A question was posed to adoptees – Have you ever felt shame around the fact that you were adopted? I’m a first mother from the LINK>baby scoop era and had crippling shame around my pregnancy, but was surprised to hear adoptees sometimes have their own feelings of shame about being adopted.
Some responses –
One who was adopted as an infant into a trans-racial situation (adoptive parents and adopted child are different races) said simply – Yes. There are shameful, negative, or insecure feelings that can arise from being adopted.
Then this long response from a domestic infant adoptee – I think environment and language used surrounding adoption can push feelings in either direction. Complicated feelings surrounding it. I didn’t feel anything at first, it was all I knew.
I shared the fact that I was adopted openly when I was very young because I didn’t know it was something other kids didn’t know about. They’d ask me questions like “what’s it like to be adopted?” But I was well liked outside of my home and nobody teased me about it. I think if they had it may have added to what I felt later on.
As I got older and understood what it meant, combined with my adoptive mother’s constant need to express disapproval for women who’d “gotten themselves into that situation” (her words), I began to feel ashamed of it. Her go-to was “shame on you” if I did anything she thought was wrong. Shame was big in our house growing up. Shame of body, shame of what the neighbor’s might think…everything was shameful. (blogger’s comment – I do believe this happened to my adoptee mom. I know she felt body shamed. Interestingly, she ended up pregnant while still in high school. When I discovered there were only 7 months between my parents’ marriage and my birth, I held it against her myself. How dare she lecture me about morality. Some time later she shared how difficult it was for her and I dropped my resentments, understanding she was trying to spare me her own experiences.)
I had a strained relationship with her from early childhood, she lost interest in me once her biological son was born. As I got older I started to think for myself more and began to reject her and her ideals as they didn’t make sense to me. That she’d go out of her way to acquire me just to abuse and neglect me, and ALSO look down on the woman who’s heartache she benefited from, was abhorrent to me. I knew it was wrong, but didn’t quite have the vocabulary yet to express it. As a teen, her constant reminders that “you don’t want to end up like your birth mother” as an admonishment not to have sex before marriage pushed me even further from her.
I also had one grandparent and some aunt/uncles/cousins that did not view me as a “real” family member. Now that the adopters are deceased, I don’t hear from anyone at all, although I’ve made efforts to stay in touch. (blogger’s comment – since learning about my adoptee parents’ origins, I can’t think of my “adoptive” relations as my “real” family either – though I still love and appreciate their presence in my life. What a complicated mess we get thrown into by adoption.)
Then, this person added – I think some feelings are inherent, like loss, confusion, rejection, trauma, sadness etc. These are normal reactions to knowing you were given up/taken away/not knowing the circumstances of your adoption at all. (blogger’s comment – my own parents’ situations as well – they died still not knowing what I know now.) I think others are taught or amplified depending on a number of factors including the ones I experienced. A very good caregiver/parent can help a child process them in a healthy way, and help them develop productive coping mechanisms for them. A very bad caregiver/parent can exacerbate them.
Someone else corrected the word choice – the word wouldn’t be shame surrounding my adoption. It would be unworthy, undeserving, less than. But not as a hang your head feeling down about it like shame feels. More a matter of fact, that this is how it is and must be. I guess I view shame as a feeling like I had a choice. I won’t wear shame but the weight of unworthiness, undeserving and being less than in some circumstances/ relationships is the way it is.
Yet another explains – Everyone knows a perfectly good baby would never be given away, right? There must be something terribly, unspeakably, sickeningly wrong with me that my own mother didn’t want me, right? Spent a lifetime trying to cover up the depth of that shame. (blogger’s comment – I think my dad may have felt this. He didn’t want to search because he was afraid of opening up a “can of worms.”)
Then this from an adoptee in a “mixed” family (meaning the adoptive parents also had biological children of their own) – All of my friends knew I was adopted. My now 16 year old sister, has been taller than me since she was 7. She is my adopted parents’ biological daughter. They also have 4 biological sons, all are least 6ft tall. My biological brother and sister that did get adopted with me, we’re all way shorter than the rest. You could look at us and tell we’re not from the same people. We felt like we didn’t fit in. The “family clan” is all a bunch of giants. We never felt like a part of that. And we were treated differently, we felt as if our adopted parents sensed something was wrong with us, like our biological mother did. If she didn’t have a problem with us, then she would have quit drugs in a heartbeat – knowing that if she didn’t get help, she would lose us.. She lost 5 of the 6 of us. She was able to keep her youngest. Still don’t know why she didn’t love us enough but she switched her ENTIREEEE life around for our youngest brother. I only feel shame in the fact that I know she doesn’t care about the rest of us. She had a favorite and she only tried for him. She fought for him. She couldn’t lose him, like she easily lost the rest of us. Why? I don’t know. We were just kids. And I think we’re all pretty awesome. It’s my biological mom’s loss.
One who was adopted as an infant said – yes, I carried the shame of my biological mother for whom I was the product of her shame. I was adopted in 1951. (blogger’s comment – had I been given up for adoption when my high school teenage mother discovered she was pregnant with me, I would have been like this, had I known – maybe even if I didn’t – these emotions can be passed through to a fetus in the womb.)
She adds – I met her once, years later. I snuck into her hospital room. I happen to be working at the hospital and was told my biological mother was there. I had nurses watching out for the rest of the family because I didn’t want to start any trouble. I knew I was the shameful part of the family. My mother was in her ’80s and had dementia. She was happy to see me, yet she didn’t know who I was. She thanked me several times for coming to visit her. I comfort myself by saying – at some level she knew who I was. (blogger’s note – my sister gave her daughter up for adoption – under no small amount of coercion from our parents. We took her with us to visit my dad’s adoptive father. He was elderly and at the end of his life. We didn’t try to explain her to him but had a distinct feeling that somehow he knew.)
She then added this – I think the trauma comes from the birth and then losing your mother. The baby must feel terrified. Babies have no words and adults have no conscious memory of being born, so as the baby grows she can’t express what she feels, even to herself. YOU can express and process your trauma. WE as adoptees will never be able to do that. We as adoptees un-knowingly pass that to our children in several ways including our DNA. Probably similar to the way birds pass on the fear of fire to their offsprings. I think the mother who gives up her child has an advantage that the child she gave up never gets.
This one describes coming out of the fog (the positive narratives the adoption industry puts out) – Yes, I definitely felt ashamed that I’m adopted. I was told when I was 11, I got the “you were chosen” talk, along with a bit of badmouthing about my biological mom, and that was it. My adoption’s been always a huge taboo within my adoptive family. In retrospect, I think that I internalized my adoptive mother’s shame (of me not being her biological child, due to infertility). Only my adoptive family, my biological family, and 1 or 2 friends of mine knew. Random strangers and acquaintances used to comment “it’s obvious, you guys are mother & daughter”. I always hated it, while my adoptive mother loved it, of course.
Since I came out of the “fog” two years ago, I finally found my voice, and I can’t help to constantly talk about my adoption. Guess it’s some sort of trauma response/coming out of the “fog”/healing thing. I lost a good friend because of this. Guess, she only wants to listen to rainbows & unicorns stories. Anyway. Being ghosted, abandoned, etc. triggers a different kind of shame. The shame most adoptees know all to well: not being good enough, not being worthy of existence, etc.
The mom who posted the question responded – We each have our stories that we tell ourselves. In my case I was convinced my daughter would be happier than I was growing up because she’d been chosen/wanted whereas I was one more unwanted/unplanned kid for parents who didn’t enough patience or resources to do a loving job of it. I thought my daughter would be well-off and have everything she wanted. And she did, as far as material things, but as you and others have taught me, nothing can take the place of your mother. One of my daughters, who I raised, told me she’d say to her half sister, if they ever connect, “That I got you (me, her mom) and you didn’t”. That really hit home. It’s too late now, my first daughter is in her fifties and unable to walk that road. It doesn’t matter how much I want her. (blogger’s comment – this seems to be a common perspective among some adoptees, who know their genetic/biological mother went on to have children that she did keep. It adds to those feelings of somehow being not good enough.)
Then this one – I never did, but my adoptive parents told me from the start the story of my adoption, so it was just something I always knew. I knew it wasn’t because of anything I did or didn’t do and I never really felt “abandoned”. There were a few times growing up where I felt different than my peers, but it was few and far between.
I know there is a lot of pressure on adoptees to be grateful and just fit the happy rainbows and sunshine narrative that a lot of people think adoption is. While I am grateful and love my adoptive parents dearly, and don’t even feel a particularly strong connection to my birth mother, I am just now acknowledging the fact that adoption is inherently traumatic. I am in my 30’s. The agency I was placed with is highly reputable and one of the best in the country. My adoptive parents were told I would have resources. if I ever needed them growing up. That turned out to be untrue.
I know this blog is long but I do think it is important to understand the mental/emotional impact of having been adopted on the adopted person themselves. So one final comment – Not only internalized shame, also we are shamed by others. Children can be particularly cruel, and I can still feel the burning sting of shame when hearing things said by my school mates taunting: calling me ‘second hand’ and “no wonder my family didn’t want me.’. Sadly, both are factually correct.