An Adoptee’s Perspective: 10 Things Your Child Needs to Know

10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life—and that is completely normal and okay. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know that you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. Know that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone—we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager, or even as an adult—the fact of the matter is that you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. And, that can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut that you are safe and that nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know that you are worth fighting for and that there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean that you love the family who adopted you any less. It is okay to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life—all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency—where we fight to hold onto the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues that we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments where we get to decide how we react to difficult situations—where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity—where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion, and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember that we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel okay about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others that you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity, or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are—beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say that your life, your voice, and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know that you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget that this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times—it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world that you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear that you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away—a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know that you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their hearts that they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones—the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know that you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

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I Am Depression, Hear My Cry

I am depression, hear my cry.

I am the voice inside that tells you how worthless you are and how you will never amount to anything.

I am the reflection in the mirror that tells you how fat and ugly you are and that nobody will ever love you.

I am the knife that tears at your heart from the inside, leaving wounds that may never heal and scars that hide the innocence you once knew.

I am the war that constantly rages inside you—never allowing you peace and always forcing you to imagine the worst in every situation—in every person you meet.

I am the part of you that pushes away the people who love and care about you because you are not worthy of love—you are not worthy of someone who cares.

I am the piece of your soul that forces you to stop caring—to stop caring about everyone and everything that once brought you joy.

I am the words that you are dying to say—but nobody wants to hear.

I am the cries that nobody believes—the cries that are ignored and stifled by people who tell you to just be happy and to get over it and to stop being so dramatic.

I am the reason why everyone disappears—because nobody wants to be around someone who is always so sad and angry.

I am the reason why people stop asking how you’re doing—because they know before you even say a word, and because they don’t want to know.

I am the eyes that were once so full of life—the eyes that can no longer hide how hopeless and lifeless and empty you feel inside.

I am the blade that pierces your skin and the poison that ravages your body when you reach that moment of utter darkness and despair—that moment when you would give anything just to feel something again.

I am all that is left after you are gone.

I am the reason why they say you were selfish for leaving them all alone.

I am the reason why they blame you for not trying—for not fighting harder.

I am the secret they say you never shared.

I am the cries for help they say they never heard.

I am the reason why you’re gone.

I am depression.

Nobody heard my cry.

I am a person who struggles with mental illness—a person who is asking for help to find joy in life again.

I am a person who carries the burden of living on her shoulders every day and views life as a messenger of an insurmountable amount of loss, grief, and pain.

I am a person who tries to live and love with a heart that has been broken into a million pieces.

I am a person who feels she has become a burden to the people she has leaned on for support.

I am a person whose eyes people refuse to meet—because she is known as the thief of people’s joy.

I am a person who knows the pain of wanting to die every day that she lives.

I am a person who fights a never-ending battle with herself—a person who struggles just to get through each day.

I am a person who is drowning and struggling to stay above water—a person who needs help.

I am a person who is screaming for someone to listen and pleading for someone to believe that she really is hurting even more than she lets anyone know.

I am a person who is willing to fight, but knows that she can’t do it alone.

I am a person who is pleading with you to not turn away—to not ignore her pain because it’s too hard or because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I am a person who has so much to live for, but needs someone to help her see—someone to remind her of the beauty in living.

I am a person who needs to be reminded that there is hope and that there is promise in the future.

I am a person who is more than her mental illness—a person with so much to offer the world.

I am a person who is asking you to fight with her and to not shy away from the conversation.

I am a person who is asking you to take her hand and walk this journey with her—to see her as whole, and not broken.

I am a person who is strong and brave and capable of amazing things—a person whose life is worth fighting for.

I am a person who suffers from depression, and this is my battle cry.

“The Spoon Theory” and Understanding Trauma

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as someone with a chronic autoimmune disease, I never thought of The Spoon Theory as anything but a metaphor for what it was like to live with an illness. I have been trying to find ways to better understand the traumatic experiences in my life, the trauma that people I work with have experienced, and what it is like to live with someone who has experienced trauma. I reread this the other day—with the experience of trauma in mind—and I really think this is helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with trauma.

The basic premise of The Spoon Theory is that everyone starts each day with a certain number of spoons. For most people, they are able to get through their morning routines without depleting their supply of spoons. However, for people who live with chronic illness, the weight of traumatic experiences, mental illness, etc., the act of simply getting out of bed and completing each step in their morning routine can feel extremely laborious and can cause the rapid depletion of their supply of spoons. If you have used up half of your spoons before even getting the kids off to school or before you have even made the drive to work, it is a struggle to figure out what you can realistically handle throughout the rest of the day. If you have meetings all day, you may not have the energy to make dinner when you get home. If you happen to have enough spoons to make dinner, you may not have any spoons left to clean up from dinner. You may not have enough spoons to make sure the kids get their baths that evening. Every decision you make and every battle you choose each day can make a monumental difference. The same goes for children who have experienced trauma. The rough mornings weigh on them as much as they weigh on us as parents. They may not have put their dishes in the sink, but they got out of bed and they are on their way to school, and some days, that has to be enough. When they have a day when they are really feeling the effects of the trauma they have experienced, they may not have the energy to verbalize what is going on with them and they may end up acting out, or say hurtful things, and really struggle with regulating themselves and controlling their impulses more so than usual. Every parent has days where they just can’t do it, and that’s okay. It makes us human. It’s important to also understand that kids have those days, too. They need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to read The Spoon Theory with your experiences and your child’s experiences in mind. It may offer you really great and life-changing insight into what you, your child, and your family is going through. And, don’t forget that there are numerous communities of people—online and in-person—who have experienced foster care and adoption who understand and may have extra spoons to offer you—especially on the days when life is overwhelming and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

The Walls My Heart Built

The walls my heart built are my protection and my prison.

I learned from a very young age that the people who are supposed to always love you and protect you may end up being the people who leave you and hurt you the most. I learned from a very young age that the people you want to trust—the people you should be able to trust without question—are not always worthy of that trust.

My heart broke for the first time at a very young age. I learned how to mend the broken pieces of my heart together, but it was never to be the same. The innocence that I once knew was gone and my ability to feel secure and love unconditionally as any young child should was overshadowed by my fear of losing more loved ones…my fear of feeling more pain. So, I built a wall around my heart. It was not a strong wall, but it gave my heart a protective barrier—one that could easily be broken down by those I felt secure enough to let in.

My walls have never been fail proof. They allowed some people in who should never have been able to inhabit my heart—even for a moment. They allowed pain and betrayal to seep in—some of which were so harmful that I never thought my heart would ever recover. These walls have also kept me from forming real relationships with people who opened their hearts to me—people with whom I could never allow myself to do the same.

With each heartbreak and betrayal, my walls become stronger and stand taller around my heart. I find myself trusting less and allowing fewer people in. I find myself hiding behind my walls, even with people who love me and people I know I should be able to trust wholeheartedly. As I grow older, I find myself being able to forgive, but never forget. If you have broken my trust, I may let you back in, but never in the same way as before.

The walls I built as protection around my heart have also become my prison. While my heart remains safe, it feels so empty…so alone. I am tired…so tired. I wish I could let people in without question. I wish for the day when I can let my guard down and show people who I truly am without worrying about whether or not I will be liked or accepted. I wish for the day when I no longer feel the need to run away or hide. I wish for the day when I can allow my heart to love fully and live without fear of pain and loss and broken trust and betrayal. I wish for the day when my heart feels whole enough and strong enough to break down the walls I built around it so long ago.

One day, my walls will come down. But, for now, my heart remains protected and imprisoned—waiting for the day when the feelings of security are able to calm the overwhelming fears and the feelings of pain and loss are no more.

But, for now, I wait.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

A Letter from an Adoptee to Her Sons

To My Sweet Little Guys,

I am writing this letter not really knowing what to say or whether it will be something you will ever have the opportunity to read. We have had conversations in the past about my having been adopted, but I have a feeling there will come a day when you will have questions and will want to learn more.

I remember the first time Papa and I discussed adoption with you. I remember the silence that followed our telling you that I was born to someone other than Grandma and Grandpa. You asked me about my “real” parents and why I didn’t grow up with them. I remember explaining to you that Grandma and Grandpa are my real parents (as were my birth parents) and that my birth parents weren’t able to take care of me so Grandma and Grandpa became my parents. I remember you asking if my birth parents loved me, and my answering that I wasn’t sure, but I knew they loved me enough to bring me into this world.

While I seldom speak negatively about my birth parents to you—we rarely discuss them at all—the truth is that my feelings towards them change often. There are days when I don’t feel like I will ever be at peace with the way I feel about them. Other days are filled with a deep longing to know who they were and what fueled their decision to no longer parent me. I don’t know that I have ever had the desire to have a relationship with them—nor would it ever be a possibility—but I have always wished I had known something about them. They made life-changing decisions that have affected me and will affect you and your children as well. I will always feel guilty for not knowing my family’s medical history or what I have passed onto you and what you may pass onto your children because of me. I wish with every fiber of my being that I could fill those voids and answer those unanswerable questions, but the reality is that those are things I will never be able to do for you.

I want you both to know that by making that decision to adopt me three decades ago, Grandma and Grandpa truly changed my life. In a matter of a year, I went from being an orphan to becoming someone’s daughter. It is because of them that I have a forever family and a place to call home. They have given me a life filled with unconditional love, support, and amazing opportunities. They were the ones who were at my high school and college graduations and they were the ones who walked me down the aisle the day I married your papa. They will always be your grandparents and, God-willing, they will one day be great-grandparents to your children as well.

As you already know, I will never be a perfect mom. There have and will be things I say and do that I will regret immensely. However, I want you both to know that I will never regret bringing you into this world and being there to watch you grow and one day become the men and fathers I have always dreamed you will become. I will never forget the days you both were born and the overwhelming feelings that washed over me when I held you both for the first time. I will never forget the instant love I had for you both and the promises I made to do my best to be a good mom and work hard to make sure you don’t want for anything. Your lights shine so brightly in this world and becoming your mom has been my life’s greatest achievement. Your existence gives me so much purpose and I love you both with every fiber of my being.

It is an absolute honor and blessing to be your mom. Rocking you to sleep and singing to you and kissing your little fingers and toes when you were babies brought so much joy and love to my life. It may seem strange at times, but things like your birth stats and baby pictures and outfits will always mean so much to me, as I will never have those memories and mementoes from that period of my life to share with you. Papa and I love sharing stories with you of when you were babies and watching as your sweet faces light up with excitement and hearing your laughter as you try to imagine yourself at that age. We have so enjoyed watching you grow and experiencing with you the ups and downs of life. It has been a pleasure to share with you our values, beliefs, and traditions and watch as you take those little life lessons and use them in your interactions with others. Your kind hearts, your sense of humor, your zest for life, and your strength and resiliency are inspiring. We are learning so much from you and we are in awe of the young men you have already become.

I may have been one of the unwanteds, but I assure you that Papa and I wanted you from the minute we knew of your existence. We started forming our hopes and dreams for you the moment we heard your little hearts beating for the first time. Though we sometimes may do and say things we don’t mean, please don’t ever doubt our love for you. Regardless of the paths you travel or the choices you make in life, we will always love you and do our best to support you both through it all.

There may come a point in your lives when you may feel the effects of the missing pieces in my life. I promise to do my best to provide you with the answers I have to share with you and do what I can to help you fill in those empty spaces. I may not have a clear beginning to my life, but it gives me great pride in knowing that you will be the continuations of my life and my journey. Papa and I are so incredibly proud of you both and look forward to watching where your journeys lead as you continue to grow and form your own identities and strive for your own perceived successes in life. We love you for always and we thank you for making our lives and our family so complete.

Love,

Mom