Adoption and Awareness: A series of articles that dive into various concepts in relation to adoption.
This is the third article in a series I call Adoption and Awareness. I write about the abundance of adoption stories and point out the difference between adoption stories and adoptee stories. I offer a definition of what a true Adoptee story is, and I share why I think that the distinction is important. I think the world needs more of the latter. I welcome input, questions and comments. For anyone interested in also reading the previous two, I link them here: Adoption AND Language and 6 Reasons Not to Celebrate Adoption.
Adoption stories are easy to find – in media, among adoptive parents and from the adoption agencies
I think it is safe to say we have all heard an adoption story, or a few, or many, or a gazillion. If you think about it, from an early age, we learn about the concept of adoption through movies, shows, and books. All kinds of stories, some of the most classical ones, have a character who has been abandoned by their own, taken in by others, and flourished in life, either thanks to this, or despite it.
These stories portray adoption as a step in the process of life. In the “good” stories, adoption gives the child the safety and financial and material security they need to grow up a successful part of society. In the darker stories, the circumstance around the adoption almost breaks the child, but doesn’t, and instead they grow resilient enough to go on and flourish above and beyond.
In both kinds of stories, adoption is a step that ultimately leads to a good result.
These stories are easy to fin. In fact, I am almost certain you will recognize some of the ones that come to mind for me as I am writing this:
- Anne of Green Gables
- Free Willy (my favorite movie as a child)
- Kung Fu Panda
- The Blind Side
I typed the phrase “films with adoption themes” and it gave me about 5,130,000 results in 0.54 seconds. The phrase “stories with adopted child” gave me about 176,000,000 results 0.64 seconds. Both searches done in Google, in the process of writing this very blog post. Suffice it to say, adoption stories are not hard to find.
Another form of adoption story that is everywhere are the ones told by adoptive parents. I won’t go into why this is a potential problem. That is a topic for another article, by itself. When adoptive parents tell the adoption story of their child, it can be a combination of what they have been told by the adoption agency, and their own experience throughout the process of adopting. Many adoptees grow up hearing these, memorize them and take them on as their own. These stories can be full of details about the adoptive parents’ anticipation, worries and joys, from deciding to adopt, to being approved to do so. They talk about being matched with a child, getting to bring that child home and start calling themselves parents. Sometimes these stories include information about our first family, and sometimes there is no mentioning, let alone information available about a life prior to adoption.
There are also the adoption stories told by the adoption agencies. Too often, these become the stories we are told, and these become the stories we believe to be ours. Because we have no alternative, and because we don’t know we can question them. The amount of power the adoption agencies hold in being able to shape our story is hard to stomach, once you start realizing how many of these stories are pure fabrication. That too is a topic for a follow-up blog post. What these stories all have in common is the lack of adoptee perspective. They are adoption stories, but they are not Adoptee stories.
A call for Adoptee Stories: they are not the same
I think it’s time we make a distinction between adoption stories and Adoptee stories, and I call for more of the latter, for raising true awareness about adoption. An adoptee story is different from an adoption story because it has not been told TO the adoptee, FOR the adoptee or ABOUT the adoptee. It is more than I was born in, adopted to…more than I was handed over to the police in…and more than My first mother was….
From now on, when refferring to Adoptee stories, this is the definition I have in mind:
the result of an adoptee exploring the story they have been told by adoptive parents, agencies and adoption documents, and instead of repeating this information as their story, start questioning the validity of said information and start adjusting the angle and terminology of the story, to develop a way to tell the story that truly and honestly reflects their own experience, based on the facts that can be proven. In this process, the adoptee becomes the true narrator of their own experience and take full ownership of their own story.
I believe THIS is what will raise awareness about adoption from our perspective. This is what will help adoptees grow stronger and build confidence that is not dependent on outside validation. We do not need outside validation for our experiences to be valid. If you are an adoptee reading this, I hope you will sit with this message. It’s for YOU.
If you don’t believe it for yourself, please, allow me to believe it for you until hopefully one day you will.
The image below is a small example of how I take ownership of my story, by chosing the words that reflect my experience in terms of my adoption. More will follow in my next blog post.
Reinforcement vs Awareness – let’s make sure we use them correctly
The word awareness is popular in many different settings today. Adoption is no exception. Many people talk about raising awareness about adoption, only to go on talking about how good it is. I call that reinforcement of the already existing narrative. Most people already think adoption is a good thing, a necessary thing, and a win-win. Isn’t raising awareness then, talking about all the other sides of adoption?
The primal wound.
The mental health struggles.
The suicide statistics.
And, the actual adoptee experience.
The way I see it, raising awareness is not saying that everything is wrong with adoption, but working towards opening conversation about all sides of adoption, all aspects of adoption and all consequences of adoption. We already know about the good ones. Awareness then, is raised when we are willing to include the other ones into the conversation, to fully understand adoption.
This is why Adoptee stories (as defined above) are so important. As the lived experience of adoptees themselves and from the perspective of adoptees themselves, Adoptee stories can offer a first-person narration that is not up for interpretation or argument. They are not factual of adoption as a whole, but of one important part of adoption. One part that has far too long, been dismissed, ignored or gaslit into silence.
I encourage all adoptees to explore your story, share your experience and speak your truth. For that reason, I don’t call the pieces I share here on This Adoptee Life adoption stories, but Adoptee stories. Language matters and I believe this is one way we can take back some of the power that was robbed from us the day we were placed for adoption.
The more of us who can take back power of our story, the more of us who can work up the courage to dig into our stories and build the confidence to stand tall in our experience and speak our truth out loud, the harder it is going to become for people to dismiss us as individual, angry adoptees, or the exception to the rule that adoption is wonderful and that anyone who has been adopted should feel grateful.
I dream of the day that more adoptees can speak their truth than not, and know that they will survive it because there are so many of us out here, ready to support, encourage and validate a fellow adoptee’s voice.
We have every right – it’s OUR life
And, then there is also this little detail to add.
Many of us feel that we shouldn’t. Or we don’t even know we can. I have been in both of those mindsets.
Today, I know that it is my right to share my story, in a way that represents my truth. I know that I don’t owe my silence to anyone. I was not part of the decision to be adopted, I was not part of the decision to be placed in the country, or family that I was placed. I simply lived the consequences of all of it. I did not sign any papers and I have not sworn my silence to anyone. I am respectful of people’s privacy, and I take care not to offer up information that is not mine to share. I just don’t believe that this must be juxta positioned against speaking your truth. The two are not mutually exclusive. And, you have every right to explore, own and even share your story.
It is my goal to help fellow adoptees find, grow, and develop the confidence to join me in telling our stories in new ways and with different angels. I aim to invite people to think of adoption in new ways. Ways that will challenge the reader or listener to consider why, how and for whom adoption really exists. And for that, I believe, the world needs to hear more Adoptee Stories.
My next blog post will be a deeper dive into the concept of Adoptee Stories, and how I developed a way of telling my story in a way that I feel represents my true experience. I hope that this can be valuable and helpful information to my fellow adoptes.
I thank you all for being here, spending time with me here on This Adoptee Life.
To all my fellow adoptees,
PS. Let’s be in this together.
I send you love, compassion and appreciation, ALWAYS!