36 and 10 / What I’ve Learned About Adoption

Today marks 36 years since my arrival from Calcutta. It’s hard for me to believe that one year ago I was back in Calcutta on the 35th anniversary filming Calcutta is My Mother.

I’ve spent the past 2 years researching adoption, having heart to heart conversations with adoptees, and writing down every thought and feeling of my own. Today I’m sharing 10 personal thoughts/things I’ve learned about adoption. You may not appreciate them all but I hope my intentions are not misunderstood. I do not claim to speak for all adoptees; I’m sharing based on discussions I’ve had with fellow adoptees and my own personal findings. Adoption can be good and/or bad. After all my research, I still maintain adoption can be a beautiful and positive experience. It mostly has been for me. However, even when it is wonderful, it isn’t without trauma, grief, and sorrow. Adoption can also be horrific, unethical, abusive, and ugly. Some of the stories I’ve listened to are appalling and gut wrenching. Many adoptees experience both ends of the spectrum. Adoption should not be viewed as a solution or an end to suffering when often, it’s an introduction to yet another facet of suffering for an already traumatized child. We must recognize both the good and the bad.

  1. Every adoptee should be permitted to share their story without judgment. I find my story to be well received, for the most part (but not always) because my childhood experience was generally positive. Yet people are often offended when an adoptee, whose experience has been primarily traumatic, shares their story. Why? Because they seem ungrateful? And for what exactly ought they be grateful? Being ripped from their biological family, lack of familiarity with the culture of their birth, physical/sexual/emotional abuse, isolation? When those involved in adoption only hear and share the “happy” stories, it’s counterproductive; it isn’t helpful and actually moves things in the opposite direction. When an adoptee is heard, they have the potential to flourish and thrive because there is profound freedom in releasing the hidden aches within our hearts. Ignoring the uncomfortable stories helps no one.
  2. Adoptive parents need to take a step back and allow adoptees to direct the conversation on adoption. The greatest challenges in adoption are not in the paperwork, dossier assembly, or administrative organization. Yes, adoptive parents are fluent in adoption lingo and well versed in the adoption process, but, for the most part, those aren’t the important pieces. Why are so many adoptive parents directing the narrative in our churches, schools, and on social media? I don’t mean to offend, but this is important… Adoptees are the authority on adoption. Adoptive parents are not. I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t have a voice but their voice should not be the dominant one. I absolutely believe adoptive parents require support but it should be done separately, in private groups, and less public settings. Why must adoptive parents share how their adoption process was a “nightmare” and list the hoops they had to jump through? Please, stop to think about how those conversations will impact a child. Should an adoptee be flattered their parents went to so much trouble? No. Why are so many adoptive parents unwilling to take a back seat and allow adoptees to share their own stories? If you want to learn about adoption, really learn, talk to an adoptee. Listen to an adoptee! It’s pretty simple. And it would be a heck of a lot simpler if more adoptive parents would sit down.
  3. Adoption is complex and its not becoming any less so. It’s anything but simple for children and adults. As children, adoptees have a difficult time articulating their feelings, while many adult adoptees can tend to associate with one extreme or the other because they don’t feel permitted to be anywhere in between. We aren’t all angry or at peace; happy or distraught. Those boxes are far too narrow for that of any adoptee I’ve ever known. I often experience each of those feelings in one day.
  4. Adoption is an industry. A business. And it’s as corrupt as any major corporation except there are CHILDREN on the line; innocent, traumatized children. Throughout the entirety of the adoption process the adoptee is the only one without control. Isn’t that awful? Are those in the adoption industry solely focused on what’s best for the child? That doesn’t appear to be the case much of the time. When money is involved one should be so, so cautious about who they’re willing to work with. Adoptive parents do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye to adoption corruption. The atrocities within adoption can’t have only happened to other people. Everyone assumes their adoption is above board without taking the time to be absolutely certain. Do you want to play a part in kidnapping or child trafficking? Then don’t. Don’t.
  5. Raising funds to adopt is an incredibly sticky situation. I assure you, I’m not judging anyone who has or is raising money to adopt, but I do have concerns surrounding the subject. The problem is in fostering an environment in which your donors feel they helped save a child. How will you handle someone addressing your child saying they donated to help get them here? How is an adoptee (child or adult) to respond? Thank You? No. Adoptees are not mission work.  We are not a good deed or charity. Donors have zero stake in an adopted child simply because they chose to give to a fund. The “we did this together” mentality is a dangerous burden to place on anyone. And, by the way, even if no one speaks quite this bluntly to your child, it’s implied so, please, handle this wisely. Be prepared. Be mindful of how every detail, every word can and will affect an adoptee.
  6. Parenting is hard. However one goes about becoming a parent, they will find it to be challenging on every front. And none of that matters; it’s a lifelong commitment. Once you become a parent there is no end. Parenting never ends; not at 18, not at the first or 3,000th sign of trouble, not ever. If there is an even microscopic twinge of “well, if it doesn’t work out then…” in your mind, you should not become a parent via adoption. Let’s attempt to minimize traumatizing the traumatized.
  7. Adoption IS grief. There is no adoption without grief. When grief goes unacknowledged or ignored it brews and builds. Grief lives in the foundation of adoption. At its core, adoption is traumatic, even in the best scenarios and certainly in the worst. Adoptees carry the weight of loss, rejection, worry, lack of self value, insecurity, and pain every day of their lives. Some days it bubbles closer to the surface than others, but it is ever present and ever burdensome. It manifests emotionally and physically. Acknowledge it. Receive it. Give it space to release and be heard.
  8. There must be reform within adoption. I’m grateful for the activists on the front lines working on birth certificate accessibility, retroactive citizenship, in country family preservation, and justice for evil doers in the system. There is an overwhelming amount of work to be done. I don’t believe any of us who are part of the adoption arena (by choice or not) should sit idly by without doing our part to bring about necessary change.
  9. As is the case with most things, there are positives and negatives in adoption. I’m passionate about making the world a safer place for all adoptees to share their stories. Not all adoptees see things my way and I’m okay with that; we don’t always have the same point of view and I appreciate every perspective. The greatest changes within adoption are coming directly from the hard work of adoptees. I’m proud to be in community with so many adoptees driven to create change in the face of harsh push back. I’ve never met more passionate or hard working people; people willing to commit their life’s work to helping the next generation of adoptees. Thank you, fellow adoptees. Thank you SO much.
  10. If you’re an adoptee, SPEAK. Share your story. Be heard. We stand together; you’re not alone. If you’re not an adoptee, LISTEN. You cannot understand without listening. You cannot parent without listening. We need you to listen. We need to be heard.

It’s been quite a year. I’ve learned a lot and I have so much more to learn. I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Adoptive families, this is for your children; please take it to heart. Adoptees, keep sharing your stories without reservation; the impact is resounding.

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36 years ago upon arrival in Portland, Oregon with my beautiful mother and her parents.

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1 year ago, back in Calcutta, India on the 35th anniversary of the day I left.

15 thoughts

  1. Great post and as a prospective adoptive parent I really appreciate reading this. There are a lot of people out there with a “save the child”/ missionary mentality which I found horribly disturbing. There seems to be a rarity of people writing about adoption who don’t come from that perspective and simply want to expand their families. While my husband and I began the adoption process we also found out that we were infertile, and the process of adoption and infertility treatments are extraordinarily high… so because of that I would be cautious on the one part you wrote about fundraising to help afford it. Yes absolutely there are people who think they are contributing to saving, but many just want people to be able to have children just like those who can do it biologically. Sadly the industry of adoption makes it inaccessible to the average person, with domestic adoption running at over $30,000, and international adoption averaging around $20,000. We were fortunate enough to have the credit cards and savings to afford our fees, but do understand when other people get assistance from friends and family financially to afford it. As there is much grief on the side of the adoptee, some adoptive parents have also dealt with the grief of infertility which for both sides is something you can’t quite describe to the other unless you’ve been through it. they’re definitely needs to be more education and more openness on both sides so that everyone can move forward positively and do the best for each other. Being a kid is hard no matter how old you are, and as a woman who had 5 failed infertility treatments, attempting to become a parent and dealing with the devastating effects on one’s own body it’s something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. the training or lack thereof when it comes to adoption is an interesting one… I would love to hear your thoughts on the books out there that are recommended to prospective parents and get your thoughts as an adoptee..?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi EcFem,
      I was also adopted as a child, so I hope that you greatly appreciate my thoughts on some of your comments.

      I cannot stress enough how insulting it is that PAPs are so nonchalant and entitled about soliciting funds to have virtual strangers help fund their personal dreams.

      While I’m quite aware that APs also have their fair share of grief over infertility (I grew up hearing about their self-pitying woes, although thankfully not everyday), some important things to always remember: NO adopted (or even non-adopted) child is responsible for the adults’ experiences with infertility. No infertile adult should make a child (or future adult) feel responsible for the adults’ infertility. If you feel the need to air your infertile angst on adoptee blogs or in adoptees’ physical faces, then use your credit cards and savings to pay for your psychotherapy instead, so that the rest of the adoptee population isn’t so inundated, overwhelmed, and overshadowed by your personal grievances to the point of ignoring their own grief and recovery from their own trauma (it takes a certain level of entitlement to believe that a world of strangers unidirectionally owe you their sympathy, empathy, and their children at an affordable price). If you can’t get a handle on your own personal grief of infertility enough to be aware that other people have feelings, suffer, and have grief, then please don’t consider adoption.

      Please re-read Reshma’s #3,5,6,7,8 – heck, just re-read EVERYTHING she wrote, until you can register that children weren’t beget by others to minimize your grief and satisfy your personal dreams of a bigger family. Most of these children have families already. Help THEIR families. Help restore human rights to those who were adopted as children. That is, if you can pause long enough to get over your own personal woes, and actually listen to, read, digest what several adoptees have tried explaining/sharing with you.

      And how about not hijacking adoptee blogs to “enlighten” adoptees on the experiences of PAPs’ infertility or PAPsplaining on who YOU think should be considered a mother, then getting defensive and accusing them of being insulting despite that you have NO experience or insight on living life as an adoptee?

      Hmmm? Do you think you can read and listen, without interjecting what YOU think adoption should be about? If you need sympathy about infertility, go find support groups for infertile people, don’t antagonize adoptees. We aren’t responsible for your infertility, and we can’t do anything about your infertility. Even if you adopt us, you will still be infertile, and you still won’t be able to dictate how we feel about you or people like you. If you can’t accept that, and need to jump out in accusations and defensiveness against those adopted as children, then get some anger management training to deal with your emotions, anger and frustration in a healthier, more respectful way. And by all means, give up on your dreams of calling other people’s children “your own”.

      I hope you appreciate my contribution to educating you, as an experienced adoptee.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Once again the poor infertile adoptive parent talks about them. Jesus Christ lady, we adoptees do not want you to parent us. We can NEVER be your child. At the most we need someone to look after us until we can be reunited with our own families. Maybe raise money to keep families together instead of trying to get someone else’s child.

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    3. Just came across this article and post! I would recommend the book “Adopted for Life” by Russell D. Moore (Crossway Publishers, 2009). I have read it and I am an adult adoptee and I appreciate the tone and spirit in which it was written. You may find it particularly relatable to your experiences. Blessings to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, THE ECOFEMINIST! Thank you for your comments. I sincerely appreciate everything you had to say. Regarding the fundraising efforts, I didn’t say and didn’t mean to imply most donors have anything but good intentions in giving to help a family adopt. Rather, I’m bringing up the issue regarding how that can negatively affect a child. Having and raising (biological or adopted) children is expensive all around and there ARE ways to pursue adopting that don’t involve crowd funding. We don’t need to agree on this, but in my research and including my own personal feelings, this is where many adoptees stand on the issue.
    Regarding the grief of infertility, I’m sorry for what you’ve endured. I know many people who have suffered an unimaginable amount of grief as a result of infertility. I will say though, regarding adoptees, it is a very heavy burden to place on a child. Sharing grief with children should be done very carefully and most adoptees do not respond well to being told they are here because “we weren’t able to have children of our own”. The implication here, obviously, is that they were a last resort and/or were not wanted until all other options were exhausted. Adoption is tough. For parents and children. I by no means want to dismiss the challenges adoptive parents do and will face, however, as I stated earlier, the child has no choice in these matters. Adults do have choices. None of us are perfect and I stand by the fact that I don’t think anyone should adopt if there is any possibility of further burdening or traumatizing a child… Two pretty sure fire ways to achieve that are by having a group of donors placing expectations on an adoptee because they “were a part of it” and also by placing an adoptive parents grief (from any number of sources) on a child’s shoulders.

    I hope I’ve clarified. Thanks again for sharing and I’m happy you found some of this to be helpful. Blessings on you, wherever your journey takes you!!

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  3. I would advise – Do a lot of research before adopting! My agency said “there is no corruption in China adoptions…the kids are healthy, no trauma, blah blah blah” HA! Losing a birth parent, then a foster mom etc IS the very definition of trauma for a baby or child. The agency was NOT helpful at all post adoption. Neither was the Int’l adoption clinic we went to when the nightmares, night terrors, rages, irrational fears, anxiety, etc, began. I had to research after the fact & through therapeutic, connected parenting we doing well now. But not everyone should adopt! There was a man (waiting adoptive father) at our ONE req’d (pre-Hague) Informational workshop who asked “So, when should we tell her she’s adopted?” The speakers jaw dropped. (She was actually quite good). She recovered, & said it should be a part of her story from the start. She will be Chinese. You & your wife are white. She’ll figure it out. lol! YOUNG – babies, toddlers etc – have been shown in studies to recognize & point out differences in race. My dd was bullied in pre-K! Now I homeschool her. I support her in all she wants to do, as far as searching, etc – her right to know what she wants! I also hate that “savior mentality”. I am the lucky one. Thanks for this post!

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  4. Thank you, Reshma, for outlining this so politely and thoroughly.

    I can agree that some other adoptees have been amazing, and amazingly patient with some PAPs and APs, and in terms of directing changes and improvements in children’s rights and family preservation. I’m quite baffled as to how so many people can have such difficulty in understanding and respecting children and families, especially those from poor or “ethnic”/”exotic” backgrounds. I guess that the infertility aspect is just too emotional for some of them and they’ve been pampered/pandered to believe that they deserve to have children if they want them, no matter the costs to anyone else. Some refuse to accept NO and thus, their reading comprehension and respect for other human beings goes out the window.

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  5. Once again the poor infertile adoptive parent talks about them. Jesus Christ lady, we adoptees do not want you to parent us. We can NEVER be your child. At the most we need someone to look after us until we can be reunited with our own families. Maybe raise money to keep families together instead of trying to get someone else’s child.

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  6. Thank you for this. I adopted my now 9 year old son Hugo Ajaya from Nepal when he was a baby. He is really struggling with his origin story right now and is immersed and submerged in the deepest grief. I try to give him space to express it, try to help him hold it, but it is so painful to feel powerless to help ease it for him. Your post helps, thank you. And we’ll be at Heritage Camp this summer so perhaps we’ll meet!

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  7. Hi Reshma , Hi Everyone.
    I am an adoptive mom from India. My husband and I adopted our daughter when she was 7 months old. She is 17 years old now. She is generally cheerful but has deep pain inside. There was huge adoption rage in her but that has abated to a large degree. There have been happy times and deeply trying times for all three of us. It hasn’t been an easy journey for any of us. I am a daily witness to my daughter’s angst and I say ‘witness’ not ‘participant in’ because from her perspective I am a very confusing entity foisted on her life when she had no say in the matter,so she is reluctant to let her pain flow through tears in my presence.But we talk a lot to each other whenever she is ready or in a mood to chat. We share an affectionate bond but my daughter would rather not show it! She has shown her angst by directing it towards me through violent outbursts, both physical and verbal. So we are also in counselling. I am in regular touch with our adoption agency for advice and sharing of experiences.

    I have been able to understand her pain through Nancy Verrier’s book “Coming Home to Self”. Sherrie Eldridge’s books and you tube videos have also helped me to see an adoptee’s perspective. I hope my daughter will read these books someday soon.

    I do understand through my own experience that adoption is a painful process for the child. Parents adopt children but children take their time adopting the parents. What is needed in the world of adoption as well as the world at large is that attempts have to be made to understand each other’s perspective. This is possible for adult adoptees but not for growing children . Growing children can’t be expected to understand parents. So till they grow up completely it is a one way street from any well-intentioned parent’s side( birth or adoptive). The ultimate objective, I believe,is acceptance of the life we have, making peace with ourselves and having compassion for others.
    Regards and Best wishes,
    Geeta

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  8. Hi Reshma, I’m a Taiwanese-American adoptee and write at beyondtwoworlds.com. I couldn’t agree more with your post and appreciate the gamut of emotions you discussed in relation to how adoptees feel on any one day regarding their adoption, neither “angry or at peace,” happy or distraught…” So very well put. I wanted to ask if I could share your post on my own blog? Take care, and I look forward to watching Calcutta is My Mother soon.

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