Originally shared on Facebook and/or Instagram for National Adoption Awareness Month.* When you see or hear an adoption story, please keep these things in mind.
By “story” I mean the circumstances of my adoption, who my birth parents are and what happened that led to me being adopted, and how adoption has played out for me. I do not mean the perspective of my adoptive parents about my adoption story.
That story holds an enormous amount of power in our lives.
When others take up our story and use it, even with good intentions, it becomes a weapon that cuts at the dignity of the adoptee and fights against learning a broader view of adoption. Many times it is adoptive parents who over-share. I grew up hearing my story shared a lot with people outside our family. I always smiled back at the listeners and kind of enjoyed being the center of attention for a moment. As a kid, I didn’t realize I was learning other things during these interactions.
I learned to see the details of my life as somehow “belonging” to others. I learned to feel obligated to satisfy other’s curiosity. When I sense people’s uncertainty about my background, the urge to dump all the details is strong! I think, if I do, maybe they’ll accept me and feel more comfortable with me. So I learned to over-share my own story also, even though doing so hurts me.
It leaves me exposed and drained. People react in a variety of ways and sometimes I have to reassure them. My story is a gift but not everyone sees it that way. Unlearning this is hard.
As Stephanie Tait pointed out on another (Facebook) post, over-sharing might be done to justify the adoptive parent’s choices, to explain why this adoption is a good one, to counter the not so pretty side of adoption they don’t want to acknowledge. In other words, over-sharing is usually a way to make people feel comfortable again with the adoption situation or with the adopted child.
Adults might over-share a child’s story to encourage others to adopt or to evangelize. The “good intent” of this is used to dismiss the harmful impact of their actions and words on the adoptee.
Over-sharing is also done by relatives or family friends. Unfortunately, they only know the adoptive parent’s perspective. They also rarely ever question whether or not there is another side (or two) to the story. The’ll reveal details about the first mom’s situation and decision and never consider a bias exists.
While we are children, our parents need to help protect and steward our stories, revealing more facts to us when they’re age appropriate. Relatives and friends need to be explicitly told that the details of the adoptee’s first family and placement are not theirs to share. Ever.
Adoptees must be allowed to make up our own minds about our story, to decide what to share and not share and when and with whom and with what emphasis. We must be given space to change our minds about our story over time; to let change our perspective of self and family.
Owning our adoption story helps ground us and build a positive adoption identity. It is part of forming a more complete sense of ourself. Even if the details are sad or difficult to swallow. When we are ready to share, it can help heal some hurts. Sharing our story is the only way we can learn to let others share our burdens. Knowing our story belongs to us and we have control of it helps us move through life more easily, a life that will always be discovering how adoption has impacted us in ways we didn’t expect or think about before.
Adoptee stories are powerful. In other’s hands they can be a weapon. In our own hands, they can become an anchor and a sail.-TiffanyLavon
*During NAAM or National Adoption Awareness Month (November) I posted a lot on social media about the adoptee voice, which is often silenced and missing in discussions about adoption. NAAM was created as a government initiative to encourage people to adopt children in the foster care system and the messages during NAAM are usually the ones that portray the positive side of adoption, advertising to potential adoptive parents. Over time this month also because a time where adoption was just celebrated in general.
I was adopted into a wonderfully loving family. I have always felt close with my adopted mother. So it never occurred to me that I might have suffered any loss from being separated from my biological mother at birth. It never occurred to me, that is, until I was pregnant with my first child. As I learned about labor and the connection newborns have with their mothers, I cried. I became fixated on that all important moment of holding my son to my chest. Yet, as my anticipation grew, a deep sorrow set in as well. I didn’t understand it at first. Then I realized why. I was actually grieving birth. My own birth.
I’ve heard the story many times. Perhaps a few months old, I was pushing away from my adopted mother. I looked up at her with an intense defiance in my eyes. Day after day, I was resisting.
“You’re going to let me love you.” She said as she gently tucked my limbs in her arms, hugging me to her chest, rocking and singing lullabies.
I don’t know how long this went on, but the last day it happened, she prayed over me. As she prayed, the “leviathan” came into her mind, and she rebuked this spirit by name.
My infant form relaxed and I slid down into her lap and then onto the floor. I immediately fell asleep and from that moment on, I never pushed her away again.
As a child, this story confused me. I saw the loving determination in my mother’s eyes as she retold this memory. In her mind, she had overcome a great obstacle for us. The result was that her baby was able to receive her love. I believe she wanted me to hear in this story how much she loved me.
So I tried to hear that, but I also felt ashamed. I also heard that I had been a broken and possibly demon possessed baby. My own body had behaved freakishly. What did that mean? What did that say about me? I couldn’t make sense of the story, so I rejected it. I listened to it like it wasn’t really me she was talking about. Even now, writing it down here, I question myself. The details I heard are concrete in my head, but when I try to share them, to shine a spotlight on them, they ghost into an accusation of insanity.
Did she really say all those things? Am I making this up?
In sharing this openly, I am calling myself out; to stop invalidating my own experiences and emotional responses.
As a child, this story of my infant self was just further proof that I, the “oriental adoptee” in a rural white community was not normal. Loved? Yes, but not normal. A gift from God? Yes, but something was wrong with me.
I had never been interested in baby dolls. Never wanted to babysit as a teen. Even when my husband and I got married we weren’t 100% sure we wanted kids. We’d wait and see how our lives unfolded. So, when we decided we did in fact want children of our own, I had a lot of learning to do about pregnancy, birth and babies. Which I tackled in my typical, overachieving academic fashion.
I learned my little womb-dweller was already becoming familiar with me. He knew my heartbeat and the sound of my voice. It was comforting as a first-time mommy to know those same, effortless things about me would comfort my child in the first few minutes and days of life on the outside. My breast tissue would regulate his body temperature. He would learn to recognize my scent. His familiarity with me would aid his transition.
God’s design in the birth process is amazing!
These weren’t tears of joy. Pregnancy hormones? It was deeper than tearing up at a puppy adoption commercial. Prenatal depression? I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It was just thinking about this particular aspect of birth that was different. There was sorrow here. When I finally connected the dots, I was shocked.
Was I really grieving something I experienced as a newborn? Is that even possible?
The day I was born I was held by my first mother. However, that afternoon she was gone. As I thought about that, I imagined myself as a vulnerable infant suddenly losing the reassurance of that familiar heartbeat, her gait, her voice.
Just a few months ago I learned research shows infants register this separation as trauma, coded into the nervous system. At one day old, I would have sensed that disruption and loss, even though I couldn’t understand it.
I suddenly remembered that story of resisting my adopted mother. This new perspective broke my heart. A profound sadness for my infant self replaced the sense of shame I had associated with this story.
I had not been a broken or possessed baby, I was overcoming some measure of trauma in losing my familiar mother. I had to adapt to life outside her and without her. Plus, I had to adapt to a new mother I didn’t recognize. This was extra stress that an infant is not supposed to have.
Did I attach to my adopted mother? Yes. Did I adapt and adjust well? I think so. Therefore the temptation is for everyone, myself included, to dismiss and minimize the inherent trauma of adoption. As if it doesn’t matter because it all worked out in the end. The truth is, I had suffered a loss before memory that I was only now able to grieve.
I’m now weeks away from meeting my second child, face to face. Skin to skin. I’m visualizing how I will once again face the pain of labor and postpartum care. I’m fixating again on the moment I get to hold him for the first time.
And I’m grieving. I’ve only talked about this a few times since my first was born. Always with tears. I wonder if that means that I still have healing to do. Or if that means that some wounds never fully heal. Or maybe by writing this out and releasing it, I am healing right now.
Either way, giving birth is both a sorrow and a joy for me. The process involves reliving a loss somehow remembered in my being, though not in my conscious memory. I cannot face giving birth to my own child without grieving my own birth. I’m a little glad we’re not planning on having more children (she wrote with a chuckle).
However, there may be some redemption for me in this process. At least I hope there is. I am now the mother. No longer helpless. Giving my child what I didn’t have. Creating a conscious memory of bonding with my infant. Perhaps my past sorrow makes this anticipated joy that much sweeter.