I attended and presented a workshop at the American Adoption Congress annual conference this past week. The AAC, if you don’t already know, has members that include all branches of the triad: birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, as well as professionals working in the field of adoption. Adoptive parents, however, are late arrivals. In the early years of the organization, the focus was primarily on supporting birth parents and adoptees, and searching for and reuniting those who had been separated through the closed adoption system. In present day, that mission is still a priority – and for good reason. Many states, including my own state of Georgia, do not allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates – a window into the families they were separated from at birth. However, now that the technology for analyzing DNA is readily available, individuals can sometimes discover relatives through companies such as ancestry.com. This year at the conference, some speakers and workshops focused on using the Internet for searching and on analyzing DNA.
Trauma was another big topic at the conference. Trauma is caused by the neurobiology of relinquishment, the way adoption professionals handle pregnant women in crisis, ineffective adoptive parenting, and struggles to build a life when one is cut off from members of one’s original family. At the close of the conference, this trauma was captured in two short films called “Six Word Adoption Memoirs.” The films were powerful, and I encourage you to experience this directly by watching the first one on the Facebook page: Six Word Adoption Memoir Project. To give you a flavor of what’s presented, here are a few examples of the memoirs:
Abandoned by Parents, Reviled by Society
After 35 Years I’m Still Searching
The Weirdness of Adoption Spans Generations
Help the Mother, Help the Child
Isolated Genetic Mystery Speaking Out Now
Daughter, Mother, Stranger, History Repeats Itself
Learning to Love My Own Soul
Fellow Adopted People Are My People
You may be able to tell that these memoirs are written by birth parents and adoptees. The filmmakers said this was not intentional. As they continue the project, they are open to receiving six word memoirs by adoptive parents as well.
Could you tell your adoption story in six words? I have thought about this, and I believe my memoir would read:
Five Children, Six Mothers, Honest Lives
My statement reflects a newer “age” in adoption – the age of open adoption. (The memoirs above were written by those who experienced closed adoptions.) In my case, I recognize that I share parenting with the first mothers of my children, whether they are physically present and interacting with their children or not. It’s a more positive statement, right?
When birth parents and adoptees are hurting, as many are, adoptive parents can be vilified as the orchestrators of this pain. Some adoptive parents, in previous generations (and still today!), hid the truth of adoption from their adopted children. Adoptive parents “drank the Kool-Aid “ of belief that a child from one family could be transplanted into another family and grow as directed. Holding to this belief, adoptive parents failed to recognize differences and/or punished the adoptee and his/her birth parents for being who they are.
Although I fully embrace the chosen words of my memoir and the truth they contain, I also see that they may be misleading to other branches of the triad. My six-word memoir fails to mention any pain associated with adoptive parenting, while pain is more apparent in the memoirs of birth parents and adoptees.
Often, I believe, others view the losses to birth parents and adoptees as gains to adoptive parents. It’s not that simple or the whole story. What goes unrecognized is that adoptive parents suffer too. There is the pain of infertility that is not “solved” by adoption. There is the pain of parenting a child who – though much loved – is, in some ways, always a mystery. There is the pain of never being able to claim the sole title of “mother” or “father.” It is a title that must be shared. Yes, adoptive parenting brings much joy. But the sense of loss will ebb and flow throughout adoptive parent’s life just as it does for other members of the triad.
I was caught off guard and unprepared for the “ebb and flow” when my granddaughter Kinsley was born. Oh, I had grown accustomed to sharing the mother role with Skye’s other mother, Kimberly. Indeed, I bargained for that role.
So, when Skye wanted us both there for her “gender reveal” photos, I was fully onboard. We were and are in this together; and Kimberly and I would be maternal grandmothers together as well.
Then Kinsley arrived – beautiful and healthy, a full and complete human being in her own right. And, suddenly, I was reminded that she was not “flesh of my flesh.” Just as Skye carried Kimberly’s genes, so did Kinsley. And Kinsley’s children would carry that genetic line forward.
As John and I walked the dogs yesterday, we talked about what I had learned at the conference and veered into a discussion of DNA and ancestry. We paused to recognize that we were the end of our lines. Our genes would not be carried forward. It’s something we always knew in our heads. It’s something we only feel from time to time.
So, yes, adoptive parents experience ongoing loss and pain too. And our presence at adoption conferences, like the AAC one, is a necessary element when conversation turns to adoption reform. All three branches of the triad have a stake in the direction of the movement forward. Sharing our six word memoirs can be a way to have our voices heard.
I believe open adoption is better – far from perfect – but so much better than the types of adoption that sever ties between families. For me, that is the primary message I want to announce boldly. While losses for adoptive parents are real, the honesty of a fully realized open relationship – when adoption is the best choice for all people involved – is the memoir I work toward every day. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.