Adoptees Find Their Voices: What We Learn From Listening

adopteeAn article appeared recently in the Washington Post about Sandra Bullock’s recent adoption of a three year old African American girl from foster care “Sandra Bullock adopted two black children.  Don’t call them lucky.”    The article asks the questions:

Are adopted children allowed to express a range of emotions, including feelings of loss? Can transracial adoptees call out racism without feeling they are alienating their parents? And: Must adoptees always feel grateful?

These questions serve to highlight recent debates that have been sparked perhaps as a result of adoptees finding their voices as they come of age.  Some of these adoptees are from foreign countries such as Korean adoptees who are now returning to Korea as reported in the New York Times by an adoptive mother “Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea.”   A variety of adoptees, both American and foreign-born, contribute to the the blog,  Lost Daughters, which recently produced a youtube documentary, Flip the Script.  say more….Closure is another documentary about a transracial adoptee who finds her birth mother whose family did not know she existed, including her birth father. The film looks at the complexities of trans-racial adoption, and the importance for many adoptees of finding closure to their many questions and feelings. posted an interview with Angela, the adoptee in Closure and in the interview Angela stated:

I think my family’s outlook was similar to that of many adoptive families, in that they recognized my need for a birth family search in the context of some safer topics, like learning my medical history or obtaining my original birth certificate — but they didn’t understand the emotional component of my need to search. But I truly felt a need to see my birth family and foster family, to learn the circumstances around my placement. And, when these moments actually happened, I felt a lot of relief.  Although some of my reasons for searching were difficult to verbalize, my family began to understand and appreciate it. My mom said that she put herself in my shoes at a certain point during the search, and realized that she would want to know these things too.

In the lead-in to the film Adopted there is a quote by Cheri Register, Author of Good Intentions, and the mother of internationally adopted children:  “The Joy and Tragedy Coexist. That is the paradox of adoption. And we are all caught up in it.”  Register’s book examines the ten mistakes adoptive parents are at risk to make while raising their internationally adopted children:  “Wiping Away Our Children’s Past,” “Hovering over Our ‘Troubled’ Children,” “Holding the Lid on Sorrow and Anger,” “Parenting on the Defensive,” “Believing Race Doesn’t Matter,” “Keeping Our Children Exotic,” “Raising Our Children in Isolation,” “Judging Our Country Superior,” “Believing Adoption Saves Souls,” and “Appropriating Our Children’s Heritage.”

These are not easily examined realities particularly for those of us in the adoption triad:  adoptive parents, adoptees, and adoption professionals.  But, the necessity for examining these issues in all their complexity is imperative.

The U.S. Department of State issues international adoption statistics each year.  416,256 children have been adopted from foreign countries by U.S. citizens between 1980 and 2013.   Statistic Brain Research Institute, citing its source as the  report “Adoption USA : National Survey of Adoptive Parents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services” published in 2009 based on a survey of adoptive parents conducted in 2007 which presents findings from the first nationally representative survey of adoptive parents in the United States, indicates that 677,000 children have been adopted privately and 661,000 have been adopted through the foster care system.  According to Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute there are over 6 million Americans in total who are adopted.

These stories can be difficult to hear for someone who is considering adoption. They can be even more difficult for someone who has adopted.  For adoptive parents, the feelings expressed by their children whom they adopted can be disappointing leaving them feeling confused or unappreciated perhaps even fearful of losing them.  Perhaps the most complex feelings revealed are those of adoptees from abroad.  In the documentary film Adopted, the documentary focuses on a young woman adopted from Korea by an American family, now in her late 20’s or early 30’s and an American couple in the process of adopting a toddler from China.  The film documents the emotions and difficulties that the Korean adoptee expresses.

All of this is heavy and it’s complex and it’s not upbeat and it can scare people but here’s the deal – if we lean in (i know what you are thinking- “lean in” seems to be a cliche these days but “leaning in” is really what this is about), we can find opportunities for discovery and even more deep and fulfilling parenting experiences.  If those who are touched by adoption the most – that is, the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees) as well as those who are close to this triad such as family, friends and siblings, then we can make some genuine and really fantastic headway and turn this around.

Understanding that adopting a child – providing unconditional love, support, a safe and secure home, and education – still does not justify telling a child that he or she is ungrateful for having these feelings.   Adoption is a journey and it is a journey that all of those in the triad must be  prepared to walk – TOGETHER.