributed to my cognitive flexibility and willingness to think outside the box. That is another appreciation I have for adoption. Many adoptees, like myself, are often more willing to be flexible in order to fit in and be included. I have had to learn to adapt to situations which are often beyond my control, and I appreciate that about my life experiences.
And finally, I appreciate my own resiliency and the resiliency of adoptees who are willing to speak up, talk about their experiences, share their stories of hope and despair, and contribute to development of new ways to think about adoption and permanency. So, for now, I chose to appreciate adoption and to continue to engage in learning more about how adoption continues to impact my life and the lives of so many others.