Category Archives: Adoption = Interviews
If you haven’t checked out Reddit’s Adoption community, it’s time. Here’s an example of the amazing support you’ll find in the adoption sub. This post, written by a parent who’d like to be anonymous, is in response to a heartfelt plea from another adoptive parent. I’m telling you…go: Reddit.com/r/adoption
As an adoptive parent, I feel for you and appreciate that this is incredibly hard. And hard in ways that are triggering. And hard in ways that are deeply despairing.
We fostered a 9 year old with the intention of adoption and finalized last year (2 years later). He had been through a lot – the adults around him have consistently failed him. Instability, violence, abandonment, inconsistent schooling, serious felony activity.
Our first months were actually very harmonious. As we built trust, it got very intense. Defiant. Screaming. Running out of the house. School refusal.
This is where I get you. Holy crap this is the hardest thing I’d ever seen or done. I’ve never been good at self-care, had some of my own unprocessed issues, and could not get a hold on how to help him. I was depressed and desperate. But a few things helped.
My suggestion is that you immediately need to embrace two thoughts.
- It is harder for her. Majorly. Exponentially. Crisis level. Imagine going through what you are now with fewer words available, less brain function, less history of what success looks like, no ability to reach out, no one to talk to who knows you well, little understanding of self, no books to read, nothing. Navigating all this. It’s major. It’s bigger than those of us who were not adopted can possibly understand. I’m not saying you don’t know this, but it’s gotta find a way in.
- Your self care now has a major goal. It’s for all of you. And it’s tough. It may be the hardest thing you ever do, but you all need this.
1. Am I mentally healthy enough to make this child a major priority – right where she is at?
2. Are my therapeutic interventions working? Are they focused on getting me and our family to a healthier place?
3. Can I get the help I need to get regulated and strategic enough in my response to create health?
4. What environment do I thrive best in? (Assume that is one that is relaxed, trusting, comfortable, where you can let loose and be real.)
5. Can I create that for her too?
The system really blindsided you in a sense. That is awful and they need a course correction, but the good news is there is a lot of information out there that will clarify what these kids go through. It’s always been there. You just have to go get it. Like now.
Please seek out adoption-competent and trauma-responsive therapy if that’s not who you are already seeing.
It may truly be that you need to let her go, but get a heck of a lot of adoption-competent and trauma-responsive help. Be an open book with therapists, tell them exactly what is happening – especially the hard stuff, even when you lost your $%&.
Her actions are absolutely to be expected.
I hear that you were surprised and unprepared. And I feel that big time. But this is heads up textbook for what she’s faced/facing.
She isn’t going to be able to verbalize it for a long time. But it has to come out somehow. All that sadness, and shame (misdirected of course). All that anger from being separated and disconnected from what she knew. The lack of control. The mystery and being rudderless.
She is using her body and voice to shout I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE VERY MAD. I DON’T KNOW YOU. I’M IN PAIN.
It will not be logical or linear. Not her job. Not possible.
Our therapist early on told us our only job was “to be a soft place to land.”
This was a major shift for us. We are all told parents must be tough, disciplinarians, correct every off behavior, teach respect. I believed all of that. And it’s not without some merit, but so much is overridden here.
We decided we had to lead with “soft” and “soft place.” When we deviate from that, things get worse.
It was a slow start.
And we did that through self-care, tons of reading, getting our triggers 30% more in check, and remembering we were not parenting a typical child in most ways.
He is developmentally much younger. It sounds like she is, too.
Regarding consequences: she’s too young and too traumatized to learn that way. They (counselors) need to be helping you find other methods. She has not had agency. Things won’t land the same way.
I’d also do a lot of reading around auditory processing and trauma. Can she understand the countdowns you mention?
Are they working?
If they aren’t working, ya gotta pivot.
The pivoting is exhausting, but worth it. And some months, we suck at it. But now about 2 years in, we’ve learned several things:
-Isolation makes it worse; we only walk away to calm down or self-care and then we must come back. Time outs = no.
-Telling him he can’t go somewhere doesn’t work at all. He’s used to disappointment, punishment, disconnect. Not a help.
The pivot is almost always to getting to the calmest place possible.
Not reacting with intensity.
No raised voices.
No shaming (read everything you can on shame and consequences).
-Rigid thinking is a brain thing. Inability to self-regulate is developmentally appropriate and staying inconsolable, intense, etc. is both the reality of small kids, and also connected to trauma. Had to learn this over and over and over again.
This goes doubly for kids who have been exposed to drugs in utero and have had brain issues.
-Remembering it’s about him. It sounds weird, but remembering it is about him, his process, his need for love and trust where there had not been any, his growth, his stability shifted things for me. I have to be the adult. The one who either gets my !@#@ in check or finds another responsible adult to be regulated.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have and sometime have a lot of challenging thoughts and fears. I still screw up, and I still need to focus on me, but it’s freed me to get myself on my own track of learning how to parent a child who has been through adult-created hell and to have him on his own track of building ease and comfort and trust.
-Respite. I had to find ways to take breaks. Sometimes a parent handoff to my spouse, sometimes calling a friend, sometimes just breathing while he is watching a movie or at school.
-Read. I’m a moderately regular reader, but now read pretty much constantly. The information we need was not given to us. The books on trauma and care of kids whose adults have failed them weren’t relatable until I was deep in. Now they are a godsend.
And read everything you can by adoptees. The happy, the angry, the bitter. These voices may not be speaking directly from her experience, but over and over again, I get insight into his behavior and needs from listening to folks who have been there.
This is the big secret in the process that agencies still don’t get.
Adoptees who are sharing what life has been like for them are peerless as our educators.
Shifting our focus to read books by adoption therapists and adoptees has been essential. And focusing our reading on trauma and child development.
This is one of the very best.
Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues.
There is a website called Land of Gazillion Adoptees. No, they are not writing for us, but their words and resources, to me are part of trying to understand what his voice might say were he not his age and still with so much fresh pain and challenge. Love me through it. Respect my story. My privacy matters. I’m not magically healed because I have a new pillow and home. It has to be ok for me to feel rage. (Please pardon the putting words in mouths of others – but these are what I have heard that have shifted how I parent).
I just want to say that walking away if you know you are going to have to fake a robust investment in her health, if you can’t parent this child, may be quite humane.
She needs adults who want to get on track ASAP and who can work on it literally every day. And it’s undeniably exhausting.
I wish you peace and for her, so much comfort and safety and health.
I often hear or read stories about inter-racial families and the feeling of “not belonging.” Sybil brings light to a topic I’ve rarely seen: feelings of not belonging, within a family of the same ethnic background; racism within race.
This interview may be difficult to read. It’s easy to gloss over the “tough emotion” parts of adoption and to just hope that we’ll make it, that we’re doing enough. Sybil leaves no doubt: adoptive parents are responsible to learn, grow and listen.
And as you know, that’s what these interviews are all about.
Interview with Adoptee Sybil M. Ezeff
Tell us a bit about your adoption experience.
I was adopted at 6 weeks, a domestic adoption. My parents and I are Black Americans. My parents are best friends. They have a great relationship. Sometimes I feel like it’s them plus 1. I don’t always feel like a part of my family, because they are so close to one another. I feel like my mom defends everything my dad does even if he says something that hurts me.
Growing up my dad would sometimes make some pretty harsh comments, “I should have left you at the orphanage.” He had a short temper. People that know you the most usually know what to say to hurt you the most. My dad was somewhat of a bully in that sense. He can be extremely nice too. If you met him, you would think he was the nicest person you ever met. However, he has an issue controlling his anger. Whenever I did something wrong or disobeyed him as a teenager he liked to get to me where it hurt the most.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents? (Both now and when you were younger.)
When I was younger, I just felt I didn’t belong. My parents gave me everything imaginable. They say adopted children have one of two outcomes:
- We are abused
- We are spoiled
Even with all my parents gave me, I still felt extremely lonely. As a teenager, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just felt sad all the time, and I had no idea why. Of course, there were good times too. My parents never stopped me from any hobby I wanted to experiment with. I took dancing lessons, music lesson, violin lessons. I was even a Girl Scout.
I think when adoptees speak about our pain or sadness of losing our identity and birth family growing up, other people automatically label us as “angry” adoptees. I wish people would accept the bad as well as the good. Why does my adoption experience have to be good only? Why can’t it be a little bit of both (good and bad)?
Do you have any siblings?
No adopted siblings, but I have at least 1 other from my birth mother. He is a year or two older than myself. My birth mother has not acknowledged to me she has a son, and no one in my birth family will give me any information on finding him. They all say the same thing to me, “We haven’t seen him since he was a baby” as if he just disappeared like a thief in the night. Whenever I do find a birth family member who says they will help me they never come through. They either stop answering my phone calls or just ignore me. This is a half brother. I know nothing about him except his first name may be “Eric,” and he may have been born in or near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is between the age of 34-36. He was not adopted through the system like myself.
Supposedly my birth mother did not want to raise him either, so she gave him to someone else in his father’s family to raise. They kept in contact throughout his life, but I don’t know if they are in contact now. I still don’t understand why he was allowed to stay within the family unit while I was given to strangers. It hurts and make me feel like I was not worth keeping or fighting for especially since my birth mother is from such a huge family.
The bottom line is that all adoptees deserve the truth. People say how much they don’t want to keep hurt. Guess what? The lies hurt. There’s a saying, “The truth may hurt for a little while, but a lie hurts forever.” Lies hurt, and they destroy. One day when I have children I will have to tell them how my birth family will not tell me who their uncle is. The secrets and lies will continue. Adoption is like a bad gift that keeps on giving.
Did you feel different from your adoptive family?
We do not look alike. When I was in high school, this bothered me; I worried what other people were thinking about us.
I think my mom was aware of it, because as an adult she has told me she knew I did not have an easy childhood. Yet, she never sat me aside and spoke to me about it. She ignored my pain.
My dad was worse than my mom. He ignored it, too. He was always the first to say how I could talk to them about anything, but when I expressed my truth feelings of depression I felt he was quick to tell me that my feelings were crap. In my 20’s I was still trying to understand my feelings and was brave enough to ask my dad to come to see my counselor with me. He said, “I think it’s dumb for someone to go to counseling for being adopted.”
He is extremely stubborn and refuses to acknowledge my feelings. Even today he thinks I’m fine with life, because of all I have accomplished. He doesn’t understand that I try to make myself feel important through my accomplishments. I bought a house. I got my Master’s degree. I’ve done everything that one hopes to gain of the American dream except get married and have children (relationships are hard). He ignores my true feelings or my true self (the part I lost from being adopted).
What are some of the things your parents really “got right” as they parented you?
They told me from a young age that I was adopted.
What do you wish they’d done differently?
I wish they’d kept adoption an open conversation in my home. Mom said they would help me search for my birth mother one day, but they never asked how I felt about being adopted. It was a one time conversation.
the conversation where they tell us we’re adopted and how our other mothers loved us so much, but they couldn’t take care of us. OMG! That sounds terrible! So, if someone loves me, they’ll leave me? That’s pretty much what most children get out of “the talk.”
For at least six weeks after I was born, I shook whenever I was touched. My dad once told me he thought something was wrong with me and considered bringing me back. That hurts. People always want a healthy baby. I guess they want top quality if they pay for it. The shaking was trauma.
I wish they had known or done their homework on raising an adopted child. Back then not much education was out there on the effects that adoption loss would have on us, but is that really an excuse. I know my parents mean well, but they could have done better. If not then, then now. My dad still refuses to understand the trauma of adoption loss.
I wet the bed a lot later than my friends in school did. I often had nightmares and could not sleep well. Experts now know that this is part of the trauma that adopted children go through. We don’t know how to verbalize the loss, but our bodies show it.
Do you have contact with your birth family?
I found my birth mother and her family in February 2012 after an active 8-year search beginning with only non-identifying information.
She refuses to tell me who my birth father is. She said, “It’s none of your business.” I am currently searching for him, and am hopeful that I will find him.
She told me she “wanted to leave me and go on with the rest of her life.” Whenever she found out I spoke to a new member of her family, she’d call me. The conversation always started, “Hi, how are you?” Soon her tone changed and she would begin yelling at me telling me how dare I speak to them. I think the reason most of them still have not reached out to me is because of her. Most of them don’t speak to me and don’t understand the trauma I’ve been through.
I think it’s unfair and wrong. The birth mothers always seem to run the show. The birth family seems to react to us however the birth mother’s reaction is.
I hate when I hear other birth mothers that want to speak for all birth mothers. They try to convince me how my birth mother had no choice and how she loves me. My birth mother has completely separated herself from me and has not made any effort to know me or be a part of my life. She lied to me and said harsh things to me even though I told her how I wanted to know her since I was a little girl. It did nothing to her. She is cold and manipulative. You cannot say ALL birth mothers want their children, because that isn’t true. We want it to be true, but it’s not reality.
How did you find your birth family?
After many failed attempts with search angels, I decided to just pay and get results. I get criticized for paying, but that just shows how desperate adoptees can be to find the truth. I don’t think adoptees should have to pay to find out where we come from, but I wanted answers.
I was tired of looking at strangers on the streets wondering who my aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or even mother might be.
In what ways did the re-connection affect you?
Speaking with my birth mother was another traumatic experience, because she was not welcoming at all, but I am glad I no longer have to wonder where I come from. The connection was okay in the beginning, but I started to see patterns of other secrets that people in my birth family were keeping from me. One family member would mention something that I never knew about. It made me think, huh, that’s interesting. No one said that to me before. They’re trying to protect her secrets. Finding them made me realize that I don’t belong anymore. I was raised somewhere else.
My birth family doesn’t understand my fear of getting close to them and losing them all over again.
I’ve already experienced that with several of them now who stopped talking to me. Our relationship was short lived. There were many nights I cried in bed realizing that they didn’t want me. They left me again. It was like a pain I had not felt since I was a little girl. Our birth families sometimes act like we should jump right in and forget the past and act like nothing ever happened as if it’s that easy. Trauma is not something you get over that easy.
People reading this may wonder why I keep saying trauma. When a baby’s born they know everything about the mother: her smell, touch, voice. To have everything they once knew ripped from them and to be handed over to strangers is traumatic.
The baby feels like the mother abandoned them. Of course, we have to go on to survive. I think that’s when the adoptee learns how to separate the hurt part of herself from the other part in order to survive. Yet, it’s still there in their subconscious. The effects of this trauma last well into our adulthood.
Everyone said how much my birth mother would not reject me and how she would want to know me. That was not what happened. She refuses to get past her own pain to give me closure. I no longer speak with her. It was too painful.
How do you think your adoptive family members feel about the re-connection? How did they react?
I told them a year after I found my birth family. My dad never believed I would find anything, so he was shocked. I told them about my birth mother’s reaction. My mom could not understand how she could respond to me that way. My dad said it is her loss. They know I spoke to other family members, but they never asked me about them or how I felt talking to them. They never asked to see photos or anything.
What advice would you give other adoptees searching for their birth family members?
Don’t give up. You deserve to know the truth. It’ s your truth. There will be lots of people who tell you otherwise. Ignore them. Most people only want to hear to candy-coated adoption stories. There are still a lot of adoptees who are afraid to speak their true feelings; they are afraid of rejection.
What are your thoughts on adoption in general?
Adoption will always be needed, because of the world we live in today. Children will always need homes. However, every attempt imaginable should be made to keep the child within the family unit. Adoption is a greedy business. Birth mothers are not strongly advised about the effects adoption will have on their children. They are told that because they are single they can’t do it and a two-parent home is better. Guess what? Adopted parents get divorced too.
Adoption does not always guarantee a better life. Sometimes it’s just a different life.
The first thing that needs to change about adoption is the secrecy and lies. Adoptions should be open unless the mother is at risk for her life. Open adoptions need to stay open. Adoption agencies need to legally hold both parties to this. I also feel counseling should be free and mandatory at least once a month to adoptees and adoptive parents as often as needed until the child is 18 years of age.
If you had a magic wand to “fix the system,” what would you do?
My way to stop it would be to stop the unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
How do you define yourself?
Lost. I have two families now, and I don’t fit in either one. My adoptive family sometimes feels strange, and my birth family are now all strangers.
If your family was of different ethnic origin from you, did that impact you? If yes, in what ways?
We are the same race, but that doesn’t not make it easier.
With Black Americans, there can be a lot of racism within your own race and birth family.
American slavery told lighter skin blacks they were better than darker skinned ones. This particularly happened in the south and still happens today. Many of my white friends find this hard to believe and don’t understand it.
Although I was also black, my parents had more European-dominated features. Black people can have a very diverse background. Some of us may even have white skin. Because of how my parents looked, It made me feel ugly particularly since I went to primarily white schools and got teased for my “Black” features. My mom who was black had straight Caucasian hair, so she struggled with mine.
Being the same race doesn’t necessarily make it better. Some blacks talk about their struggles with white adoptive families. I had struggles in a family of my own race.
If you have the opportunity to adopt, do you think you will?
Never, because I don’t want to watch someone grow up with the pain I experienced. No matter how good a life you give an adopted child, the loss is always there.
My adoptive mom was adopted. She never expressed a need to know who she was like I have. She did once primarily for medical reasons. I sometimes see how adoption has affected her life in her need to be “perfect” for my grandparents, especially my grandmother, and how it has affected our ability to have a close relationship.
I wish I could give my mom answers, because I know deep down she is hurting but refuses to acknowledge her feelings. I think she feels she will betray my grandparents even though they are no longer living.
What’s your advice for adoptive parents?
Make adoption an open conversation in the home and often talk to your adopted child about how they feel especially on birthdays. They should see a counselor who specializes in adoption related issues. Not all therapists/counselors can help you.
This is a topic that is overlooked constantly in the counseling world. Adopted children often get misdiagnosed for being Bipolar. Talk to adoptees before adopting, not just other adoptive parents.
Don’t ignore the signs of trauma or dismiss the feelings of an adopted child.
Just because your adopted child makes good grades I school and is obedient at home does not mean everything is okay.
There are some adoptees that act out as children. It’s easier to see their pain, but the quiet ones are the ones that are harder to predict that there is a problem. Sometimes as adoptees we feel that we must be good or we might get sent back or abandoned all over again.
Listen to your adopted child. When they don’t say anything, that is probably when they need to be heard the most. ALWAYS REMEMBER: raising an adopted child is not like raising your own biological child.
What would you say to other adoptees?
Don’t give up on searching for the truth or feel guilty for looking for it.
Anything else you’d like to include?
- Adoptees should not have to choose families. There is a belief that if an adoptee want to find their birth family, they don’t love their adoptive family. That isn’t true. We’re trying to find ourselves. Please respect and support that.
- Finding a therapist that specializes in adoption related issues is crucial. Adoptive parents, please do your homework. Do not just take your child to “any” therapist. If that therapist cannot tell you what The Primal Wound is, that is a good sign they probably cannot help you. Finding a good therapist is crucial for you and your adopted child.
- Adoption search shows on TV are just that. It’s television. Those shows make it look so easy. They don’t show the depression we go through every birthday. They don’t show how some friends leave you, because they are tired of hearing about your adoption or they want you to get over it. They don’t show the cost of searching. Most adoptees do not get names or anything to identify the birth parents to us. Some adoption agencies charge us for non-identifying information. I paid $50. I hear some that pay as much as $500. Then we spend hundreds and thousands of dollars more on therapy, searching, and DNA testing just to find what other people take for granted.
Please note: I love my parents. They may have had good intentions, but it wasn’t enough. It doesn’t have to be like that for adoptees today. No adoptive parent has an excuse. Please do not be afraid of our stories or be so quick to judge us and label us angry. Learn from the bad stories and follow the examples of the good ones.
Sybil M. Ezeff lives in the U.S., is in her early thirties and loves animals. She has a Master’s degree and has written a memoir, currently in edit, and is working on a second book about African American adoptees. Visit her blog: https://adoptedoutmemoir.com/
My new friend identifies herself as “I.” This interview gave me chills.
I. is passionate and strong. She’s absolutely captivating.
If you’re interested in hearing more of her story, post your questions below and I’ll ask if she’s willing to provide Part 2.
What’s your adoption story?
I was adopted at birth through a now-disbanded adoption agency. My adoption process involved my birthmother coming to the United States from Russia early in her pregnancy. She then resided here for the remainder of her pregnancy and shortly after giving birth. It was therefore a domestic adoption.
My biological family does not reside within the United States, nor do they speak English. My adoptive family is not of the same ethnic origin as me.
How would you describe your relationship with your adoptive parents?
My adoptive parents are quite close, and are very supportive and loving parents. And yet, neither were present for a great deal of my childhood. My adoptive father worked from 11 AM to 3 AM a day on average, a schedule that continues to a slightly lesser extent today. My adoptive mother had very poor hearing when she adopted me, and her hearing continued to worsen until she became completely deaf. Up until she received her cochlear implants a few years ago, she would spend a great deal of time in bed watching close-captioned television to avoid her condition’s corresponding vertigo. Today, I still have difficulty with social interaction and confiding in them, but it is a process.
Do you have any siblings?
I have one sibling, a brother who is 7 years older than me. He is my adoptive parents’ only biological child. We have never gotten along. He is a very aggressive person, and has physically abused me since my childhood. Some instances resulted in my leaving my home to live with relatives or friends for up to a year. Likewise, he sexually abused me for some time, however an attack of that kind has not happened in 8 years.
What did your parents get right?
My parents have tried their best in bringing me up. They put a great deal of effort into our relationship. It’s very nice to know that my parents are there to help me when I need it, and try their best to understand how I feel about my adoption. In my opinion, It would be ideal if people felt more open when talking about adoption. But at least in my situation, it is definitely an unspoken taboo.
If you could change something about what your parents did, what would it be?
One thing that I wish they had done differently was tell me about my adoption sooner than they had. My adoptive mother told me I was adopted when I was 6. She told me because I was complaining that I wanted to be adopted, because my best friend at the time was adopted. As a child, I didn’t really understood what it meant to be adopted and I assumed that I was kidnapped. But it wasn’t just the delivery or the timing. Even now, they tend to slip out information about my biological mother only when it’s convenient for them, and sometimes what one parent says does not agree with what the other says. They don’t seem to understand the weight of what they say with regards to my adoption, and what I term the ‘vast unknown’ of my biological life.
Are you interested in contact with biological family members?
I have been trying to find my birthmother for three years now, but searchers I have hired have had difficulty tracking her down. Nevertheless, I am only aware of my birthmother’s information, and I am not sure even she knew the information of my birthfather. I would like to meet my birthmother’s family.
What are your thoughts on adoption?
My opinion of adoption: It’s a very kind thing for people to do. I see parents who adopt as very loving and strong individuals. Exceptional bravery is involved in the lengthy process of adoption. Likewise, the idea of taking in someone else’s child, potentially from a different culture, with a different language, personality, and different interests is a daunting task – but adoptive parents often do it so beautifully, with only the intention of love and respect. In this way, I think adoption is a very remarkable thing.
However, there are many scenarios where adoption results in distress for the child. Whether it’s the separation from parents, siblings, or a culture – the child can be affected negatively. I would not agree necessarily with separating a child from their country of origin.
But even beyond that, what makes me feel most uneasy about adoption is, in some cases, the assignment of monetary value to a child. That I had some raw sum attached to me freaks me out a bit. My adoption cost a great deal more than most adoptions: 70 thousand dollars. Most adoptions are less than half of that. I understand that a great percentage of that money is for lawyers and transportation, hospital fees and care.
In your situation, the adoption cost was a little different, correct?
In my case, my mother was compensated (which doesn’t often happen, I don’t think). My adoption agency was compensated. Third party groups were compensated. And that was all predetermined. It makes me question what other factors determined the price. Did my gender determine it? My genetics?
And when did these people sit in a room and say, “yes. This child seems like she’s worth that much.”… or even an extended question, “biological mother, is this percentage of the whole enough for you?” …presumably yes. Or maybe it wasn’t about the money. But that’s just it. It comes back down to the whole ‘causing distress in the child.’ The unknowns, again. It’s like a rabbit hole.
I’m ranting now because I don’t know how I feel.
What advice would you give adoptive parents?
Adoptive parents should be more open about adoption with their adopted children. Most of the time, when we ask questions, we don’t intend to hurt you. Additionally, asking questions doesn’t mean that we’re dissatisfied or angry, that we’re thinking of running away or we’re dreaming of a different universe where such-and-such may have happened. We’re asking questions because we don’t have the answers. But we deserve them.
And just like adoptive parents are brave in the act of adopting children, so adopted children are brave. We ask questions when we’re equally worried that everything we care for might crack under our feet, just because it’s a ‘touchy subject.’ Adopted children deserve the truth. Straight-forward, honest truths. Because in the end, those missing truths, the weirdly-shaped and hard-to-solve puzzle pieces, are the only parts left – the parts that we need to complete ourselves.
I. is 19 years old. She is currently attending college as an undergraduate in the Northeast.
This week, Richard was kind enough to allow me to interview him about adoption. His candor and willingness to dig deep are impressive. You’re going to love him.
So, tell me a little about your adoption.
I was adopted domestically when I was three days old.
You have an adopted sibling, correct?
My parents adopted my brother when he was about a month old. We’re not biological siblings. We didn’t really get along, growing up, and aren’t very close now. He’s six years older.
How would you describe your parents’ relationship with each other?
They are loyal and loving to each other. My mother has a more dominant personality than my father. I never saw them fight and my father instilled a high standard of patience and love.
How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
Mostly good. When you grow up you learn how to do deal with people’s personalities in healthier ways. My mom tends to be passive-aggressive and avoid hard things. I discovered it really affected me growing up and I had to grow out of some of these behaviors.
I think our differences have to do with the major personality differences between us. They are introverts, and I am definitely an extrovert. They are completely happy to live simple lives. I need a bit of chaos and want to change the world.
I’m doing my best to learn to nurture these relationships in a healthy way.
What are some of the things they really “got right” as they parented?
I was always loved, always safe, always fed. Most of the time, they listened to me and encouraged me. I think the best things they did in regards to adoption is that my parents told me since I was young that I was adopted but treated me like I was no different than if I was their own son.
What do you wish they’d done differently?
I wish they pushed me a little harder. I really struggled with Anxiety and ADD and I felt like I lost so much time.
As I grew up, I had to discover that I needed distraction and some form of chaos, I am a very passive person, and really know how to hold on to my emotions, but I only felt alive when something was wrong or needed to be fixed.
I also should have been sent to an adoption counselor at a young age. I didn’t seem unhappy and back then we didn’t have studies or people like you addressing these issues I was safe, but I didn’t feel safe. I always had this feeling, “everyone will leave me.” I couldn’t identify where the feelings came from.
This may be more biological but my depression wasn’t everything is awful. More like “everything is boring.” Nothing seemed fun, nothing seemed pretty. Maybe I was a good actor. I never lashed out with it and I tried to be a good kid, but I was really hurting inside.
Are you close with your wife’s family?
My wife’s mom is one of the most amazing and supportive people I’ve ever met. She calls me and tells me she’s proud of me.
Do you want contact with your birth family?
Yes and no. I’d like some closure, but I don’t want to disrupt anyone’s life (more than I did twenty-some years ago). I do look to see if anyone is searching for me, specifically my mother.
I check adoption finder websites about once a year. She knew my name so I don’t think it would be difficult to find me. I found her last name through some people I met on forums who have access to that kind of information I’ve looked up the name on Facebook to see if anyone looked like me. Doing this isn’t very productive. 🙂
What are your thoughts on adoption, in general?
The definition of mercy is: “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” I think this is what adoption is. It’s not always pretty and will be a challenge, but you are doing a thing that most people are not able to do.
My biological mother chose the hard way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and knew she could not care for me. My parents chose to take me in and take care of me.
If you had a magic wand to “fix the system,” what would you do?
Identifying the physiological issues and perhaps behavioral issues that adoptees face. I like what we are seeing in the advancement of identifying of some of the issues involved. I think the adoption process should include mandatory counseling.
How do you define yourself?
I think I have a gift of being both technical and creative. I can identify challenges at work and home and address them. I can think clearly in emotional situations. I thrive in exciting situations.
Did you ever feel different, being adopted?
I felt different because I wasn’t anything like my parents. My example of who I should be was much different then who I was. Growing up I didn’t accept me for me. I needed to be like THEM.
I didn’t link it to adoption, but I never felt like I fit in with my friends, either. I always felt left out. I was surrounded by people but incredibly lonely.
“Surrounded by people but incredibly lonely;” I think that describes my kiddos to a T. In fact, last night, my son told me no one in his class likes him. By their positive reactions when he walks into the room, I know many of them like having him there, but his perception is that they don’t. As a mother, how can I help him?
That’s tough, because you’re the mom. Honestly I’d open up to them. Tell them what you struggle with and how you overcome it. I think all this work you are doing is going to help tremendously. You’re recognizing that adoption isn’t simple.
Do you feel there are struggles specific to adopted children? How can we address those?
Definitely. We need to help adoptees understand who they are to address the issues they’re experiencing. We need to accept that they’re different from their adopted parents. Don’t just assume they’re “okay” and don’t try to force them into a mold.
What do you think you really “got right” as you grew up?
I lived to have fun but tried to stay out of trouble. As a kid, I was hyper, but I was kind.
What do you wish you had done differently?
I wish I treated my ADD and depression earlier in life. I wish I used that time that I wasted on art. I just feel like I lost so much time.
If you have the opportunity to adopt, do you think you’ll do it?
Perhaps. I don’t know. I won’t walk into it blindly.
What advice would you give adoptive parents and adopted children?
Parents, you should definitely love your children as your own, but also accept that they are different. Encourage them to follow their interests. Pay attention to them, but don’t smother them. Don’t keep adoption information from your child.
Adoptees, it’s okay to feel different. Explore your gifts. Seek help when you need it. Don’t act out in anger. You’re going to be angry at some point, but you need to identify why. Use that emotion to fuel your gifts. Learning who you are may be challenging, but remember that you’re never alone.
Richard is in his late twenties and works in digital media. He and his lovely wife have been married almost three years. They live in California with their pets, a dog and a cat.
Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Anna, a fellow WordPress blogger, to talk about adoption.
Casey: So, Anna, tell me a little about your adoption.
Anna: I was adopted domestically, with a family whose ethnic origins are similar to my own. I’ve been with my adoptive family from birth but I was “officially” adopted when I was almost a year old.
C: How would you describe your parents’ relationship?
A: They are such a team; it’s cute and annoying. I could NEVER play one off the other (I tried to get a dog, once…it didn’t work). They love each other and take care of each other. They’ve had a strong marriage almost 30 years and they’re incredible people. My friend says, “your parents are like finches; they mate for life.” They gave me a very solid foundation on which to build my life.
C: How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
A: I was always a Dad’s girl. It took me many, many years to stop being angry with my mother. My younger brother (also adopted) got all of her time and attention as we grew up. He is close to me in age and special needs, so I was often given to Dad. As such, we have a really close relationship. After I moved out, Mum and I were able to create a really loving bond (which I also credit to that solid foundation), and we’re as close as Dad and I are now.
C: What are some of the things they really “got right” as they parented?
A: Punishments. They used to ‘ground’ me; I went to school, came home from school. Nothing else.
Also, they let me calm down, write it out, and THEN they’d bring me out of my room to talk about it. I had an awful temper as a older child/teenager, but I think this worked because they weren’t trying to have an immediate conversation with me. They were very supportive, encouraging and they both have really good senses of humor – which I think you need to be a good parent.
C: What do you wish they’d done differently?
A: I wish they’d talked about me and my accomplishments more. I often felt like I played second fiddle to my younger brother.
C: Do you mind talking about your birth family?
A: Not at all. I always wanted my mum in my life. I have contact with everyone on my mum’s side: my maternal grandmother, mother, mother’s brother and his wife, my older brother and younger brother.
C: How did you get in contact with them?
A: My adoption was ‘semi-open’. I had contact with my maternal grandparents, and they provided a home where my older brother and I could spend time together. I stayed there about one week every couple of years. Once he and I got older, we started talking to each other over instant messaging.
A: How would you describe your current relationship(s) with your birth family?
C: I get on well with Nana and my Uncle and Aunt; it’s boring and supportive (in a nice way). My brothers and I have put in some decent sibling time over the last couple years, so we enjoy each other’s company. I was one of the first people my brother called when he found out he and his wife are expecting! As for my mother… we were very close. Then I moved to be closer to her, but she seemed to slip away from me. She and her husband have recently moved to another city.
A: How did that affect you?
C: For the first four months I felt like I was drowning. I was also suicidal for a time, because the pressure in my head was too much to bear. There’s a line I wrote in my blog which I think explains it: “it felt like my life had been ripped open; scattering memories into the air. When I could drag myself up, I would try and catch them and wrap them back up into myself but it didn’t always work. Things that had been precious, suddenly felt like lies. Those memories couldn’t belong to me, because I wasn’t me anymore. I was in the wrong family, had the wrong life, had all the wrong memories.”
My relationship with my birth mum was once just so incredible and happy and everything I wanted, and now it’s splintered. Sometimes it grates at me and I get sad. But I write, and try to put it to one side, until I have time to sit and feel and acknowledge those feelings, before letting them go.
I had been so convinced, for 21 years, that she hated me, but instead I found that she loved me so much, it hurt. I will say that the “Mum hates me” message that I had drummed into myself for so long is almost impossible to let go of completely. Our reunion was, for two years, almost absolutely everything I could’ve dreamed for. Now it is disappointing. I believe it’s something called ‘secondary rejection,’ which can come from either side of the birthmother/adoptee duo.
C: If your connection with birth family had any effect on your adoptive family, what was it?
A: My Mum went into therapy for a while, and my Dad was very angry. But they are amazing people, and still supported me and encouraged me, and picked me up every time I curled up in the fetal position and cried.
C: What are your thoughts on adoption in general?
A: Oh god, okay. Brutally honest? If the mother is capable and has family and government support, she should keep the child. My mother raised a child for three years before I came along. I firmly believe she could’ve done it, and it is a huge wedge in our relationship that she didn’t. Every adoption situation is different though, so I’d be loath to comment on all of them.
C: How do you define yourself?
A: As an adoptee. But also as my parents’ daughter. A writer and a reader. I watch too many TV shows. I get invested in characters. I love dialogue. I’d like to think I’m kind, compassionate and helpful as well. I laugh a lot. I also collect mothers (weird, right?). When I say collecting mothers…this is figurative, obviously. I’ve been very fortunate to meet strong, affectionate older females who like to step into the ‘mum’ role from time to time. For example, where I work now, I appear to have been adopted by the other three women in my team (as I’m a good 30 years younger than all of them). I’ve known my two best friends since age two, so their mothers are practically mine as well!
C: Did being adopted make you feel different?
A: Yes. I was teased about it in primary school. I hated every science class when we studied genetics (although I found them fascinating, they still hurt). I didn’t like family projects in general.
C: Do you feel there are struggles (emotional, mental, academic, behavioral) specific to adopted children?
A: I think there are emotional struggles. I think every child has the right to a personal relationship with the woman who put them on the earth. I struggled with leaving my older brother when I was little, because I’d have to go back to a world where I was the oldest. The earlier the integration/relationship starts, the better. Children are much more adaptable than people think they are, I believe.
C: What did you really “get right” as you grew up?
A: Well, my clothing choice improved. And I washed the purple dye out of my hair. But I also always understood why I was feeling a certain way, because I trained myself to acknowledge the feeling, explore it and understand it.
C: What do you wish you had done differently?
A: I wish I could’ve controlled my temper better, and not lashed out at innocent people.
C: If you have the opportunity to adopt, do you think you’ll do it?
A: Depends. If someone brought me a baby/child/teenager and said “you’re the best for them,” then of course I would. But if the child can talk, I’d have to ask their opinion.
C: What’s your advice to others (either to adoptive parents or adopted children, or both)?
A: You should definitely talk about adoption. Talk about the family, share the information that you know.
If you’re an adoptee going through reunion, you’ll experience a lot of memories and feelings very quickly and your brain won’t be able to catch them all. Keep a journal; write down important stories, thoughts, even shared text messages. Write about the good, and the bad. You’ll be happy to have it later on when the calm comes.
As an adoptive parent, don’t shelter your child from their adoption. They’re the main character in their own story. Let them in on it.
C: Any last thoughts?
A: Be true to who you are. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Jump in with your heart open, because you can never regret fully immersing yourself in an experience, even if it things don’t turn out the way you imagined.
Anna is in her early twenties and lives in New Zealand with her two super-cute kitties. She’s currently attending university for an English degree, but her true passion is forensic anthropology. You can follow her blog at Lookingforyellow.wordpress.com.
Blogging 101 suggested starting a regular feature, weekly or monthly.
I’d already been thinking how cool it would be if someone would interview adoptees, but didn’t know where to start.
After putting a request out to the adoptee community, responses are pouring in. I’m excited to announce a new “Adoption Interview” feature. I’m committing to monthly, but might post as often as weekly.
Here’s where you come in:
1. If you know an adoptee, please ask them to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to be included.
2. What do you want to know? Post your burning questions below (or email me) and I’ll be happy to include them.