My Adoption Story
By Megan Wood
Adoption. When we hear this word, I think many of us don’t know how we are supposed to feel about it, especially if you are on the outside looking in. Is it a sensitive subject to bring up to someone who has either adopted, is thinking about it as an option, or who is, him or herself, a child of adoption? What are the implications of adopting/being adopted on your family’s ties, such as: are you as bonded and as in love with an adopted child as you would be with a biological one? Will your family be taken seriously? Finally, does the adopted child ever really feel like they belong as they would if they were biologically added to the family?
I am a child of adoption, so you might expect me to be an expert after 28 years, however I can’t speak on anyone else’s experience but my own. I’m always more than happy to share my story and experience, especially in an effort to help destigmatize thoughts surrounding adoption and initiate a discussion for those who feel they have burning questions they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to ask. But if you’re hoping to find answers to all the above questions in this blog post, I can tell you there are no set rules of right and wrong when it comes to each person’s experience. Here’s mine:
I was born in San Gil, Santander, Colombia in 1990. The only information I have about my biological mother is a scanned copy of her ID made by the hospital when she surrendered me and left four short days after my birth. I spent the first few months of my life living in the hospital and going to different nurses’ homes on the weekend when they wanted to take me with them. When I was three months old, I was placed with a foster family who took care of me until I was adopted by my parents in March of 1992.
The timing of my adoption is important to consider because it demonstrates the immense effort and dedication it takes to adopt a child. My parents decided they wanted to adopt and found out about me when I was six months old. It took them almost two years of paperwork, phone calls, references, home visits, back and forths, etc. before the Colombian government gave them the OK to fly down to Colombia and finally pick me up – a child they had felt was theirs since receiving their first picture of me when I was 6 months old. I know some families who put their name in the system and have had to wait over five years to receive their bundle of joy. This process, some could argue, is much more purposeful than how many of us come to create a family. I have an incredible amount of respect for parents who adopt because it is not easy and they have to prove, unlike some other parents, that they want it enough and are prepared enough to become so.
My parents are incredibly loving and supportive people. The terms “real mom/dad” and “real daughter” had a distinct place in our home. My “real parents” are the ones that adopted me and raised me. My “biological parents” are just that: the ones that brought me into existence and nothing more. My Mom and Dad made sure I had the best life had to offer to the full extent of their abilities. I traveled the country and the world, went to a prestigious DC private school, participated in many extracurricular activities and sports, was given therapy with licensed professionals when I felt I needed it, and attended a great four-year university, paid for in full by them. They were always open to discussing my adoption and I lived my whole life knowing if I wanted to return to Colombia, it would be with them and their full support, whether it was to try to find my biological patronage or simply to get a better sense of where I came from. I am extremely grateful for my family and would never want to be part of another.
Since “growing up,” I have had a biological daughter of my own. She is three, so an age at which I was already adopted and living with my mom and dad. Here’s what’s the same between her life experience thus far and mine at her age: Her arrival was prepared for like crazy; tons of reading and research went into figuring out how she could get the best start to life possible. She is very, very loved, but not to the point of being spoiled – she receives age-appropriate discipline when it’s required. Her needs are put first and are met to the best of my abilities. She is a happy and intelligent girl who is also very loving. She is incredibly stubborn and we can butt heads, even already. People wonder if I’m her nanny or her mom on a regular basis because she has fair skin and I’m tan. Here’s what is different: well obviously, I created and birthed her. We live in an apartment and I grew up in a house. Both of her parents are not equally involved in her life. She is zany and requires a lot of energy and attention, to the point my mom said taking care of her is like taking care of two of me at that age. She likes to make her bed and I never did. My point from this is probably obvious: so far, I do not see any differences in our upbringings/characters that are directly caused by being adopted or not.
That being said, I can now articulate in hindsight that growing up adopted did sometimes feel like a labeling factor. In my specific case, because I am Colombian and my parents are Caucasian-American, how I came to join the family was not and could not be a secret. Even as a small child, I was incredibly aware that I looked different from my parents. When my parents would take my friends and me out, people automatically assumed I was the friend and my friends were my parents’ children. This worked the other way as well; when I was in a Hispanic or Latin American setting, I was jeered at and excluded because I was unfamiliar with the culture and hardly spoke Spanish (and what I did was with an American accent). I would get followed around stores at the mall when in a group with my peers and they would not. Given my name, people usually seemed surprised when my face showed up behind it. I also don’t want to leave out how complicated it is for me to fill out forms that ask about my race and ethnicity. It’s surprisingly hard to explain what it’s like to grow up feeling you belong to one group yet being automatically labeled as someone completely different. You explain yourself a lot and stand up for yourself more. Saying “I’m adopted” became a sort of armor to protect myself from peoples’ incorrect predeterminations of how I was supposed to be or act.
So, overall should adoption be treated as a sensitive subject? I’m going to defer to saying yes because it does still carry some stigma. It’s important to keep in mind that: 1. Adoption is not as common as conceiving and raising a biological child so people are not yet used to talking about it. 2. Most parents who decide to adopt have tried to conceive in other ways – a history that could carry some pain and possibly feelings of shame or guilt for them. 3. Adoption is not an overnight decision. Many adoptive parents have been through some sort of wringer to make their family complete, and even after the fact put prudent care and consideration into the raising of their child. Sometimes, children of adoption also have had to deal with certain difficulties biological children would not. Generally, if you’re aware of an adoption and are wondering if the family is open to discussing their experience, the best thing to do is ask them outright.
Do adoptive parents love their children as much as they would a biological child? The phrase, “blood is thicker than water” should not be taken literally. I’ve never known an adoptive parent to ever say no to this question, even when their family is mixed with biological children as well. Generally, with bonds, you get out of with what you put into it. As there are biological parents who are estranged from their children, there are adoptive families with varying levels of bondedness. This is one of those questions where it’s important to not look at adoption as the operative word and frankly, this question offends most people involved.
Lastly, will outsiders take your family seriously if an adoption is a part of it? My personal answer for this is: realistically, they might not, which is why it’s important to channel a mindset of, who really cares; I know I love my son/daughter/mother/father and that’s what matters. If someone is worried about how their family looks to other people, then they are going to attract that energy, and that will certainly be harmful for the aforementioned family bond.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate this article is purely opinion based on my personal experience. No two adoptions are the same, and not everyone feels the way I do. My aim is in no way to offend anyone, but rather to shed some light on the subject. If you are considering adopting or are wondering about what it’s like to adopt or be adopted, I would urge you to do a little self-educating with the many resources available for that purpose.