A guest post from an adopted adult:
As I sit down and try and think where to start, I find that the first part of my process is self censorship- How can I make this ok to read? How can I protect the identities of the people I grew up with? How can I say what I need to without causing offence?
It’s like putting up hurdles where this was supposed to be a sprint.
Where does this come from?
The need to protect other people. I learnt it very early on. Conversations around adoption were sparse when I was growing up- but I didn’t know any different or that there was even the possibility of asking questions- so I stored them up, ready to be unwrapped as and when the law dictated that I should be able to find out about myself.
I don’t think that my parents would have shut me down if I had asked, but I know exactly the look that would have appeared on their faces, like a slight shadow falling across them- they would have been hurt.
How did I know at such a tender age (from around 5/6) that speaking about adoption would upset my parents?
Perhaps it was the way I was told? Maybe it was the messages I received from outside when I shared my news ( ‘ but they are your real parents though’ ‘you were lucky to be chosen’ ‘you should be grateful for the life you have’…) that kept me quiet and in my own head? Or it could just be that it was the culture I grew up in- respect your elders, accept your lot, this is what it is.
I’m not lamenting that things were this way, I am glad that I have grown up with the ability to understand the world from other points of view- It’s just a reflection- but it’s not how I see adoption written or spoken about in our world of non-stop twitter feeds and updates and blogs.
I don’t see (in this country anyway) a thriving network of adopted people sharing their experiences, openly talking about the challenges and joys of growing up in a non-biological, non nuclear family. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough? (although many, many hours have been spent looking for this very thing…) I can’t seem to find open forums, supported by leading adoption charities, or government agencies, where adopted people (over the age of 25…) can discuss, share, empathise and educate each other, and the world about how it is for them (Really, truly, non sanitised, honestly.)
Make it happen! I say to myself, and in the times where I have- put the feelers out, started some online conversations with a few fellow adopted people, it’s fallen flat- I think- because it is incredibly hard to get past the feeling of not wanting to hurt anyone. From adopted people who wait until their adoptive parents have died to find their birth family (out of a sense of loyalty and often too late to find surviving biological relatives) to those who burn with questions they are too afraid to ask, painting on the happy face so as not to risk being rejected by a second set of parents. It’s really difficult to have the conversation.
I don’t like the idea of being ‘given’ a voice, as I have so often seen when people invite contributions or a token inclusion- (one day out of five in NAW?) it is implicit in its ‘power-over’ dynamic and says, I have a seat at the table which you can borrow, but only for a minute- and don’t be controversial…adoption should be (and really always has been) a communication between a vast number of people. Not one of those people should feel or be silenced.
If birth parents are demonised, it’s a disservice to the children, if adopters are criticised for not being ‘therapeutic’ or ‘attachment aware’ enough, it’s a disservice to the children, if social workers are made pariahs because of a decision- ultimately it’s the children and young people who are let down.
What would be perfect is adoptive families- writing together about these things- how great would that be? (and I know there is some amazing work happening along those lines, in a spirit of collaboration and openness, but it’s the exception not the rule..) I know this is my idealistic rose-tinted fantasy, but the idea of families making their own story together- I find beautiful and trusting. I do sometimes wonder how it will be for some of those who are children now, growing up and reading about their parents experiences of them. It takes resilience from all corners to be able to hear what it’s really like.
There is no easy, comfortable answer- people need to share- that’s part of our human experience, to document and resonate, to feel connected and able to vent or celebrate and so we should- I would love for it to be accessible for everyone. Sometimes, it feels to me like the discourse needs to catch up with the reality- new language is created all the time and so too in the world of adoption- we can learn it together, not apart.
Thank you to The Open Nest for supporting inclusion and transparency. x
Thanks for sharing this post. You raise good points. I’d say if the resource you want hasn’t been created yet then why not create it yourself? You could try Facebook or create a forum. I’m hearing the phrase from Firld if Dreams in my mind…..”if you build it, he will come” or “they” I hope in your case. Xx
Yes to all of this! I think that the desire not to hurt people’s feelings – and also perhaps the feeling of being ‘indebted’ – is what stops adopted adults from speaking. And, of course, in some cases adoptees are still dependent on their parents financially. I didn’t dare rock the boat until they’d already paid for my education…..
Most of the adoptees I have spoken to worry intensely about worrying their parents. And, as an adoptee, I have met several people who are intensely worried about me worrying my parents.
How can I speak freely when society speaks my own fears about doing so back to me?
(Let’s ignore the time a few years ago when one of my adoptive parents blanked me for days because I had had the audacity to mention the A word).
This all gets in the way of building any community. I have been so lonely as an adoptee. I wish we had even a quarter of the community I see that adopters have, and that adoptees in the US have.
It gets very wearing. But then by the time an adoptee becomes confident and independent enough to speak out, they’re already too old to be “relevant” (after about 25, as you say).
You have absolutely hit the nail on the head when you talk about not wanting to be “given” a voice. I have struggled for a while to articulate what I hate about that whole concept. Erm, I think I can talk about my own life and my own adoption WITHOUT your permission, thank you very much… Plus of course whenever you’re “given” something, it can be taken away – so if you’re “given” the microphone to speak of adoption, if you speak off-piste you may find it taken from you.
I love the idea of families of telling their stories together. And not just adopted adults and their adoptive parents – but everyone involved, like their separated siblings and previous foster families and so on. I shall dream on to a time that this may be a reality.
Coram, now CoramBAAF facilitate a group for adoptees. My understanding is that not many adoptees wish to engage, for many and various reasons, but it looked like a well run group when I had sight of it as part of my role at then BAAF.
Is this the Adoptables? It’s good that there are programmes out there to help adoptees, and I’m sure the group does many good things. However, this doesn’t solve the problem for several reasons. First, it’s only for adoptees under 25, which excludes most adoptees that I know. This is in spite of the existence of MANY adoptees over 25 who were adopted from care. (And who are by this time of an age where they can say what they like). It is also not a self-generated community or group, and could possibly be perceived as being condescended to to be given a “voice”. Adoptees have tried to generate their own groups, and to force the agenda themselves, but it is only when they are “given” a voice by an establishment charity that they get any air time. It is difficult for adoptees to engage with each other (let alone the world) for so many reasons.
And I must say this – I can’t imagine myself joining a group called the Adoptables. It is such a bizarre name, for many reasons! This is so even if it was adoptees who came up with the name (I don’t know). This is not to say that it doesn’t do good things and help many adoptees – and there certainly is a need for it. It’s just that it doesn’t fill the gap that’s being described, but fills another gap instead. Adoption is forever, yet one would sometimes be forgiven for thinking that adoptees only exist until 25. Hopefully one day there will be more of a community!