adoptees adoption

What Everyone Needs to Know about Adoption

12:25 PMHeather

When I was a young Baylor student, I looked through the lists of social work internship placements, and it was obvious to me. Adoption, of course. Something fun and magical and happy. Could it get any better? Could I explore a more positive field for a future career?

I was naive and idealistic.

What I know now, some 25 years later, is that adoption continues to hold this romantic mystique in our culture, and it's a disservice.

This happy, happy, joy, joy mentality about adoption is a disservice to all parties to adoption -- the birth families and adoptive families, and most of all, to the adoptees.

Because what everyone needs to know about adoption is that it is born from loss. Every single adoption story is rooted in the dark reality that the natural progression of building a family has been circumvented, for reasons as varied as the people involved. 

What everyone needs to know about adoption is that it is far more beautiful than anyone's impression for the very fact that it is a beauty born from ashes. Until you see that the glorious best of adoption comes from the broken pieces soldered together, you cannot fully appreciate the loveliness of the stained glass families that are crafted through adoption. 

My heart is broken by the recent revelations of the corrupt and evil practices that led to an Ugandan adoption of a girl who was not an orphan, along with the little girl who went missing from her adoptive family and was found dead.

The cry within me is building to a shout to ask that we all understand the actual root of every adoption. We must quit robbing all adoptees from the truth of every adoption story and we must quit handicapping all adoptive and birth families and culture at large.

Listen, I have seen hundreds of adoptions over my career. And every single adoption has a profound greatness within it. These are sacred stories because adoption is born from brokenness and loss for all parties involved. 

We cannot continue to sweep the ashes under the rug from which the beauty of adoption is born.

We have to validate and acknowledge and speak to the reality that every birth family experiences a heart wrenching loss when they either choose to make an adoption plan or when their life's circumstances lead to this result. These birth families are charged with living the rest of their lives with a void and a grief that we as a culture have yet to validate as genuine and worthy of acknowledgment.

Some adoptive families deal with the loss of fertility before they even come to adoption. They've lost dreams and hopes and sometimes precious babies. And even if infertility did not lead to their choice to adopt, the adoption process is a lengthy emotional roller coaster. As they parent, they realize the loss of the history and context for their child's birth story and heritage. Maybe they've lost months or years of their child's life prior to the adoption. And more than once, I've had adoptive families lean in and whisper with a sense of shame that they feel things they never expected.

They feel guilt. They think of a birth family somewhere far away who loves this child with their whole heart. And they feel guilty that they have the privilege of the good-night kisses. They feel responsible somehow. As they raise this child they've come to adore, they feel their child's loss and questions and they wrestle with how to help. They brush up against the brokenness from which this beauty came, and they do not know how to reconcile it all.

But most important, as the news stories are currently highlighting, the adopted children have a loss beyond words and description. Yes, adoption brings a security and a love and when things go as perfectly as it should, a forever family is created. They have a new identity and a story of redemption whose beauty is most appreciated when the loss from which it came is recognized. 

I have seen the miracle of adoption and it is indescribable. I have sat watching when a birth mother, fresh from labor pains, hands her greatest treasure to the family she selected, resolved to the plan she has carefully made so that her child can have the future and family she cannot offer. 

I have walked countless times with families through the process of international adoption. I have talked them through the agonizing questions and process. I have attempted to console their anxiety about traveling half-way around the world to suddenly become a family with a child who will be grieving all they've ever known. And I cannot adequately describe what is it like to watch a child who was an orphan with no permanence blossom through the rainstorm of love and family. 

Adoption is a beautiful, wonderful, marvelous thing.

But what everyone needs to know about adoption is that we must acknowledge the root of loss from which it grows. It is unfair to all involved to paint only a happy picture of the idea of adoption. Because the reality is gritty and hard and full of angst. 

 Image courtesy of Unsplash

We owe it to every single adopted child and adult adoptee to give a context to their story, to pour out grace on the reality of their lives. That they were born into one family, and for hard, hard reasons, they were raised by another.

It is glorious and beautiful. And within every life story, it is hard and brutal, too. What the life of Sherin Mathews tells me is that we have to change the conversation about adoption. What the adoption of the Ugandan "orphan" Namata informs us is that we have to start new dialogues.

It's time. We have to tell every birth family that we know their stories and circumstances are beyond what we can fathom and we will choose grace and honor for them. 

We have to tell every adoptive family that there is space here for the hard parts, too. There is room for the struggles to be shared and for honesty to be welcomed so that resources can be accessed. 

We have to stare every adoption down and tell every adopted child and adult that their loss is seen. The entirety of their actual history is worth noting. The brokenness and loss that lead to the beauty is as valid as the easier, happy parts of their life. 

Every adoptee needs to know that every part of who they are is important and every aspect of their story matters.

It's time. 

Author's Note: The views expressed above are solely my own perspective, and I do not speak for any agency I have worked for in the past, or work for presently. I write this not as spokesperson or representative for any entity, but as my own personal thoughts based on my career experiences.

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