Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Adoption Illusion

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.

(Copyright 123RF Stock Photos)

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.

20 comments:

  1. I love this post!

    Mara says every day that she misses her family, in one way or another. My partner, herself an adoptee in open (intrafamily) adoption, sometimes wonders whether this means we're doing the wrong thing in keeping her family in her life, and I understand why that overprotectiveness kicks in, especially because she knows the pain of seeing how her own birth parents didn't measure up to what she wanted from them when she was a child. I think the fact that Mara can be open with her sadness as well as her love for us tells us that we're doing something right there, though.

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  2. This post truly sent CHILLS up and down my spine. Beautiful.

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  3. I am standing in front of my computer applauding you for this amazing, AMAZING piece that the entire world should read.

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  4. Excellent post!! When we first talked about pursuing open adoption with our extended families, they are all supportive of it, but some were apprehensively so. The era of closed/secret adoptions really wasn't THAT long ago by their standards and they don't see what was wrong with that system. (You guessed it, none of THEM are adopted.)

    Now that my son is 18 months old, the ones who liked the idea at first are thrilled with it and the apprehensive ones are starting to 'get it.' This makes me very happy! My son's birthmom will always be the person who created him and brought him into this world, and had a big hand in making him who he is and who he will be. To deny that is not only unfair to him, it would just be a big lie. I wouldn't lie to him about anything else (aside from the normal stuff, y'know, magic stuff like who comes at Christmas time)... so why on earth would I lie to him about where he comes from?!

    I've added you to my blog list and followed you. Look forward to reading more!

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  5. so beautiful, so true.

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  6. I needed your post today. Thank you for it.

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  7. I appreciate this post. I have had my moments where I wish I was the only mom too...its easy to go there when things are challenging with our adoption. But that isnt our truth, or my daughters truth. We have to let go of our fears and insecurities and just do what is best for our kids.

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  8. Really well stated. This is what we are.

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  9. Thanks everyone for your comments! I felt a little nervous about hitting "publish" with this one, which usually means I've hit on something good. :-p

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  10. Sheeka StricklandMarch 29, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    What a great post. There are so many versions of blended families these days. It's a beautiful thing. It takes hard work and I commend you for not being afraid of it. I imagine one day, if not already, your daughter will be able to glean perspective from you as an adoptee yourself.

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  11. This post just resonates with me today. Our (my husband and mine) extended families don't seem to know how to respond to our efforts to redefine our family. Adoption is very new in our families, and your words give me comfort and hope and courage to keep on encouraging our openness and building our relationships. My son's birth mother will meet most of our families next week at a special day just for our son, and I'm so glad she is coming. She's nervous, and I don't blame her for that, and I only hope she still wants us all to be a big family after that weekend. I know my opinions won't change, no matter how my family feels. :)

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  12. I love this post; and it's such an honest tribute about how open adoption can work, and work well. You are incredible, truly!

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  13. As an adoptee and one that came from a 1970s closed adoption this struck a cord as I have just found my birth family. Half of them want to know me, the other not. I am doing everything I can to make my adopted family feel like I am still their family while meeting my own. It's a fine line though and being open about everything is the way forward.

    How people cope now with open adoption I don't know though, sometimes I feel the old ways are the best even though I went over 30 years of not knowing mine.

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  14. Thank you for this. We are in the unusual position of having contact with our daughter's Chinese birth family. I find myself "coming out" about this all the time, because it really throws many other adoptive parents who have children from China for a loop. I even had one adoptive mom break out in hives when I told her we were searching for our daughter's family.

    Now that we have found them and have a growing relationship with them, they are just like other members of our family. They come up in conversation and they are woven into the fabric of our lives. We won't hide them because they make other people uncomfortable. WE are comfortable with our family just the way it is. More importantly, our daughter is comfortable having a place in both families, exactly as we hoped she would be when we sought them out.

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  15. Rebecca this is just beautiful!!

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  16. Oh, Rebecca, this is so beautiful and so completely true. Laura doesn't live here, so we don't show up publicly in quite that way, but we talk about our relationship and I know it makes some other adoptive parents uncomfortable. But this is what we are, and I love your image of the constellation.

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  17. Oh, Rebecca, I LOVED LOVED LOVED this post. It's so my heart and passion for open adoption. So many people just refuse to ever "get it" and acknowledge that other family and have no idea the deeper loss and heartache they are placing on their child. I'm so thankful that both my and my husband's families get this and have embraced our son's birth family as family. I can't say the same for everyone else and it just blows my mind that people are so apprehensive. Thank you for putting it into words so beautifully!

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  18. I just found your blog through OAB. Thanks so much for your beautiful insight into what makes an adoptive family..."beautifully complex in shape, with many branches." There are many people who are uncomfortable with the level of closeness we share with our daughter's biological family, but they are her branches, and therefore....ours too. I love the idea of living open adoption openly. We do that as well, inviting our daughter's birth family to birthday parties, baptisms, and numerous other events at our home and church. It may makes some folks uneasy, but hopefully, they will confront their own misconceptions and see that open adoption, while it creates a different shape, can be a wonderful thing.

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  19. Great post! I wish, wish, wish our granddaughter's adoptive parents were of the same mind as you!

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