In our society, we label everything. We even have label makers and electronic tags to help us keep the things we’ve labeled organized. While labeling things isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we have applied this same principle of categorization to people.
I have been labeled as many things in my life- some hurtful and others I am proud of. Mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend, honor student, graduate, smart, funny, and attractive are some I’m more proud of. Slow, overweight, below average, unpopular, and crabby are some of the more hurtful ones.
One label I have grown up with and will never change is adopted. It is a label that is so much a part of who I am that it is a main characteristic I use to describe myself- and the pseudonym I have chosen to write under. As a child, when my mother would introduce me or describe our family I was “the adopted one”. It wasn’t meant as a hurtful label, and I didn’t always see it as one. After all, being adopted made me special; I was “the chosen one” out of seven children.
Every time I would visit the doctor we would come to the inevitable Family History to which I would simply reply, “I’m adopted”. In school when we talked about heritage or ethnicity, I would say, “I don’t know, I’m adopted.” When getting to know people, telling them I’m adopted was usually an early part of the conversation. I’m not sure why; it was just a defining part of who I am. I’m not saying that being labeled as “adopted” is a bad thing, but it has set the tone for how I have defined myself.
While I grew up feeling loved and accepted, I was also always reminded I was different because I was adopted. Now that I am raising my own adopted child, I struggle with describing him as adopted. This is a different situation than I was raised under as he was old enough to know what was happening at the time of his adoption and is close enough in age to my youngest daughter that he could not possibly be our biological child. He also lives with other labels of his own such as FASD and ADHD that may shape his life in other ways. Right now he is successful in school with no IEP, and we choose to keep it that way as long as it works for him. My main goal is that I don’t want him to ever feel like he should be ashamed he was adopted or like a lesser member of our family. We have a very blended family who has always accepted him, so I hope that will not be the case when he looks back in 30 years. I just hope that he, and all adoptees, can own their label and chose how it fits into the plot of their life- whether it be a main story line or a dream sequence to illustrate the past. Ultimately we choose the labels we show to people, so be proud of what’s stamped on the outside of your box.