Are Adoptees Pro-Adoption?

As someone who worked for many years as an adoption professional for both the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I was often asked about the experience of those who were adopted as children and their thoughts on adoption. At the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, we organized and hosted an International Medical Institute where the perspectives of adults who were adopted as children were critical to the discourse. As I finish my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and work towards licensure, my focus has been on adoption and children who live outside of permanent, loving care for a portion of their lives. Their stories, experiences, mental health, and future outlooks are each very different from the rest. It is important as we shape and have these conversations regarding adults or children who were adopted that we remember they are not all the same, so their perspectives and feelings about adoption will not be the same. Asking the question “Are adoptees pro-adoption?” will garner very different responses from any respective individual you ask. The response to are adoptees pro-adoption will also potentially differ from each member of the adoption triad: adoptive parent, birth parent, and adoptee. 

All Adoptees Are Different

Are adoptees pro-adoption? This is an important question and those asking and responding come with their own perspectives and biases. Many adoptees have a complicated, nuanced, and rich personal perspective on their adoption. To ask are adoptees pro-adoption simplifies the complexities of the adoption experience. There are so many layers to adoption and the experience of once being adopted and the lingering effects of that adoption to answer are adoptees pro-adoption with a simple response. 

Adoptive Families Are Not The Same

Today, adoptive families go through extensive training, education on adoption, parenting, neurobiology, and attachment. Adoption Service providers screen families on their motivations for adopting and whether they are fit to adopt through applications and the home study process. In the last century, adoptions and the adoption process were very different. Adoptive families were not as educated on adoption. Birth parents were not afforded the same level of respect, education on options, and support in choosing a plan for their baby—whether to parent or place for adoption. Especially before the 1990s, most adoptions in the United States were closed adoptions or confidential adoptions. This meant that the birth parents rarely chose their child’s adoptive parents and even when they did, they were given little to no information on the adoptive family. Birth parents can still choose closed adoptions today for their child, but it is done with empowerment, education, and often with providing a means for the adoption agency to serve as an intermediary to share photos or information to the birth mother or birth father when requested and medical information is shared. The majority of adoptions today are open adoptions, this gives the child who was adopted a sense of identity in that they know and communicate with their birth mother and/or birth father. They know their origin story and have full transparency in that part of their life before the adoption. The adoptive family can support the child in better answering their questions and the child has detailed medical and family histories from which to reference as they grow. They can continue to explore who they are in their birth family and adoptive family tree and deal with the identity issues that may arise from being adopted throughout their life span development. 

During a closed adoption, especially in the last century, most adoptees were not given the opportunity to learn about their origin story, why they were placed for adoption, who their birth parents are, or where they are today. This gap in knowledge can cause distress and identity issues for an adoptee. The adoptee may face health complications in their lifetime and desire more mental history that does not exist to them. Further, many adoptees have conducted a search for their birth parents – whether or not for a desired reunion – and the time, energy, cost, and emotional issues that arise from such a process are daunting. 

Thus, in a closed adoption situation, many adoptees may be grateful for their adoptive parents, siblings, extended family, and community. They may see the joys and adoption and love their adoptive family deeply, but they may also face distress and unknowns that may make them not be 100% pro-adoption, at least in its former form. Adult adoptees who had parents who were unequipped or educated by their adoption agency on adoption, parenting, and trauma associated with children placed for adoption may not have been able to meet their child’s needs the way a parent who is educated on the nuances of adoption may be today. This lack of education was a disservice to all members of the adoption triad. It caused many adoptees to feel like they did not have their identity recognized in a way they may have wanted it to be – as a child who was adopted. Having to have difficult conversations with adoptive parents who did not understand how there could be trauma, loss, grief, identity issues or anger over their adoption placement may be traumatic and painful for the adoptive parent who may view these emotions as an indictment on them—which it is not. 

Open adoption allows the birth parent or parents to make a decision on how much contact they wish to have with their birth child. They choose who the adoptive parents are for their child. The birth parents in open adoption decide if contact means an email update a year, or no contact but just the ability for the adoptive parents and child to know who they are and how to reach them. Open adoption can also mean that the adoptive parents and birth parents have regular contact with one another. They may video chat, visit, call, send letters and photos and be a part of each other’s lives. Whatever the birth parent decides it is the right decision for them and they are in control of the process. Open adoption allows the child to know parts of their identity they may crave to know more about when they become an adult if they were adopted through a closed adoption process.They have aspects of their identity that many children and adults adopted through a closed adoption or confidential adoption process may feel they are missing. They know who they are, where they come from, and the story of their family of origin. The trauma many children experience through adoption and the lack of knowledge about their family of origin can be something that they have to confront at various points of their lifespan development. It does not mean that they are not pro-adoption, it just makes their adoption leave them with unknowns that could be a distressful part of their life.

Savior Complex and the Complexities of Adoption

When asking the question, are adoptees pro-adoption, many adults who were adopted may answer that it has a lot to do with their adoptive family, the education they had on adopting, and the access to information on their family of origin which can frame the way an adoptee perceives adoption? Many in the adoption community who are pro-adoption, but a desire for there to be standards of practice in adoption to promote, safe, ethical, transparent, and loving forever homes for children remark that adoptive families who have a “savior complex” add a level of complexity to an adoptee who is adopted by such a family. As Sarah M. Baker shares in her article, “10 Questions to Ask Yourself to See if You Have a Savior Complex”, “most adoptive parents I know chose adoption to fulfill their need to grow their family, to parent a child, to fill a void in their homes and hearts. While it is true that the children they adopt are in need of a forever family, these parents don’t overlook their child’s losses or take compliments from strangers lightly. They often remark back that they were the ones who were “saved” by adoption”. Savior complex, and specifically White Savior complex can be defined as an adoptive parent or any individual who has a need to help others in order to validate themselves in a positive way. The motivation is not intrinsically selfless, but rather the need is to have others recognize them for their efforts. 

In regards to the White Savior complex, many transracial adoptees struggle with others outside of their family looking at their adoptive parents as heroes or saviors. In the article, “Transracial Adoptee Angela Tucker Shares Her Story”, Tucker shares in the interview with Natalie Brenner that “the comment that we continue to get is from those who call my parents “angels,” or gush about how amazing they are for “taking in all these poor kids.” My parents typically responded with a definitive “No. No. We are just parents, who love our kids.” I loved this, because I knew, after further exploration of this topic that they don’t feel pity towards any of their children’s biological families, and subsequently, they don’t feel any pity for us. The ever-present White Savior attitude was not a narrative that I was familiar with, until society began to place that label on us. My parents did not feel that they were ‘saving’ any of their children, but rather that we would each be afforded a different life, and different opportunities than we would’ve had were we not adopted by them. My parents’ simple answer “No. No,” felt brilliant and honoring.” 

Angela Tucker’s view of her adoptive parents and their response to such White Savior remarks highlights examples in which adoptive parents can honor their child and the adoption experience to make the adoption a positive aspect of the child or adult who was adopted’s life.

Positive Adoption Experiences

The more we do as an adoption community and as individuals to honor the experience of adoptees, educate adoptive parents on the intricacies of adopting and provide resources for adult adoptees and children who were adopted to explore their roots, where they come from and their own personal journey in that story, the easier it is for adoptees to be pro-adoption and have a positive outlook on adoption in general. 

Many adoptees look at adoption as a complicated but beautiful option by which to build your family. Many adoptees do decide to build their families through adoption. They understand what it means to be adopted and provide their children with parents who are intimately aware of their feelings as adoptees. Other adult adoptees chose not to adopt for various reasons. It does not mean they are not pro-adoption, rather they simply choose to build their family a different way or maybe not to choose to have any children. All are good choices. 

Many people think that adult adoptees and children who are adopted have collective opinions or feelings. Just as any subset of our population does not collectively think the same or want the same things in life, adult adoptees are no different. Each adult adoptee and child who was adopted’s experience is different from the next. Many adoptees choose to adopt and others do not. Many adoptees are very pro-adoption and go on to become adoption advocates and even work in the adoption field in policy, as social workers, or for adoption agencies. Others have a complicated relationship with adoption, especially if they did not have a positive experience through their adoption or have a closed adoption. Many adoption advocates and those working in the adoption field push for reforms that continue to protect and promote the wellbeing and education and support of each member of the adoption triad – adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptee. We, as a community can play our part by recognizing not every adoption is the same, not every adoptee is the same and their view on whether they are pro-adoption or against adoption will differ.

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.