5 Reasons Why You Need To Stop Talking About Adoption!

Adoption is an emotive topic and there are a range of views in this space. However, I question how people’s perceptions of adoption are being shaped. Consistently, it is the views and opinions of non-adoptees, who commonly occupy privileged positions of power, that are canvassed rather than the adoptee. On that note, here are my 5 reasons why you need to stop talking about adoption and listen to the voice of adoptees.

  1. Because you’re not adopted and you don’t how it feels.  I cannot measure the amount of times I have had non-adoptees lecture me on adoption and how adoptees feel despite me being the adoptee. I have spoken to many other adoptees who echo this experience. It is perplexing and moreover downright disrespectful. Then there are the people who get defensive when the topic is raised especially if you dare to say anything that could be remotely perceived as being negative. There is this binary assumption that if you speak out about adoption issues you don’t love your adopted family.  I can assure you I do. Anyone can have an opinion on adoption, you can even speak from your experience as being part of an adoptive family but unless you are adopted, you cannot speak from the intimate adoptee perspective.   

  2. Just because you know an adoptee does not make you the expert. This may come to a surprise to some non-adoptees, but knowing a couple of adoptees does not make you an expert.  In fact, I have heard from adoptees who tell me that they don’t feel they can speak openly for fear of hurting their adoptive parents and then being cast as disloyal or ungrateful. I have had adoptees contact me quietly to give me their support. However, they would never voice their concerns publicly because too often people don’t understand and moreover they frequently possess a rose coloured view of adoption. Therefore, any adoptee who challenges this is immediately dismissed as being an anomaly or even worse – being labeled as an angry adoptee who has had a bad experience. This is a fallacious argument and one that if frequently dished out in order to shut-us down. I can assure you, whilst we are a diverse population there are many out there who are fighting to be heard. Don’t tell adoptees that they should be grateful, or better off than the alternative, let them express their feelings and park your assumptions and listen. The #adopteeshaming must end.

  3. Your voice shouldn’t be the loudest. The loudest voice in adoption is everyone else but the adoptee and yet we are the only ones who can tell you how it feels to be adopted. Despite this, the practice is commonplace, never questioned and seen as acceptable. I can’t think of another minority group where this would ever be deemed as legitimate. As one adoptee recently tweeted, “when I want to learn about the experience of being gay, I talk to gay people”.  Yes, and if you want to learn about the experience of being adopted, talk to a broad range of adoptees. I will emphasize broad and not just those reflecting the happy adoptee narrative. Whilst elements of my story reflect the happy narrative other important aspects of my adoptee experience most definitely do not.  This extends to academics. I know one academic in Queensland, Dr Patricia Fronek, who writes about various adoption issues but even though she is formally trained in social work (i.e., she has the theoretical underpinnings) she still engages with adoptees. This is because she recognizes that in order to understand the adoptee experience she needs to talk a broad range of adoptees - the authentic voice. I commend her on this.

  4. Disenfranchised grief. According to Doka (2009) “disenfranchised grief can be defined as the grief experienced by those who incur a loss that is not, or cannot be, openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. Isolated in bereavement, it can be much more difficult to mourn and reactions are often complicated. It is important to recognise and try to meet the needs of those whose grief is not acknowledged by society, whatever the emotional or financial costs”. Adoption always starts with loss – loss for the natural mother and family of origin and for the adoptee. It is time we recognized this openly.  

  5. Media. The mainstream media, albeit some more than others, has been complicit in shaping people’s perceptions of adoption. I don’t see my experience and those of the adoptees I talk to (and there are many) reflected in the glossy adoption stories and this needs to change. There have been many occasions where I have written to journalists and editors pleading for more balance only to be met with silence. This at times has brought me to tears – it can be very disempowering.  It feels like a conspiracy of silence and this also contributes to the feelings of disenfranchised grief. The dominant discourse in adoption needs to shift and it needs to be balanced by amplifying the voice of the adoptee.  Come this November, during National Adoption Awareness Month, you will see the #flipthescript hashtag tweeted from adoptees across the world who are joining forces to take ownership of their story. I hope you will join all of us and become an adoptee advocate by reading, listening and demanding our voice.   

 

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to those members of my adoptive and natural family (you know who you are) for supporting me to speak my truth. To the natural mothers whose children were taken illegally – may your stories continue to haunt society! You still have not received justice and shame on those who prevent it. Most importantly to all the adoptees across the world – words will never express how profoundly you  have changed my life for the better. 

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