An Adoptee Unsilenced

I have worked in the child welfare and adoption field for well over a decade—starting out as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, and as an adoption professional working with parents and young adults who have experienced foster care and adoption. I also have my own journey as an adoptee to add to that experience. I would never say that I have seen it all, but I have certainly seen and heard a number of different adoption-related stories and perspectives throughout my life.

One thing I have often seen and experienced that I have found increasingly upsetting is the double standard that exists within the adoption conversation—especially between parents and people who were adopted. Time and time again, I have seen people contributing to the adoption narrative who are given a free pass to say really awful and insensitive things about adoption and adoptees because they “didn’t mean any harm”. And, while others defend their ignorance and lack of understanding, adoptees are shamed for speaking out and our feelings about the issues are minimized and disregarded.

Adoptees are constantly subjected to attempts to minimize or explain away our thoughts and feelings surrounding our adoption journeys and the way we—and adoption in general—are portrayed. We have a right to feel the way we do about our experiences. We have a right to acknowledge and mourn the losses in our lives. We have a right to share what is on our minds and in our hearts without being subjected to a barrage of comments about how we need to be more positive, more tolerant, more understanding, or more grateful.

I realize the messages that are shared are not always easy to hear. It is difficult to learn that you might be doing something wrong, and it can be downright disconcerting and defeating at times. I get it. I truly do. And I can tell you that as an adoptee, a mom, and an adoption professional—I often feel disheartened and defeated, too.

I understand that it’s difficult to not take it personally. But, it’s important to know that adoptees’ feelings about adoption are often very complex, and that isn’t necessarily about you or who you are as a parent. It is often about our need to process it all and find a way to shape our identities and fill the void caused by the unknowns and missing pieces in our lives.

We are fighting so desperately to be heard, to have our feelings about our experiences acknowledged and validated—to feel like, if we say it loud enough and often enough, that what we have to share might actually make a difference and might begin to change the narrative that too often only allows for positive perspectives on adoption.

Please stop trying to silence us.

Please stop trying to explain away our pain.

Please stop making excuses for people who don’t understand the issues and need to be educated and willing to have the conversations that are necessary to reach a place of understanding.

Please understand that the entire trajectory of our lives has been shaped by decisions that have been made by other people. As adults, the last thing we want or need is to deal with people who attempt to control and censor our thoughts and feelings about our lives and issues that affect us because what we have to say doesn’t align with their beliefs or because it is uncomfortable to hear.

Those of us who have been doing this for a while have heard a lot and have learned a great deal throughout the years. We know what people who share insensitive comments are trying to say and we know that, for the most part, they truly “don’t mean any harm”. But, the fact of the matter is that we are humans with feelings and we can be hurt—we have been hurt very deeply by our circumstances in life. We call attention to the things that upset us because we are trying to educate others on the complexity of adoption. We are trying to improve the narrative and the language surrounding adoption, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations of adoptees.

I am a pretty open-minded person, and those who have followed my blog throughout the years would probably agree that, for the most part, I am pretty patient, understanding, and supportive of adoptive parents. Attempting to gain a better understanding of adoptive parents and their experiences has truly helped enrich the work I do and has also helped me to embrace different aspects of my own adoption journey in unique ways. However, understanding where adoptive parents are coming from and being tolerant of inappropriate and harmful views that, frankly, do not belong in the adoption narrative—are two very different things.

Please stop asking us to be tolerant of things that hurt us. Just as parents use a variety of experiences as teaching moments for our children, adoptees need to be allowed the space to share our teaching moments with parents as well.

I speak only for myself when I say this, but when I choose to share my thoughts on an issue or an aspect of my adoption journey, I do not share with malicious intent. I share my thoughts and experiences in an effort to educate parents, to help them better understand what their children may be going through, and to help others who were adopted feel a little less alone. I attempt to share the messages in ways that might be a little easier to digest, but sometimes there truly is no good or respectful way to say that something really sucks.

I am not someone who is particularly judgmental of people who view adoption differently than I do. If you want to accompany your social media posts with hashtags like “#AdoptionRocks” or share about how happy you are to be an adoptee or to have been able to adopt—go right ahead and do so. But, I ask that you do so in a respectful manner and be aware of and open to the complexity of adoption and the fact that, while “#AdoptionRocks” for you—adoption may be extremely rocky and traumatic for others.

It takes a lot of strength and courage to share our experiences and perspectives on adoption. There are times when, after writing a post or reading and responding to comments, where I find myself so emotionally exhausted that I don’t know if I want to cry my eyes out or curl up into a ball and sleep for days. I have been called every name under the sun and have been told that I should kill myself on a number of occasions. But, I continue to push myself to do this because it matters—because I truly believe that our voices are helping to create an adoption narrative that is more inclusive and accepting of the complexity of the feelings and experiences of all members of the adoption constellation.

Please stop trying to censor us.

Please open yourself to listening to and considering our diverse perspectives—especially when the messages are difficult to hear.

All parents know that children don’t come with instruction manuals, but if you open your hearts and your minds to really hearing what adoptees have to say—you might find that you have come across a wealth of information even more valuable than any instruction manual could ever provide.

Please hear us.

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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.

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.