Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Paige Strickland
It is easy to figure out what adoption does NOT mean to me. It’s a great challenge to think about what it does mean. That’s because I spent many years wishing I wasn’t an adopted person. I spent so much time hiding from that fact, trying to will adoption away. Maybe I could awaken from a crazy dream and be “normal”, like all the non-adopted kids, teenagers and young adults I knew.
I wanted adoption to mean nothing, as if it never touched my life.
OK, if it only applied to acquiring a dog or cat then fine. I could get behind that. I’m all for rescuing an animal from a shelter.
One time at the mall, my husband and I were strolling and happened upon a zoo adoption event. For a donation of 50 dollars, we could “adopt” an animal like a panther or a bongo. We ended up adopting a binturong, commonly known as a bearcat. The zoo sent us a photo and a cute greeting card thanking us for helping to support their animals. I kept the photo of our “adopted” binturong on our refrigerator for years. Her name was Alice, and I felt a little connection with her.
Jimmy Buffet’s Save The Manatee Club lets you adopt a manatee in Florida. The money goes to help with food, medical care and promoting the preservation of their environment. Both my kids had “adopted” manatees during their childhoods. Every month they received a newsletter with photos and stickers of Ariel and Star. That part of adoption I can’t argue with either.
Human adoption is a totally different scene, however. It’s plagued too often with archaic language and thinking. I often have associated being adopted with inferiority, submission and powerlessness because of the old-time verbiage. Some terms are super-charged, and carry double entendres or negative connotations if you consider them from an adoptee’s point of view.
Given that most adoptions occur during one’s childhood, certain vocabulary terms can have a lasting impact on how that adopted individual grows up and perceives him or herself. What seems so simple and “OK” sometimes is not.
Let’s talk about the word, “special.” I am an adopted person, but I am not special. At least, I am no more special than anyone else is. I am just me.
“Special” is a highly charged label in the adoptee world. Outsiders sometimes call us “special”. They refer to our circumstances at the time of our birth as “special”. If I think about the angst and intensity over my birth mother’s decision and resulting fear of the consequences, she no doubt struggled with on the day of my birth, why in the world would you call that time “special?”
What happened then will never make me “special”.
Now, let’s talk about another hot-button-for-adoptees word, “chosen.” I can’t stand the term, “chosen”, also known as, “picked out”. That’s what you do if you decide on flooring or paint colors when you remodel a home. It’s how you select apples and oranges in the produce department. Remember the old advertising slogan, Choosey mothers choose Jif?
I’m not paint, produce or peanut butter.
Here’s a third over-used, ridiculously wrong word used on adoptees: “Lucky”. For me to have been lucky, someone else before me had to be extremely unlucky, and I wouldn’t wish that kind of luck on anyone.
Please do not label me as “lucky”.
So, if “special”, “chosen” and “lucky” are not what adoption means to me, what does?
For adoptees who have no authentic identity because they have no access to their OBCs nor contact with any birth family members, they might not be able to express much about what adoption means to them, at least not much in a constructive way. It’s hard to feel positive if you feel like you came from aliens or mythical beings. For these adoptees, adoption might only mean confusion, shame, grief, isolation or a longing for something invisible, like the truth.
Since I did have the privilege of finally accessing my original documents and developing a relationship with my birth family, I have had a shift in thinking from the aforementioned. Now, I feel gratitude for my life and all the experiences that go with living. I am thankful to all the individuals in my life path who’ve provided me with love, education and good values. I am also grateful that I can share my entire social and medical heritage with my own children.
You see, when one person becomes an adoptee, subsequently their heirs also become adoptee descendents by default, but my daughters know all about their family histories thanks to my connections to biological family plus DNA testing.
Now, being adopted means having both a duty and opportunity to share my awareness, beliefs, joys and concerns with everyone, including the non-adopted. It means I want to educate the rest of the world about the realities of life as an adoptee. It is about cheering fellow adoptees on when they are struggling to find and redefine their roles and come to terms with their first past. It is about respecting the fact that our views as adopted people vary greatly and all of our ideas matter.
Adoption now means that I appreciate every day: I appreciate while at my job, when I exercise, when I pet an animal, even when I load and unload the dishwasher and most importantly, when I look at my children. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t have met their father / my husband if it hadn’t been for adoption.
Adoption and reunion means I am “married” into three families all at the same time: my adoptive, biological and in-law families. I love having so many people in my life, even if it does mean extra drama sometimes and fast-paced holidays. It’s also extra-fun.
So while I do sometimes ponder the what-ifs and alternate roads my life could have taken had I remained with any of my birth relatives, (I do believe this is a normal and OK thing for adopted people to think about.), being adopted also means I have Now. I have now to share my thoughts. I have now to connect with fellow adoptees and help build our community. I have now to enjoy my life. I have today to finally be OK with being me.
Paige Strickland is an adoptee, a teacher and fitness instructor from Cincinnati, OH. She is married with 2 daughters and currently four cats. She enjoys working out, gardening, writing, movies and spending time with family in her free time.
Paige’s blog: https://stricklandp.wordpress.com/
Paige’s FB: https://www.facebook.com/AkintotheTruth/
Paige’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/plastrickland23
Paige’s newest book: https://www.amazon.com/After-Truth-Paige-Adams-Strickland/dp/0989948854/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511620030&sr=8-1&keywords=after+the+truth
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.