It's now almost twenty-three years since we adopted my son and almost fifteen since we adopted my daughter. As I reflect on all the change that has occurred since then it is mind-boggling. What has happened in the world of adoption is such a powerful reflection of these changes.
When my son was born in 1990 adoption was still mostly closed. I remember that California was beginning to have open adoption. There was no internet. Nobody had a website. There was no Google. There was not the huge access to the vast amount of information and opinions that we have today. There were no blogs!
Adoptive parents were given standard advice: Tell your children they are adopted. Tell them they can search for their birthmothers when they get older, preferably at age eighteen. Birth parents were mostly invisible. Adoptee grief was tucked away behind the wish that everyone would be happy and the assumption that all would have a better life created by the "solution" of adoption.
We are now rocking on the sea of anger at these presumptions. This is creating dramatic and lasting change. Change never comes without pain, just as adoption does not come without loss.
There are many common features to most adoptions: loss, grief, fantasies of lives not lived, anger at abandonment. These are all difficult feelings to deal with and overcome. It is easy to become stuck along the way and even easier to assume that, because there are many common experiences, there is one "correct" way to feel about them. This strain in the current narrative of adoption forecloses on the great variety of emotion and experience that all participants in the adoption have.
We need to make space for many voices, most especially the voices of change. Adoptees are working to open records and claim their full identities. Birthmothers are gaining a voice and power in the decision to place their children and maintain relationships with them. I would like to raise my voice for the changes that adoptive parents are experiencing as the world of adoption opens.
I notice that, as the voices of a hurt and anger in both adoptees and birthparents have taken their justifiable place on the stage of adoption, there has developed at the same time a tendency to disparage adoptive parents. While this is not always the case, it occurs often enough to be identified as a theme that deserves to be challenged.
I remember my shock at seeing adoptive parents referred to in some places as "adopters." The adopter seems to be someone who only wanted to parent a child for their own selfish reasons, oblivious to the child's loss. As we challenge the narratives of the "chosen baby" who can only be grateful he or she was adopted and the insistence that adoption is "best solution" for the children it touches, I would caution that we not swing in the other direction and vilify the many parents who have adopted their children after suffering their own losses and have walked the heroes path to raise them.
I adopted my children in the last years before the changes that are now occurring, that is to say in closed adoptions. As the adoption world has opened I have been challenged to rethink what I was told over twenty years ago. In that process, my husband and I have helped both children search for and find their birth families with two dramatically different results. Again, no two situations are the same! In order to do this, I have had to soul search and let go in ways I never imagined years ago when we were given the advice I refer to above. Much to my surprise, it has opened my heart in ways I never imagined and brought into our lives a new extended family for one child that broadens our world and theirs. For my other child, questions were put to rest, but the birth family did not want connection and my child was challenged to grieve again.
I think these two results of search and reunion serve as reminders to us all that no two situations in adoption are the same. Biological connection gives us different kinds of connections, not always positive ones. When it does it is amazing and when it does not, it can be very hard, but also freeing. As we ride the tide of change that is opening us all to each other it is so vital to hold in mind that extreme positions and assumptions about the meaning of our adoption experiences do not allow us the room to have our own individual stories and to learn and grow from them.
Link to video on adoption: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nZDp64tFo0