Unconscious bias in the adoption community

16 Feb


I like a good adoption reunion story as much as anyone else.  People post the stories (myself included) on their blogs, facebook pages, twitter, with words like heartwarming, beautiful, wonderful.  One of the current ones making the rounds that is accepted by everyone in the adoption community; fifty years later siblings meet each other.  The other story is about twins separated at birth (unknown to them) – finding each other twenty some years later.  That one is also universally accepted because of that instinctive feelings of repugnance at the thought of separating twins.

If you have read here for a while you know I observe people, groups, how they interact, where the common ground is, and where it seldom is.  I’ve watched people’s reactions to adoption reunions over the years, and the ones that seem to get the warmest reactions (acceptance) from all groups in adoption, are the ones that happen many decades down the road.  There are different reasons for that, but the primary one seems to be that the adoptive parents have most likely already passed away, so it is acceptable for the adoptee to finally know her other family.  There is no chance of the adoptive family being usurped by the family of birth, no parent being replaced.  Just older people being able to get to know each other, and if it’s only siblings, even better.

Unconscious or hidden biases are hard to dispel, and even if you think you have, they may still exist no matter how much you have grown in adoption understanding.  The unconscious bias in adoption reunions is shown in many ways, the positive adoption language eschews the term “reunion” and changes it to “makes contact with”.  The dismissal of the genetic connection is still common place within the adoption community with clever slogans, and sayings that diss the bond of shared DNA.  That tells me people are still not confident enough to hold their families as equal, when they try to elevate themselves, by dismissing others.  Yet when it comes right down to it, the unconscious bias of shared DNA pokes through even the most ardent supporter in adoption – with the mere thought of separating twins, sometimes with siblings, but those feelings are easier to ignore if they too aren’t available to be adopted.

The other unconscious bias is in the response to adoption reunion stories both within and outside of adoption.  Some don’t seem to see the loss to the parties for all the years apart when they read an adoption reunion story.  You see the lack of recognition of the loss two ways –  overall acceptance of stories that happen so many decades later as good, combined with only words of how wonderful, or in the case of the Time story on the twins with this ending comment of: “It’s like a real live version of The Parent Trap“.  I don’t think reunion makes that loss felt all those years go away.  At best, I think reunion is bittersweet because you know then exactly what you lost, it’s tangible, real, and sometimes, that loss overwhelms your soul to the point that your only option is to shut down.

I didn’t write this post with the intent that everyone should suddenly change their words of how wonderful, I’m happy for you – to reunion stories posted.  I think they are beautiful.  I’m glad they are shared.  I wish they never had to have happened in the first place.  I hope everyone looking, finds who they are looking for.  I just think we need to pay attention to the unconscious biases we all have, and recognition that reunion doesn’t fix everything…

Twins Separated at Birth Reunited Thanks to Social Media

5 Siblings reconnect; 2 crossed paths at Wal-Mart


Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Adoption, adoptive parents, biological child


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

24 responses to “Unconscious bias in the adoption community

  1. Don't We Look Alike?

    February 16, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Yes, Parent Trap, which is a cruel story IMO.


    • TAO

      February 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Yes, it really was cruel. I think that film was the first film I connected with my feelings.

      The reason I wrote this post was because of our conversations – of course I yammer away far more here and in different directions…


  2. dmdezigns

    February 16, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    I agree that reunion just makes you realize what you lost. No matter how much time I spend with my dad and his family, it can’t replace the years we lost. My grandfather is dead now. I lost 10 years of time with him. I was thrilled to have the remaining years I got with him, but I still mourn the ones I lost. It doesn’t mean I love anyone else less. We so often forget that the human heart has an infinite capacity for love. There’s not a set number of people we can love and then oops, my heart is full.


    • TAO

      February 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      D – so agree and you know only in adoption does anything even think that love is something limited to a set number…never seen the like…


  3. eagoodlife

    February 16, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    The longer the time the more poignant the loss. I my own situation the ‘kind’ person who gave my afather ‘forbidden’ information thinking it was helpful, provided the wrong information and wasted decades of my time when my mother and I might have been reunited. Loss is loss however you look at it and whatever words you use it hurts just the same.


    • TAO

      February 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      “The longer the time the more poignant the loss.” – Von, I wish I had said those words in the post. It explains exactly what I was trying to say…


      • eagoodlife

        February 18, 2014 at 5:51 am

        Just shows TAO how we jump into the river and go with it, so we can understand better. I learn something new every day from the posts I read, yours in particular.


  4. kellie3

    February 17, 2014 at 12:23 am

    The reunion stories usually make me sad. It frustrates me when the adoptee is the one who searched, they preface their reason for searching with something like, “while I love my adoptive parents and had a wonderful childhood…” It makes me sad someone has to first proclaim their loyalty to their adoptive parent before they can tell their story. When I watched the clip with the CNN anchor it was the same thing over again. In fact, the story seemed to be more about her adoptive family then her biological family. Just my opinion.
    The parent trap was awful. I could never get over why someone thought it appropriate to separate twins and never tell them about each other! That must say something about us right? That we would have a funny movie and a remake about something so horrible?!


    • TAO

      February 17, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Kellie – it actually makes me angry that society and the adoption community require that preface – it neatly sums up the adoptee experience – don’t say anything that could hurt the parents as a child, then, make sure the older adults are okay first. I played the game for awhile on-line – can’t be bothered now.

      It does say something about us – kind of sad isn’t it…


  5. onewomanschoice

    February 17, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Reblogged this on One Woman's Choice.


  6. shadowtheadoptee

    February 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Von you are so very right…the more time, the more reality sets in.

    Everyone loves the happy reunion stories. I’ve often wondered how well recieved the stories would be if they were redone after the honeymoon phase was over. Finding each other is only the beginning. . Whether it is a happy reunion, or one of rejection, people think it is the end. It isn’t that simple. I wish it were.

    After all these years, I find it so very insulting to my adoptive parents, my bio parents, and myself, to hear or use the whole loyalty to AP statements of “I love my APs”, I refuse to even mention them when discussing reunion. Someone asked me once, “Didn’t you have good parents?”. Maybe it was the look on my face, maybe the tone in my voice when I responded, “What do they have to do with it, or the price of tea in China?”, but I’m betting that they wont ask me that question again. I don’t talk about adoption/reunion anywhere but here any more, unless specifically asked. It is just better for everyone that way. lol

    I’ve never seen the parent trap. Glad I didn’t now.


    • TAO

      February 17, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      ” It isn’t that simple. I wish it were.” you and me both my friend.

      However horrible that movie was, it really helped me know what I felt wasn’t just an anomaly. Of course that was way back not so long after it first came out. Looking at it today it really shows the reality of “it’s all about the parents needs and wants” and seldom about what is best for the child. In adoption, I think it is all about how much more money two adoptions bring in versus just one.


  7. valmomma2

    February 17, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    “I don’t think reunion makes that loss felt all those years go away. At best, I think reunion is bittersweet because you know then exactly what you lost, it’s tangible, real, and sometimes, that loss overwhelms your soul to the point that your only option is to shut down.” This is so true. I love my biological family dearly, but I lost nearly 25 years with them and I can’t get that back. They have shared experiences and a lifetime of family bonding that I just missed out on, and it is tangible when we are together. I will forever be “odd girl out” in every family I have. Some days it is just too much to deal with or process, so I can feel my heart sort of shut down. I hate it.


    • TAO

      February 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      I have the same feelings…siblings should have shared memories…odd girl out is a perfect description.


    • shadowtheadoptee

      February 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      You are certainly not alone in your feelings. I’ve been reunited for over 25 years. Plenty of time to make memories and history, but I ften still feel like the odd man out. I didn’t have the memories of childhood with my bio family, an dnever will. It’s like an elephant in the room sometimes. It hurts too much sometimes. Shutting down is the only way to stop it from hurting, so blocking it out works sometimes. I just keep getting up, going on with “my” life, and pretending none of it matters…until it does again. Time goes by…it gets easier. It doesn’t go away; the loss. Eventually, you learn to live with it. It still hurts, but it’s o.k., and just part of your life, who you are. 25 years after reunion, and yes, sometimes it still makes me sad Why is it so hard for people to understand what I lost? Seereiously, why do they think I shouldn’t feel that loss? When someone can tell me just exactly ow I am supposed to “forget”, or why it “shouldn’t” matter to me…well, then maybe I’ll forget about it and it wont matter.


      • marilynn

        February 19, 2014 at 2:52 am

        My first big effort to reunite someone was my mom with her bio family. It’s been nearly 20 years ago now and although she must feel very much like you, my cousins and I have just become cousins like normal cousins we are on facebook. They live in Canada and I’m in California but we’ve vacationed together and they’ve slept on my floor in sleeping bags and we’ve gotten drunk together. I could not have handpicked cooler people to be related to. I think the older of us knows the story but the cousin’s kids don’t know the story really they just know our Mom’s were sisters and they did not grow up together. So for me the fact that at least history is set straight and the fact that they are sisters like any other sisters to us now I think is wonderful it shows how you just can’t undo the truth. But you point is so well taken, they can’t make up for the years they were separated unnecessarily.


  8. cb

    February 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    “The dismissal of the genetic connection is still common place within the adoption community with clever slogans, and sayings that diss the bond of shared DNA. That tells me people are still not confident enough to hold their families as equal, when they try to elevate themselves, by dismissing others. ”

    Very true.


    • TAO

      February 18, 2014 at 1:31 pm


      I see people sharing it and agreeing and while it seems so positive to them – it just isn’t when you have to show yourself better at the expense of the other – kind of like the mean girls in school. Show you are a family on the merits of what your family is…


  9. cb

    February 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    “After all these years, I find it so very insulting to my adoptive parents, my bio parents, and myself, to hear or use the whole loyalty to AP statements of “I love my APs”, I refuse to even mention them when discussing reunion. ”

    I’ve become so used to having to use the “I love my APs” disclaimer on adopton forums, (because if one doesn’t do so, assumptions are of course automatically made), I have found I keep saying it when I speak to people IRL even I probably don’t really have to as it seems most of the people I know here in Australia have sort of got that my feelings for my bfamily is separate to my afamily.


    • TAO

      February 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      I think sometimes we are our own worst enemies by trying to placate the masses with the required words to calm their fears. I’m done with it – I only speak about it – if it is actually part of the conversation and most of the time it isn’t.


  10. Studying Adoption Law

    February 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Great post! Been reading a lot about different adoption situations recently. Thanks for all the info!


  11. marilynn

    February 19, 2014 at 2:43 am

    I reunite separated families for free and because I do it for free I have no problem advocating to end the practices that cause people to not know where their families are to begin with. I get nothing from helping other than the satisfaction of giving people back what was theirs to begin with. I’ve turned down some tv producers because I don’t like the formats of the shows – pain olympics. Also they like the reunion to happen on television and I really think its more appropriate for people to tell their stories after they’ve met and gotten to know one another if they feel like telling their stories at all. Also they only help people without checkered pasts which is ridiculous and excludes lots of people. There is a comment above about how they’d like to see the people well after the initial glow is worn off and I think that is on target. Meeting for the first time is a big and private deal. People I’m sure have lots to talk about and I always feel like its their private experience. Maybe they’d be willing to share later on after they are comfortable with one another.

    Did you know that is the oldest reunion site I think and you can pick any birth date search and find matches just sitting there, dormant for for anywhere between 1 year and 15 years? About 250,000 matches are on there as far as I estimate. Sometimes I just search the curent month and day and then gather up all the mother/child, father/child, sibling/child matches for that date and kinda hack at the page by “viewing source” to get their email addresses and phone numbers and start the process of chasing down the matched sets. I of course have all the detective websites to try and get the current contact info. I sometimes spend a day sometimes a month chasing down these family members to get a hold of them. When I do they are so happy because they had searched for one another and had no idea that they were matched. It’s something I do just to feel good because by searching the current day and month obviously I’m helping them reunite on their birthdays.

    I really like helping reunite families and I pick lots of random posts of the boards and surprise people by finding their families but I do have a formula now that the surprise ones I tend to look for parents looking for their kids because the kids will likely not be pissed off about being found (you never know though) and also their adoptive parents are likely to have passed and its just easier. Not that I limit helping to people in those situations but for the surprise ones its kind of a happy reunion formula. As you mentioned people are more receptive if the adoptive family is passed.


  12. leenilee

    February 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    This is why I love your blog, I never thought about the disclaimer of “I love my APs but”. To me (as a first/birth/bio mother and not an adoptee) it seems like it would be very time consuming and frustrating to have to provide that information before discussing search and/or reunion. It’s strange to me this point of view that searching for one’s genetic roots is somehow an affront to APs. Maybe that’s because I was into the whole genealogy thing way back when and found it interesting even though I’m not adopted.

    Anyhow, enough of my babble, just wanted to thank you for sharing your unique perspective and tell you that I learn so much from you.



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