Living With Adoption's Dichotomies and Myths

Adoption is a multi-faceted, complex phenomenon replete with conundrums. No matter how happy, every adoption begins with a tragedy of loss and separation. Yet some adoptive parents and the general public cling to preconceived, romanticized notions of adoption, seeing it through a narrow one-dimensional lens that is distorted by myth.
01/20/2015 04:25 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

"Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world
where the victims are expected by the whole of society
to be grateful."

The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

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Imagine sharing your feelings of missing your deceased father (or brother) and hearing: "Be glad you still have your mother (or sister)" as if your loved ones are interchangeable.

Such a response would be off target, dismissive, and totally lacking in compassion.

Yet it seems acceptable, or at least commonplace, to tell adoptees who courageously share the difficult aspects and challenges of living life adopted that they should be "grateful" because they were "chosen" and are "better off."

Expressing how many adoptees feel, an adopted woman named Jennifer commented on Facebook:

"I HATE when people assume adoption is nothing but wonderful because a childless couple became 'blessed' with someone else's child... I was told I was adopted at age 7 and I felt like 2nd choice ever since. The mindset I carried with me was 'my biological parents didn't want me, and my adoptive parents wouldn't have wanted me if they could have children of their own.' Children will almost always blame themselves. They do it for adoption, they do it for divorce... There will always be so much loss and negativity in adoption and I am tired of adoptive parents or people unaffected by adoption focusing on these 'positives'."

In recent weeks, three adoptees -- ranging in age from a pre-teen to adult -- shared online their intimate, heartfelt accounts of what being adopted feels like for them; living life as a person cut off from their biological heredity. Each encountered thoughtless comments.

Hallee Randall is a bright seventh grader who wrote about the questions she lives with, questions that only those who are adopted live with. Hallee used the words that she was comfortable with and which expressed the youngster's perspective and reality. A commenter chastised her for not using "positive adoption language."

Anna Eldridge, a high school freshman who was adopted from China, wrote an essay sharing her gut reaction upon seeing her sister's sonogram.

"That was a hard moment for me, though, because in all the happiness I had a feeling of dread come over me. My mind went to when my birthmother was pregnant with me. What was her and my birthfather's reaction to me being a girl?"

Amid many compliments on her eloquent writing ability, commenters felt it necessary to share these clichéd and invalidating comments telling her how she "should" feel:

"Just remember adopted children are chosen children. It is not an accident that your parents have you, it was a choice. They chose you over all others to be their child. A blessing!"

"I can understand adopted people being initially upset about learning that their birth parents abandoned them. But why dwell on such a negative emotion? Better, I think, to be grateful that people who wanted them gave them love, acceptance, and a good life...."

"You shouldn't waste your time with thoughts like this, no one should. You are where you are because that's where you're supposed to be."

"You need to be glad that you have a family that love [sic] you so much. maybe if you be with your real parent you will not have what you have now. beautiful home and family and freedom and you can go any where.. be thankful what you have."

Days earlier Shaaren Pine wrote a Chicago Tribune op-ed entitled "Please Don't Tell me I was Lucky to Be Adopted."

Shaaren, 40, was adopted from India at 4 months of age and raised in Groton, Massachusetts. "Growing up in an all-white town in an all-white family" left Pine feeling "unbearably alone and hopelessly on display." She coped by cutting herself because she said it "helped me close the gap between my two falsely dichotomous selves: the 'happy' adoptee who had everything given to her and the angry adoptee who had everything taken away. "

A commenter told her:

"I think she has a lot of other issues that are blamed on the adoption. I noticed she didn't say much by way of thanks to her adoptive parents. Personally, I can't imagine how growing up as an impoverished out-caste in India would have been more enriching and rewarding. It was her adoption that allowed her to whine about her personal issues in a major national U.S. newspaper, to marry her white husband.... It was being adopted that allowed her to live in a beautiful home in Chicago, and not in an Indian slum or homeless in some Indian hell-hole of a city. To the author: I understand the desire to know where you came from and how you got here, but at the end of the day does it really matter?"

Another commenter wrote: "You were lucky to be adopted." And then went on to make myriad assumptions to substantiate that opinion:

"You could have been left in a crib without any or more likely minimal human contact. You probably would have developed a severe attachment disorder that would have caused myriad relational, connectivity and trust issues for the rest of your life, your neuro pathways would have not formed and you would have likely experienced a lifetime of crippling learning and behavioral disorders."

If adoptees are to be grateful for being "rescued" from orphanages, are they also to be grateful for the circumstances that led them to be there in the first place? Grateful one or both of their parents died or were unable to care for them? Grateful that no other family member knew or helped?

Would you like being told, as adoptees are, that you should be lucky you weren't aborted, especially when you have no idea if that was ever a consideration?

Do adoptees owe more of a debt of gratitude for being fed, clothed and cared for than those born into their families? How are they to feel about laws that treat them lesser than their non-adopted peers by denying them access to their original birth certificate and medical history?

An adoptee who blogs as Im Committed to Sparkle Motion was incensed by the comments Shaaren's post elicited, writing:

"Every seemingly good deed -- no matter how selfless -- is going to have a downside to it. In Pine's case, her emotional struggles made a lot of commenters uncomfortable. Rather than acknowledging Pine's very real feelings, she was ironically reminded that she should feel lucky and that she could have ended up being aborted -- as if those are always two clear cut options.

"I sit here as a grown woman desperately posting my personal information for the world to see just for the 'chance' of finding where I came from because I am 'not allowed' to know. Not fair, and not a 'blessing.'"

Neither Hallee, Anna, nor Shaaren expressed anything negative about their adoptive parents or adoption in general. Though, if they did, that too would be their right as much as it is the right of any person of color to speak out about racism, without any white person telling them how they "should" feel.

What Hallee, Anna, Shaaren and other adoptees express is the duality of being adopted. Shaaren, for instance, says she had a good childhood. "What's also true," she says, "is that adoption is a traumatic, lifelong experience that is rarely recognized as one." These truths co-exist.

Adoption is a multi-faceted, complex phenomenon replete with conundrums. No matter how happy, every adoption begins with a tragedy of loss and separation. Yet some adoptive parents and the general public cling to preconceived, romanticized notions of adoption, seeing it through a narrow one-dimensional lens that is distorted by myth.

It's time to accept the good and the sad of adoption and stop attacking and guilting adoptees for not meeting up to a fairy tale images of Little Orphan Annies plucked from the cabbage patch by parents whose dreams have come true.