I'm Still Waiting For The Stigma Of Adoption To Go Away

This is the twenty-fourth post of "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption.

Time Seems To Be Standing Still
Written by Kathy Bright for Portrait of an Adoption

I've known I was adopted since I was 4. The same is true of my adopted brother. By design of my adoptive parents, it's part of who we are, a fact of our existence even as we developed from toddlers to adults. So it boggles my mind that, while the world is finding itself very forward-thinking when it comes to debating definitions of family with gay couples and with grandparents' parental rights, the meme of actually being adopted is still stuck in past centuries.

For example, I go to a new doctor and I'm handed a two-page form full of medical history questions. Did my mother or grandmother have a history of breast cancer? Any diabetics in the family? High blood pressure? Heart conditions? Thyroid?

Well, I don't know because I'm a-d-o-p-t-e-d. Where's the checkbox that says "Adopted" or "Don't Know" or "No Family History"? Because I've never seen one. The forms get updated with HIPAA and every other thing, but that part never changes. Why not? On a side note, I have gotten over not having a genetic medical history. (OK, not totally. You get a warranty when you get an appliance, but you can't even get a medical history with a kid? Really?)

But at least give me a real-world option on your forms, especially if we're going to talk about modern families and how we define them. If you can change "mother" and "father" to "first parent" and "second parent," you can certainly add "No Family History" or just "Don't Know."

And those family ties count for a lot -- more than you think. Just recently I got into a discussion with someone about tracing my birth family. "Why do you need to know?" she asked. And I answered: how often have you heard or said among your family, "she looks like her dad" or "that runs in the family" or "he's just like his grandfather" or "it's in his blood."

And I bet you don't even pause to think about what it means when you say it. It just flows right out of you. Why don't I have as much right as you do to be able to say that? Why is it any less OK for me in your eyes?

Now you'd think that as generations grow up, attitudes would change. After all, isn't this the 21st century, full of computers and phones that are smart and TV that doesn't require an actual TV? Haven't we seen a black president and lesbian ministers and the first female CEO of IBM? But not so fast. Just two weeks ago, my newly married friend who wants to have children listed her options in priority order. First, natural born. (Well, of course. Who wouldn't?) Then, fertility treatments. Then foster. Then adopt. She would rather have a foster child than adopt a child. She thinks fostering is better because there you're actually "making a difference in that child's life."

What I hear is that raising a child who isn't your own in any way is preferable to making someone else's kid become an actual part of your legal family. She doesn't hear herself saying that but I do. Repeatedly. And I'm trying really hard not to feel a little bit insulted about that attitude.

I keep hearing how adoption doesn't carry stigmas anymore in the same way it did 50 or 60 years ago. I'm waiting to actually see that in practice. Because from where I'm sitting, time seems to be standing quite still.

Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year's series, please email it to her at portraitofanadoption@gmail.com.

Adoption Portraits