They Grow Up

Image Created by Irene Liebler

We currently have baby birds in a nest at the end of our back porch getting ready to fledge. We have witnessed many such events. When I first married my husband, my mother in law said “We are nest builders.” She had a lifelong love of birds and of her family. So today, an adoptive mother lamented. She adopted a 12 year old from foster care. The child is now 21 years old. I have a 21 year old myself who sometimes gives the impression of getting restless though he has not yet flown the nest. This woman’s son has joined the army reserves and is on his way out of the country on assignment.

She was trying to say goodbye to him, when he replied – “I don’t want to talk. I’m trying to get away from you guys (ie her husband and herself). I’m an adult now and you can’t force me to live with you. I was trying to leave on a good note.”

Much like the advice – “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” – attributed to Kahlil Gibran, I thought these were very good insights –

The best thing a former foster parent and adoptive parent ever said to me was that you spend the short time you have with kids teaching them right from wrong and hope they take that with them into adulthood.

When they turn 18, they will leave to find their biological families. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. If their first families are doing well, then great! If they are not, you pray that what you taught them sticks and that they navigate their relationships in a way that keeps them mentally/physically safe.

If kids come back to you/stay in your life is dependent on your relationship with them before they became adults. It’s also dependent on how you spoke about their first families and if you encouraged a relationship.

Kids are people that grow up and become their own people. They have the RIGHT to leave the nest for a reason, a season, or forever.

My Past Does Not Dictate My Future

I was very sad to learn that this kind of governmental judgement takes place.

“I was adopted into a foster home in the 80’s. My babies were just taken from me and are being adopted out. I keep hearing how they will be fine and have great lives and how they won’t experience the same life I have had.”

The first commenter acknowledged – “Sadly Child Protective Services does think that if you grew up in the system, you will not be good enough to be a parent.”

Yet another put forth a different perspective –

I am a former foster care youth that aged out of the system and became a foster parent. It is a lot of hard work to be a parent, especially a parent with trauma. It is something I am aware of and ‘show up and work on every day!’ But that doesn’t mean that we will not be good enough to be good parents or can’t be good parents. Does it mean we have to work harder and be aware that we have trauma that a lot of people don’t?! Yes! But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t incapable, it just means we actively work every day to be different then the generations before us! Child Protective Services asked me very extensively about my past and trauma, and I had to prove in a lot of ways how I have worked on it and that I am aware of it and continue to be aware of it. And work on my trauma and triggers as they arise. Now that doesn’t mean that former foster care youth and other people with trauma aren’t at higher risk for having Child Protective Services involved or their children removed. Because unfortunately, many of the kids I grew up with in the foster system are still in some way involved in the system or dead, it is a hard trauma to break out of. But honestly I feel like a lot of that, comes from the fact that everyone in my life, told me I would never be any better than my parents, or better then my genetics. We need to start telling these children with trauma that our pasts do not dictate our futures, we get to control them. We get to be better. And we need to help them do that. Before their inner voice turns into this message of ‘I’ll never be good enough, so why try to be better?’.

It is a tough world out there for a lot of people. Not every one has the same experience. Here is one that turned out “better” than “worse,” and still . . .

After finding my biological family and meeting my sisters, I definitely had the better life (theirs was full of switching homes, being raised by different people, drugs and addictions, and poverty). I was raised as an only child and had college paid for by my adoptive parents – up to my masters degree. They also helped me and my husband buy our house. Does adoption still affect me? Heck yeah it does. I have horrific abandonment issues, anxiety and depression.

This experience is also VERY COMMON among adoptees –

I was adopted at birth. My adoptive parents were great, and I didn’t deal with a lot of the issues I’ve seen mentioned by other adoptees (favoritism, neglect, abuse, doing the bare minimum, etc) I love them very much and consider them my parents. I would imagine my childhood is what most adoptive parents think they will provide, and birth moms think they’re giving their child up to.

But I still have always had this very deep sense of not belonging or fitting in anywhere. Feeling that everyone will leave me, I can never be good enough. I don’t ever feel “home”. I always thought there was something wrong with me, and despite my best intentions or efforts I still just couldn’t do it “right”.

And I do agree with this person –

I was adopted into an amazing family, always loved and cared for. Had a good life and am a privileged adult. I have a good relationship with my biological family too. However, I despise adoption. It affected me in negative ways regardless of my “good” adoptive family and upbringing. It also has the ability to greatly affect our children and future generations. The trauma gets passed down. Nothing about adoption is ok. It should be a crime to separate families simply because there is money to be made from a demand greater than a supply. We need to overhaul our system so that adoption is nearly non-existent, like it is in other countries.

The outcomes are always unique and individual. No need to not all or even so –

I was adopted within a year of my birth. I had crappy adoptive parents. My life became significantly better after I was kicked out. I worked extremely hard to pay my way through college and live on my own. Life got even better when they stopped talking to me permanently. My biological kids are amazing and so is my marriage. However, I still sit and wait, expecting it to all fall apart. I don’t feel deserving.

One last perspective –

I was adopted at birth and have felt “lost” my whole life – empty – and have struggled. I’ve never felt complete and have always had bonding issues even with my own children. It’s like I love mentally but emotionally it’s a struggle to feel. If that makes sense. I’ve went through years of counseling, when I was in my 40s. I’ve worked my DNA, so I know who all my people are. I have a good relationship with my birth dad and some biological siblings and I now feel complete. But the love side of me, the connection…. I still don’t have it and probably never will.

I have often described my own adoptee parents (yes, both were adopted) as “good” parents but strangely detached. I blame adoption for that.

Not The Same

Someone was asking adoptees if it’s OK to identify as “half adopted.” They were raised by their biological mom but their biological dad was absent. Then they were later legally adopted by mom’s next husband.

She goes on to note – The amount of tone deaf, “Of course, you were adopted” by non-adopted people and one adopted person was really irritating. They have their own loss and trauma, but they had their mother and only learned their father’s name when they were already in their teens.

The responses in my all things adoption group were interesting and somewhat surprising. The points chosen seem valid. I think what might be different is the degree of trauma that accompanies an infant or young child being separated from their mother.

If you were legally adopted, you’re an adoptee. I was adopted twice (blogger’s note – so was my adoptee dad) and not raised by birth parents, but it feels weird to tell someone who was legally adopted that they can’t call themselves adopted.

The person who was adopted gets to identity however they want to, in my opinion. Your identity is valid.

They were adopted, so they could decide – adoptee, half adoptee or not as an adoptee. It is their choice.

Half of their stuff was still changed. They are still not involved with the family of half of them.

Step-parent adoption or kinship adoption –  I do see them as different than a stranger adopting an infant. (Same as the point I made above – less trauma effects in these situations.) Another one added – I’m a kinship adoptee (adopted by maternal grandma) and I identify as a kinship adoptee.

Yet another response – Step parent adoptions are in no way equal to full adoptees. In most cases, step parent adoptees got to stay with their biological mother – therefore not experiencing the “primal wound’ trauma that connects so many adoptees or the trauma of being completely separated from your biological family.

Sure they are “technically” adopted – but not at all in the same way.

The issue arises when they try to say they’ve experienced the trauma discussed by full adoptees or try to say they are privileged voices in spaces where they really are not because they don’t have that shared life experience. Some of these “half” adoptees have even misrepresented themselves in order to dupe hopeful adoptive parents and profit financially as “consultants” or the like.

It really bugs me when those who were adopted by a step parent try to say they are “adoptees” in the same way that I am. Because they just aren’t. Full stop. I’m pretty surprised by the other responses here so far actually.

And a last valid point – Part of me wants to know to what purpose, to what end? A lot of people are just trying to find their identity, to explain some of their trauma responses, to understand how to describe their situation to other people.

But if the purpose is that they want to come into adoptee spaces and converse about adoption as a privileged voice to elevate their own opinions–which has happened before in the adoptee community on TikTok–they most likely will be schooled on that before too long.

I see it as a facet of adoption just like any other. There is a LOT of intersectionality here. People can be adoptees but not infant adoptees, or transracial adoptees, or late-discovery adoptees, all of which come with unique sets of issues. No two experiences will be identical. I recognize I cannot speak for transracial adoptees, for example, and so, I know not to minimize their experiences by pretending mine is just like theirs. I don’t have x, y, or z issues.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

It Really Was That Bad

Today’s story –

I was adopted from foster care when I was 12. I was adopted into the same home as one of my biological sisters. Being adopted was the only way I could stay with my younger sister, so I consented. I knew my first family, as I lived with them to the age of ten. Having to leave them, especially my siblings, destroyed me.

Nearly as bad was the family I ended up with. My adoptive mom berated me constantly, and could be very cruel. I was told that my sister and I weren’t wanted, and that’s why my mother kept her other (three younger) kids but gave us up. That we were lucky that she chose us. The day of the adoption she told me that my life now was between her and Jesus.

I have a good relationship with my biological mom and stepdad, and their kids. I love them, and they love me back with a kind of enthusiasm that I never experienced in my adoptive home. Awhile back, my adoptive mom sent me a message, trying to apologize. It was painful, but it made me know for sure that things were as bad as I thought they were.

From the adoptive mom –

A couple of years ago we sat in the livingroom and I made an attempt at making an amends with you. I thought if I had stopped drinking and stayed sober, then the past was the past.

At the beginning, when you moved into our home, I made a feeble attempt at reaching out to you. You cringed and would not trust me, would not call me mom. You already had a mom and I had not even showed I was a safe person. I couldn’t and didn’t listen to your silent pain.

I know I verbally and emotionally abused you. You went to therapy but it didn’t work and I was glad because I did not want my neglect to be exposed. I knew I was guilty for causing the demons that haunted you.

At the height of your anorexia, you were hospitalized and yet I was jealous of you. I know I was insane. It was my own mental illness more than the alcoholism.

I just wanted to tell you that I am so ashamed of not giving you the childhood you deserved. It was my loss, I never really got to know you. I take none of the credit for your strength.

Refreshing

It is refreshing to encounter an adoptive parent with such clarity about her adopted child. Heron Greenesmith writes at Parents.com – Please stop calling my adopted daughter ‘lucky.’

She writes – I “would have given anything for her to be with her biological family instead.” It was not a newborn infant that was adopted but a 5 yr old child. “Love can be burden, particularly if you are a 5 year old who has never met these people who know everything about you.”

It was as she wrote about her experience on social media that she was told – “She’s so lucky.” – perhaps a thoughtless platitude, a senseless nothing typed quickly into a comment bar.   “Lucky girl to have such dedicated parents!” (Dedicated? Why did that word carry so much power to imply that adoption was somehow more work than literally creating an entire human in one’s body?)

And here is why she does not consider her daughter lucky – her daughter was taken away from her natural parents and siblings. She experienced indescribable grief and trauma at an age before many of us even begin to understand that level of misfortune is possible. She also sees a young child who walks through life with the burden of knowing one may lose what one loves without warning.

She admits that some parents are unable to keep their kids healthy and safe. Our nation’s child-welfare services are designed to support these families in need. They are supposed to keep kids healthy and safe while parents are getting the assistance they need. And if further tragedy strikes and parents are wholly unable to care for their children, the system turns its gears and tries to find a new home for the child.

She is also not comfortable with the reasons that some people may consider her adopted daughter lucky – Lucky to be with parents in a higher tax bracket? What does that say to the children in low-income families whose parents are keeping them healthy and safe? Does it tell them that poverty itself is justification for removing kids from their parents? And too often, poverty is the justification for removing children from their biological families.

She writes “there is nothing I would not give for her to have been safe, fed, and clean in her first home, without having to have gone through hell first.” “She is incredibly unlucky and will spend her life carrying her tragedy with her. It is our job to help her understand her tragedy and help her carry it.” She remembers that first day and a terrified kid being driven in a car by people she’d met two weeks earlier to a new house where she’d live “forever.” But she is also aware that to her daughter, “forever” doesn’t truly exist.

Who’s Real ?

It’s a conundrum, a confusing and difficult problem or question. I understand it personally. When I finally learned who my original grandparents were and met relatives who were genetically and biologically related to me, my adoptive family receded into the background.

As a child, I had grandparents who adopted my parents when they were young. They are the only grandparents I knew growing up and going through old family letters from the early 1980s that I need to finally let go of, I see how they were my personal cheerleaders as I left one kind of life I had been living and began the long and slow process of making a different kind of life for myself. I am grateful for their love and concern.

I have aunts who became more significant again in my own life after my parents died. I am grateful for their love and support.

Those of us impacted by adoption often struggle to describe our relationships with two sets of relatives. Sometimes the word “real” is used to describe those that family DNA type websites would consider as being accurately related to us. It gets cumbersome to try and define “real” from “acquired”.

The topic came up yet again in my all things adoption group. I thought this was a good response – “Everyone is real. It’s kind of a given.” Direct and to the point. Even so, it can be confusing to people who don’t know your personal family history.

We aren’t exactly playing along with our adoptive relatives but for an adoptee, the person is often too well aware that their name and their birth certificate have been falsified to change their identity – from the one they were born with to being in effect the possession of the people who adopted them. This was often done to prevent the original parents and the adoptees from ever finding each other, though with the tools available today (inexpensive DNA testing and matching websites) reunions are taking place constantly.

One adoptee admits – I had a hard time with “real” as a kid growing up. When people found out that I was adopted I was always asked, “Do you know your real parents?” “Do you have any real brothers or sisters?” “Do your adoptive parents have any real kids?” People seemed to use that word in place of biological and to my kid-brain, it felt like I was somehow less of a person because I wasn’t my adopters “real” kid.

Add to this that adoptees often honestly do feel that they don’t belong in the family they are being raised within. And quite honestly, that feeling is accurate, even though it is their reality.

Becoming An Ancestor

Wedding Photo – Raphael Vandervort Hempstead and Mary Elizabeth Gildersleeve on April 30 1906

I’m a family historian and a family storyteller. I believe I finally did arrive at my personal destiny – that of discovering and then sharing the true origins and cultures my family was created from. It is a feeling of wholeness that I never expected to have. It is also fascinating, I suppose, simply because it is our real identity constructs. Both of my parents were adopted – with falsified birth certificates giving them identities they were not born with.

A quiet revolution is taking place for adoptees today. More and more are finding their genetic biological families, just as I did. Only a few years ago, this would not be possible but the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me as well as social media have made what once seemed like only a dream – possible.

My parents and my in-laws are now ancestors, meaning they have died and no longer walk this earth as physical presences. My husband and I both approach our 70s. We are way to becoming an ancestor. Just yesterday, my husband went into a hours long dialog about all the choices he has made in life to arrive at this place in time with our oldest son. Too often, after our parents have died, we wish we would have asked more questions. Asking questions is not always all that easy when they are alive however and we don’t always know what to ask.

I freely share so much about my life. Someone may want to know about me. Their life might be changed by knowing that I existed. They might be empowered by knowing that they once had the same dreams I do. We’re all future dead people, and 100 years from now, someone like me will come looking for you.

Certainly, this is what adoptees are doing today. This is what I have done regarding my true family of origin. My family origins journey began in cemeteries. The cemetery in Pine Bluff Arkansas to be precise. I sat by my maternal grandfather’s grave and talked to him. Then I discovered that my mom’s half-sister had only died a few months before. Darn, I missed that opportunity to know her. But I was able to get to know her daughter thanks to something her best friend posted about my cousin’s mother on Ancestry. During one wonderful afternoon, she shared with me photos and stories from the many photo albums her mom left her. We were both sad that our mothers never got the chance to meet. Certainly, her mother always hoped my mom would show up. The state of Tennessee was not helpful, when my mom inquired. Today, it has all changed for adoptees like my mom and dad.

The photo at the top is my dad’s grandparents, sent to me by a cousin (with whom I share my paternal grandmother) who lives in Mexico, thanks to Facebook messenger.

Genetic Mirroring

People often see what they expect to see. It is natural to expect to see some resemblance among family members. I remember comments flowing from my adoptive maternal grandmother to the staff of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society about how much alike the two children, one boy and one girl, she adopted from them looked like “real” brothers and sisters, ie had a family resemblance.

Today, someone in my all things adoption group wrote –

A frequent occurrence throughout my childhood was that someone would stop and tell my to my adoptive mother how much I look like her. Now, I’ve seen pictures of moms and daughters, who look like each other. But me?? I don’t look much like my mother, aside from dark hair and pale skin and glasses. I can’t see my features in anyone, or in my mind’s eye even. I may have connected with a biological uncle and I’m looking through his friend’s pictures and I can’t see me anywhere. I don’t know what I look like well enough to try to compare. I’m about to take a selfie to try to help myself out. I usually think about genetic mirroring more in the context of TransRacial Adoptees (which I am not), so this is really messing with me.

One response, totally mystified, writes – Why did this happen to me too??? My mom is white and I’m native with dark skin and dark hair.. she is white with light skin and blue eyes, like why did people say that….

I have seen this said of husbands and wives, who obviously are not genetically related, that they grow to be more alike in appearance the longer they are married. So one comment noted – Children will take on the facial expressions of their caretakers, which can make them appear more like adoptive parents than they would otherwise. I believe that this is possible. Genetically, often mannerisms and personality traits are more similar among biological family members.

So, I do agree with this person’s perspective and experience – People will see things, if they think they have to. I remember my adoptive father telling someone I was his son, when they asked who I was. I couldn’t be more different than him and this guy squinted his eyes and looked at me for a while before saying, yeah I see the resemblance.

I do look like my brother who is a biological child of my adoptive dad and stepmom. I’m the adoptee. We are 17 years apart. I helped raise him and he also mimics me a lot. I’ve heard everything from jokes that my adoptive dad had an affair and adopted me so my adoptive mom wouldn’t suspect, people laughing their asses off when they say we look alike and I reply I’m adopted, then finding out – it’s true – and of course, that’s awkward… or adoptive mom getting jealous and trying to find traits to pretend we look alike and “it’s just the same”. To me it is messed up because they fail to acknowledge my difference. They’re trying to fit the square peg into the round hole with all they have, instead of celebrating my differences.

Celebrating our individuality and differences. Isn’t that what we all should always be trying to do ?

Always An Adoptee

Advice from an adoptee – If/when your adopted child says anything that you deem “negative” about their adoption, instead of just throwing around frequently used adoption phrases – please please please consider the long term affect of hearing some of these phrases

1. “Would you have rather stayed in the orphanage/on the streets, been aborted, would you rather have died?”

Yes, sometimes. Adoption is complex and complicated. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here instead of enduring nights of sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, intrusive questions, all the unknowns, the mental health problems .. I will never stop being an adoptee. It affects EVERYTHING in my life

2. “God/We saved you from your biological family.”

Let us decide that. What was I saved from? I do not know. There are many things adoption has NOT protected me from. So please let me decide in what ways I was saved. It may shift and change. Also, please don’t say negative things about our biological families. Give us the FACTS that you know and allow us to decide where to place them in our hearts and lives. Y’all don’t get to decide if our biological families are good or bad. Many things I was told about my biological family ended up being racist, unkind, untrue, and problematic.

3. “You were chosen”

Maybe. Kinda. But often, not exactly. My adoptive parents chose me between 2 babies. I was laying beside another baby and they chose me. But if they had decided “no, she’s not for us” they would have found another baby – easily. Adoptees often feel like replacements. We know a lot of our parents wanted A BABY – not necessarily “us” specifically. We have to process that – please allow us the space and time to do so

4. “They loved you so much they decided to give you up.”

No. What about desperation? Survival? Poverty? Lack of resources? Addiction? Death? Would you give up your child because you loved them? I was not given up out of love but I was raised to believe so. It made me feel awful about myself and my biological sister (she was not “given up”). Does loving someone mean sending them away forever? Would my adoptive parents do the same because they loved me?

5. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful you are not dead/alone/orphaned/poor/etc. You are so lucky to have a loving, stable family.”

STOP telling us how to feel and what aspects of our lives to feel good about. Especially in response to something we have said, please don’t.

Please Imagine losing your mom at a young age and when you tell someone, they say “Wow but you should be so grateful that you still have…” or “You are so lucky that you have a family that loves you!”

How about “I am sorry for your losses and pain. How can I help without overstepping?”

There are days I would rather be dead than adopted. Days when I miss my biological family. Days that I want to return to a place I barely remember. Those are not the times to dismiss an adoptee’s feelings. Imagine how you’d feel hearing these responses.