Adoption, as both an international adoptee and mom-by-international adoption, has framed so much of how I see the world around me. This framing has architected within me a deep and profound compassion and empathy for those who hurt and are alone. When I was a kid, I remember that I’d be completely shattered at the thought of an animal who was lost and afraid. Pictures of orphaned children left me trembling in tears. Even my plushy stuffed toys, in my earliest of beliefs, had feelings and emotions that needed protecting.
Recently, when I was posed a question from Wellon Bridgers of Mwana Villages, an organization in Congo providing hope and a future for vulnerable women, children, and their families, I was compelled to reflect on just how much adoption—and living within the skin of an adoptee—has directed me toward the social issues that I’m most passionate about today.
Wellon’s question is this: “How has adoption (as an adoptee and adoptive mother) connected you to larger issues surrounding adoption, such as vulnerable women, family preservation or issues of ethics in adoption?
This is such an important question because our experiences frame our lives. I have found—over the course of my life—that we often hunger to give to others what we did not receive along on our own personal journey.
For me, it seems that bringing to others the message of their worth and of their purpose has been forever etched into my being. I want women to feel safe and valued because I once felt unsafe, exposed, and vulnerable in the world. I want to help families forge healthy and whole relationships that honor individuality and individual story because I once felt unseen and unheard within my own family. I want there to be safe and ethical adoption around the world because I know that there will always be children in need of families. Adoption is challenging, real, and multi-layered—at its best—and unethical practices can only serve to further complicate this type of family formation.
I agree that at the heart of the orphan crisis is the vulnerable woman: the woman who is unsafe, exposed, and unprotected. The truth is that women remain vulnerable in countless corners of the world, today. The exploitation and discrimination that they experience are directly impacting an ever-growing orphan crisis. There are women who feel that they have no choice but to abandon their child. There are people who prey on this vulnerability—which directly links with my passion to see unethical adoption practices eradicated.
It’s important to contemplate that if the numbers of desperate, abandoned, and orphaned children are on the increase, so too are the numbers of desperate, abandoned, and isolated mothers. The two are intricately interwoven.
My birth mother was not a highly educated woman. Her formal education ended at the age of fourteen. She was not a woman from a high socio-economic background. She was a woman who felt vulnerable in her unwanted and unexpected pregnancy. This vulnerability and the feelings of disempowerment that accompanied it have forever impacted both her life and my life, as her birth daughter. What she felt—at the time—I felt, and those emotions informed my internal world and shaped how I viewed my external world.
Yes, she abandoned me. She relinquished her rights to raise me. Yes, her abandonment caused me pain and shame. I’ve struggled with those hurts for a very long time. Yet, as I have grown to know more of my birth mother and of her story, over my lifetime, my heart has broken wide-open for my birth mother—and for all mothers—who find themselves in positions where they must contemplate giving up a child. How we respond to these mothers will greatly impact their lives and also the lives of their children, adopted or not.
For far too long, the language of adoption has been spoken, primarily, from the perspective of the adoptive family. We’ve missed including the voice of the mother who is making a decision that will completely shift the lives of both she and her child. We cannot continue ignoring the fact that vulnerable women—vulnerable mothers—are at the heart of the orphan epidemic. They are at the heart of the adoption decision. It’s essential that we include their voices, and the voices of their children. In doing so, we will help all members of the adoption triad speak a more fluent and whole adoption language.
This will assist in forging healthier families who have been brought together by adoption. Families built on honesty and transparency. Families who are inclusive and who embrace their child’s fullest adoption story. All people desire to feel seen and heard, valued and included—celebrated for who they are. Adoptees are no different.
My story did not begin at adoption. My new life began there, but I still had another story and another life that needed to be brought along and not left behind. Parents-by-adoption should remember that their children need to feel safe to explore what is theirs to explore. Truth and transparency in adoption is another issue that I am passionate about. I believe these things go hand-in-hand with upholding ethical and moral adoptions.
I also believe that, part of ethical adoption, means that we work—first and foremost—to see that first families can be preserved. No one wants a family to dissolve. The ramifications of this last a lifetime. As is stated on the Mwana Villages website: The cyclical nature of the orphan crisis will be broken only when we prioritize family preservation and paths toward self-sufficiency as a means for orphan prevention. I’m dedicated to this cause. Orphan prevention should be our priority.
In my case, staying with my birth mother would not have been possible. Not really. It was a complicated situation and adoption, in all honesty, was the best choice for me. There wasn’t a family to preserve. There was me, a birth mother who was married with three children, and a single birth father who didn’t want to be a dad. I can’t say that everything about my adoption was ethical. Yes, protocol was followed and the law was obeyed. Yet, there were many unethical practices that occurred: judgments, bias, and secrets among them.
And, here I am, an adult adoptee who has moved through so many emotions and questions about her own adoption story. I’ve tracked down truths that were once denied to me. I’ve learned the importance of knowing one’s story and then sharing that story with courage and with transparency. I’ve discovered that isolation will never serve to heal, and that community is absolutely critical along the path of healing.
I love birth mothers because I’ve chosen to love my own. That’s come through forgiveness. I’m passionate about learning the stories of women: their struggles, their bravery, their tears, their triumphs. I’m dedicated to see women, everywhere, be lifted up—especially mothers who feel desperation as they hold their child and consider letting go.
I’m a warrior for truth-in-adoption because I understand the pain of truth not shared. Without truth as its first moral principle, we’ll never truly realize the ideal of ethical adoption. Freedom of information is key.
Yes, adoption has shaped my life. It’s shifted my optics. It’s broken my heart wide-open for others who feel removed, broken, and isolated. As hard as adoption has been, it’s also made me a better human being. Better because I’m more aware, more in tune to another person’s suffering, more willing to listen, more willing to take a stand, more willing to embrace, more willing to include. These things are gifts. I want to focus on the gifts because they empower me to do the work: to be a part of important change and to be a voice for what matters most.
As I parent my children—children adopted internationally—I pray that they grow up understanding that their birth mothers and birth families are loved. I pray that they know that their birth heritages and birth stories are valued. I pray that they know I’ll always advocate for truth along the journey of their adoption discoveries. I pray that they see the gifts, and also know that they are safe to grieve. I pray that they can claim their fullest identity. I pray that they know that they’re loved and cherished and adored. I pray that they know that their adoptive mother is an adoptee who has journeyed—not a perfect path—but an empowering one. I pray that they find empowerment, too. I pray that they always know they’re not alone.
I’m grateful for the bigger picture that adoption has opened my eyes to. Gratitude is a huge part of that bigger picture. I’m grateful for the lessons, and the learning, and the love. Yes, the love…
Thank you, Wellon, for your question. And, thank you for the work of Mwana Villages.