Sometimes life is hard to navigate as an adopted child, especially when we are young. There are many identities placed on you and many unanswered questions such as who you are, what love looks like, who is in your family tree, and why you are triggered by certain things that seem to be random. Unpacking our stories and figuring out all of the details along the way can be hard and it would truly have helped me if I had a handbook growing up as an adopted child. So, from one adoptee to another, let me shed some light on a few typical adoptee thoughts and processes.
Growing up, any child goes through self-discovery. What makes you who you are, who makes you who you are, and who do you want to be moving forward? If you grew up in a closed adoption as I did, it’s a harder journey because everything is a mystery. You even make things up as you go—fantasizing about your birth parents, who they must be, and what their lives looked like then versus now. If you are in an open or semi-open adoption, you have some foundational information to go off of.
One thing I learned as an adoptee is that my identity was what I made it. It was truly hard for me to get through my formative years but, looking back, I was just looking for a connection. I wanted to know that I was accepted, loved, and needed. I didn’t realize that while connections are great, they cannot give me something I was capable of giving myself. After all, I had always been enough. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t necessarily have to have the answers I was so desperate to find. Those two days with my birth family didn’t make me who I was, nor did the years growing up in my adoptive family. I was always Katie—an adoptee who loves animals more than people, hates melons, won’t eat outside because things taste different, loves her people fiercely and protects them with all of her might, and is very loved by others. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Okay, great pep talk. I don’t feel like I know who I am though.” I didn’t either when I was young. While I think many things could’ve helped me progress quicker or in a healthier way, it took me about 25 years to get to a solid place of confidence in who I am. But I am still discovering my identity all of these years later because as we grow, there’s so much more to who we are that’s waiting to unfold! So, in a nutshell, who you are is what you choose to take on. If you don’t like that you are adopted, well then, it’s just a fact of your life, not who you have to walk in every day and vice versa.
Much of this goes along with the paragraph above as I believe identity is tied into self-worth. As an adoptee, this one is hard for me still. I struggle with knowing that I am valued and wanted. It stems from being (for lack of better words) abandoned by my mother when I was a baby and never knowing her, or even about her, as I grew up without her. There are other things that I personally struggle with that keep me from seeing my true worth some days but, for this article, as an adoptee, I have abandonment issues. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ll talk more on that later, but this feeds into me thinking that there is something about me that deems me unworthy. As I mentioned above, I get to choose who I am moving forward and that means I get to declare (because it’s true) that I am worthy of love, friendship, happiness, and anything I set my mind to. My circumstances don’t define my worth; I was born worthy of all of these things I desire as a human being. It can be really hard to walk in that truth some days, but I hope you know that you are enough simply because you exist.
Connection to Biology
I am so thankful that modern adoption usually means that an adoptee is living in a form of open adoption. Growing up in a closed adoption and not having any information about my biological family or any kind of connection to them negatively affected me. I had so many questions that couldn’t be answered, I had to make up my narrative to the beginning of my story, and I consistently wondered about my birth family. It’s natural for an adoptee to wonder these things as they grow up, but to never have answers until after 18 can be strenuous. Looking back, even though I had no control over my situation, I realize now how important a connection to your biology can be. So, if you have an open adoption and have a relationship with your birth mother and/or birth father, I challenge you to be intentional with your time with them. Ask all of the questions you think of, speak up if you want to see them more or even less, share your expectations of your relationship with them moving forward, and soak it all in. No adoption is perfect and it can be hard wrapping your mind around the fact that someone decided what was best for you before you could even speak for yourself, but the more that you unpack your story and your birth mother’s story, the more that you can hopefully gain closure if you are struggling with her decision to place you for adoption.
When I was little, I would boast about being an adopted child and I declared that because I was loved so much I had two families. I think I wore that as a badge of honor for a long time but, in my heart, I struggled with the concept. Was I so loved? Was I given a better opportunity? Did they still think about me? When I became a teenager, I started acting out. I didn’t realize it back then but, looking back, I know that I was just desperate for someone to choose me. I wanted to be enough for someone to want me. I was so desperate for attention that I made impulsive decisions and it led me to not the greatest phases of life. I was hurting but couldn’t figure out why. When I became an adult and I finally went to get my records unsealed so I could track down my biological family, it finally dawned on me that the connection I was so desperate for was to my biology. It has not always been easy, but it’s been worth it. This leads me to my other thought for you: disappointment is inevitable. There will be something big or small that will take you by surprise and be harder to digest. Don’t let it derail you completely. There are so many times that I found out the worst possible outcomes to scenarios were my reality. It can hurt a lot. However, I knew that I needed to move forward, get closure, and focus on the goodness in my situation instead of the tough stuff. Regardless of what you face, there can always be something good that comes out of it.
Lastly, if you are in a closed adoption and you have not decided if you want to find your biological roots out yet, please know that you should take as long as you need to decide if you are ready. No one can tell you how things will turn out, whether it is worth it in the end, or even if it will give you any closure or happiness. You just have to decide if it’s worth finding out those things to move forward. But even without making that decision, you have every right to your story and your biological information. Advocate for yourself and make sure you at least get your records, so that you can choose to move forward or not someday. I hope that you do what’s best for your situation.
Adoptee Trauma and Attachment Issues
I mentioned several times above that I suffered many rebellious behavioral issues as a teen. I know now that it stems from the trauma of being adopted. Regardless of how positively I viewed my story or even adoption in general, I lost my mother when I was two days old and my subconscious held on to that. It’s hard to talk about the icky parts of adoption because the marketed version (the family created and the new baby) is the joyful side. It’s uncomfortable to think that you suffered a trauma. But dear adoptee, you did. So, when you are struggling to figure out why you don’t understand love like you think you should, why you envy other parent and child relationships, or why you get your feelings hurt far more than others when you are rejected, I challenge you to stop and unpack why you are triggered in those moments.
For example, say you just found out that some girls were only pretending to like you but actually pass notes about you in class because they don’t like being your friend. This happened to me in 3rd grade, and I was shattered. All I wanted was to be liked and accepted and I tried so hard to make those bratty girls like me but, ultimately, they didn’t. I struggled from that moment on and still to this day with feeling unworthy of friendship. I have attachment issues due to the trauma I went through from being adopted. I have to unpack it and realize that I have abandonment issues and I am often waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t look at my adoption as a bad thing, nor do I think my birth mother made the wrong choice and abandoned me, but deep down I struggle with feeling chosen. So, I have to be aware of that in moments that trigger me like girls not wanting to be my friend. Also, forget them—you shine brighter without the haters. The point of all of this is that therapy might be something you should truly consider so that you can deeply process your adoption story and see if it has caused you any pain or contributed to quirks you may have developed over the years. Talking about these things isn’t to place the blame on anyone or to trash adoption but to help you do some serious self-discovery so you can grow and heal. Even if everything is ideal in your situation, talking through it with a mental health professional can be therapeutic and beneficial.
Adoptee, I dream great things for you. There are so many of us hurting, full of wonder, and lost. I dream that those adoptees can find solace and closure in knowing other adoptees’ stories and struggles, connecting with their biological family, or by reading their adoption records. I dream that the trauma finds healing and acceptance of self and that adoptees can love themselves for who they are today and not for what happened in the past or will happen tomorrow. I dream that someday all adoptees will have the rights to their records without having to fight for them. There are so many more things, but I hope that you take away something from the things I have found beneficial from my story. I don’t have all of the answers and, unfortunately, you won’t either, but the road to discovering myself as an adoptee has been fulfilling, even when it was challenging to see the silver lining. You deserve to live life to the fullest and to flourish. After all, I believe that is what our birth mothers tried their best to provide for us as adoptees.