Thank you to everyone who joined our panel discussion tonight (4/15/16) on Birth Family Relationships After Adoption. Your questions were well thought out and this is a very important topic to discuss in the foster/adoption community. Everyone on our panel agreed that some sort of communication with birth families post adoption is in the best interest for the adoptee unless there is a terribly abusive past, contact caused trauma to the child, or the parents are deceased.
A couple of questions that were brought up nearly brought me to tears, and I thought they warranted further discussion, and answers needed to be reiterated.
I know that sometimes contact after adoption is just not possible. But if there is a choice, dear adoptive families, please, please, please, do everything possible (even if it’s a quick message on Facebook) to have at least some contact with at least someone from your adoptee’s birth family. My adoption was closed and it saddens me to no end that for years I did not know thing one about where I came from.
How Does NOT Having Contact With Birth Family Affect An Adoptee?
The first question that nearly brought me to tears was, “how does not having contact with birth family affect an adoptee?” As I stated before, my adoption was closed, and the records were sealed. It wasn’t until a few years ago when the state of Illinois allowed birth record access for adoptees whose birth parents hadn’t written in and asked to be redacted from the original birth certificate, that I even knew the name of my birth mother. She had moved to Texas when the law was passed, so I credit that for her not having had her name redacted- I have no doubt she probably would have had she of known. That being said, not having any contact has affected me in many, many ways that perhaps birth parents trying to “erase their past” probably haven’t even considered.
“…a home sickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was…”
I have been reminded of an old Gaelic word, “Hiraeth”, which is defined as being a home sickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past. As an adoptee who never knew anything about the first chapters of my life, I feel as though this word explains my deepest feelings. I am homesick because I don’t know my story. I don’t know the voices of my past. Nobody ever told me the circumstances surrounding how I got here, or how anyone felt about my existence.
I am an imaginative soul, and the human condition tends to make you think the worst. I felt as though there was something wrong with me, something inherently wrong with me because I was given up. I often felt jealous during family tree projects in school, because I might have been on a tree, but it wasn’t MY tree. Under my parents’ names were my name and my brother’s name and the years we were adopted. It was like we were a part of this family, but not really. Being on this family tree felt like a lie, because there weren’t our people. Sometimes, I felt ashamed. I wasn’t good enough to keep, like I was disposable. She left me behind and it seemed as though she never paid me another thought. She moved on with her life and here I was, just waiting for her to come back. To give me something. Anything. Any sign that I was not a horrible mistake would have been welcomed at any time. Every year on my birthday, I held a secret wish in my heart that she would call or send a card to give me the greatest gifts I could ever imagine- closure, love, the sense that I mattered. But year after year, day after day, I never got that. And I felt…lost. I felt grief. I felt yeaning. I felt “hiraeth”.
How Do You Comfort An Adoptee Who Simply Cannot Have Contact With His/Her Parents?
“How do you comfort an adoptee who simply cannot have contact with his or her parents?”. Understanding how to do this is important when contact is impossible. The simple answer to this is communication. In my house, it seemed to hurt the feelings of my adoptive parents if adoption and our feelings surrounding it were brought up. I remember my mother getting upset when I told people that I was adopted, I felt as though I had done something wrong. I remember watching An American Tail , and feeling devastated during the “Somewhere Out There” song. It killed me to think about the fact that my biological family looks at the same moon as I do in the same night sky, and that’s the closest we would ever be- that was our only connection. But I couldn’t talk about that. I had to swallow it because I didn’t want to hurt anybody else. What do I wish would have happened? I wish my adoptive parents would have been open with me. I wish they would have told me good things surrounding my adoption- I wish they would have told me about how much they wanted, wished, and prayed for me- because I was that important, because I was their dream come true. I wish they would have asked me how I felt at movies with central themes of adoption or loss of natural family. I wish they would have not made my existence a mystery, or made me feel ashamed to tell others about my past. I remember asking them if they were ashamed that I was adopted, and they said, “We aren’t ashamed, we just don’t want you talking about it”. Talking about it is the key. Adoptees have enough shame and denial that we carry around, and facing our feelings is the best way to help us heal.
“Talking about it [adoption] is the key. Adoptees have enough shame and denial that we carry around, and facing our feelings is the best way to help us heal.”
So here I sit, a blubbering, crying mess, and pouring my heart out on the internet. I did this because I hope in some way it helps. I hope that my story can encourage others. Yes I am sad about the way things turned out. Yes, I feel as though I had to fight an internal battle as an adoptee, but I want to use this all for good. In the end, God has brought me through some very rough times, but I now have a family of my own. I have children I love more than life itself, and I finally know connection. So adoptees, and lost people, hold on! At this point, you have never not survived what this life has thrown at you. So communicate, face your experience, and share your pain. Let’s heal together. Let’s make contact with birth family a priority for our foster adoptive kids, and if it’s not possible, let’s always talk about our feelings so we can all heal and make this world a happier place.