Are you one of those people who think of adoption as a really happy, wonderful event? You are not wrong, but you’re also not exactly right either. It is a wonderful, exciting, exhilarating experience, and it is life-changing. . It isn’t really just an event though, because it is a lifelong commitment and situation that, in some ways, affects many people forever.
As an adoptive parent, I count the days I brought home my adopted kids among the happiest of my lifetime. I remember almost everything about each of those days, and the ones leading up to them. I remember the details, just as I remember the details of the day I went into labor with my eldest, and, as I remember my labor and delivery. I admit I don’t recall what we had for dinner the days we learned about each of the adopted children, like one of my former adoption clients who told me, “When you called us about the baby, I was making meatloaf. We decided to scrap the meatloaf and go out for a nice dinner, but I always think of that day whenever we have meatloaf”.
Still, adoption is a complicated thing. In order for any child to be released for adoption, there has to have been a sad or difficult situation behind that release. In order for an adoptive family to be gifted with the joy and blessing of their new child, there has to have been loss and usually great agonizing and heartache on the part of the birth family, and mostly on the part of the birth mother. (I am not trying to be sexist here but in my decades of adoption work, I got to know many birth mothers).
In order for any child to become part of a new and hopefully, very loving and wonderful family, he or she has to have lost the very first intense connection to the woman in whose body he or she grew. The child has to have lost the heartbeat, smell and warmth of the only familiar being in the world. In the case of an older child, the connection usually gets to be more intense and more complicated. In the case of a child who comes from another country or another culture, that child has lost a birthright, a culture and a whole world. No matter how adoptive parents try to learn about, and impart that heritage, it is not the same as if the child were there, and part of it in a natural and ongoing way.
That is not to say I am not positive about transracial and intercultural adoptions, because I surely am. However, the adoption community has too long denied the realities of the loss that is inherent in the very concept of adoption. Only in recent years has this begun to be acknowledged.
In my personal coaching practice, I have worked with, and encountered adoption from a different angle. I have helped some adoptees prepare for their long-desired searches for their birth families. I have helped them to understand their personal reasons behind their need to search, and to examine the range of possibilities that may occur once they embark on these searches. Not everyone is easily able to accept and handle the range of possible outcomes.
I have also worked with some elderly birth mothers whose grown adopted “kids” found them. Some of these older woman were very uncomfortable with their pasts being exposed and with secrets they had thought were buried, suddenly bursting forth and upending their lives. In some of these situations, children born to these woman subsequent to the birth and adoptive placement, were never told they had a sibling or half-sibling out there in the world somewhere. In other cases, spouses were not told that a child had been born and adopted years before.
Very recently, a birth mother someone assisted me in locating, delayed a long time in responding to an outreach letter, and when she finally did, asked me (and her adult son) to never, ever contact her again. The woman had several other biological children who had been told that the baby she had once placed for adoption, had died at birth, and they had grown up believing this. To have him surface decades later, may have made her fear her children would never believe or trust her again. Perhaps she felt they might not be able to handle the emergence of this truth. So she made a decision in favor of protecting herself and her first offspring, as though this young man, whom she had also given life, were not as deserving as her other kids, at least that’s how it strikes me.
I have some friends and colleagues who are adult adoptees, who located their birth families, yet ran into this type of rejection, or in some cases, ambivalence. Some birth mothers expressed interest in connecting, but kept throwing up obstacles to meeting the adopted adult child, or would not share any desired information. I get that birth mothers here in the US were typically promised confidentiality, but we are finding, as the issue has been examined around the country, that in many places this was not actually backed up by law, but just through verbal assurances. This is now being challenged in multiple states.
When children in other countries were placed for adoption, though there are many birth families who are thrilled to be contacted years later by the the children they “gave up”, mothers may still face familial or societal disapproval if their secrets are outed.
We read about and see on television those moving, tear-provoking reunions of birth families and adult adoptees, or of separated siblings. There are many, many birth parents who desperately want to find the children they once placed for adoption. There are many birth families who did not live under a veil of secrecy, and who have spent all of their lives with hopes and expectations that they would one day find and reunite with the children they placed.
I have witnessed numerous successful and happy reunifications, where both birth families and adoptive families were eager and accepting participants, and the result was amazing. The pieces came together in a way that made everyone feel whole again, and ready to tackle life in a new, more loving, confident, and peaceful way.
I know that in working with older birth mothers, some of whom were near my own age, and some older, we were able to get to a place of awareness, diminished fear, and even eagerness to move on and accept their long-lost adult children. It was very moving and rewarding to watch the growth and the outcomes.
My husband and I learned less than a year ago, that his mother also carried around this secret and had placed a child for adoption. My mother-in-law passed on in 2013, taking her secret to her grave, but in her state of dementia, gave us some clues about a possible child placed for adoption, which clues we pursued and verified. We were so excited to have located my husband’s sister, and so disappointed when she clearly indicated she had no interest in us, or in any information we had, and didn’t want to be contacted in the future. We are still hoping that one day she will change her mind.
So adoption is indeed complicated. Whose rights must be honored when they seem to be in conflict with each other? Do birth mothers have more rights than the children they bore and placed for adoption? Do the needs, pain or curiosity of the adopted people trump or assume more importance than those of the birth families who want no part of digging up the past? What about siblings? Where do they fit in? Do they have the right to know and to fit together the pieces of a story that does involve them, even if they were not the protagonists?
How do you weigh in on this? Are you an adopted person? Are you a birth mother, or a member of a birth family? Are you a sibling of one who was once placed for adoption? Are you an adoptive parent? What stories do you tell yourself about all of this? Let us know your thoughts and feelings, please.
Iris Arenson-Fuller, CPC, ACC, Certified Life Transformation Coach, mom, adoptive mom, poet/writer, former adoption agency founder/director can be reached at: