When you seek out personal adoption stories, the dominant narrative has been that of adoptive parents for years. Recently, however, adult adoptees started sharing their experiences. They are giving a voice to their generation and the current generation of child adoptees.
The first thing to do when considering adoption is to search for and digest the narratives of adoptees. They are gracing us with their vulnerability through a variety of platforms: books, news sites, blogs, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, etc. Many share the good, the bad, and the ugly. They want others to know the nuances and challenges of adoption. They especially want potential adoptive parents to consider this before committing to the care of another human being. By sharing, they hope to prevent future generations of children from experiencing the same challenges and pain that they endured. The messages from adoptees included in this blog only scratch the surface. It is best to educate yourself further through other avenues as well.
While adoption can have beautiful facets, a difficult fact for many to face is this: adoption is trauma. This trauma comes in a variety forms such as a child being separated from the birthing parent during infancy, losing of a caregiver due to illness or injury, or being put into the foster system by the state. Adoptees will grieve the loss of their birth family, whether they have ever known them or not. This influences their inner working model. Are caregivers safe, consistent, and loving people? Is the world a safe place to explore? And more. If a child does not have experience with a secure attachment to their first caregivers, they may struggle on a neurological level to attach to their adoptive caregivers. That being said, attachment-based therapies, such as Theraplay, may be good paths to pursue. They can be beneficial in working towards a secure attachment with your adopted child.
Second, consider your “why.” Why are you thinking of adopting a child? Is it to fulfill a want for yourself (or perhaps for others in your life) to become a parent? Or, as adult adoptees advocate for, is it to give a child the opportunity to grow up in a loving home when they truly do not have the option to thrive with their birth family? Are you adopting because you specifically want a baby, or are you willing to be open to various ages and backgrounds?
In addition to why you are adopting, adoptees have also asked us to think about the “how.” Open adoptions challenge our society’s ideas of family, but ultimately give adoptees access to a connection with their birth family and other important information such as family medical and mental health history. Those adopted through private agencies and parents who had a biological child adopted through a private agency have been sharing how the adoption industry (yes, industry) exploits BIPOC and lower-income individuals. The foster system is also incredibly flawed, and one should not become a foster parent solely to eventually adopt since the system’s goal is to reunify the birth family. However, many children and teens are often overlooked and age out of the system. They could benefit from you opening your family and home to them. And if they return to their birth family, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship with them ends. Finally, one must also consider international adoption. These adoptions remove a child from their birth country and have their own unique challenges.
Cross-cultural adoption can happen in any of the aforementioned types of adoption, not just international. For the physical and emotional safety of the child, you should ask yourself some difficult questions. Are you actively working on becoming anti-racist? Is the community you plan to raise the child safe for people of color? Will you educate yourself about the child’s birth culture, acting as an ambassador for the child so they can remain connected to that culture? Are you going to create opportunities for the child to connect with the community they were adopted from regularly? This can look like eating foods from that culture, cultural celebrations, honoring their birth name, taking them to salons or barbershops that know how to care for their hair (as well as learning to properly care for their hair at home), and more.
Choosing to adopt is far more nuanced and complicated than the popular narrative that the adoption industry has pushed into the limelight for decades. Again, this is only the tip of the iceberg of adoptees’ lived experiences. Please seek out and learn more directly from adoptees to make an informed decision about whether adoption is the right choice for you and your family. After all, if you choose to move forward with adoption, your child will be part of the adoptee community, and their elders are bravely sharing what they wish their adoptive parents had known. Both they and future adoptees deserve our attention and consideration before making a major life decision for a child.