Adoption has been around for a long time and it continues to be a wonderful answer for thousands of people every year. In spite of a reported shortage of eligible children, some figures indicate that probably 250,000 children will be adopted by next year, including official, unofficial, and black market transactions. And, for what it is worth, nearly nine out of 10 of these children will be born out of wedlock.
Recently I was joking with a four year old who lives in the neighbourhood. "Kevin," I mused, "sometimes you are really a silly kid."
"I'M not a silly kid, Bob," he responded, "I'm adopted."
"Well, I'm adopted, too," I said. "Pretty neat, isn't it?"
"Yeah," he smiled. "Does your wife know you're adopted?"
It struck me that parents who are about to adopt talk to other parents, social workers, and medical experts, but seldom do they confer with someone who has gone from adoption to adulthood.
Having been there, and now being happily married and the father of two permit me to offer some suggestions.
Deal with adoption from day one.
I cannot remember not knowing that I was adopted. It was always a matter of fact, like other parent-to-child information. As I grew, the amount of information given to me increased, and this undoubtedly made my adjustment quite healthy in the long run. By beginning early and carefully, parents can avoid the "big moment" type of situation and its possible ill effects.
Another practical reason for being truthful from the start is that the longer you put off sharing the details of the adoption, the greater the chances of a relative, schoolmate, or busybody breaking the story. It would have been very difficult for me had I not been somewhat prepared for what others would say.
Telling is not confession.
I was never ashamed of being adopted. At times, however, I was a bit uneasy about the possibility of some unthinking person confronting me with lurid details of my birthparents. I am grateful it never happened during the fragile years of my childhood.
As adults, we can confidently say that the situation of birth is not the fault of the child and that it has little relationship to his success or failure in life. A 10-year-old adopted child is not all that sure. Unsavoury accounts about the birthparents, fired at innocent children by unthinking relatives or townsfolk, can become stray bullets in later years.
As an adopted child, I eventually wanted all the information I could accept and understand. But it didn't come as a community project.
Rejection is the hardest part.
Experts still debate as to just how much awareness exists in the mind of an infant. Some interesting studies suggest that a baby can remember a great deal about the basics of his or her early life. Although I do not have such early memories, I can attest to the belief that a child of four or five, who realises he was adopted, begins dealing with a vague sense of rejection.
It is a primitive feeling, but it goes like this: Somewhere along the line, somebody had a little baby and decided not to keep it. That this somebody should have suffered death rather than give me up, may not be fully rational thinking, but it certainly did occur to me. The realisation of this rejection is probably the hardest part of adjusting to being an adopted child.
Love is not enough.
My understanding is that when my parents adopted me, they dearly loved me. But love is not the issue. A child is usually not given up for adoption because he or she is unloved. Actually, most babies and young children are loved very much. In truth, they are given up for adoption because the natural mother feels unable to raise her child by herself.
Even a small child begins to grasp this. And it explains a deep-seated fear in most adopted children, that somehow they will be abandoned or unadopted. Every adopted adult I have known has had these feelings.
Because my parents realised that a good adoption takes 20 years, they kept on adopting me. They continually provided assurance that we were a family forever and that our bonding was just as secure as any other parent and child. I am not ashamed to admit that I needed their reassurance over the years.
Curious isn't dangerous.
Especially as I reached my early teens, I experienced a consuming interest in my origin and my biological parents. It certainly wasn't a rejection of my mom and dad. It was simply a tremendous need to know and even to communicate with those unknown elements of my past. This seems to be a fairly common feeling among adopted children. As I grew somewhat older, my seeking instinct gradually diminished. Today, I consider it simply as something that I had to deal with on the road to becoming a well-adjusted adult. I strongly suspect that my loving parents were a bit apprehensive about my quest, possibly wondering whether I might eventually link up with my birthparents and disappear. While it was never spoken, they did communicate a feeling of concern.
My only parents.
What many people don't understand, and what adopted kids do understand, is that the people who raise you are your real parents. No one else can possibly know what we shared together as a real family. My parents were two wonderful people who provided for me, endured me, punished me, and loved me. Biology aside, no stranger can fill such a role.
As for biology, my brother and I were both living on our own when my birthfather died. It was to be a military funeral, and I elected not to go because I was not comfortable in the role of eldest son to this man I hardly knew. My brother did go, and was very glad that he did.
Sometimes it is ok to be angry.
I remember harbouring a great deal of hostility around the age of 16, not unlike other youngsters of this age. At one point I was very upset with my father and wanted to say the most hurtful words possible. I picked my adoption.
"Bet you think you got a bad deal, don't you?" I shouted.
"No," Dad smiled. "Do you think you got a bad deal?"
To this day his response rings true. Children and parents sometimes do get angry and sometimes do say hurtful things. But these words should be understood as expressions from the heat of the moment and not from the heart of the loved one.
As for taunts on the playground and other bigotry encountered as an adopted child, I experienced very little. Being secure with my parents, I wasn't too worried about the opinions of a few strangers. I learned to deal with the local bully by telling him, "Yeah, well your folks had to take what they got. My folks looked around. They picked me."
I still feel this way today. In reality my folks couldn't have children. They accepted that, and I was adopted. I accept that too.
My parents loved me enough to not make everything easy for me. But they also loved me enough to make me feel very special to be adopted.
Robert Reed (43) is a veteran journalist with more than 22 years of experience as a newspaper writer and editor.
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