While no two adoptees’ journeys are alike, there is one collective experience that a great majority of us all share—feelings of abandonment.
While this is a common trauma that many adoptees share, it doesn’t mean that it looks the same for everyone. There are many types of abandonment (both tangible and not).
An adoptee’s perspective can be influenced by the adoption journey and the impact of the abandonment experienced. There are different types of abandonment that adoptees can experience that may manifest during identity development.
Types of Abandonment
The physical abandonment that happens to many adoptees at birth or at another point in early childhood is the first trauma an adoptee may experience. Separation from biological parents, while uncontrollable and sometimes necessary, strips an adoptee of the genetic bond that he or she would have experienced otherwise. As we grow, we deal with what I call the “invisible void” that is left from this separation.
But, for many adoptees who have a closed adoption or one where information regarding the circumstances of the adoption was not disclosed, they’re left wondering why a separation ever took place. When you’re left to worry and contemplate your backstory constantly, it takes an immense toll on your mind. The psychological abandonment is, for some, even worse than the physical kind.
Both types of abandonment contribute heavily to trauma, a word that carries its sort of taboo. When some people think of the word trauma, they associate it with post-traumatic stress disorder or the result of a car accident or other disaster. Anything that doesn’t fit that description is often invalidated. However, the trauma caused by abandonment in the adoption world is authentic and very significant to those who experience it.
Ties to Identity
According to Psychology Today, identity “encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self. This amalgamation creates a steady sense of who one is over time, even as new facets are developed and incorporated into one’s identity.”
Adoptees create an identity based on the information they are given about themselves. Because many adoptees grow up without the knowledge that most people have access to (family history), identities are built on the influence of adoptive families. In my case, this wasn’t a bad thing. I was raised to think for myself without having a ton of influence from my adoptive parents. At 25, I have a decent idea of who I am and a basic sense of what I value. Despite this, however, I have little to no cultural identity because I am a transracial adoptee raised in an entirely White family in Kentucky with limited exposure to people of color or other cultural things. Creating a cultural identity has been challenging as an adult because of this. There’s no roadmap or guidebook on being a woman of color in today’s society, especially when you don’t have a robust support system or network of people similar to you.
For people who were adopted, some can go their entire lives without seeing someone they look similar to. For example, if you can look at your mother or father and notice that you have their eyes or type of hair, you have a kind of connection that some adoptees may never experience. In my case, I wasn’t able to meet anyone that I was genetically related to until I was 20.
Birth Parents, Adoptees, and Identity
For me, coming to terms with the fact that I did not have a “happy” beginning to my adoption story was the hardest part of my journey. To my knowledge, my birth mother did not have any interest in keeping me, nor did she want any family members to take me either. There was never a chance (and still isn’t) that I would have a relationship with her, simply because of the fact that she had no interest or, to my knowledge, capability in raising a child. While this scenario allowed me the opportunity to be raised by the two most wonderful humans to ever grace the earth (my parents), it is an immensely painful thing to come to terms with.
A few weeks ago, a birth mother on Tik Tok posted a video to her children telling them how much she cared about them. The song playing in the back of the video repeated a woman singing “You are enough, enough, enough; You are enough,” matching the caption the birth mother had put, “To my children, please know that you were always enough.” As if this wasn’t heartbreaking enough, I, along with several other adult adoptees, had commented: “I wish this was true for me.”
Before jumping to conclusions, I want to add a disclaimer that this is absolutely not the case for everyone. The majority of expectant parents want nothing but the best for their children and choose adoption for various circumstances that ultimately turn out to be a favorable situation. As open adoptions are becoming more common, adoptees now have more access to their history and birth family than ever. This alone can revolutionize how we think about adoption and how adoptees are influenced by their adoptions.
However, I want to make it very clear that this is not the reality that many of us face. The ultimate downfall of the adoption community is toxic positivity that is influenced by individuals feeding into the belief that every birth mother would have kept their child if circumstances were different and that placing their child for adoption was a selfless act of love. This influence can create a false sense of expectation for adoptees who may discover less positive truths about their adoption stories later on.
Facing the reality of one’s adoption story, like I said, is one of the hardest things that an adoptee may ever do. It can cause an adoptee to question every aspect of your identity, especially if they discover new information they didn’t know before.
For Adoptive Parents
If you are thinking about expanding your family through adoption, reading articles such as this one are critical to understanding how the adoption process can impact an adoptee’s life.. Ensuring that the child you adopt can have access to appropriate therapies and biological information is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Communicating between families and obtaining this information can be challenging, especially if it is your first time going through the adoption process.
You don’t have to be adopted to struggle with identity. However, adoptees do experience unique challenges compared to other people when it comes to how they can look at themselves and develop a sense of who they are.