Saying a child “is adopted” vs. saying he or she “was adopted” is a hot-and-heavy ongoing debate in the adoption community. It’s an argument carried on by adoptees and parents alike, and opinions differ widely. Many people who were adopted believe that their adoptions are a defining characteristic of who they are, while others recognize their adoption as a one-time event, and a less defining aspect of their lives.
I can see both sides of the argument because my brother and I are polar opposites. We both agree that the term should be “was” adopted, but my adoption has been more defining of who I am because it is the ministry I have been called to. I am constantly thinking about and communicating with all members of my adoption triad.
My brother, on the other hand, has not been called to focus on the adoption community specifically, thus it is an event that happened in his life and not one that defines who he works or communicates with.
I prefer to state that I was adopted. It was a process that began months before my birth and ended after I was born, because adoption is a process with a conclusion. You don’t hear people say, “I am born,” you hear them say, “I was born.” My parents never looked at me and said, “You are adopted,” they looked at me and said “You were adopted; you are our daughter.” My adoption was a one-time event that took place in my life history.
Why should an adopted child be labeled as “adopted” instead of simply “son” or “daughter?” The whole purpose of adoption is to make the child, legally, a son or daughter; otherwise he or she would remain a foster child.
But while I choose to say I was adopted and that I am my parents’ daughter, I also use the word “adoptee” to identify myself because it is an integral part of who I am and why I do what I do today. I am an adoption advocate because of my adoption story. I believe in standing up for orphaned children because someone did the same for me. I choose to identify as an adoptee, but I do not choose to identify as someone who “is adopted.”
Many other adoptees prefer not to use the word “adoptee” because, while it may be true that they were adopted, it doesn’t necessarily pertain to who they are today. A lot of adoptee’s adoption stories are buried after their adoption. It is an event that happened when they were children, but it is not something that defines who they are today.
My adoption story has molded me to be the woman I am today because it has brought clarity to my purpose here. Not every adoptee finds clarity in his or her story. More often than not, they find more questions. It is up to each adoptee to decide whether or not their adoption is going to define who they are.
The one-time event that took place the year of my birth does not define me, but the role I play in the adoption community now, does.
I was adopted, and I am an adoptee.