There's a fiction, or an illusion, that exists in many adoptive families. Adoptive parents and others look at the social unit that is created by adoption and label it "family." That's not the illusion. I have no problem with this definition of family; in fact, it is a form of family that is near and dear to my heart, both as an adoptee and as an adoptive mom. But we enter the realm of the unreal when we try to pretend that this family is all there is, when we try to cut or ignore the threads that bind the adoptee to another family.
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Some adoptive parents love the illusion so much that they will do just about anything to preserve it. The entire structure of closed adoption was built on the assumption that if we simply acted as if the adoptive family unit was the only family, ignoring or suppressing anything that didn't fit with that view of things (including the adoptee's natural feelings of curiosity, loss, etc.), we could make it so. Adoptees themselves were co-opted into the creation of the illusion, assigned the role of the good adoptee and given lines to dutifully recite. Community members and creators of media were also co-opted into upholding the illusion. In fact, the idea of the adoptive family as the exclusive or primary family is so widespread these days that adoptees who speak up, expressing our discomfort or our unwillingness to sustain the fiction, often meet with a reception that we perceive as less than welcoming.
As an adoptive mother, I understand the attraction of the adoption illusion. I really do. As much as I love Erica, my daughter's birth mother, and value my relationship with her and with members of her family, there are times I when I long for the simplicity that would exist if our adoptive family unit was all there was. Yes, there is a part of me that sometimes wishes I was the only mother; I'm human and subject to all those all-too-human emotions, including jealousy.
And I could have done it; I didn't have to open our adoption up as much as I did. I could have complied with the minimal requirements of our legal agreement (one visit a year) and prevented my daughter from having a real relationship with her other mother. I could have told her at every turn that we are her family now and expressed a subtle but pervasive disapproval any time she expressed a longing for the other family. Instead of building an open adoption and committing myself to that process, I could have put my energy into creating a version of family that excluded rather than embraced the biological side of things. And I could have done it all while convincing myself that I was acting in the best interest of my child.
Except that of course you know I couldn't. Not really. I couldn't have done it that way because to do so would be a denial of all that I am and all that I have lived. I stand solidly in two families, and I can never pretend that my daughter does anything less. It's not a matter of my way being right and the other way being wrong; it's simply that for me the illusion isn't really an option.
And so we live open adoption, and we live it publicly. We don't just live it in our home or in neutral public spaces, we do so in our community. This week, for example, is science fair at Ashley's school, and Erica and I will both be there. And we'll both be at my church on Sunday when Ashley sings as part of a children's chorus. There are many other adoptive families in both of these communities, and I suspect that for some of them the way we show up is problematic. We make visible all that is suppressed and hidden in many adoptive families.
The adoptive family unit of myself, my husband, and our two daughters is solid and loving, but it is not, nor will it ever be, all that is. Our true, full family is beautifully complex in shape, with many branches. We are a constellation family, and the stars of the constellation include not only Ashley's biological family but also the family of my ex husband (Mackenzie's biological father). I could try to pretend otherwise, but it wouldn't really work. This is what we are.