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.

Kept – An Adoption Journal

This is causing some noise. They say of this journaling tool that it “has all the same heart and soul and the only change we made to this adoption version was to the pregnancy page. We now call that ‘The Beginning’ and have the prompts ‘how we found out about you,’ ‘how we told our loved ones about you,’ and ‘how we met’.”

On their Facebook page, one man writes – you obviously haven’t talked to any adult adoptees about this book. So many of us would have told you that your company name has a very obvious meaning to us. Also treating us as if our story began with adoption is effectively an erasure of our origins.

The company owner of Kept replied – Thank you for your phone call today. I really appreciate your willingness to engage and help us learn about the adoptee experience. As we talked about, we had only consulted with adoptive parents on what they would love to record from their child’s life. And we had a huge misstep with not consulting with adult adoptees on this product. A lot would have been caught. The heart was to record memories from when the adoptee was adopted into their adoptive family, but we didn’t realize how starting here would be harmful and insensitive. Thanks for your willingness to keep the conversation going with us. We really appreciate it.

Another one wrote – I’m speechless. Did you talk to a single adopted person? I’m an adoptee, a Licensed Professional Counselor who counsels adoptees, an author of adoption resources, and an adoptee civil rights advocate who led the multiyear effort to pass a 2021 landmark adoptee rights bill in Connecticut. I understand Kept is your company name, but it is beyond tone deaf, insulting and egregiously ignorant to publish a journal to document an adoptee’s life under such a name. You have seriously mis-stepped here, not only regarding adoptees but adoptive parents. I’d withdraw this product until you have consulted with adoptees (and at least some birth/first mothers) and LISTENED TO THEM.

And again, the company owner had to humbly reply – We didn’t. We should have consulted with people with exactly your experience. We should have listened to learned so much more before we launched this product. I’m dumbfounded about my own tone-deafness with the language of our brand name and how it would cause hurt related to this product. It was just a huge, unintentional, albeit hurtful misstep. We do have the product on hold until we’ve consulted with enough adoptees and can see a way forward. We are listening. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

The response from the adoptee above was this – Thank you for listening and responding. As you have abruptly discovered, there is a great deal of pain and anger in the adoptee community about how our experience has been unseen or actively silenced. I believe you are actually in a position to help adoptees, as well as adoptive and birth/first parents, given your desire to find a way to help parents hold the life stories of their children.

Yet another adoptee bluntly wrote – It’s obvious you didn’t talk to a single adult Adoptee. “Kept” is an awful name for an adoption journal. If I had been kept, I would have grown up with my biological family. Perhaps “Bought” would be a more appropriate title. After-all most of these adoptive parents dropped thousands purchasing their newborn babies.

Repeatedly, the company owner has to apologize with basically the same message over and over again.

Here is another adoptee’s response – As an adoptee this is highly insensitive. Adopted children have a very traumatic start to life, this leads to developmental trauma which affects them through to adulthood. Their life doesn’t begin when they are adopted. So much happens prior. Adoption should be for a child to keep them safe. Their journey should be honoured. The name kept is disgusting. Adoption happens because we were given away, point blank period. Please do some research and educate yourself because you are doing a disservice to every single adopted child.

Not crystal clear about the problem yet ? Here’s another – Calling a book “kept” that’s meant for an adoptee is really tone deaf. An adoptee is given away, relinquished, sold. That’s nice that you talked to some of your friends who have adopted, and some adoptive parents but did you ever talk to an adult adoptee about this? Did you ever consult what kind of information the person who the book is ultimately for might want to know when they’re older? Their journey, our journey, my journey, stared with my natural family. I have a history with them too. Every adoptee has a first family. Do better. Talk to adult adoptees when making a book for them.

And another – Just here to echo the comments of others. As an adoptee, I find using your brand/company name for this type of product incredibly tone deaf and insensitive. We are not kept. We are people who have endured trauma after trauma. Please pull this from your line and research deeper. Consult with those this actually affects.

And another – It’s obvious this journal was made for kept people — that is, people who were *not* adopted. Adopted people are quite literally *not* kept. We are given away. “Kept” is a term which refers to those who were *not* given away. The only person who could possibly think this is tasteful is one who *was* kept. Please listen to the voices of adult adoptees. We know adoption better than the people you know who have adopted.

And this – I am glad that you are now intending to speak with adopted people, but I am really disappointed that you had to be told/asked to do that. If someone wrote a book about Black people, or people who had Jewish heritage, or people who were refugees from a war, without speaking to these people or at least researching their experiences, it would be incredibly offensive and wrong. As is this. To which she added later as a reply – I am impressed, though, that you are now considering it; and have acknowledged your action’s impacts; often adopted people are dismissed or bullied when they speak of their experiences and viewpoints, or show society how damaging its actions are, so thank you for that.

Then this one made me smile – It works for me. Adoptees are “kept” in return for their services: replacement placeholder for the real child adopters can’t have/to fuel a savior syndrome/virtue signaling tool/to carry on the line of genetic strangers/to look after adopters in their old age/to provide a generic childhood so someone can acquire the title of ‘mother’ or ‘father’…Kept: having the expression of principles, ideas, etc., controlled, dominated, or determined by one whose money provides support.

Someone is working on something called “Kept” about women who were kept by their teen moms and comparing them side by side with stories of women who were relinquished for domestic infant adoption. In adoptionland, “kept” people are those who are NOT adopted.

The company prides itself on using the colors of nature for its baby memory books. One commenter wrote – This is APPALLING.I was not kept. I was TAKEN. Who the hell thought this was a good idea??? And ‘fog’ as one of the colors? You have got to be kidding.

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.