If you’re a hopeful adoptive family, you know that adoption will allow you to expand your family and share the love in your heart with a child. If you’re considering placing your unborn child for adoption, you will be able to return to your education or other goals while still getting to see your child grow up.
But what does adoption mean for the adopted child? What is it like being adopted?
The perspective of adoptees, just like the perspectives of birth parents and adoptive parents, is unique, and every adoptee’s story is different. Here, three adoptees – Scott, Jen, and Kristen – share their stories, feelings, and thoughts on how adoption has shaped who they are.
About the Adoptees
Jen was adopted as a newborn in 1980, and she grew up with a brother that her parents had biologically. She is now married with two children of her own, and she works at a national adoption agency.
Kristen, a 21-year old university student, reached out to talk about her adoption story and the role it has played in her life as well as her adopted brother’s. As an adult, she is a passionate advocate of adoption.
Scott was adopted as a newborn, and as he grew up, his parents took in foster children. His close personal connection to adoption continued into his adulthood, when he founded a national adoption agency.
These three adoptees have provided their perspectives on the role adoption has played throughout their lives.
How Adoptees Feel about Adoptive Parents
For families hoping to adopt, a common concern is whether or not their adopted child will bond with them as they would with biological parents. To these adoptees, adoptive parents are not adoptive parents – they are simply parents.
Kristen expressed a desire to adopt children of her own one day, and she discussed her issues with the way people talk about adoptive parents. “The most common response I get is, ‘Well, don’t you want a child of your own? I mean one that comes from you, that looks like you.’ I hate it when people say that. Because my mom is my mom. And I am hers.”
For Kristen, there was no question that she, her parents, and her brother made a family. Similarly, Jen has very positive feelings about the way her parents talked about adoption when she was growing up. “Adoption was always talked about,” she said. “There was never a sit-down moment. And they never said ‘It doesn’t matter that you were adopted.’ They said, ‘Yeah, you’re adopted, and we love you.’ I think some people say it doesn’t matter if you’re adopted…to me, it does. To me it’s part of the story.
“My parents were just great,” she continued. “They never forced the conversation. They let me direct it.”
Like Jen, Scott had nothing but admiration for the way his parents approached the subject of adoption when he was growing up. More importantly, he expressed gratitude for the love and support they gave him, which he did not always see in the lives of his friends who grew up with their biological parents.
“I was the centerpiece of my parents’ lives,” Scott said.
How Adoptees Feel about Birth Parents
Scott, Jen, and Kristen were all part of closed adoptions, but today they each have a different relationship with their birth families.
Jen had a point in time when she wanted to reach out to her birth family, but the time was never quite right. While she started the search process a couple times, her marriage and subsequent pregnancy directed her priorities elsewhere.
Along with the conflicts in timing, Jen admitted that she was not certain about what would happen if she opened that door. Along with the concern that it might hurt her parents feelings, she talked about growing up in a closed adoption and imagining her birth mother as a child.
“My best friend growing up was adopted, and so we had this story: her birth mom was a gymnast, so she had to choose adoption because she was in the Olympics, and my mom was a supermodel and had to choose adoption because of that.”
While it’s normal to idealize an unknown birth mother, and Jen certainly doesn’t expect her mother to be a supermodel, she admitted that she might have struggled with truly meeting her birth mother. “I don’t know if she’s what I built her up to be in my head.”
Kristen has also never met her birth mother, but not from a lack of trying. Her parents wanted her to wait until she was eighteen to reach out to her birth family, and she honored that. Unfortunately, she was devastated to learn that her birth mother had passed away eight years prior. Still, she knows a good deal about her birth mother, Kim, from what her adoptive parents and biological family told her.
Scott got into contact with his birth family in his adulthood, stating that he wanted to be married before he made the big step. He is still in touch with his birth mother and sees her every couple months. He waited until after he was married to reach out to his birth mother, and while he was emotionally prepared for the most part, he was met with some unexpected information when he met her.
“When I called her, I expected to have brothers and sisters,” he said. “But she told me that after me, she wasn’t able to have kids again. It made me feel a sense of sadness for her, since she didn’t get to enjoy raising a child like my parents did.”
Today’s adoptions are more open than ever before. Unlike Scott, Jen, and Kristen, most adopted kids today will not go through a search and reunion because they will have grown up knowing their birth parents.
How Adoptees Feel about Adoption
Exactly how does adoption affect the lives of adoptees? Is it a crucial part of their identities? Do they struggle with it?
There’s no doubt that all three adoptees regard adoption as a positive thing. At the same time, it is not uncommon for adoptees to have questions about their biological families or their own identities. Jen and Kristen both looked back at their teenage years and the adoption-related struggles they had – particularly as teenagers, when issues with identity and self-perception are common.
When Scott was asked about struggling with adoption in his teenage years, though, he had a different perspective. “I think sometimes people will say, ‘You’re not my real mom and dad,’ and I think that’s embellishment.” In his opinion, statements like these are simply instances of teenagers lashing out – not because they are adopted, but because they are teenagers.
Although adoptees occasionally have their struggles, these are usually not much different than the struggles that all kids face growing up. Moreover, all of the adoptees agree that their lives were affected for the better by adoption.
Jen, in particular, attests that her adoption may very well have saved her life.
“I’m pretty open to saying I wouldn’t be alive, because of my heart defect,” she said. “When I was two months old, my mom noticed that when I was feeding, my lips would turn blue. I just think that my birth mom, being a busy single mom and not a nurse…I don’t know if she would have caught those symptoms as early as my mom did.”
All three of them, as a result of their adoption, have expressed a desire to pay it forward in some way or another. Jen ended up pursuing social work as a result of the social worker who helped her when she first started looking for her birth mother. Kristen feels so strongly about adoption that she is certain that she will adopt kids of her own. Scott happily welcomed foster children into his family as a child, and he went on to create an adoption agency as an adult.
Regardless of the emotional ups and downs that may come with adoption, the overwhelming sentiment among adoptees is that adoption is a thoroughly positive experience – so positive that all three of these adoptees continue to contribute to creating positive adoption experiences.