Saying The Right Thing

Who knew ?

Everything about adoption is complex and uniquely individual.  For over 60 years, I had no idea.

I gave birth to two sons – one at age 47 and one at age 50.  I don’t let the misperceptions that I am my son’s grandmother bother me too much.  Afterall, I am a grandmother, just not these boys grandmother.  I have two grandchildren, a boy and a girl.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma.  Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma.  Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can rant and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.  This is the way we give an adoptee voice without judgement or push-back.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking.

If you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry.” or “This must really be hard for you.” or “I am ready to hear you without interruption.” Don’t say, “I know someone who was adopted and they are very happy they were.” or “You should be grateful to your adoptive parents.” And don’t say, “Your original mother must have been a monster.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to someone you know lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Every Adoptee Is Unique

We are all unique and so are our adoption stories.  There is no one size fits all as to the experiences of any individual adoptee.

We should play close attention to our adoptions stories.  Because being adopted is still relatively rare among the people of society, our stories matter as a window on a practice that takes the children of one mother and places them with a mother with whom they have no genetic connection.

As writers, we must polish the imagery with which we tell our stories so that they can receive the attention they are due.

In my own family’s numerous adoption stories, I seek to find their positive rather than their negative aspects, while not denying nor hiding from that.  It is a reality and so, acceptance is an important part of healing any wounds that have occurred.

I search for the ways in which we have experienced life differently from those who without thought live the inherited version.  As I discover the truths within my own family’s stories, I edit the plot accordingly because the truth has become even more important to me as a result of it’s having been hidden for so long.

I also keep my eye on the philosophical implications of the changes to the experience of having been adopted that reformers and activists seek to make.