Where Do I Belong? An Open Adoption Adoptee’s Perspective.

From the Lost Daughters #FliptheScript Prompts: Talk about a time when you’ve felt you didn’t belong, or felt less-than, due to being an adoptee.

**Note** Now that I have actually written this thing, I am realizing how deeply personal it is. One of those posts that you don’t intend to turn out this way, but then you get to writing and a few hours, several tissues and one cathartic experience later, here we are.

Well… this is complicated for me. My adoption was in-family. If you’ve read my first blog post, you’ll know that I was adopted at a month old by my great aunt and uncle. I found out at age 11, after having known my whole life that I was adopted and that it was in-family, who my biological mother was. She was someone whom I had only ever known as a cousin. All of this is important information for the rest of this post, where I respond to the prompt above.

I know many people who believe open adoption is better than “normal (if there were such a thing) adoption. They truly believe it is the best alternative and often comment how lucky I was to have been raised by family. Was I fortunate to have two loving parents and siblings? Absolutely. I will never say that I did not have what would and should be considered a good upbringing. The part that is tough for people to accept is that, despite everything seeming completely normal and fine about me, I was not normal and fine on the inside. I never really felt different until that fateful day when I was 11 and found out who my birth mother was. That knowledge, for whatever reason, triggered a downward spiral for me.

Heading into my teenage years, the differences between my siblings and myself became increasingly more apparent. I began to compare myself in every way possible. The interesting part was that, because we were second cousins, you could argue some similarities. That only served to make things even more confusing. People who knew I was adopted but not the story behind the adoption would often comment on how much I looked like my siblings. People who didn’t know anything would remark how different I looked from them. I never knew which was better, to look like them when I wasn’t really related, or to not look like them because we were kind of related. I felt like an outcast, like the black sheep. I still do in many ways, I’ve just grown accustomed and okay with it.

When I was in high school, the fighting with my parents was very bad. I was the only kid left at home and there was a lot of tension. I felt suffocated, I felt angry, I felt unloved and unwanted. I still have my journal from those years.

From one entry: “Mom’s always saying, “my other kids never did this.” Well guess what? I’M NOT THEM!!”

From another post.. and this one really hurt to read.

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If you can’t read my handwriting… “I don’t want to go on living. I want to just give up, yet I know if I do, I’ll regret it later. I’m only 14, and yet I feel like I’ve already gone through the hurt of a lifetime.”

From another entry about 4 months later: “I’m beginning to seriously think that I don’t belong in this family. Half the time it’s like I’m not here anyway. They’re better off without me. They don’t need me, that’s obvious.”

And the most angry entry, written to my adoptive parents: (I should note that I was a very dramatic teenager and my parents were not physically abusive in any way, though my mom could be slightly emotionally abusive at times. They weren’t actually doing anything awful to me except punish me, deservedly.)    “Why do Mom and Dad hate me? Why do they treat me this way? I just don’t understand what  I have done to deserve this. Why don’t they just send me away? They hate me anyway. Why else would they treat me this way? WHY??? Why did they adopt me? Why, if they were going to treat me this way? All I want is to feel loved. I have NEVER heard anyone in this family tell me they love me. I might as well just die right now. It’s not like anyone would care. I just need someone to talk to and no one wants to listen, no one wants to hear. It’ll only make them feel bad and that would be out of their comfort zone. No one cares if I die anyway. They’d be glad they were rid of me. WHY CAN’T I JUST DIE???”

Wow. I’ve gotta admit, this was the first time in a VERY long time that I have looked at this journal. The foreshadowing of my 14 year old self is scary. I just need someone to talk to and no one wants to listen, no one wants to hear. It’ll only make them feel bad and that would be out of their comfort zone. Wow, is that ever familiar. That is still what I am struggling with as an adult. How to talk to my family about some of the pain and grief that I cope with as a result of being adopted. Some things never change, I guess.

Clearly though, based on those journal entries, I truly did not feel like I belonged with this family. I did not feel like I had a place in the world. It hurt so much that I wanted to die. It hurt so much that I actually did try and take my life one night. Fortunately, I was a pretty stupid kid, that or subconsciously I didn’t really want to die, because I did a poor job at trying to do it. Obviously, I failed. But it’s a scar that has stuck with me. I was 14 and reached a point so low in my sense of belonging that I tried to take my own life.

Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. FOUR. Don’t you love being apart of a statistic like that? I certainly don’t. We feel like we don’t belong for a reason. I am an adult now and have come to terms with my place in my adoptive family. I still feel like the outsider. I still feel completely different than my siblings. I feel like a guest in my parent’s home, not family. But all that is what it is. I am me and I am confident with who I am now. Somehow, out of a completely tumultuous teenage experience, I emerged, stronger. Somehow, all of that grief, hurt, pain, anger and sadness translated into an extremely tough person today. Adoptees deal with so much, at such a young age. It is no wonder that so many that I interact with today are the epitome of strength and resilience. Cheers to us, guys. We survived. We overcame, or are overcoming. We are more than our beginning.

So, where do I belong? I belong in this world. I belong as a weird, black sheep in my adoptive family. I belong to the adoptee community.I belong with the man I found who loves me for everything I am, included my adoption scars. I guess what I am trying to say to those out there who don’t feel like they belong anywhere… don’t give up. I did and it almost ended my life. A life that never would have had the chance to turn into the pretty great thing it is now. It may seem hopeless. It may seem like no one cares and you have nothing to live for. But you do. Your future. It gets better. At least, it did for me. All I can do is share my story.

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Were My Adoptive Parents “Better?”

What an absurd question to ask. Does anyone really know the answer to that? Can you go back in time, stop my adoption from happening, see how I would have been raised, had my biological parents kept me and then make a judgement call on which set of parents did the better job? The answer is no. You cannot. So why is that a question, or general assumption that is held, that adoptive parents are better at raising their adoptive children than others raising their biological children?

It honestly flabbergasts me that people think that. In my experience, my parents tried to treat me exactly the same as my non-adoptive siblings. This was both a good and a bad thing. As an adult, I understand the thought behind it. They did not want me to feel any differently, wanted me to feel the same as my siblings, like I belonged. And I appreciate the sentiment. The problem was, I was never going to feel like I belonged. Not in the sense they wanted. There hasn’t been a single adoptee I have ever talked to who has truly felt no different than their adoptive family. That has not had some sense of feeling like they did not belong. It is not something that can be loved away. It is not something that the best parenting in the entire world could ever change. It just is.

You cannot manifest a connection that isn’t there from birth. There is nothing that can replace the connection a son or daughter has with their mother. Nothing. That is a fact. That is what adoptive parents NEED to understand. That when their adoptive children act out, or have behavioral problems, that it may not be a direct result of their parenting. That is maybe because we have been traumatized and it’s a trauma no one recognizes. Many adoptees have been diagnosed with PTSD. I have been diagnosed with depression. These things are not uncommon, but they are not usually recognized or treated. Do I blame my adoptive parents for this? Not directly, no. I blame ignorance, in general. So much was unknown about adoption and its impacts until the last decade, maybe. Should my adoptive parents have done more research and realized that trying to make me be exactly like my siblings wasn’t the best way to treat me? Probably. But I do think they did their best. I think they tried to love me the way they knew how, which was just like the rest of their kids. I do know that their love never felt like enough to me and that makes me sad. I still feel like an outsider, despite their attempts. I still feel like the black sheep. I know I was a terrible teenager. I felt so much rage, anger, hurt and sadness inside and I didn’t really know why. I knew I didn’t feel loved. I felt like I had no place in the world.

I have always been told, by multiple people, that I am so much better off being raised by my adoptive parents. That it was infinitely better than being raised by my single, biological mother. But how do they know? I know I wouldn’t have felt all those feelings I described in the above paragraph. I at least know that. I also know that I would really like for society to stop making generalizations like this one. I would like people to stop assuming that adoptees are “better off.” It puts a lot of pressure on us to be this person that we are expected to be, because of this opportunity we were given, to be adopted and raised by “better” parents. Just one more added layer in the complexity of the life of an adoptee.

Please Don’t Ask Me… Aren’t You Glad You Weren’t Aborted?”

Honestly, how insensitive do you have to be to think that it is remotely acceptable to ask someone, “aren’t you grateful you weren’t aborted?” That question has been asked of me many times and by my own family.

Let’s stop and think about it for a minute. Rephrase: “Aren’t you glad your mother decided not to kill you, but instead decided to give you away and relinquish all rights as your mother?” “Aren’t you glad that, instead of dying, your life has been full of questions, identity struggles, grief, loss, depression, hurt, anger”… the list goes on.

Another question often posed to me: “Aren’t you so glad you got to be raised in a family with two parents and siblings instead of by a single mother? You probably would have spent your whole childhood in daycare.” Again, a question that my family has asked me. You know what the worst part is? They are truly, 100% serious and genuine in their inquisition.

In both cases, every time someone asks those questions, I can tell that they mean well. They truly have no idea what is so terribly, awfully wrong with what they are asking. Because they never stop to consider the depth behind their words. They truly do not know what it is like to live as an adoptee. They have no idea of how much this thing they view as a wonderful alternative to not ever being born is something that causes us immense grief and hurt. They do not know that “yay, I didn’t die” has little meaning to us and isn’t something that brings us any comfort when thinking about the seemingly simple fact that our mothers gave us away. Our mother. The person who is supposed to love us unconditionally. Who is supposed to wipe our tears away and know just the right thing to say. The person who would protect us from all harm and hurt. Who knows us better than we know ourselves, because we are an extension of them. (These are just observations I have made from looking at the relationships others have with their mother.)

Yet it’s assumed that the adoptive parents can do all of that. They can love enough to make the pain from adoption cease to exist. I wish it were true, I really do. If you haven’t read the book, The Primal Wound, by Nancy Newton Verrier, I highly recommend it. I read it at the very start of my forage into the adoption community, when I was first coming face to face with my truest feelings on being adopted. The further I went into the book, the more I realized how much I identified with so much of what she was saying. I also realized how much I had suppressed my feelings because of the constant message that I needed to be grateful for this life I had been given, for not being aborted, for not being raised by a single mother. This leaves zero room for the deeply rooted grief that we feel as a result of being separated from our natural mother. This is grief that we have little control over, but are expected to not discuss or acknowledge.

From the Lost Daughters Flip the Script Writing Prompts: Consider these questions, inspired by tweets at the #ShoutYourAdoption hashtag:Should adoptees be more grateful than non-adopted people that they weren’t aborted? Is living as an adopted person preferable to never being born?

How on earth am I supposed to answer those questions? Would I rather cope with the feelings of being unwanted, unloved, rejected, out of place.. or would I rather have never existed? You would NEVER ask that question of someone who wasn’t adopted. Why is it appropriate to ask it of us? Why should we be more grateful to have been born than anyone else? If anyone ever stopped to really truly think about how preposterous it all sounds, maybe they would reconsider questions like that.

#FlipTheScript- The Adoptee in the Room

Nov. 2, Monday

Talk about the “adoptee in the room” moment—that moment when you realize you are the only one in a space who can address a particular aspect of adoption experience, when you have to decide whether or not to speak up knowing that what you have to say may be confusing, unsettling, or triggering to others. Perhaps you have found yourself in this position at a work function, at a family gathering, or while with a group of friends. Or, you may have run into this situation in an online forum or on social media. Did you decide to speak or not, and why? If you did speak, what reactions or feedback did you receive?

Ohhh I cannot count the number of times I have heard an off-hand adoption comment made, gritted my teeth and forced a fake laugh so as to not stand out.

I’ll try and discuss just a few in this blog post. Shout out to Lost Daughters for posting these prompts to #FlipTheScript on #NAM2015. This is my second year participating, last year being the first time I ever heard voices that were saying the same things I was. My mind is honestly still a little blown, even a year later, that there are so many others out there who get it.

First story. Are you familiar with the Facebook account Suspended Coffees? In general, I absolutely love the concept and what they do. They share positive and uplifting stories of people making a difference in the world, showing love and compassion to those around them. A few months ago, they shared an adoption story and captioned it with something along the lines of, “What a great adoption story, but then again, aren’t they all good?” And it struck a nerve. So I sent a message to the account.

Hello,

I wanted to share a different side to the adoption story you posted. Your comment, “… aren’t they all good?” really struck a nerve with me. I was adopted at a month old by a family member. I have two loving parents and siblings. Sounds like a wonderful story, right? It is and it isn’t. And that is why I am writing to you, so that you can have an understanding of the other aspect of adoption. Society wants people to believe it is only wonderful and good, but there is another story that needs to be told. That of the adoptee, the child, as it grows up and has to cope with all of the feelings involved with their mother giving them up for adoption. You see, the story is not just about us getting a whole new family. It is also about us losing our first family, our biological family. That is a story that everyone forgets. I highly encourage you to read this letter.

http://adultadoptees.org/index.html/?page_id=49

“The very foundation of adoption is that of loss – a child loses his or her mother, father, and entire family; a mother, father and family loses one of their children.”

I would also encourage you to search the hashtag #FlipTheScript on Twitter. It will provide an insight into adoption that most people do not think about, but one that NEEDS to be heard. Those adopted children, as wonderful as it is when they are adopted, grow up into adults with a lot of complicated and confusing feelings about the matter. These are feelings that are seldom addressed because we are expected to be solely grateful for the life we have been given.

I love Suspended Coffees. I love the feel good stories of the world, the stories that show the amazing side of humanity. This story was one of those, absolutely. But please take the time to read the information here and gain an understanding of adoption from the adoptee’s perspective, as an adult. I, and all adult adoptees, would be very grateful.

There are two sides to every story and adoption is no exception.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for everything you post here on Facebook!

Whoever runs the account responded and said they would read it and fully take it in. I went back today to try and find the post and could not. So perhaps they read the open letter and gained an understanding into the perspective of an adoptee and took down the post? I don’t know. But maybe my message made a difference and that means a lot.

I casually mentioned to a coworker once that I was adopted. Her response was the following. “Oh well. At a certain point, you have to be glad it happened.” Oh. Do I now? No, please don’t tell me that I have to be anything about my adoption. She went on to tell me that since she is so much younger than her siblings, they used to tell her she was adopted and that her real father was the milkman. How on earth is that an acceptable thing for kids to say to one another? How could she think that it was a good idea to then tell me that after just having told her that I am adopted? What a good example of perpetrating the negative connotation associated with being adopted. Annnd that reminded me why I usually don’t tell people I am adopted.

Which takes me to another story, one I mentioned in my first blog post here. I was in elementary school. The same school that my older siblings had attended, and had the same teacher, so she knew that I was adopted. A girl in the class was adopted by her step father and her name change was announced. After that announcement, my teacher felt it appropriate to then tell the whole class of another student who was also adopted. Me. I remember my cheeks flooding with warmth, as I sat there in embarrassment, not fully knowing why I was embarrassed. Later that day, on the playground, one boy came up to me and made the comment that has stuck with me to this day. “I bet your parents left you in a dumpster because they didn’t want you.” Talk about a slap in the face and a whole new realization of how others might view adoption. That was probably the first time I had an inkling of the complexity of the situation. To some, it was a very happy and joyful event. To others, it meant that I was unwanted and unloved, discarded like trash. Talk about confusing.

These are just a small percentage of the times that I’ve been hurt by a thoughtless, off-handed remark about adoption. Because society views it as a positive and happy thing, people think that jokes about giving the adopted kid back, or telling a kid they are adopted to mess with him are funny and acceptable. It’s up to us, the adoptees to spread awareness of how we view things. Join #FlipTheScript and let us hear your thoughts!

My Thoughts on National Adoption Month- #FlipTheScript Campaign

It’s November, which means that it is National Adoption Month. This means that my social media feeds will be flooded with positive stories about adoption. People will talk about how wonderful it is, how it changes lives, how these kids could have been aborted otherwise. Do I disagree with any of that? Not particularly, no. Certainly, I am glad to be alive. But is that something ANYONE should ever have to think? Oh gee, I’m so glad my mother gave me away instead of killing me. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it when phrased like that, does it?

Those children that weren’t aborted and were put up for adoption under widely varying circumstances grow up to be adults. Today, using the power of the internet and social media, our thoughts are being heard by the world for the first time. We are able to bring light to a side of adoption that has not, until now, been openly discussed. I say openly with some semblance of regret, since I am still unable (and unwilling) to talk about my adoption story under my real name, for fear of hurting my family.

It is not my intent to disrespect adoptive parents. I truly do think that in most cases, mine included, they felt they were doing what was best for the child. I also feel that there was not a lot of thought given to the future. No one thinks about the thoughts and feelings that child will have as they grow up. Now, there are so many studies and research proving how traumatic it is for a child to be separated from its mother. It is a trauma that lasts a lifetime. It is something that is in the back of our minds every single day and has an impact on how we live our life, whether conscious or not.

If you are an adoptee, we would love to hear you speak out. It is perfectly understandable if you are nervous about talking and hurting your family. As I said above, Ellie is not my real name. For personal and professional reasons, I am not comfortable talking about such a sensitive issue under my real name. Speak out however you are comfortable. You will be heard and supported.

If you are an adoptive parent or someone considering adoption, please keep an open mind as you read the tweets from #FlipTheScript. We do not mean to disrespect you, only to enlighten and educate. We want you to have the knowledge of what your child may feel and experience as they get older. If our voices can help any adoption situation, then we have accomplished something.

There are two sides to every story. It’s time for the world to hear the adoptees side of the adoption story. The most important side to the story.

Thank you!

Just a brief post to say thank you to everyone who has shown so much support and positivity toward my first blog post. I am honestly blown away by all of the likes, shares and comments from everyone. The adoptee community is pretty awesome and I am so glad that I found it and am apart of it. If my voice can make even a small positive impact on how adoption and open adoption is viewed, then this is worth it a million times over.

If anyone ever has any questions or topics that you would like an open adoption adoptee’s thoughts and perspective on, please let me know.

You can follow me on Twitter, https://twitter.com/Ellie11122013.

I will always try to be as candid and honest as possible. In the spirit of honesty and in full disclosure, I need to say that Ellie is an alias and not my real name. I am not comfortable speaking out as myself, for many reasons. One being my family finding the blog (which is obviously still a risk) and getting hurt by my words. My intent is and never has been to hurt them, but to simply be open about how being adopted as had a significant impact on me.  And two, this is a very personal aspect of my life that, as of now, I am not comfortable with my coworkers and other people I interact with professionally knowing about.

Again, thank you so much for the support. Words cannot express how much it means to be to finally truly be heard.

First Post: Being Open About Open Adoption: An Adoptee Blog

Logic versus basic human emotion

How can something that makes complete logical sense still hurt so much? This is a constant battle in my mind and has been for most of my life. I knew I was adopted before I had any idea what the word even meant. I knew that it somehow made me different and I knew that I was the only one in the family who was this thing, “adopted.” For the first decade of my life, I thought little of it. I was blissfully unaware of everything being adopted meant. I was simply the youngest daughter in a family of six. I didn’t know that I had gone by a different name for the first month of my life. I didn’t know that my biological mother was a family member and that everyone else in the family knew who she was, but didn’t know when or exactly how to tell me.

Your life is so much better than it would have been! You must feel so lucky to have gotten to be part of such a great family. Aren’t you glad you weren’t raised by a single mother? You must have so much gratitude toward your parents for taking you in like that; they didn’t have to do what they did. You were adopted? I bet your parents left you in a dumpster because they didn’t want you. Oh wow, you’re adopted? I had no idea (like one can tell just by looking at me, that I am this thing, adopted). These are all things that have been said to me over the years, and while some may be well meaning, they are still hurtful. Logic again comes into play. Yes, for the most part these people don’t have a clue what they are saying is insensitive. But it perpetrates a message that an adoptee should only feel grateful and lucky, that their life is so much better than it would have been. The reality is, no one knows. But what needs to be known is that a trauma occurred and it’s a trauma that no one wants to talk about.

I was about two months away from turning 12 when I found out who she was. My grandfather passed away unexpectedly and my parents felt that the time was right, or that their hand was forced because of the circumstances. I think they were more afraid of some family member accidentally making a comment and me finding out that way. Over dinner, and I can still remember what we had to eat that night, they explained who my biological parents were. A blonde lady who I had only ever vaguely known as my cousin was now the woman who gave birth to me. My biological father was not in the picture and hadn’t been since just after I was born. The people who had raised me as mom and dad were biologically my great aunt and uncle. Everything that had once been simple and straightforward was now complex and confusing and the extenuating circumstances did not allow me any time to process this information. The funeral was a few days later and we were flying out the next day.

Children are prone to saying things and not having any idea the true meaning behind their words. They are not old enough or mature enough to grasp serious situations. They do not fully understand what the word adoption means. Does that make the comment from a kid in my fifth grade class hurt any less? I’m now 26 and it still makes my jaw clench. “I bet your parents left you in a dumpster because they didn’t want you.” It’s like a knife to the heart. There are some things that are impossible to get out of your head. Logically, I know that boy had no idea just how hurtful his words were. Yes, he was trying to be mean, as kids will be, but I would like to think he wouldn’t have said that if he knew how it would stick with me for the rest of my life. While the words seemed simple enough said by a fifth grader, the implication they carried was not. What do people do with things they do not want? They throw them out. The things that end up in the trash, or the dumpster, are discarded items. Useless items. Unwanted, unloved, unneeded. As a fifth grader, logic wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking when processing that comment. At least not the kind of logic that would dismiss it as childish and trivial. In my mind, it meant that being adopted was equated to being left in a dumpster and that was equated to be unwanted, unneeded and unloved. Even now, when I do have the mental capacity to dismiss it as a nasty kid mouthing off, it still gets to me.

The week of my grandfather’s funeral remains one of the most difficult times in my life. I had a bombshell dropped on me and was then expected to know how to handle it in the company of my entire family and extended relatives, who already knew what I had just found out. Many members of the family did not know that I now had this information. I was tested by someone, who referred to other family members using their biological title, and not what they were to me through adoption, which is of course all I had know them as until a few days prior. I was 11 and had to cope with being tested by a family member to see how much I knew of my own adoption. Just like the comment from a fifth grader, there are some things that stick with you forever. I had no idea how I should act in front of this woman whom I now knew had given birth to me and then given me away. Should I have felt anger, resentment or hurt? I don’t know. I know I felt like she was always watching me. It seemed like all eyes in the family were on me, watching and waiting to see how I would act.

Fast forward 15 years. I’ve now become immersed in a network of fellow adoptees. Prior to doing some research online, I had known only one or two others who were adopted and had never had any conversations with them. I know that in this network I am considered one of the “lucky ones” to have had an open adoption. I know that some adoptees spend years trying to find their biological parents and some never do find them. I know that open adoptions are becoming the way things are done. I am realizing that being from an open adoption is something that is somewhat unique within the adoption world and that people want to hear what we have to say. This is just some of my story, of what I have gone through as an open adoption/in family adoptee. Is it perhaps easier to cope with, knowing who my biological mother is? I don’t know. I do know that it’s difficult knowing who she is but always having to hold her at an arm’s length, so as not to upset my adopted family. I do know that I carry a burden of responsibility to ensure the happiness of everyone involved in the triad. I do know that I try, with great angst at times, to please everyone even while knowing that someone is going to get hurt and that it will most likely be me. I do know that I feel guilty for being the cause of so much tension in the family simply because I was born.

Logically, I know that I have an amazing family with two parents and siblings. Logically, I know they love me and don’t think nearly as much about my adoption as I do. Logically, I know that my parents tried to raise me in the best way that they could. Logically, I am grateful to them for having taken me in and raised me as one of their own. At the level of basic human emotion, I also know that my mother chose to give me away. That she chose a college and career over being a single mother. That she saw me as the product of a failed marriage and didn’t want the burden of raising a child on her own. That she wanted me to have a better life than the one she thought she could offer, but couldn’t fully cut the ties. That she made the situation more tension-filled for everyone involved by keeping it in family. That even now, our relationship is still on her terms and that she hasn’t ever made an effort to fully get to know me, or to have an in depth conversation about giving me up for adoption.

So, is open adoption easier? Is it less painful? Is it the “right way” to go about adoption? I don’t know. I just hope to provide one adoptee’s perspective on it.