by Lisa Ritter Starr
When you are part of the adoption triad, it is easy to let your adoption story fall out of your daily life. Adoptive parents may have more opportunities or times when it is necessary to explain their story. Their children may need to fill out medical histories, do a family tree in school, or may be of another cultural background and look very different from their parents. Still, they might go months or even years without mentioning adoption, as they go on creating their daily family life.
For adopted people and birth family, however, it is especially easy to leave your story almost completely out of the picture. It is vital in so many ways not to let this happen. You don't have to tell everyone you meet about the adoption. But when you neglect to talk about your story at least once in a while, you can begin to feel generally secretive, ashamed, sad, or unauthentic.
While speaking about the adoption can help you personally, the most broad and basic reason to tell your story is to help socially normalize the concept of adoption. Adoption is still stigmatized to some extent today, which is mostly the residue of a past society's judgments on unwed pregnant women and mothers. That, of course, has since changed quite a bit.
Today, we have not only more single parents from divorce, but more and more single people or unmarried couples choosing to raise children. Also in recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk aloud of such things as teenage sex, foster care and, generally speaking, any negative emotion that before was simply too personal to be discussed outside of a small social circle.
Adoption stories are as varied as family stories. Just as you cannot assume everyone shares the same familial background - say, a couple of legally married Protestant parents - you also cannot generalize about adoptions. People are adopted as toddlers, preteens, teens, and as infants. Children are placed with grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, godparents, step parents, and foster families, as well as by infertile couples longing to create a family. Children are placed for adoption (not "put up" or "given up") by young women and older women, mothers with other children, and women who plan not to raise children, as well as by troubled teenagers. Adoptions can be semi-open and open, as well as closed.
Telling your story can serve as an education, but also as an inspiration to others. If your adoption was completely closed, you may have searched and been reunited with a blood relative. Your story might help others to do the same. You may be a birth mother or adoptive parent who experienced something unfortunate and learned something from the legal or emotional process. You could then share that with others, so that the same thing does not happen to them. You may have an unusual situation, like a very open adoption, that can serve as a model for those who want to create something like it but don't know how to start. You might even use your organizational and motivational talents to create a social presence such as a birth mothers' organization, an open adoption agency, or a support group.
If nothing else, telling your story can serve you personally. Maybe you searched for birth relatives and have not found them, or found that they were already passed on. For whatever reason, perhaps you will always have an unfulfilled need for connection, a missing piece, which you can acknowledge and express. This act alone might at least partially fill that empty space, even if it's just for a while, or only helps a little bit. It is not helpful to tell your story in order to gain sympathy, but it may be generally cathartic to get it out in the open and finally have a witness to your loss.
By telling your story, you may even discover that you are not alone. Once, on a train ride with my daughter and her adoptive mother, we met a young couple with a little girl. We spoke to them for a while in the sight-seeing car. They were moving across the country from Louisiana to start a new life. Before we left the car, the woman asked which one of us was "the mother." This was not the first time we've been asked, and so, out came our story once again. Usually people's reactions range from slight intrigue to pleasant surprise.
Later on, my daughter's adoptive mother spoke to the couple again. The young woman explained that she was a birth mother. She had hoped for an open adoption, much like ours, but her situation did not turn out to be very open at all. She was still sad about this, but it seemed to help her to know that she was not the only birth mother around. She knew that someone else could relate, and that she wasn't crazy to think that such an open adoption could, and does, work.
As for me, knowing that a passing face on the train could be a birth mother like me was comforting. It helped confirm the idea that my situation was not as unusual - and I am not as alone - as it sometimes feels.
If you are part of the adoption triad, especially a birth mother or if you are adopted, please tell your story. Do it even if it is just one time. Trust someone with it. Be careful, and be selective, but do it for yourself. If not for you, then tell it for your child, or for the millions of adopted children, today and in the future.
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