I remember the day when I stood in the home of my birth mother and held her. We were in England and she had pulled me into her bedroom to “speak privately.”
Mum looked me in the eyes and said, “I never wanted to let you go. And, I need you to know that.” She then folded herself into my arms and we both began to cry.
It was just a few years ago, yet I recall the moment like it was yesterday. Mum handed me the original papers of my relinquishment. I had always possessed a copy. But, now I was staring at the actual document. Stained with her tears. The piece of paper that had been signed by my birth mother on the day she gave up her rights to parent me. How I hated that piece of paper.
One slip of paper that sent me away on the journey I continue today: the adoptee journey. I didn’t want that piece of paper. I didn’t ask for it. Yet, there it was in the hands of the woman who signed it and then disappeared from my life.
“I just didn’t know what to do with the first me, Mum. I never knew what I was supposed to do with the girl you left behind. I’ve missed her. I’ve mourned her. And, there she is—her name on this piece of paper is proof that she exists. Proof that somewhere inside of me, she still lives. Different names. Same girl. Adoption is hard, Mum. It’s hard…”
I’ve never shared those words before.
Growing up, I kept hidden my innermost thoughts and feelings about being adopted. I didn’t want to risk being rejected by my adoptive family. Or, anyone else for that matter. Rejection was always a real and constant threat. There was too much to lose. I couldn’t bear witness to just how confused and sad I felt inside.
It was lonely. There were many times when I cursed the feeling of isolation. I didn’t have an adoption community to reach out to, one with other adoptees who would be willing to hear me and, in turn, allow me to hear them.
Today, though, with the many avenues of social media to explore, adoptees are reaching each other. Our network is expanding. We’re mobilizing and connecting in powerful ways.
Adoptees, of all ages, are openly sharing their perspectives and stories. That takes courage. Sharing the imperfect and broken parts of one’s life story isn’t easy in a world that celebrates depictions (real or not) of perfect people with perfect lives.
Adoptees know our lives aren’t perfect. Something happened—a moment in time—that changed everything for us. A decision was made outside of our control. And, we will walk in the footsteps of that decision every single day, for the rest of our lives.
Our experiences are different. No one adoption story is exactly like the other. Adoptees represent a diverse group of people who have, for far too long, been encouraged to keep their stories silent. Now, we have this amazing opportunity to break that silence and share our perspectives. How we respond to one another is, and will continue to be, critically important to the health of this community.
Just this week, I read a post on Instagram from another adoptee whose book was reviewed on Amazon. The reviewer, an adoptee too, wrote hyper-critical words—highlighting that the book’s author was, “messed up” and “blaming everything on having been adopted.”
My heart sank when I read this post. I thought to myself: One step forward. Two steps back. We commit a serious injustice against the members of our community when we ridicule and reject another adoptee’s experience. In the rush to judgment, we run the real risk of sending other adoptees back behind the walls of silence. Afraid to speak up. Afraid to share.
No one wins. No one learns. No one grows.
The fact is we need each other. Adoptees need one another. The triad needs our truths. Our real, raw, unedited truths. And, not just one kind of truth. We need all truths. The hard ones. The soft ones. The weighted ones. The lighter ones. We need them all.
We need every adoptee to speak transparently from the place of their “first me.” That is their authentic voice and we will learn transformative truths if we give one another space to share in this way.
As adoptees, we don’t need to feel ashamed of our struggles. We certainly should not be judged because of them. The struggle is an important part of the story. Sharing our struggles is how we get stronger, better, and wiser. It’s how we inspire others to rise up, too.
Don’t stop sharing, but please stop judging.
I remember a time when silence was the norm within the adoptee community.
I don’t want to go back there. Do you?
Michelle Madrid-Branch is the author of Adoption Means Love: Triumph of the Heart.
Real and raw, the book explores the many experiences and emotions of adoptees, adoptive parents, birthparents, foster youth, and foster parents.
“A read that will leave you with a tear in your eye and warmth in your heart.”