Finding strength as an A-D-O-P-T-E-E
I have never met a fellow adoptee who views or discusses his or her adoption the same way. Being open about my adoption is my personal story. Although we are all tied by a common thread, our journeys could not look more different. Most adoptees would agree that, despite our differences, we all share experiences where discussing our adoption has been difficult and even awkward. On top of the uncomfortable nature of the adoption talk, personal sensitivities regarding your adoption can make the discussion even more challenging.
No one is asking you to become a public speaker about your adoption, but there are several benefits to becoming comfortable discussing your adoption openly. Whether it is with family, friends, or your Facebook community, you can learn to be more open about your adoption on your own terms. If you don’t know where to start in your process of becoming more open about your adoption, remember your initials: A-D-O-P-T-E-E. Learn what it means to accept your adoption, decide what to share, overcome your fears, prepare for a conversation, talk about it, explain your position, and encourage others.
Before you can be open with others about your adoption, you need to be open with yourself. What kind of reservations do you find you have when discussing your adoption with others? Do you feel a lack of closure with your birth parents’ decision to place you? Have you experienced issues with identity and finding a balance between your biological and adoptive cultures? Do your current family dynamics cause you to feel unhappy with your placement? The list goes on and on. If you do not address the emotional obstacles you face regarding your adoption, being willing to open up about the topic will only be harder.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help throughout this process. Talking to your parents is a great way to learn more about and find peace in your adoption. Some adoptees may even benefit from professional counseling or therapy in cases where adoption may have caused some mental or emotional trauma.
For some people who are adopted, coming to accept adoption will be as simple as relearning the adoption story from loved ones, reflecting on personal feelings, and gaining a new understanding of what adoption means in life. A big part of this process is coming to accept the things that cannot change, whether or not those things are fair, and understanding why adoptees feel a certain way about the adoption. You do not have to be optimistically enthusiastic and accepting of every aspect of your adoption to be open about it. It will only benefit you in your willingness to discuss some possibly uncomfortable things in your life if you make the conscious effort to understand them more and learn what it means to accept them.
After finding peace with your adoption, you next have to determine what parts of your story you choose to open about, and what you prefer to keep private. Adoption isn’t all flowers and rainbows. There are always some unpleasant or heartbreaking pieces of your story that may not be appropriate to share with the world.
What are your reasons for wanting to be more open? Some adoptees find that pieces of the story have had a considerable influence on character and identity. Other adoptees feel that portions of the story can be inspiring or healing to others who may be struggling with their own adoption journey. Some adoptees simply want to develop a stronger ability to answer questions that people have about adoption with his or her own experiences. After you determine why exactly you wish you to be more open about your adoption, think about what parts of your story will fulfill that need.
Start by considering the perspectives of the adoption triad: the birth parent, the adoptive parent, and the adoptee. Your story begins with your birth parents. While the part your birth parents play in your story may be critical in your own adoption story, consider the information you have about those people. What is speculation? What is fact? And what can you respectfully infer about your birth mother and father’s role in your adoption?
If you cannot comfortably share your story and your perspective of your birth parents without imagining them standing beside you as you do so, reconsider how you choose to present those sides of the story. Apply this same practice when sharing about your adoptive parents and family members. In the long run, this practice will help you gain a more positive and open perspective of your adoption.
Think about what has stopped you from being open about your adoption in the past. What kinds of reservations or fears do you have about sharing your story? Is your apprehensiveness infused with uncertainty about the effects your story will have on others or their perspectives of you as an adoptee? Narrow down what exactly your personal anxiety stems from, and then overcome it. Whatever that means for you, do what you can to put to rest your fears or uncertainties about being open about your adoption.
Ignorance and incorrectly stereotyping is the next thing you need to learn to overcome before feeling that you can open about your adoption. Adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents have all encountered someone in their lives who has said something insensitive, used offensive language regarding adoption, or contributed to unfair stereotypes of the members of the adoption triad. There’s no sugar coating it: it is hurtful and obnoxious when it happens. The good news, though, is that you can choose how you will react in these situations before they even happen. Make the choice today to use these cringy moments are respectful teaching experiences rather than excuses to bite back with equally rude remarks or comebacks. Once you have learned and prepared to overcome personal and social roadblocks when opening up about your adoption, you’ll feel more confident in opening your mouth in the first place.
Before you find yourself in a position to share your adoption story, consider what situations or circumstances would open up an appropriate, safe place for sharing. How you will speak about your adoption in a group setting will look different than on a one-on-one basis. Think about the differences these two settings have and how that will affect your telling of your adoption story.
Your adoption is a layered story of perspectives, controversies, and tragedy. Whenever someone has asked about your adoption, I can imagine you’ve said or thought to yourself, “Do you want the long story? Or the short story?” This is actually a great question to ask yourself when you find yourself in a position to share your story. Mentally prepare for these situations by thinking about what exactly the long story or the short story is. When you are faced with an opportunity to share, you won’t find yourself talking in circles about the ins and outs of adoption: you’ll know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
Prepare to open up about your adoption by thinking about what kinds of questions will welcome a conversation about adoption. Inquiries about your family dynamics, alternative family planning, and even genetics can be a great Segway into an appropriate space for discussing your adoption.
If you find yourself uncomfortable or inexperienced in these settings, find a loved one that you can practice having a conversation about your adoption with. Ask a trusted person to bring up a topic and help you casually direct the conversation to your adoption.
If you want to be more open about your adoption, you have to be willing to open your mouth. Welcome the questions that come up in casual conversation. Offer up your story to those who may benefit from hearing it. Speak up in situations where your difference in perspective as an adoptee could contribute to someone’s understanding of the world and how you see it.
Transparency is a key principle in opening up about adoption. As you shed your insecurities about your story and choose to overcome your reservations, you still may feel protective of your story. If you choose to become transparent about your adoption, you will be choosing to let down your guard and show vulnerability to others. As scary as this may seem for some adoptees, it is a great way to make more genuine connections with people in your life who you wouldn’t otherwise. You never know when something about your story will strike a chord with someone else. Sometimes, the difference between making that connection and not is your choice to first open your mouth and talk. Choose to speak through your insecurities, vulnerabilities, and fears.
Rather than finding every excuse to hide your adoption or resist sharing it, start looking for every excuse to share it. You’ll never know when your story can enhance a conversation, heighten an encounter, or strengthen a friendship. So, open up and start talking about it.
Use the chances you have to talk about your adoption as a teaching moment to explain more about what adoption is and the culture surrounding it. The adoption community is one-of-a-kind. We have a unique language, family dynamic, and connection to one another. Let others in on what it is like to be an adoptee, a birth mother, and an adoptive parent (depending on your position within the triad). As an understanding is met, a deeper connection will be made between you and those you choose to share your adoption with.
Your adoption story is more than just a reliving of the past. Explain to your friends and loved ones not just what your adoption is, but what it means in your life. Teach friends what kinds of words and phrases are used within the community out of respect and sensitivity to its members. Share with people the gravity of adoption in your life and how it has affected your upbringing and adult life. Take the opportunity to practice transparency and letting others know why being open about your adoption may be a challenge at times. (This may be an appropriate time to explain that not all adoptees or members of the adoption triad will be as comfortable as you are sharing an adoption story.)
The story and explanation of your adoption should not be a one-sided conversation. Encourage the people that you choose to share your stories and experiences with to ask questions, offer opinions, show understanding, and play a part in your story. Ask friends and family questions about the understanding of adoption and how people around you have perceived it. You may even ask how someone’s perception of adoption has changed after hearing your story.
Encourage your friends and family to embrace positive adoption language, break false stereotypes of adoption, and learn more about the community. You may even interact with people who want to become more involved in the community as a hopeful adoptive parent or advocate for adoption. Perhaps these peers would have never known about adoption were it not for your being open about your story. With that in mind, aim to encourage and inspire those you interact with by sharing your story openly and honestly.
How have you learned to become more open about your adoption? What has stopped you in the past from sharing your experiences? Are you looking to be more vocal about your adoption? Start today. Learn to accept your story, decide what is important to share, overcome the obstacles you will face in the process, prepare for your encounters, talk about it, explain the significance of your story, and encourage people to become a part of it by learning more.
Adoption may not define who you are. It may not consume your life. Maybe you’re not even sure what role it does play in your life. But there is power in sharing your experiences. There is strength in building your support system of confidants by sharing your adoption story. The personal and social benefits of being more open about your adoption outweigh any harboring or fear or insecurity that you may face about your adoption. Make the choice today to let go of the apprehension and embrace the awkward.
Courtney Falk was adopted at 3 days old. Growing up in a home where adoption was discussed openly, she always had a passion for sharing her story. When she was 18, she reunited with both of her birth parents and continues to have a positive relationship with each of their families. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in professional writing. Since then, sheâ€™s had the opportunity to create and edit content in areas such as fitness, health and wellness, financing, and adoption. When she isn’t behind a book, you can find her dancing in the living room with her 11 nieces, attempting to cook, and tending to her extensive collection of house plants.