What has helped me most with my deepest feelings about not just being adopted, but the unintended consequences that have played out in my particular story? A community of adoptees who share similar feelings, questions, loyalty conflicts. For me, nothing I’ve done has helped more than feeling I’m not alone in this journey. What made me realize this now? Recently, I saw a clip on the need to talk about mental health challenges by Howie Mandel, how talking to others going through the same journey of mental health conditions helps you not feel alone or weird. That got me thinking about how having someone to talk to who gets it, whatever the it is, that isn’t there to judge (you’ll see what I mean later) has helped so much, so, that’s what spurred this post because it made me think about all the different ways and different aspects of my life that have benefited from having a community.
After my health events, when I’d try to talk to my family and friends, you could almost feel them comparing how I was before with the now, and not trying to discern what I was trying to say. Only mom spoke about the difference flat-out, not just the struggle to get the words out, but that my tone had changed, I think they call that a flat affect or something like that. When I’d go see my doctors, they’d assess how I was progressing, health wise, cognitively, verbally, and note it in the chart or their consult letters. Today, my speech is night and day different than it was at first, but I still struggle. But where the talking about it to others came into play first, was going to cardiac rehab classes, the other participants were my peers who had no prior knowledge to judge how I spoke, not in words or tone. It was freeing, they weren’t comparing the before me and now me, nor were they assessing whether I’d improved, if I’d continue to improve, they were just my peers, we’d all gone through something terribly traumatic, being with them helped so much. Looking back, without that group to talk to, openly talk about my/our fears, our experiences, root for each other, be empathic with each other, even just be, I don’t think I’d have fared as well as I have. I still take advantage of getting together with them more than a decade later, it truly was, and is a community bonded in our experiences.
The concept of feeling alone, being overwhelmed with big feelings can also be part of the adoptee experience, feeling like you are the only one who feels that way. These unique to the person, but similarly complicated, hard to reconcile feelings, can leave an adoptee feeling alone and uncomfortable trying to talk to non-adopted people about those feelings, even to a counselor. Those feelings of being alone can start early, one reason why I loved going to summer camp as a child, by the end of the first day, all the adoptees seemed to have found each other and we were inseparable for the week. I don’t remember how much, or if we even talked about being adopted, but we needed to be with other adoptees, just being together was beneficial and we couldn’t wait until the next summer when we’d return and see each other.
Having had that experience at summer camp for multiple years in a row, finding other adoptees and hanging out with them for the week was helpful to me, so, it came as no surprise to see the same play out online in forums, blogs like this, Facebook, twitter. Finding a community of others like you, makes you feel like for the first time, that other people get it, even if their experience didn’t mirror yours, the underlying event made you one of them. Giving voice to those feelings in a discussion that meanders whatever way is needed takes away the feeling there’s something wrong with you for having those feelings you’ve felt at different points in your life. It tells you that you aren’t weird, or the only one, that the conflicted feelings, the complicated loyalties, the questioning, the curiosity, the need to know is normal, and they aren’t wrong.
It’s a gift that is priceless.
And one of the primary reasons it helps to have a community is because even today, there is a stigma against adoptees who feel anything other than wholly positive about being adopted. That stigma against adoptees comes out in many ways, from others stating their fear no one would adopt if adoptees speak of anything other than praise the institution of adoption, and how what a good thing adoption is. Words said about what happens to the children who would have been adopted, but didn’t, because the adopting parents read about the deep feelings that can be part of the adoptee experience and choose not to adopt. That sentiment is a guilt trip to the sensitive adoptee, or young adult, a reprimand that they are responsible if someone doesn’t adopt, all because you voiced your feelings about such a complicated experience as being adopted.
It’s also a fallacy.
It speaks to a lack understanding about adoption, and while I know that some adopting don’t get the necessary education about the adoptee experience from their adoption professional, they have ample opportunity at their fingertips to research, study the research and read about or talk to people who’ve adopted, and most importantly speak to the adoptees themselves. If they believe that adoption is simple and the adoptee will seamlessly adapt and never look back, they are wholly unprepared to be adoptive parents, and shouldn’t adopt, they will cause more harm than good.
That stigma also appears when others paint with their words the reminder that the adoptee owes society something for having been given a home, they owe it to those waiting to be adopted, no matter if the words aren’t there, the message is clear, they are shaming adoptees for speaking about their experience, not just the good parts, but the hard parts too. If it isn’t a subtle (or not so subtle) reminder of what is owed, there is also the reminder that you’re lucky you were even born. So many different versions of that reminder are present within and outside the adoption community, be grateful you weren’t aborted.
Yet, over the years, I’ve seen adoptees push back and it’s immensely better than when I first found the adoption community. So, I’m thankful for those who first started talking on adoption forums and blogs. If they hadn’t spoken up and confronted the angry adoptive parent and agency voices pushing back at them, holding firm that these were normal feelings an adoptee may have, we wouldn’t be able to see progress in discussions today. It is their voices who pushed adoptive parents and agencies to open their minds and be more aware of what an adopted child may feel at different points about being adopted, not just what studies showed, real, live, examples of the adoptee experience. So, I’m giving thanks to those voices who first spoke up collectively online that has normalized, and given space for adoptees today, to be able to speak about their entire experience, not just the script provided and approved by society. We owe them.