to survive or thrive

I love gardening. I love waking up and walking outside to my suburban yard each morning and seeing what sprouted up overnight, checking if any tiny tender green leaves cut their way through my sandy South Jersey soil.

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I’m an impatient gardener, though, getting down on my hands and knees several times a day, inspecting the dirt while the morning’s moisture seeps through the knees of my pants.

Recently and at my urging, my husband and I moved a knockout rose bush from our shady front yard to a super-sunny spot in the backyard, knowing it’d bloom tremendously with the sun’s uninterrupted light. In its previous location, it was a woody and awkward thing–bordering on an eyesore–producing only one or two tiny roses each season but never anything more.

It was surviving out front, sure. But was it thriving? No.

Any plant will survive in imperfect conditions, as long as it has the absolute minimum requirements to keep itself going. But if it’s a flowering species, it likely won’t offer blooms, only green leafy stems and foliage but never reaching its true potential.

Like that rose bush, many adoptees simply survive. We move forward using grit and adrenaline, pulling through abuse and racism and second-class status and hurt and loss, and we become functional adults with lives built on, again, survival.

But we’re not thriving.

I think about what happened with that rose bush and what happened to me and plenty of adoptees like me. Taken from uncertain circumstances in mysterious greenhouse incubators, plunked down in an environment offering life’s basics and maybe even a little “more,” yet still unable to reach our full potential. We fail to thrive. Or, using my gardening example, maybe we notice a struggling little patch of grass attempting to set seed, give it water, and walk away, wondering why isn’t it growing?

But this is what’s happening:

After we got my dog, after my husband attended therapy with me, and after I slowly discovered that what adoption and racism did to me wasn’t healthy, did I find myself just like the plants outside. Because when I was young, after growing not into the docile Asian daughter promised by the adoption agency, but instead a headstrong girl with her own personality, genetic code, and needs, I was transformed into my family’s ungrateful wench. The miserable bitch who started arguments with my parents and just couldn’t be happy.

My family was full of homecoming queens and prom kings and sports stars. I was anti-social, a bookworm, and hung out with losers (even though I had few friends). I frequently lost friends due to my jealousy and difficulty trusting people. None of this was attributed to adoption or my insecure attachments. Instead, it was my status as my family’s outcast that simply explained it all.

I was difficult, yes. But like many adoptees (especially transracial ones adopted in the early days), emphasis was placed on my problems being due to lack of gratitude and severe personality defects. None of it was attributed to my environment or stuff like this:

or this:

I’m not perfect. I absolutely had an attitude problem, but like my rose bush, in the wrong environment–even with the minimal requirements needed to live–an adoptee or wounded child won’t grow into a happy teen and contented adult.  For many years, I blamed myself for being different. I lashed out at anyone white, anyone thin, anyone better than me because there was always something wrong with meWithout understanding or compassion, there’s no way to safely move from survival mode to thriving. So we shift into fight mode, unable to take flight until we’re able to detach ourselves from that environment and rebuild our lives.

I don’t blame my family or my community. By stepping back and observing life’s strange landscapes, I’m able to see that we all had a responsibility to each other and somewhere, something failed us. And maybe that’s why I’ve spent years trying to perfect my plants. Seeing life take shape from my best efforts rewards me by providing a living metaphor for life.

I am so happy to have found support and space to thrive. Learning to trust this environment–one I’m building entirely on my own with a few special folks (and you) along the way–is terrifying. But my hope is that we all tell our stories and are given equal representation in the media and the safety to explore our histories. We aren’t perfect, but we aren’t to be shunned for our depression or rage or challenging behavior. No child deserves to be labeled by their own family, but as my time in my garden illustrates, thriving is possible once you find an environment that allows you to bloom.

getting help, giving help: my husband attended my adoption therapy session

We’re alone, we’re isolated, we feel defeated. Adoptees express a stomach-tightening terror at sharing their perspectives with others, fearing immediate judgment and blame if their adoption experience does not line up with typical societal expectations.

But yesterday, after many months of putting him off, I finally allowed my husband (Jason) to attend a counseling session with me. He was more than willing to come with me, carving out precious time in his work schedule every other Wednesday, tentatively asking each week: Do you want me to keep it on my calendar? I will move a meeting for you.

I put him off because I wasn’t ready to let him into my space. He understood. But he was anxious to attend, as he’d admitted his ignorance to burden of pain I carry, a load filled with trauma and abuse and abandonment and racism. Our arguments frequently centered around those issues. My jealousy of his comparatively typical upbringing led us to ugly fights and triggered (I hate that overused word) intense blistering rage in me, forcing him into first a defensive mode and finally, for his emotional survival, offensive.

This wasn’t healthy, but it’s not surprising given my relationship with adoption and his only tangenital exposure to it. It’s a plight many adoptees face when in intimate relations with others.

But letting him attend yesterday was a hugely positive experience and this is why.

  1. We talked freely with a mediator. Neither of us was allowed to veer off into angerland.
  2. Sharlene (my therapist) would interject if it appeared one of us was not hearing the other.
  3. If one of us wasn’t effectively communicating, Sharlene would stop us and re-interpret.
  4. We left with a tangible plan of how to handle large issues, based on an agreed upon strategy. Small steps, though.

My goal is to get Jason to understand the depth of my pain, something he won’t always be able to properly respond to or comprehend. But the idea is I want him to just acknowledge what I carry each day and if he can, then true healing can begin.

What we had to do was learn that we can validate each other’s experiences without invalidating our own. This is hard for adoptees, because many of us have such polarized thinking that if someone isn’t fully with us, they’re fully against us (like we’re either kept or given up; no in-between). We also need to respect each other’s emotions because there’s no good trying to change either a feeling or an opinion.

And one thing I constantly tried to do was seek apologies. But seeking apologies only asks for someone to be a bad guy and someone to be a good guy, another hallmark trait of an abandonment and abuse mindset. So instead, we look more to addressing that we’ve been triggered, give ourselves a time-out, and move forward.

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I’m sharing this because it is possible to make it through this adoption mess with someone, but it’s okay to do it on your time. It took me years before I allowed him into my therapy session. It’s a risk, just like any part of our adoption journey. I am thrilled he’s so willing to help me, for our family’s sake and my own, and I want you to know it can be done.

Be good to yourself and never settle for anyone or anything less than what you feel is right for you. Before Jason, I’d played into the evils that were fed to me from my family and community, dating only those who were not good for me because I didn’t feel I was good enough in general. Good enough for a quality partner, good enough to be a friend, good enough to be a child worth keeping; the only position I’d ever believed I properly held was second best. I worry this is a chronic issue in adoptees. Since we were left by our first caregiver, why should be good enough for anyone else? 

I don’t expect anything to happen quickly, though. Sharlene emphasized patience. And for the first time in my life, I have patience, for myself and someone else. I think we owe it to ourselves as adoptees to allow ourselves the space to heal, to not rush ourselves this time. After all, so much has been taken away from us, but this time, we can use our path to healing as the first step in regaining control over a life that we never chose.

“we family”: a message on adoption trauma, from my son

monica-gozalo-138999-unsplashPeople who don’t believe in adoption trauma didn’t see my three-and-a-half year old’s son reaction when I angrily told him

I’m leaving.

I’m ashamed, I am. It was an unusually difficult day, with him home from school sick with the sort of illness that spontaneously resolves an hour after drop-off. I’d hopefully began my day, intending to write and do the other invisible things mothers do while children are busy growing.

By evening and before my writing workshop, I’d had it with L’s* “failure to listen.” He, along with the dog, ran sprints around my first floor, screaming and barking in a way that made it difficult to determine which noise was coming from what temporary monstrosity. My husband was almost home and I was putting on my coat so I could escape.

L lunged down the narrow hallway, screaming a preschooler’s typical gibberish. I screamroared

Mommy’s leaving you because you never listen.

L stopped.

The dog stopped.

The air in the house, previously made of shaking atoms and vibrating sound waves, became a paralytic poison.

L’s face held none of the smiling glee from the seconds before I swiped at his confidence. He looked at me with a primal vulnerability. He considered my threat and said

You can’t leave. We family.

And in that moment I realized exactly what I said and what adoption trauma did to me. It transformed mothering into an option, a threat, a weapon. A powerful tool to wield at misbehaving children because I believed myself unwanted. A five-second declaration laid bare my fractured attitude toward family.

I share this shameful moment as proof of a child’s awareness of a mother’s presence. And that a threat to leave—not just to leave to run errands but to leave, forever—is understood in a child’s abstract way. My voice, a tool used for sharing my own adoption trauma, issued forth the same threat adoptees received from their relinquishments.

I hope readers struggling to accept the reality of adoption trauma read my words and finally believe. Believe babies and children are equipped with survival instincts so heightened that those intuitions remain at the forefront of their innocent defense; and, believe, for once, this trauma manifests itself throughout an adoptee’s lifetime.

I am not proud of my behavior. I am working conscientiously to correct my words and understand my actions. I have since apologized to my sweet son, but I want my example to ring forth as a warning:

Adoption trauma exists. Overcoming trauma takes years of dedicated work. Adults possess a power over children that deserves mindful awareness. Please remember: Children are listening.

*Name abbreviated to protect the (literal) innocent. And to prevent him from, years from now, yelling “MOOOMMM!” when he finds my writings.

what my first launch party taught me about adoption writing

Hello, adoption activists: We’re begging the non-adoption community to #JustListen, but I think they might be hearing us.

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Thank you, Tilde: A Literary Magazine and The Spiral Bookcase!

Before reading “the lucky ones,” I introduced myself as what others would consider an adoption activist, but I told the crowd that I just call myself a writer. I explained that adoptees are desparate to be heard, but we’re speaking to a crowd already familiar with our struggle.

But art, I said, is a great unifier.

Through “the lucky ones” and other pieces I hope to release (including the upcoming “playground ghost,” due out next month by Parhelion Literary Magazine), I present, in what’s intended to be a relatable way, our pain and loss and longing. All of those heartaches are easily identifiable by anyone, adopted or not,  who circulates among us throughout this sometimes-wretched hive. But by weaving the subject within words recognizable by any human who experienced abandonment, people will, I think, find themselves behind the same mask adoption activists wear and understand our small niche’s large undertaking.

I encourage you to use whatever skills or talents you have to keep pushing for an audience. Knit hats for struggling young mothers, donate diapers to women’s shelters, create pottery for baby mementos–it doesn’t matter. Our art will resonate with the greater community–just speak to them and they will listen.

It will happen–we won’t give up.

A special thank you to Frank and Stephanie and Reshma and Lynelle and Rochelle and Marcie and Suzan and Lana and Adam and Liz and countless others who have helped get my work off the ground. Much appreciated!

the challenge in adoption writing

There’s a disturbing trend in adoption activism.

We all seem to write for each other, without hitting our ultimate goal: Reaching an apathetic public, a population whose interest ranges from “mildly disinterested” to “dangerously ill-informed.”

This isn’t surprising, given we’re up against issues like Anne Heffron’s points out below:heffron

It’s not surprising, but it is discouraging. Then we have another issue: rhetoric. Are adoptees orphans (no, most are not)? Can we call adoptive parents “adoptive parents,” and should we refer to birth mothers as “first mothers” or “natural mothers” or “biological mothers”? The adoption community debates these terms extensively, confusing ourselves and definitely confounding outsiders.

And then there’s the argument over who is allowed to discuss what. Can non-adoptees speak to the adoptee experience? Should adoptive parents have any say in their children’s lives? And are birth parents really the forgotten party in the adoption discussion?

Finally–and perhaps most damningly–there’s the Angry versus Happy Adoptee distinction, an informal label bandied around to stigmatize, invalidate, and attempt to win arguments. We’re scrambling to say something new, impactful, and purposeful, but activist’s messages get lost in the flurry to push out content.

Naturally, I speak only from the transracial adoptee perspective, since that’s my lived experience and the only one I feel qualified to discuss. But even then, there’s a tendency toward defensiveness, as though I still don’t possess the necessary skill set for maintaining my position.

None of this creates an environment inviting outside stakeholders to enact change. If we’re not united, it’s challenging for others to hear our cries. But adoptees know it’s near impossible for us to agree on a stance, but we concede that adoption is not a self-directed choice.

 So, as a thought experiment, I’d ask you to consider how hearing “I’m sorry you had such a negative experience” would feel if someone said that to you if you struggled with infertility before you adopted, or any of the other hard life experiences people live through that they had no control over.

Adoptees are the experts on being adopted.  Still, our lives are frequently illustrated by a partially informed public, or by those whose experience doesn’t align with our own.   Adoptees haven’t yet defined the line between objectifying ourselves and becoming consultants.

How do we use our voices as vehicles for meaningful change? Here’s my idea:

  • Temporarily set aside our anger and acknowledge that adopters and adoption agencies, like us, believe in their mission. People are more likely to listen to rational speakers.
  • Feature different adoption activists in our blogs, supporting each other even if we don’t 100% agree with a nuance in another’s view
  • Stop arguing about terminology amongst ourselves and focus on our real goals

I don’t suggest forgetting that certain terms are debatable or abandoning our passion projects. Our conversations absolutely have merit and will enact positive change. But we’ll likely never agree; adoption is too personal an issue for that to happen any time soon.

Instead, for now, I argue for coherency and collaboration. Idealistic, sure. Results-oriented? Absolutely.

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Society’s Perpetual Children: An Introduction to the Adoptee Condition (Part Two)

Part One introduced adoptees as perpetual children and their status as invisible minorites. Part Two focuses on adoption insults and the American family.

We might wonder how we arrived here, with so many adoptees divided on the subject of their birth and subsequent adoptions. We’ve established that inevitable myths and maybes are associated with adoptions of all kinds (intercountry, transracial, domestic, etc.), creating chasms among diverse sets of adoptees, but what else created society’s invisible minority?

Two ongoing external factors keep adoptees in a childlike stasis: One, the continued abuse of the phrase “You’re adopted!” and two, misconceptions of the traditional American family.

Let’s go back in time by briefly recapping American family history, starting with the 1950s—the time when adoption (especially intercountry/transracial adoption) became more common. Then we’ll look at the media’s use of adoption as an insult and tie the themes together to understand adoptees’ current condition.

Remember, this article only briefly summarizes a deeper conversation—my work-in-progress dives further into the literature and its greater impact on adoption. For simplicity’s sake, I’m focusing on the period between 1950 and 1980.

Be sure to follow me for more sneak peeks!

Leaving “Leave it to Beaver” Behind

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Children of the 1980s watched reruns of “Happy Days,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “The Donna Reed Show,” often alongside parents for whom these programs elicited nostalgia for the good old days. Dads knew best, making fathers all-knowing beings who created and supported progeny with guaranteed good futures. Moms were usually smiling dress-wearing chefs.

Younger generations criticize these whitewashed shows, mocking the racially and gender-role limited representation of the all-American household. But popular culture is a pervasive creature, weaving its way into fading memories and creating reality out of potentially unhappy fictions. What we end up with is a pervasive idea that families must match and anything else—especially a white family with a non-white addition—symbolizes failure or distrust.

Adoptive parents raised in the 1950s absorbed a culture that newly encouraged “men as well as women…to root their identity and self-image in familial and parental roles.” What with Cold Wars and World Wars, an emerging middle-class of white Americans were ready to embrace their latest post-War economic gains and make the nuclear family “the most salient symbol and immediate beneficiary of their newfound prosperity.”

These financial freedoms weren’t available to non-Whites, but that’s no matter: The rising racial divides and battles for equal minority representation were mostly hidden from families nestled in homes behind white-picket fences and cul-de-sacs. As a result, the ideal family was neighborly, homogenous, and conformist.

Today, it’s easy to see the consequences of such self-imposed sheltering, but how did it impact adoption?

Adoption: the Ultimate Non-Conformity

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At the same time monoracial middle-class family units prospered, Korean adoptees—brought to the United States beginning in the 1940s and continuing en masse through the 1980s—matured alongside this budding American dream. Their existence, along with black adoptees (adopted less frequently than Koreans), was set against a backdrop of sameness. But transracial adoptees represented to liberals a social progression; proponents for racial equality could point to transracial adoption and proclaim that we’ve achieved success.

But for others, adoption may have been a blight on American achievements. Since non-white persons still retained “other” status, their unmistakable presence among their adoptive families may have led outsiders to question the stability of the so-called traditional American family.

And, despite the 1960s and 1970s notable progressiveness, adoptees whose appearance differed from their families remained polarizing symbols: either progressives were doing something right or they took equality too far. For adoptees who matched, their existences became a sometimes shameful secret—what damage could an unwanted child bring to a family?

The Adoption Insult

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With the nuclear family tantamount to success, adoptees symbolized failure: Someone failed to care for these “orphans,” someone failed to take advantage of the economic prosperity available to middle-class Americans, someone failed to adhere to the country’s still-pervasive Christian values.

It’s then that adoption became an insult since adoptees represented an affront to “proper” society. On one hand, optimistic people viewed it as another American achievement; we can afford to take care of others as well as ourselves. But ultimately, less-informed or more traditional folk may have viewed it as a serious decline of moral values.

*

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan declared

[T]he family has somehow become less important. Well, I can’t help thinking just the opposite: that when so much around us is whispering the little lie that we should live only for the moment and for ourselves, it’s more important than ever for our families to affirm an older and more lasting set of values.

In Reagan’s conclusion, he wistfully noted that “there is a certain quietness, a certain calm: the calm of one still night long ago and of a family—father, mother, and newborn child,” leaving very little room for adoptees and plenty of space for stubborn adherence to so-called societal norms.

With so much optimistic fervor surrounding family traditions, it logically follows that “Mom and Dad don’t really love you—you’re adopted!” and “Don’t mind Johnny’s taste for eating paper plates; he’s adopted!” would result.

Unfortunately, Hollywood love(s) this trope, prominently featuring it in 1990’s Problem Child, where even considering adopting a troubled child creates a black mark in an entire neighborhood. (Not to mention the “He’s not even a real kid. He’s adopted!” quip.) The implication seems to be that orphans are dangerous cat-throwing pyromaniacs who worship prisoners in the guise of Michael Richards. And the overarching sentiment lies solely with his poor, well-meaning parents–Junior’s issues are only barely acknowledged.

This movie—and countless other media representations—made adoption a punch line, a stigmatizing condition that’s either all good or all bad. And despite the rise of charities supporting children’s needs, it was best to philanthropize at a distance; inviting stranger children into our homes overstepped boundaries, highlighting unsolvable societal problems.

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*

Maybe my definition of adoptees as invisible minorities needs a revision. Adoptees may be more accurately described as “society’s shameful open secret,” especially when leaders declare that “in recent decades the American family has come under virtual attack.” Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union address also perpetuated adoption misconceptions, firmly entrenching adoptees in a state of inertia.

*

Part Three will conclude this series, wrapping up with discussion of adoptees’ current efforts to undo these misconceptions. I’ll disuss the challenges they face, as well as what else must be done if adoptees are to change adoption’s public perception.

In the meantime, I recommend reading The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, by Stephanie Coontz. She breaks apart the so-called traditional family myth and shows that no such thing really existed.

I encourage you to comment or contact me–we can’t grow without a good discussion!

Thanks so much for reading and remember: Share this article so non-adoptees can be drawn into our cause.

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Society’s Perpetual Children: An Introduction to the Adoptee Condition (Part One)

The mismatch in expectations versus reality for adoptees and non-adoptees is obvious. To expand adoption’s relevancy, this ongoing longform series provides a high-level view of adoptees’ current perspectives. I’ll attempt to uncover why adoptee writing stays relegated to niche groups or newsletters; why adoptee mistreatment and abuse makes ripples only amongst those affected; and what we can do to simply care. By moving away from adoptee-as-child terminology and welcoming non-adoptees into the conversation, we can begin taking their experiences seriously.

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Dear Adoption–great site with amazing perspectives.

There exists a group of people, foreigners within their own families, who form kinship from strangers’ blood. Adopted as babies and children and teens, they mature into adulthood yet remain forever frozen as society’s adopted children.

It doesn’t matter how assimilated adoptees become, into their new families or into new cultures if immigrating from another country. For some reason, they’re referred to — even by government representatives — as children. Adults adopted as a result of wartime conflicts, like Amerasians of the Korean War or the Vietnamese left behind after that war, have clearly aged into adults. Many, like Lynelle Long, become activists who meet with country officials to voice their concerns with the practice. Despite their accomplishments, though, they’re still viewed as the children sent away.

Why are we categorizing a subset of our adult population this way?

Adoptees have known two mothers, two lives, and migrated within two worlds, sometimes jarred violently from a womb to a stranger’s waiting arms. Adoptees survive this and develop into mostly capable adults, but then have their frequently traumatic experiences buried under childlike descriptions.

There is a reason for this stasis.

Society still devours happy endings. Adoptees are the ultimate humanitarian symbol: Presumably unwanted, a willing family took a child in and saved them, imbuing an aura of childlike wonder around them. Refugees and orphans become a parent’s act of charity and love. What could be better than that?

But admitting the adopted child grows up means acknowledging that we may have objectified a human being. To remedy the mistake, adoptee experiences that don’t align with our expectations are discredited.

It’s time to #JustListen.

The Curious Phenomenon

Ending the story once an adoption’s finalized creates a curious phenomenon: We tune out the object of fascination, hearing from them only what validates our values.

In an era where hasty generalizations are eschewed, the population most impacted by adoption — adoptees —  remains largely overlooked.

Some adoptive parents make cutesy videos about their adoption announcements, garnering thousands of views, shares, and outpourings of financial and emotional support. (Note: I do not support that video. At all.)

Once the object — the child — is obtained, the story ends. At least for the adoptee.

The parent’s journey continues. Their struggles raising a child with predictable attachment and other behavioral issues become the parent’s burden, not the child’s. Here the parents are at an advantage, getting to tell their story before the child has the vocabulary necessary to speak out.

The adoptee doesn’t get the opportunity to speak, at least not until they’re older, when their disgruntled blogs and tweets and Facebook statuses are overshadowed by their parent’s love and selfless devotion. By then, the child has become trapped in a sort of suspended animation; always adopted, yet expected to accept — without question — their circumstances.

Yet — and here’s where it’s really curious — many kids, especially adolescents, experience turbulent, ragey years. As a natural reaction to the dichotomy of budding independence yet still dependent upon parental financial and emotional support, teens rebel. But adoptees, already hampered by origin issues and (for transracial adoptees) racial identity confusion, act out even stronger, filtering frustration from a place more primal than simple teenage rebellion.

They’re expressing grief. Deep, traumatic grief, couched in abandonment issues that manifest themselves as relationship difficulties, drug or alcohol abuse, or — in some cases — suicide.

And even so, reports focus on how much the parents struggled with the child’s behavior, how much effort was wasted on someone who was selfishly unreceptive to love.

 

When any child has serious troubles, it’s a tragedy for that child and the family. When the adopted child has problems, it’s personal. It’s a direct insult and a bitter truth: Love isn’t always enough. That truth manifests as resentment on a parent’s and greater society’s behalf; after all, if a practice so rooted in love and selflessness could be so easily dismissed by the “saved,” it’s easier to blame the victim than address the problem’s roots.

The Invisible Minority

There’s another reason we need to pay attention to adoptee voices.

Adoptees are the ones with first-hand experience in a system that took away their control, but no one seems to hear what they’re trying to say.

They live and work alongside you, but you’d never know their secret. They’re part of a population with life stories that began with true uncertainty and unwant. They encompass all races and hail from a plethora of countries.

They began their lives with loss and gains, asked for and about but never just asked.

Still, adoption remains an uncomfortable topic for some, an insult for others, or, in its extreme, a divine act proposed by God. Even as adoptee activists write strongly-worded missives against the practice, create catchy hashtags (#BeingAdoptedMeans and #JustListen are the popular ones), and maintain well-trafficked blogs, they only garner mass attention when something ugly happens.

Take, for instance, the South Korean adoptee who was deported then committed suicide in his “home” country. Or the recent article about the three-year-old girl murdered by her adoptive parents. Obviously these incidents belie any happy ending, though some are still inclined to believe these are one-offs in a largely beneficial system.

When adoptees speak out about the practice — mind you, they’re not doing it as a reactionary measure but in addition to these tragic events — they’re ignored or challenged:

This was actually said by an adoptee to another adoptee — the cannibalism is real.

If this were any other group clamoring for attention, I believe they’d be much more successful. Instead, it remains easier to cling to myths and maybes about a practice than systematically change our opinions. And when adoptee protests are drowned out by kitchsy videos and GoFundMe requests by prospective adoptive parents, adoptees are seen as ungrateful bitter jerks.

With minority status, perhaps their activism will be taken more seriously; rather than being viewed as ungratefuls rebelling against their saint-like parents, they’ll hopefully emerge into mainstream conversations as a marginalized group long misunderstood by stereotypes and stigmas.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Facing Forward

As families change shape and form, as reproductive technologies and the definitions of motherhood and fatherhood blur, adoptees cannot and should not be overlooked in these discussions.

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Courtesy of Confessions of an Adoptee

After all, adoptees asserted their space in a society that still prioritizes biological relations. Adoptees, perhaps, are society’s pariahs. They don’t deserve that status. Adoptees were among the first to rewrite our country’s perception of the traditional family, yet are assigned passive roles. It’s the notion of the adopted child that keeps them ignored.

Part Two of this series will look at America’s role in creating adoption insults and America’s historical relationship with the traditional family.

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adopting motherhood

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Adoptees talk about birth moms and adoptive moms and make up clever names like “first moms.” Some of the angry ones call them worst moms.

But we don’t talk about what happens when adoptees become moms. What do we call them?

Our children call us Mommy or Momma or Mom, but I just call myself Lost.

I relate the following as my example of an adoptee’s complex relationship with motherhood, an already challenging position. I encourage adoptees to share their stories so others realize how our inauspicious beginnings follow us to parenthood.


My mother died when I was twenty-five. She endured three anxious years of surgeries and blood tests while I watched the only mother I’d ever known slowly leave me.

Wait–that’s not right. I knew another mother, but only for two-and-a-half months. And then we parted ways. When I sought her out, I discovered she died less than ten years post-me.

So I’m again mom-less, raising a son with only memories for guidance. Like any mother, I’m doing the best I can. But there’s a difference:

I envy my son.

I envy my son because at three years old he knows something I don’t–the privilege of having a consistent caregiver, one who never questioned his existence. He carelessly plays his days away, taking for granted a woman who spirits pretzels and juice and raisins to his side, knowing no different.

Apologies, but the piece I adapted this section for HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR PUBLICATION! I will link to this story once it goes live, but the overall message here will stay 🙂

For adoptees, parenting is a declaration: We survived.  We carry traumas from our abandonments, yet we’re using them to make us stronger parents.  Simply being present means we’ve done more for ourselves and our children than was ever done for us.

Adoptees are rewriting adoption’s definition.  The literature rarely looks at adoptees as parents, making our insights invaluable to the practice. Let’s start sharing now and give  them something to talk about.


Be a part of the future! If you’re interested in sharing your adoptee-turned-parent story, feel free to contact me.  I’ll use our stories to weave together a long-form article on adoptee parents. Thanks!

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!