Sunday, August 28, 2011

Double Vision: An Adoptee's View of Family

I sometimes wish I knew what it would be like to not be adopted. If you are not adopted, please think about that for a moment. Think about the things that you take for granted. Think about the simple, natural connection between you and the people to whom you are related. Even if your relationship with your family is not 100% positive, there is a quality of your connection to them that you have probably never questioned; they simply ARE your family. They didn't choose you; you didn't choose them. You are connected to them by the interwoven threads of shared experience and biology.

For me, as an adopted person, things are not so simple. It occurred to me recently that being adopted is a bit like having Strabismus, or "Wandering Eye," a condition in which the two eyes don't quite work together as they should to create a single, unified picture. As a metaphor for the adoption experience, this translates to two separate visions of family. One eye sees the world through the lens of experience and upbringing. This is the "nurture" lens, connected to a definition of family as those people with whom I grew up, who cared for me, and shared the experiences of family life with me. The other eye is the lens of "nature," or biology. It sees family as those people who share my genetics and genealogy, who are related to me in spite of our lack of shared history.

Some people with Strabismus compensate by favoring one eye over the other, and some adopted people do so as well, metaphorically. There are adoptees who will tell you that their real family is the one that they grew up in. Period. There are even those who express distance from, and disdain for, their biological mothers by referring to the them as "incubators." On the other end of the spectrum are those who refer to their adoptive parents as "adopters," rather than parents, rejecting the adoptive definition of family in favor of a strictly biological one. But many of us find ourselves in the middle, struggling to hold two (at times contradictory) definitions of family simultaneously, striving to create a single, unified vision from these two divergent points of reference.

Can I say that my life would have been better if I hadn't been adopted? Would I be happier or psychologically healthier today? I can't say that with any certainty at all; who knows where that unknown path would have led. Most of the time I am able to accept, and even celebrate, my life for what it is and to see the duality of adoption as an enrichment rather than a detraction. Usually, I am thankful that I have the love of not just one but two families. But to be honest, I'm not always in that place of acceptance and gratitude. Sometimes I wish that instead of families, I simply had "a family."

19 comments:

  1. It may seem that I have contradicted myself here, given that my last post was about how having two families is not confusing for the adopted child. Well, maybe I have. As I have written in the past, my experience of adoption is largely about embracing contradictions.
    But I actually don't think these two posts are as contradictory as they seem at first. Yes, it's true that having two families does add an element of complexity to the adoptee's life, but what is the alternative? Closed adoptions were a well-meaning but misguided attempt to keep things simple, but the the simplicity was an illusion. There were still two families; one of them just wasn't acknowledged. I believe that lack of acknowledgment of the biological family is more confusing and stressful for the adoptee than any attempt to acknowledge both families. If anything, open adoption blends the two families together, lessening the "double vision" effect.

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  2. Adoption is full of contradictions indeed. I am sure I contradict myself all the time, all while remaining totally honest.

    I so identify. I often wish I knew what it was like not to be adopted. I have often heard adoptees say "I never felt adopted" but when you are adopted as an infant and have never not been adopted.....how can you know you never felt adopted? It becomes normal, our normal, but one never stops being adopted.

    What it would be like to have both ancestral and biological history be one in the same with social history....it's the simplest concept that amazes me as an adoptee! :-)

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  3. Thanks, Amanda. Yes, that's it exactly!

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  4. It is definitely complex! There are times when I think it is no big deal, and other times where it is absolutely enormous. I'm sure I confuse people frequently with what seem, to them, to be contradictions.

    It's fun to find another adoptee who is also an adoptive mom. : )

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  5. Thanks for your comment, WP. I agree and am now following your blog.

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  6. Hi Rebecca,
    I love your post! It's exactly how I feel, which so many non-adoptees just cannot understand, no matter how hard they try. I would love to repost your thoughts on my blog, as a guest post. Please let me know if you are agreeable to this.
    God bless.

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  7. Thanks, Aurette. That sounds great. I sent you a direct message via twitter.

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  8. I get it Rebecca I really do. I don't think it's a contradiction at all. It just is the truth.

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  9. I feel the same. It's confusing, especially now that I'm in my early twenties. I never used to think about being adopted when I was younger, but now that it's time to 'grow up' it has become a large part of my life. I feel like I'm struggling to define/find/understand myself. I know non-adopted people must also go through this phase, but it's especially hard for us adoptees. Who are we, where did we come from, how do we define ourselves? Family has always been such a huge part of my sense of self! And now I'm faced with the question, who am I?, and it's honestly very difficult to find an honest answer. I'm part of both families, and sometimes it seems that I'm part of neither family- fully. It's strange, like having one foot in one state and one foot in the other. Where are you? Nowhere? I think that is the most honest answer I can find at the moment. I would like to find a place all my own :)

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  10. Thanks for your comment, Rose. "I'm part of both families, and sometimes it seems that I'm part of neither family- fully." Yes, exactly. That statement resonates for me as well.

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  11. i would love to know what it was like to not be adopted and had been living with my real mother past 19yrs and didnt go through what i have gone through, i dont call my adoptive family my real one i call them my adoptive family and my real family my real family but i do call my adoptive mother mom, and i hate it when people say i wish i was adopted or when moms say jokingly we`ll put you up for adoption as adoption is not a joke or funny...

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  12. Thanks for your comment Aimee. I'm different from you in that I consider both of my moms real, but I agree that adoption jokes aren't funny. I also am bothered when people talk about the "beauty" of adoption in simplistic terms without acknowledging that their is also a painful side, for both adoptees and first mothers.

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  13. Hi, I am adopted too and I agree with everything you have just said. I guess we suffer from what could be called as Adoption Strabismus. I don't really get on well with my adoptive parents, but this has been since as far as I can recall, but with recent events gone on in the past 3 or 4 years, which include my wife , the realtionship with them has deteriorated substantially to the point where I no longer speak to my adoption mother and find it quite hard to communicate with my adoption father ( these terms are quite surreal as I have known them to be my parents for the last 32 years.
    I only found out about being adopted in 2000 through a 3rd person. although i have had no intention of looking for my real parents or family as i hadn't quite come to terms with being adopted or actually accepting it either. I just didn't think it was important because i didn't know any other way or form of life. Last July 2011 i found a document regarding an adoption form from the local council where i was from in the uk and then started to feel a slight curiousity towards having found my real name on this form. It was strange as i had never fealt the urge to want to know. Within 2 weeks i had found my real mother and since then we have met in November in the UK ( I live in Spain since 1997 ) and have daily contact with her and my other 3 siblings, which i am over the moon about.
    I am now at the point of sitting down with my adoption parents with the aim of clarifying what, when,why,who etc as they have never told me the real story behind my adoption or what procedure was taken to adopt me ( i understand it was a privately arranged, almost illegal adoption ). 95 per cent of my story was told to me by my real mother when we met but the remaining 5 per cent is what my adoption parents have hidden from me all these years, maybe expecting to pass away without me knowing my real story ( they are 38 and 41 years older than me. I am 32. ). I just think that it is cruel not to have told me since a very young age all of the things that an adoptee SHOULD know and has the RIGHT to know.
    I hope my short story hasn't bored you too much !!!
    if you or anyone else has any suggestions on how to confront this difficult moment in my life, I will be eternally grateful !!!!

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  14. Thanks for your comment. Your story hasn't bored me at all! I love hearing the stories of other adoptees. Even when the details are different from those of my own story, there is almost always some part that I can relate to.
    Good luck with your conversation with your a parents. It sounds like a difficult situation and I hope it all goes as well as possible. I know it can be difficult for some adoptive parents to understand that "need to know," but as an adoptee it is very familiar to me.

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  15. I am 27. I am adopted. My dad, who was the one who pursued my adoption, raised and cared for me recently passed away. I have 3 older brothers and a mother (all not biological, including my dad), and since my dad passed away want nothing to do with me. I am a graduate student at a great school (Vanderbilt), I took full care of my dad as he died of cancer and now I feel completely abandoned. I have been nice, attentive, involved for all my life to my family, and now this. Has anyone else experienced this?

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