By Judy M. Miller
Adoption. It touches me every single day as three of my four children are adopted.
Perhaps you also have personal experience with adoption. The Donaldson Adoption Institute estimates that more than 100 million people in the U.S. have a connection with adoption. Yet those who have been adopted, as well as the parents that brought them into this world and the families they are adopted into, face discrimination daily.
As a parent who has adopted, I am often asked adoption-related questions or I find that others willingly share their opinions about adoption, without any prompting on my part. Because I am an adult and have years of parenting experience under my belt and work as an adoption professional, I can confidently navigate most situations quite well.
Although I have “armed” my kids—taught them to have several plans of action for the comments, questions and stares that often accompany being an adopted person—I worry. The questions, comments and stares occur with increasing frequency as my kids navigate their roads to adulthood—when they are also working through identity issues—similar to all others moving through adolescence—and tackling what it means to be adopted. As tweens and teens, my kids are more vulnerable to the questions, comments, and ogling (since we are a multi-racial family) because they spend more time with peers or are in the firing line of those who may or may not know them or have compassion for adoption.
Compassion: the ability, desire to feel and understand another with great empathy. Compassion enables humans to interconnect and provide understanding and support for one another. Judgment falls to the wayside.
For those of you who are not adoptees or do not parent adopted children, have you deliberated on what it is like to not have been adopted? Have you considered the benefits that you derive from your non-adoptee status? I am a non-adopted person. In reflecting on this “invisible” status, I realize that I take much for granted.
- I know exactly when and where I was born. I know how my mother gave birth to me, how long she labored before expelling me in the world, under the bright white lights of the sterile surgical suite. I know I was wanted, and that my parents enjoyed creating me.
- I have had no problem getting my birth certificate, before I married my husband or when we adopted our children. All of my birth information is on my birth certificate; nothing is redacted. My birth certificate is not a delayed birth certificate.
- I know my story. And when I have craved to know more I have been able to ask my parents and grandparents, read family letters, and explore the genealogy contained within the front pages of my mom’s family Bible. Such information provided me with history that fascinated me and helped me to understand her and appreciate the fortitude of my family.
- I see myself reflected back in the shared physical characteristics of my brothers, nieces, nephews, and son born to me. People have always shared how they can pick us out of a crowd. I know that my dimples, curly hair and ruddy complexion come from my father and my stature, smile, and eyes are gifts from my mother, who I resemble more and more as I age.
- I know my medical history, what issues and diseases occur frequently within our family gene pool. I know what my mother, brother, and grandparents died from. I know about the fertility and female health of the women in my family. I can provide answers in confidence when asked by my physicians.
- I am not wary of others when they inquire about my family. I am not concerned about being judged by the moral or political biases others hold about adoption, my birth mother/parents, birth country, or culture of origin.
- I do not wonder whether I should share my status = adopted. I am not asked a range of questions about adoption or expected to be a bridge for parents who adopt or for people of my race or ethnicity.
- I am not expected to feel gratitude for being part of my family. I am not made to feel that being curious about where I come from or seeking answers make me ungrateful or “angry.”
The non-adopted cannot walk in the shoes of those who have been adopted. However, they can, through reflecting on their non-adopted privilege, begin to understand and develop the tools of empathy and compassion for those who have been adopted. The non-adopted can intentionally work to be considerate of adopted persons, their birth parents, and the families who have adopted. They can think before they speak or act.
Judy M. Miller savors time with her kids. She works with pre- and adoptive parents, equipping them with new techniques and information and encouraging and empowering adoptive families through difficult times. She is also a Certified Gottman Educator and the author of What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween and Writing to Heal Adoption Grief: Making Connections & Moving Forward.