Karen Deeming is a researcher at the University of California, Merced, and her area of focus is adoptive identity, which she explains is the idea that our identity is rooted in how we, as humans, belong to specific groups. Our identity, she says, is determined by race, gender, ancestry, and geography, among other factors, and each group we belong to adds to our sense of self and identity. For adoptees, much of that basic information is cobbled together from sketchy records and the stories of our origins revolve around things like agencies, lawyers, loss, and economics. As adoptees, therefore, we must construct who we are by what we are told—and not by what we know to be true.

As an adoptee herself, Karen is personally invested in developing a way to offer a more holistic and healthy adoption solution in the future, one that is not centered only around protecting the adults in the equation, but one that provides a more balanced approach that considers the struggles that adopted children often face as they are growing up and into adulthood. Birth records, for example, should be unequivocally available to adult adoptees, and consideration of this should not be outweighed by the desired privacy of a biological parent or an adoptive parent’s inclination to keep the adoption secret.

Karen decided to return to school at the age of 43, after raising her two beautiful children, because as an adoptee, she has come to understand that not knowing her ancestry had impacted her own personal identity throughout the years. “I have had to construct my sense of self with no guidelines,” she told me in a recent interview. “Self-esteem and self-worth issues have plagued me my entire life, and I believe it stems from the lack of grounding and belonging,” she went on to say.

She has found that this is a common thread in adoptees that she has spoken with, and her research uses narratives from members of the adoption triad in an attempt to get at the common themes that surround the institution of adoption and how the type of adoption—such as open adoption, closed adoption and kinship—impact those themes.

Karen’s ultimate goal is to offer a solution for a more holistic transfer of children. She believes that the closed adoption model has created many issues for adoptees that were essentially put into place to protect the adults in the equation. She feels the need to change to place at least an equal focus on the well-being of adopted children. And while the latest trends seem to be moving toward open adoption, most either still start as closed adoptions or revert to being closed for all intents and purposes shortly after placement.

She believes that the significant amount of money that is being paid to foster care and adoption agencies should be primarily redirected to help birth mothers parent their children. And while it is unrealistic to think that this will be able to be an option for many birth mothers, when children are adopted, they should be transferred with their identities, with their original birth certificates, with their ancestral records, and with their medical histories.

Karen hopes that her research will help to shape the future of adoptions in this country in a positive way. She is at the beginning stages and is starting by conducting a survey that will help her to conduct a narrative analysis of adoption stories so she can begin to dig deep into the experiences of all members of the adoption triad. If you are interested and willing to participate by taking Karen’s survey, click here or contact Karen directly at kdeeming@ucmerced.edu.