First of all, I would like to clarify that when I write, "adoptive parents," I hope readers have the discernment to understand that I am not writing "all adoptive parents" but rather simply "adoptive parents," which can more specifically be interpreted as "those adoptive parents to whom the said description or behavior applies."
If you read a post and the said behavior or description does not apply to you, then voila, it doesn't apply to you. If you read a post, and it does happen to apply to you either at some point in the past or currently, understand that it is not meant to tear you down or make you feel poorly about yourself. Rather, it is meant to help. The intention of blogging about these topics is never to tear down, but rather to build up, out of a hope to educate those who are willing to read along.
* * *
This leads me to the other issue I'd like to address:
The Catch 22 of being an adult adoptee, and in particular an adult adoptee who strives to educate. I blog, in part, with the goal of raising awareness and promoting education regarding the adoptee experience, often using my personal experiences as well as those of other adoptees to inform my blogging.
So often, as adoptees, we can feel misunderstood by (a few or sometimes, many) adoptive parents, social workers, friends, family, and the general public.
Subsequently, I have always believed that a very effective way to deal with misunderstandings and ignorance is to make honest efforts to educate people whether the issue is disease or gardening, racism or adoption.
That's, in part, why I blog--to educate. While it's also therapeutic and a way for me to process and work through my own thoughts and emotions regarding the adoptee experience, I also hope that in doing so, others will benefit from the insight.
* * *
What I am realizing, however, is that not everyone wants to be educated. More specifically, not everyone wants to be educated in ways that do not confirm their biases or preconceptions. In other words, some prefer selective education. (I have to watch this tendency toward confirmation bias in myself as well. We're all subject to it, and hence, we must all be vigilant not to succumb to it...)
What I mean is this:
People ask, "Well how can you expect others to understand what it's like to be an adoptee if you don't help them understand, if you don't take the time to explain it to them?"
True, I say. You're right. What good is it for me to rant and rave about the lack of awareness if I'm not willing to do anything to cultivate and advocate increased understanding.
Hence, I blog and try to bring certain issues to light--and not hypothetical issues, but real-life issues from personal encounters and experiences.
Yet, even with these attempts, I am faced then with reactions from those who try to redirect me, whether passively or blatantly, by telling me that I focus too much on the negative aspects of the adoptee experience and that I need to expose myself more to those who have had a more positive experience.
And voila, we have a "Catch 22."
Please, tell us what you're feeling, please...well, except for that. Oh, and that, too. Oh, and well, that one, too. But no really, we want to hear what you have to say...well, maybe you could say this instead, and maybe leave that out, and well, omit that, and maybe add this. But other than that, yes, please we really value your insight and experience. But maybe don't focus so much on that. You got it?
First of all, do you or don't you want to know the realities of not only my adoption experience, but of many? Folks tell me I can't expect anyone to understand what it's like to be an adoptee unless I talk about it, but then when I do, they proceed to react in such a way that communicates that they don't really want to hear about it unless I'm praising and adulating all the wonders of adoption.
Second of all, just because I may write about some of the more difficult issues doesn't mean I'm a negative person. Criticism does not equate "angry, negative adoptee." I'm simply trying to provide balance.
There is no dearth of veneration for the practice of adoption. In fact, at least in my experience, the predominant perspective toward adoption among the general public and the adoption field remains one of veneration and admiration for those families who adopt. Let me be clear--my goal is NOT to oppose or demean those who participate in adoption, whether agencies or parents, but simply to provide balance to the perspective. You say toe-mah-toe, I say toe-may-toe.
There is no need to fear visiting the difficult and darker sides of adoption. It is necessary, for the sake of everyone involved, and in particular, the children who must ultimately live with such complexities for the remainder of their lives. Children will encounter no shortage of people telling them how grateful and happy they should feel about their adoption. But they also will encounter no shortage of conflicting emotions and thoughts internally, at school, and in the general community. The way to help adoptees to cope with such complexities is not to shut out one perspective to the detriment of another, but to allow them to face each.
Yet, repeatedly, I encounter folks who clearly find it annoying or undermining that I discuss the difficulties of adoption again and again. They want me to "move on," and get to the "happy stuff."
Okay, how about this? I'll "move on" when being adopted ceases to affect my every day life.
* * *
Not too long ago, a fellow adoptee friend, whom I'll refer to as "D" had an experience that exemplifies consummately the Catch 22 to which I am referring. Just for context, D is a mature adult and an accomplished professional. She is a warm, respectful, and emotionally mature individual. She is honest while considerate and understanding.
An adoption agency, which will remain anonymous, contacted her and invited her to speak with a group of prospective adoptive parents. It is important to mention that this adoption agency lauds itself as being one of the more progressive adoption agencies in operation, as demonstrated by its outreach program to include adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.
(Indeed, I appreciate such a program, and I personally wish that all adoption agencies would establish open programs that involve adult adoptees in the education process of prospective adoptive parents.)
Again, keep in mind that the adoption agency initiated contact with D, not the other way around. The agency repeatedly invited D to participate, even after D expressed some apprehension, not because she did not want to participate, but because she was not certain whether she was the "type of adoptee" the agency preferred.
In other words, D very clearly expressed to the program coordinator that she wanted to be able to very honest about her experiences, but that D felt hesitant that the agency had a certain expectation or agenda for what she could and could not share.
The program coordinator (who herself is an adult adoptee) reassured D that the most important thing for D to do was to share openly and honestly, and that if any of the parents had a hard time with what she shared, then all the more reason that D needed to share her perspective. The program coordinator stated that the parents needed to hear what D had to say, especially if the parents were going to be serious about adopting.
So, with such reassurance, D, along with another adult adoptee, attended a meeting with a group of prospective adoptive parents considering adopting through this particular agency.
The other adult adoptee shared first, during which D would occasionally interject her insight or feedback. Eventually, D spoke about her experiences as an adoptee with the group. At one point, D got a little emotional, simply meaning her eyes welled up with a few tears, and she got a little choked up as she tried to explain how being adopted has been a lifetime process for her rather than one with a clear beginning and ending.
She simply wanted to make it clear to this particular group of parents that being an adoptee never ends or stops, but rather it is an ongoing process of maintenance and discovery that is not only wonderful and hopeful but can also often be painful and difficult. Although D got a little emotional, it was not disproportionately so, nor did she lose control or raise her voice. Her pain simply pierced her words and revealed itself in a few tears. As an adoptee myself who has spoken to numerous adoptive parent groups, I can completely relate.
After the meeting was completed, the program coordinator approached D and the other adoptee and thanked them profusely, telling them each that what they had shared was so valuable and meaningful, and that surely the parents would benefit.
D, obviously, felt relieved and glad that she had been able to participate and had been able to share so vulnerably and openly, despite her initial reservations. She felt comforted, as though she had been able to make a difference in these parents' and their prospective children's lives.
Shortly after the event, the program coordinator (who, again, is an adult adoptee) called D. D was thinking that perhaps the program coordinator wanted her to come speak again with another prospective adoptive parent group.
Well, not so much.
In short, the program coordinator basically told D, "You are not welcome here at any point in the future."
Basically, the coordinator told D that the agency had made a mistake by inviting her to speak with the parent group, not realizing D's "current state." The coordinator explained to D that because of her "emotional state" it would be best for her not to return to participate in the program.
More specifically, the coordinator cited that several of the parents had gotten upset and had experienced difficulty with D's emotional expressiveness when she was sharing about her adoption experience, and that some of the parents felt disturbed and unsettled afterwards.
Uh, ok? Isn't that the point? To give parents a realistic and balanced view? The other adult adoptee who had shared expressed less difficulty with her adoption experience and provided reassurance to the parents that, despite the initial losses, everything would be just fine. Great. Every perspective is valid. Again, everyperspective.
Sure. Adoptive parents need reassurance at times, but not necessarily that things will always work out as planned ("Sticking with a Wounded Child" & "The Myth of the Forever Family"), but rather that there may be certain unpredictable elements and variations that are normal, considering the circumstances of adoption.
Hence, both D's and the other adult adoptee's perspectives are valid. But the fact that D's perspective was rejected by this prominent and so-called "progressive" adoption agency greatly discourages and disturbs me. And honestly, it makes me angry.
And of course, I can't help but wonder if this so-called "progressive" adoption agency is rejecting D's perspective, which is a very normal, healthy perspective, what are other "less progressive" agencies doing?
It's not that the aforementioned agency was not teaching that loss and grief are normal aspects of adoption. It's that they were teaching parents that D's response to such loss and grief was not normal or acceptable. This simultaneously hurts and infuriates me, because such practices fail the families involved.
It's not that the agency was not including adult adoptees in the education process, but that the agency was excluding and rejecting a valid and honest perspective because that perspective made the parents uncomfortable.
If agencies expose parents only to those perspectives with which they are comfortable, who are they truly seeking to serve, themselves, or the children being adopted?
Look, I know it's a complicated web of trying to triage the desperate needs of thousands upon thousands of children and finding able parents for these children (we must also remember that there are many children who would have remained with their biological families had the resources been available). Due to the multiple stresses coupled with a sense of urgency, mistakes happen and the "ideal situation" often abdicates to "good enough."
But this is all the more reason to continue to discuss and seek out ways to ameliorate a flawed and overworked system.
* * *
I understand that we don't always have to agree with one another on every point. That's unrealistic and, well, simply not possible. But we can provide a safe and open environment for the varying experiences and perspectives of different adoptees.
To shut out an adoptee because her perspective deviates from what you prefer is painfully narrow-minded and selfish.
I may not always agree with every fellow adoptee, but I can respect each experience and point of view as valid and worthy of consideration. It is true that there are plenty of folks out there who do practice such tolerance and openness.
Yet, sadly enough, it is also true that there are agencies and people out there who choose not to demonstrate this basic consideration, as exemplified not only by D's unfortunate experience but by countless others.
* * *
There are so many adult adoptees eager to share their experiences and insight with the hope that doing so will contribute in very real and practical ways to the much needed changes and reforms in adoption practices and philosophies.
Many tell us that they want to hear what we have to say. Many express a desire to consider and apply what we have learned.
Yet so often, when we finally choose to speak up and share our insight and ideas, our voice is either discounted or patronized. We encounter resistance and rejection from the very people who claim to value what we have to offer.
Adult adoptees are not the enemy.
We are the experts, and we deserve to be taken seriously.