What it feels like to be adopted

Ooh, I’m so full up I’m going to burst!blueberry

I came across this post on the rather wonderful My Perfect Breakdown blog, and it made me think that there’s a lot that adults-who-were-adopted* could do to help or provide insight to those people who are currently in the process of adopting.

(*Adoptees… I don’t mind the term, although it does sound a bit like amputees!)

Some context, because I don’t speak for everyone!

Me: Transracially adopted, from a culture that is ethnically and culturally different from the culture I grew up in (British, partly expat/overseas, predominately white and UK/US-centric). I have another adopted sibling. We were adopted after a long period of unexplained infertility by my parents. As the urban legend goes, they later had biological children!

Us: I don’t speak for my partner (T), but it is worth noting that we, coincidentally, have a great deal in common – one of which is our experience of having been adopted. We have slightly different experiences in that his was domestic, same race/nationality, and he has been in contact with his birth family – but that is his story, not mine. We are very happy together and would like to have children.

Fertility: It’s all my fault really! 😉 I was previously in a very long term relationship and I’ve never in my life gotten pregnant, so I guess there’s something wrong with me in that department. I have a load of things including endometriosis, very heavy periods, suspected fibroids, blocked tube and whatnot. Basically, it’s “unexplained” but I think the obvious explanation is that my body doesn’t behave as it should do! (Those who know me would say my mind is aligned!) He = fine as far as testing has gone (he thinks he should have a special certificate – I mean, he’s really proud!) and so we are currently in the early stages of our first IVF cycle.

It’s worth noting this as I would really stress that I don’t think adoption is a poor second choice… We both have positive experiences of adoption. I just think there is something that compels adopted people to want to seek some sort of biological kinship… because if you have never had it, you’d like to have that if you could – if you get what I mean.

Anyway, enough of my blethering… (Here’s some more…)

So, I thought that MPB asked so many interesting questions that it would be worth writing a blog post to answer them rather than clog up her news feed! Here are my long and rambling thoughts. I’m also putting it out there: AMA – ask me anything. If you have a question about adoption and you’d like to have an answer from an adult who was adopted, feel free to ask. The bits in quotes are taken from her blog.

What are we willing to take on from a stereotyping and prejudice perspective? We, as the parents, and our child, may face racism. This is something, as two white people, in a very white culture, have never experienced. Are we okay with this experience for us, and are we prepared to deal with this and help a child deal with this? How, will we handle racist comments and people staring at us because we don’t look right?

Growing up in a white culture which was at times pretty racist, I did struggle at times. Okay, quite a lot. I think my parents were super well meaning but it simply didn’t enter their heads that someone might discriminate against us or act meanly because of the colour of our skin. I definitely struggled for a few years, as we’d moved from an expat culture where nobody cared about skin colour to a place where suddenly people were being horrible for no obvious reason.

Having thought about what they could have done differently, I think maybe they were a little naive. They really hadn’t anticipated this and they thought that if they loved me then everyone else would. But is this not the same for any parents? And I came to the conclusion that yes, it is the same for any parents and children. ALL parents think love is enough to cushion their children from hard knocks in life. And it’s a great foundation for building self worth. In the situation where I was still a different race from white but hadn’t been adopted – I would still have experienced the same prejudices. The only difference is that I’d have had someone other than a sibling who shared that experience.

My folks always fought our corner. That goes for the adopted ones and the biological. So did they help me deal with racism? Yes – when I told them about it. I was a quiet kid who never stuck up for myself, so it actually took me a really long time to explain to my folks that I was being bullied at school. I was ashamed of being bullied. My parents did everything they could to help me, but ultimately I had to learn how to deal with it myself. Knowing that I had a loving family who’d always bat for me meant that I never felt the worse for being adopted. I always knew in my heart I was special! 🙂

What can you do to help a child who’s suffering racism you have never experienced? It’s the same thing you do when you’re batting for anyone in pain. You stand by them. You put your arms around them. You make sure they know you’re always on their side. You help them find the value in the things that make them different. In my case, my parents always made out that I was some sort of child genius. (This was probably misdirected on their part, but I’ve never quite managed to let go of their expression of faith in my intelligence, haha.) So I derived my self worth from my brain and I drew my strength from my strong family and my white siblings who never showed any sign of racism and who idolised their non-white older siblings!

I’m kind of in two minds about cultural alignment / appropriation. It’s hard for me to say as I’ve never been steeped in my biological culture so to me it’s a genre of food on a takeaway menu… I do sometimes think it would be nice to have that sense of community. In the UK there’s no culture of British adoptees whereas I know that in the US there is more of a community. I think I’d like to have that but I’ve never had it so I don’t miss it. T (British born white adoptee) had a lot more of that community growing up, and I think drew value from having that sense of belonging in a certain way to a special group. Whereas we just got treated like our biological siblings – nothing special / something special simultaneously(!) and I think that was pretty cool too.

Why do we have to organise ourselves based on the colour of our skin, anyway? Aren’t there more logical ways to build communities, based on shared interests, nurture and education? I don’t really give a toss about people’s skin colour. When it comes to the people I want to surround myself with, to be nurtured and to nurture, skin colour is really not very high up on the list. This is not the same as being “colour blind”. There is such a thing called “white privilege”. So if you happen not to have been born “ethnic”, know that people who were will have to face different and probably bigger challenges to the ones that you face. They’ll probably have to face them more often. And those challenges are all human-constructed. There’s no real real reason to have problems purely from the colour of your skin. It’s just a stupid value assertion that has no basis in anything.

I’m always shocked when people refer to “adopted children”. I think because my parents didn’t make a big deal of it, and my mother would actually get cross if someone referred to us as that! “I have FOUR children and that is that!” Haha. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She once even told me that I was even more special than her biological ones because I was the first and she’d wanted a child for so long. (I can say this because I know her and I know she will have said something like this to each and every one of us…!)

We never “looked right” as a family. As a family we find this hilarious and refer to ourselves as United Colors of Benetton – referencing the old adverts with lots of smiling multiracial children. It’s true! One of my siblings is the absolute archetype of whiteness and could well have been a cherub as a baby. We’re all pretty close and we recognised the hilarity when we went out together and people thought we were boyfriend/girlfriend. I even once had an incident in a hotel when I was meeting my dad for dinner and he gave me some money for a taxi home – the reception staff looked at us strangely and I had to tell him they thought I was a hooker! Fun times… I think you just have to see the humour in the situation. You have to believe there’s something special and unique and interesting about a family that’s been made from many different parts.

Benetton

We learned from another couple who chose to adopt a child of a different race that the mother constantly faces questions about the child’s race, but the father doesn’t. If the mom is out in public with their child, perfect strangers will stop her and ask weird and often rude questions. Strangers have even asked their older child (about 6 years old) about it, which is just so inappropriate. If the dad is out in public with their child, no-one says a word. If they are out together, no-one says a word. This doesn’t really concern me, but it is really good information to have.

This is totally true! My mum always got asked if she was married to a “foreigner”. You get worse than that though and as I said above, you have to see the humour in it. She was actually asked before they got me if we were going to be yellow. Like the Simpsons! 🙂 You have to laugh. And you have to not take offence. One thing I’ve learned from being adopted is that people are generally interested. They always want to talk about it. I see it as a good topic of conversation. If you are open about it and think it’s no big deal, your kids will too.

I’ve noticed when a lot of people consider adoption, they are often looking at what is the best fit for them, the adoptive parents. But, we are wondering what the best fit is also for the adoptive child(ren), as we have no desire to provide a child with a harder life.

I think every adoption story is different, but I’m pretty sure that in most cases you would not need to worry too much about this – a family is better than no family. A family is better than a life in care. There’s an equal amount of chance in the type of parents you end up with whether you’re adopted or not adopted. A biological child isn’t a clone… and we share 95% of our DNA with chimps, so all humans are more similar than you might think!

The one thing I would say is for myself, I always had this overwhelming desire to be loved “the best” by someone. I don’t know if that comes from my particular upbringing or it’s because of being adopted or something – I do think that there was always this kind of territorial need to belong to someone, and I always had that as a child. Maybe that’s just me! I do feel like I have achieved that now (let’s face it, if you have a dog, you know what it’s like!) so I feel kind of content about that, but it’s worth mentioning. I think maybe you have to give adopted children a bit more reassurance that you love them and really wanted them. In childish logic, it was easier for you to pop down the shops and get them than get pregnant, give birth and so on… Of course this isn’t the case and people have to jump through many hoops to adopt – but it was always my perception as a child that it had been quite easy for my parents to get me!

Adopted children are likely to have a lot of identity questions regardless of their race and the race of their parents. Will the experience of a being a child of different race then the parents cause additional problems for the child? What are the long term reproductions on the child of being in an inter-racial family?

I was never aware of not knowing I was adopted. This is really simple if you have a transracial adoption. If you clearly don’t look like your parents then it’s not like you are suddenly going to have a lightning bolt realisation that they can’t be your biological parents! I’m sure my folks must have told me when I was too young to remember. I remember getting the word mixed up when I was younger – I thought the word adapted in the byline for a book was what I was! My parents always told it to us that we were special and chosen and I had this vision in my head that they’d gone to the orphanage and had a look at all the babies on offer and picked me. I was under this impression until I was in my teens and my dad pointed out that I’d been next in the queue – and had almost been German! I actually think this is cooler because I realised that everything was just down to chance…

In terms of implications of being transracially adopted, I don’t think problems are particularly different because of being transracially adopted. I think they’re the same as just being from a different race. My BFF is mixed race and has had a very similar experience to me, and she wasn’t adopted. I think the longer term implications of being in a mixed race family are: increased openness, tolerance, acceptance of diversity, compassion and understanding towards difference. Another of my siblings falls into a non-racial “diversity category” and none of us could give a flying fig about it… We are used to difference and uniqueness and as far as we are concerned, we’re all special little flowers! 🙂

What is the experience of a child in a school which there skin color is in the significant minority? For example, what is the experience of child who may be the only African American child? We live in a predominantly white community, will this make the experience of adolescences significantly harder on a child?

I can speak from my experience that it is tough being a different race if it isn’t a race that the community thinks is “cool”. It definitely took me a while not to hate being different and that is complicated by not having someone else in your family or community who can role model being “normal” and “cool” as well as being that ethnicity. However – I would balance that with saying that I think there is a normal adolescent phase of learning to be content with your own identity, and race is just one (significant, visual) part of that. So yeah, you’ll have to learn to be okay in your own skin. But as I said above – loving the skin you’re in isn’t a particular concern of one race. It’s something we all need to learn how to do.

When I was at school, African American was the super cool race. I’m not that race – but I was kind of jealous of the few guys at my school because everyone thought they were amazing, and they were really popular! I’ve definitely had to form my own ethnic identity, and I’d say now that it’s pretty much “neutral with some ethnic pasted on top”. By which I mean, I look one way but I don’t feel like it’s anything other than a visual part of me. The weird thing I found was that once I was an adult, some men actually sort of fetishised my ethnicity… It’s weird to going from disliking it to it being an attraction. I think I’m somewhere in the middle – I want to be found attractive, and my ethnicity is part of my appearance, and appearance is part of attraction. But it’s not all of me and I don’t want it to be a big deal to people, and I don’t think it is with my friends.

Are certain races viewed as better than other in our Canadian culture? If so, which are they, and should we be choosing to adoption from a more preferable race?

I can’t speak for Canadian culture but I think there are definite differences in UK and US culture. I grew up predominantly overseas from the UK and a large part of the expat community was US. My race was really not as unusual there as it was here. I would say that some communities have a stronger cohesion and ethnic identity than others. If you’re of a sort of quiet / non-identifying race then I think you are more likely to assimilate to white culture. If your race has a strong ethnic identity then maybe you are more likely to identify with that race. A book I found interesting on this subject was this book called What Are You?: Voices of Mixed-Race Young People – it’s about racial identity between different cultures which I think resonates with people who have been transracially adopted.

Will our child be okay with being raised in a white family and culture? Obviously, if we adopt a child of a different race, they will be brought up in white culture, because that’s all we know. We recognize that our parenting will play a significant part in their acceptance of this, but how do we learn to make this easier for them?

I think the thing to realise is… The culture you’re brought up in is as much an accident of fate if you’re born into it or adopted into it. So what can you do to make things easier? Be great parents! 🙂

Do we want people to know that we adopted without even knowing us? If we adopt a child of a different race, both we and the child will clearly be identified as atypical. Everyone will know instantly that something is different about us. People will start guessing – are we a blended family? did we adopt? did the mom sleep around? Are we okay with this type of conjecture silent or not?

Do people really think that? Really?! How funny! I’d suggest that people who like silent conjecture and judgement are really easy to ignore! 🙂 Seriously though… Who cares? If you do care, then ask yourself if it’s something you will still care about when you have that kid. Because that kid’s going to be stuck with you forever and you owe him/her more than being ashamed of other people’s judgement. If your child knows he/she is loved and you arm them with enough love-munition to deal with those judgements then who the heck cares what a bunch of ignoramuses (ignorami?) think?!

How are we going to deal with family members who will likely struggle to accept an adopted child, let alone an adopted child of a different race? […] they are often racist. And […] we have also heard them make racist comments in the past. […] So, are we prepared to put our parents in their place and force them to change their attitudes if they want to be part of our lives? The one things we know is that if we adopt, we simply will not tolerate family members making any sort of unacceptable comments about adoption or racist comment around us and our child(ren).

Ahhh… Everyone’s a little bit racist, as the song goes! (I actually find it hilarious. And I’m a little bit sensitive when it comes to racial slurs.) I think you have to have faith in these truisms: most racism is borne of ignorance, and most grandparents love their grandchildren. People are afraid of things they don’t know, and they usually – unless they have deep seated and ongoing hatred, which very few people do, I think – end up loving the things they were once afraid of.

I think there are 2 types of racism I’ve come across in my lifetime: let’s call them “dumb racism” and “mean racism“. Dumb racism is the type most commonly displayed by older people – who don’t realise that the world has moved on and it’s not okay to talk about race, gender, orientation, able-bodiedness etc in derogatory terms. Most of the time they don’t even realise that they’re being racist/sexist/anythingist. So that’s about exposure and education. And the fact that they will most probably love their grandkids whether they’re blue, violet or purple.

Mean racism is more insidious, but I’ve found it is really easy to challenge by calling it out. No right minded people nowadays think it’s cool to be racist. And if you highlight how stupid people are being when they’re being racist, they often back down, or get off your back, or whatever annoying racist thing they’re doing. Worst case you keep the kiddy away from them until they’ve learned not to be racist. Best case is that they rethink their entire racist ideology based on exposure to a child that challenges their notion of Why It’s Okay To Discriminate On The Basis Of Race (Clue: It’s not).

Exposure. Education. And worse case… Excommunication.
(I really don’t think it will come to that.)

Another thing to think is that all these questions you’re asking, your parents are probably also asking, though possibly in a less politically correct way! So I think it’s okay for them to have time to ask those questions about how you might want to grow your family. They have a right to ask questions… You have a right to educate them, or choose not to answer them.

Truthfully, my personality says adopt a child of a different race. If we are going to adopt, why not help a child who will likely will face more problems with adoption because they have a different skin color. In this part of the world, most adoptive parents want white children who look more similar to them, so a child of a different race could really benefit from us checking off more race boxes.

Well… I think race can be A Thing or Not A Thing. It depends how much people want to make it A Thing. If you want to adopt a child because you want a mini you, then you probably need to think a little bit more about adoption and having children in general. Humans are humans and everyone’s their own person, no matter how many traits they share with their parents! In my mind I think that people who are adopted will face a certain set of issues, and people who are racially different to the predominant race will also face a set of issues. I’m not sure there’s one for adopted-and-ethnically-different because that’s probably just a mix of the two sets of potential issues… So I guess what I’m saying is that you can’t guarantee an issue free life – every person has their own issues regardless of the category they fall into – even white males!

Pragmatically, I think you’re more likely to get a match the less prescriptive you are, so if you’re happy to adopt and you don’t think race is A Thing [that puts you off] then all you’re doing is widening the pool of potential matches. Which is nice for everyone! (Except the people who think you need to be exactly racially matched. They’re just weird IMO. How can you exactly match different colours of people and why does it even matter?)

My husband’s a bit more practical and says, we really do need to consider all these implications. What are we really willing to take on for the rest of our lives? Do we really want people staring at us? Do we really want to alienate our parents even more?

I think lots of people don’t think about it (including my parents to a point!) so even considering any of this stuff is pretty self-aware. I think you can beat yourself up about things and give yourself a harder time than necessary – just think, people who have biological kids don’t think about half of these questions! I think that the biggest thing you can give your children is a sense of security and stability, with parents who are happy with each other and who love and encourage whoever their children turn out to be.

If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first and most basic need is physical, followed by security and protection, and love/belonging. And the best place you can get that from is your parents – however they came to be your parents.

Maslow

Life is a leap of faith… 

One of the poems people often use for adopted people is this one. It’s a little bit on the cheesy side, and some people think it doesn’t adequately address the complexities of adoption. I have to confess I hadn’t even heard it until I was an adult and I met T and he told me his mum had always said it to him. And there are whole forums out there online where they say it doesn’t capture the whole story of love and loss and the birth parents and yadda yadda.

But you know what? When I heard this poem as an adult, I had tears in my eyes. Because I know that is exactly how my parents feel about me. I know that I am loved.

fleshbone

~ Fleur Conkling Heyliger ~

So… I guess what I’m trying to say, in my long and blethery way is that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Sometimes you have to make things happen because they don’t just happen by accident. As a certain bespectacled guy said a while ago: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

A final(ish) thought:

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time place or circumstance The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.”

~ Chinese proverb

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17 comments

  1. My Perfect Breakdown

    Thank you so very much for writing this!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective. And I think amongst all the gold nuggets you shared in this post, I think the most important thing you said is that regardless of race, “a sense of security and stability, with parents who are happy with each other and who love and encourage whoever their children turn out to be.”
    Again, thank you so much for your thoughts on this, I am beyond grateful that you took the time to share your perspective and thoughts on all of my questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me Here

      Ah no worries… It was good to think about. I found your questions really interesting. I’m sure a lot of people don’t have to think about having kids so much… I find it strange that any of us thinking of IVF or adopting have to think about things so purposefully, whereas others just have babies without even thinking about it! 🙂

      I hope everything is good with you and look forward to following your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My Perfect Breakdown

        Someone once said to me, our accountant oddly enough, that people who choose to adopt are the ones who are going to be the most committed and loving parents out there because they had to work so much harder to have kids then everyone else who just had babies without thinking much about it. I kind of hope he’s right. 🙂
        Anyways, I share that comment, because it’s what popped into my head after reading your comment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Me Here

        Ah I think that is really true! I don’t mean that people who have biological children aren’t committed, because many of them are. But to go through all the rigmarole and intrusiveness and expense of adopting… Well, you must REALLY want a child! 🙂

        Like

      • Me Here

        Well… I think it’s fair to say that many of them don’t have to think all that much before having them. You don’t accidentally adopt / have IVF! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ashleykyle

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and share it. I really appreciate hearing your perspective, especially because even though we aren’t currently pursuing adoption, it it always been something that I’ve carried in my heart. I hope that someday it is something we’re able to do, regardless of whether IVF/surrogacy works for us… although, I do have health problems and have been told that we are likely to be rejected because of that, so it may not be possible. We’ll see.

    As soon as I saw that you were willing to answer any questions, I wondered how you felt about people specifying between their biological and adopted children (as in, “I have two biological children and one adopted child”), and I really liked your mom’s response. This has been something that I have struggled with because it does not make sense to me to use any label other than “my children.” But I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve known who act as though there is a difference. Clearly the situation is a little different in families with mixed race because it is something that is generally understood on sight, but I imagine it must be hard for children who have been adopted that have parents who constantly point it out? I have not been adopted, but I feel as though I would have had a very hard time with that.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing. I think it is always helpful for people to hear of different experiences and perspectives other than their own. It seems like you have a truly wonderful family. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me Here

      Ah thank you! I’m glad it was useful to you. I feel like I do blether on a lot, haha!
      In answer to your question, I would find that a bit offensive I think. Unless it was said in explanation or something (maybe if someone asked why some kids were different colours… but why would they?). As I said previously, I don’t see anything wrong or shameful about being adopted so I don’t mind telling people about it. I would find it weird that someone would refer to some of their children as adopted though, I mean in contrast to the biological ones. I’ve known quite a few children who were adopted and never heard of this happening though. I think it is more the media (like in reference to Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie’s children) and I can’t imagine they refer to them that way.

      Like

      • In Pursuit of a Family

        I’m glad to hear that you haven’t heard of this happening often. I have actually met people who will introduce their children that way and it has always bothered me– not because I think there’s anything wrong with being adopted, but because I don’t understand why the differentiation is necessary. And, as you mentioned, I have heard others refer to a couple’s children by labeling them as either “biological” or “adopted” in contexts that don’t require it. I was worried about things like that in the past when I thought about wanting to adopt, but I think your post has helped me realize that the most important thing is not exactly how others handle the adoption, but how the parents & family handle it. In the end, that is all that really seems to matter, so thank you for that 🙂

        Like

      • Me Here

        Wow. I’ve just never heard of it in real life. As I mentioned my mum is more the other way and wouldn’t say anything even if it looked like someone was angling to ask! 😉 I think you’re right… I don’t speak for everyone but in my experience it’s all about the family. I’m not saying I didn’t have some slightly weird situations growing up (when people made all sorts of assumptions about our family and our relationships in it) but the fact that our family was able to laugh about it and make light of it definitely helped. And I guess we’ve never known any different!

        Like

  3. theskyandback

    I am just now reading this post, and I think it’s wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. We are not pursuing adoption just yet, but we have been researching, talking to agencies, etc, and I feel in my heart that this is probably the route we will end up taking. I have many of the same thoughts and questions that Mrs. MPB had, so it’s great to read all of this. Did you ever feel that there was any tension or weirdness between you and your siblings who weren’t adopted? Years ago, I once remarked to a friend of mine who is adopted that I would love to have both biological and adopted children and she very strongly said to me, “Don’t EVER do that!” She said that the adopted child/children in the family will always feel like they are loved less than the biological child/children. This just about broke my heart as I would never, ever want any child to feel like they were loved less simply because they were adopted. BTW, she didn’t have any bio siblings. I carried her words around with me for a long, long time, and am just now coming to realize that she is just one person with one perspective, and I should take her words as just that: her opinion. But I’d really love to hear your perspective on growing up in a family that had both adopted children and bio children. From what I read above, it doesn’t sound like it was any big thing, which is reassuring. Thanks again for sharing all of this!

    Like

    • Nara

      Hello! One thing I’ve realised lately (this week, whilst looking around adoption blogs) is that adoption is a very individual experience, and also that it is a many layered experience… I can be both happy in my life and still have this big loss. I’ve never known a situation where I didn’t have bio/adopted siblings so I can’t say whether it would have been better or worse otherwise. Equally I can’t say that I never thought that there was a qualitative difference between my bio siblings’ rels with my folks, and mine. (This is complicated by gender and personality and race.)

      Regardless of my complicated and/or possibly repressed feelings about adoption, I am generally happy in life (well, aside from work life balance) and I love my family… but I do have some thoughts on your question and will answer in more detail in a bit.

      Just replying to let you know I have read the comment and I will respond in more detail later!

      Liked by 1 person

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