The Look of Adoption
I still remember the day I found out that my best friend from childhood was adopted. I was in elementary school when my mother happened to comment on it. My friend’s adoption wasn’t a secret…it just never occurred to me. The fact is, it should have been obvious because my friend was part Asian and her parents Caucasian. They looked nothing alike, yet in my mind she was just somebody’s daughter and I was her friend.
While this story causes me to smile today, I have to say I like the innocence of children that allows them to just accept people as they are. No questions asked. No stereotypes or judgments heaped on. Young children typically don’t get caught up in all the social/economic/demographic drama that seems to pollute our adult minds. Their ability to easily accept one another, despite obvious physical differences, should be a lesson to those of us who are older and supposedly “wiser.”
I believe in the importance of educating adoptive families about the unique considerations and challenges of adopting a special needs child or a child of a different racial, cultural or ethnic background. I further believe we need to assist these families in creating communities that can successfully support these types of adoptions. If we expect adoptive families to be able and willing to adopt children who need homes, then we must get creative. This is an admonition not just for social service agencies, but for individuals, schools, churches, medical and athletic facilities, libraries, and so on. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how many churches in the greater Charlotte area have banded together to help support families in their efforts to foster and adopt children in the foster care system. This is an excellent example of how ordinary people can team together to support adoption at its best and safest level.
I have been working in the adoption field for nearly 16 years now and have yet to grow tired of this amazing work. It is a privilege to be invited into someone’s home to conduct a home study or to sit across from a birthparent struggling with an adoption or parenting decision. These stories and lives are precious and deserve to be celebrated. It is also a responsibility to be borne, however. As we look out at the adoptive families in our schools, places of work and worship and play, we can often recognize the obvious physical factors that set adoptive families apart. Are we doing what we can to encourage them and to allow them to grow? Are we making strides in our collective view toward adoption? Whether we are personally connected to adoption or just part of the adoption story at large, we all have a role to play in helping this institution to thrive.
A Look at Where We’ve Come From
If you haven’t spent much time in the adoption world yet, you may not realize how far adoption has come in this country. While not without its stereotypes and stigma even today, adoption has nevertheless become a common household phenomenon, impacting most of us in one way or another. We read about it in the media, see it flashed before our eyes in Hollywood, and throw baby showers for friends and family members who are adopting. There are scrapbooking kits designed specifically for families created by adoption and a ‘National Adoption Day’ set aside each year to commemorate the lives of kids who need adoptive homes and have already been placed. In other words, adoption seems to be everywhere and our social consciousness of the issue has improved dramatically. It may be hard to believe, therefore, that this wasn’t always the case. Not so long ago, adoption was a dark and secret taboo borne by many birthmothers, adopted children and adoptive parents alike.
I can still recall the almost haunting call I received from an adult adoptee many years ago, who explained to me that after 65 years of living in secrecy, she was finally able to ask about her adoption because the last of her adoptive parents had passed away. This woman knew she was adopted but never felt the liberty of asking her parents even the most basic of questions. Why, you may ask. The answer is simple: shame. Unfortunately, this woman was born and placed for adoption in an era where women gave birth to “illegitimate” children in secret, sequestered away in secret wards, never allowed the opportunity to see or hold their child. Babies were placed based upon a social worker’s subjective opinion of families who seemed to possess similar physical attributes to the child, and then often no one spoke of the adoption after that. Ever. Even if people in the community knew a child was adopted, no one dared speak of it. I promise you, I am not making this stuff up. I have read through many old adoption files and offered counseling to other adult adoptees like the one discussed here, recounting similar stories.
I don’t mention these stories to lambast the good intentions of social workers and adoptive parents of the past. For the most part, society believed this practice of secrecy was in everyone’s best interest. Fortunately, we have since learned a great deal about the benefits of being forthright with one’s adoption story and creating various levels of openness when it is safe and beneficial for all parties involved. While stories of adoption’s past may cause us to cringe today, I believe they can also make us grateful for the progress we’ve made. They should also motivate us to continually strive to make adoption better. We can do this by ensuring openness and accessibility to a child’s adoption story, as well as making sure that those of us who have been affected by adoption in some capacity take advantage of our unique position to educate others about the beauty and strength of adoption.