It’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Traditionally, this month is promoted by states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families. Celebrations include activities and observances across the nation, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events to promote the false narrative of the fairy tale of adoption.
I understand that there are orphans and foster kids out there with complicated or troubled families of origin that need permanent homes. I know that adoption has a place in our society. It’s just that it needs to be taken out of the spotlight as a fairy tale solution for the childless. In addition, by celebrating the fairy tale of adoption and ignoring its complexities, we continue to drive a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry. This is an industry that exploits the desires of childless couples or other people that have an “itch” to raise or “save” a child. This is an industry that also exploits pregnant, confused young women.
The unavoidable truth and the crux of adoption complexity is that it necessitates the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being or add to its brood. The singular most important fact about adoption is that it causes trauma, loss, and grief for both the biological mother (and often for others in the original family) and the adoptee. And most importantly, the fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. Because being adopted is a journey that lasts a lifetime.
I have a friend who adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage (before the 2013 ban by Russia of the country’s children by U.S. families). He’s now a teenager. She’s a fabulous mom and her son is a smart, socially well-adjusted kid. We were talking and the subject of adoption came up (I was probably updating her on my crazy adoption journey). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I used the word “adopted” to describe her son. She corrected me. She said, “He was adopted.” She emphasized the past tense and went on to explain that she didn’t use that word to describe her son. He’s simply “her son.” I get that. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend her. But the words “adopted” and “adoptee” aren’t bad words. At least they shouldn’t be. I felt the need to gently explain to my friend that her son is adopted and will always be an adoptee. He certainly doesn’t need to wear it as a badge of honor, but the fact that he is adopted and there is another family out there that he belongs to just as he belongs to her family, needs to be acknowledged. He may have feelings and emotions about it that he wants to talk about. He may have questions about his heritage and ethnicity. She should acknowledge that it is and will always be a part of his identity.
I cannot begin to describe all of the complexities of being adopted. It is a complex journey and different for every adoptee. Depending on the adoptee, it may involve searching for biological family. It may involve reunion. It may not. It may involve sadness, loneliness and depression. I hope not, but statistics do indicate that adoptees far outnumber non-adopted youth in all types of psychiatric treatment facilities. Some adoptees may feel like they have, in fact, lived a fairy tale life with their adopters. That’s great, too, but I hope there is some support out there for every adoptee when and if it is needed.
In the end, we all need to realize that at the center of every adoption is the adoptee. And I’m all about adoptee stories. I want to hear them all. I’ve read many of the adoptee memoirs out there (and still reading!). Take some time to read an adoptee story. Take some time to understand the heart of an adoptee. Celebrate National Adoption Awareness this way.