Every superhero has an “origin story,” a pivotal moment in time turns an ordinary citizen into a person who rescues others. For Superman, it was his escape as an infant from the alien planet Krypton. He landed in Smallville and was ultimately found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. As an adult adoptee, you probably have many questions about your origin story. “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” are common questions that many adult adoptees may have. Without an appropriate answer to these questions, adoptees may float through life feeling like they have a few puzzle pieces missing. This article explores literal things every adoptee needs to know as well as what emotions they need to prepare themselves for. Let’s get started.
FIVE REAL THINGS EVERY ADOPTEE NEEDS TO KNOW
Your adoption story
It must have been uncomfortable that first time when Jonathan Kent realized he had to tell his son he was an alien. Awkward. In various tales of Superman, Jonathan does so with great tactfulness and love. Every adoptee needs to hear his adoption story from his adoptive parents, hopefully at an early age. In the old days, parents used to keep this fact quiet, so as not to bring shame on the family. Now, with more open adoptions and more transracial adoptions, early disclosure is best. Of course, a young child does not need to know ALL the details, but enough so that they know that adoption is good and that something good came out of something bad.
In a perfect world, the birth parents may have the opportunity to fill in the details that the adoptive parents don’t know. Either as part of an open adoption or as part of a reunification, only the birth parents have the details such as motivation, circumstances, and emotions during what was surely a chaotic and traumatic time in their lives. Birth moms are usually the ones left with the choice of whether to place a child in a loving adoptive home. Who would know better than her how she came to that conclusion? You deserve to know your origin story.
Your original birth certificate
Secondly, as an adult adoptee, you deserve to have your original birth certificate. Your adoptive parents may have the original copy, or they may not. Procedures vary from state to state and from country to country if you were adopted overseas. But it is possible to obtain the original. Your adoptive parents received a birth certificate that contains your name and their names as the “natural” parents. However, the original birth certificate contains your original name as well as your birth parents’ names. Do you need it? No, state agencies should accept the adoptive birth certificate as proof of citizenship. But it would be nice to have the original, to fill in those missing clues.
Your original name
It is very possible that your adoptive parents changed your name from the one your birth parents gave you. Your parents may have wanted to change your name for your own protection. Or they may have wanted to make your name easier to pronounce or more socially acceptable if you were adopted internationally. Or they may have possibly wanted to make you truly a part of the family. Whatever the case, your adoptive parents had their reasons.
Your family medical history
Every adopted person has two histories, one from their adoptive family and one from their birth family. It would be helpful to know the family medical history. Is there a family history of diabetes? How about cancer? Was there alcoholism in your family? What about mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia? Mental illness usually doesn’t manifest itself until after adolescence, so it would be good for adoptive parents to prepare themselves. Having foreknowledge of what your family had to deal with is a good way to take preventative measures such as changing your diet, environment, or life choices.
Your birth parents’ names
If you had a closed adoption, you may not know your family’s names. If you decide to search for your parents, it would be easier if you had their names. Your adoptive parents may have that information. It may also be on your original birth certificate. The adoption agency that finalized your adoption may also have this information. You can obtain this information after your eighteenth birthday. In this technological age, once you are equipped with this information, you can narrow down your family whereabouts with the click of a mouse. Many websites also have search engines where you can search for your birth parents.
FIVE EMOTIONAL THINGS EVERY ADULT ADOPTEE NEEDS TO KNOW
Your birth parents love you
It is not outside the realm of possibility for adoptees to have feelings of unwantedness. One thing that may go through the mind of an adoptee is, “Why didn’t my parents want me?” or “Didn’t my parents love me?” Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, your parents chose to give you life! They could have taken the easy way out and chosen abortion, but instead, they chose life! Your mom carried you for nine months and went through the pain of labor and delivery. In the end, they were blessed with the joy of bringing another person into this world! Your birth mom was brave, bold, and loving!
Second, your birth parents loved you by making a birth plan for you! If your birth parents voluntarily relinquished their rights, chances are they chose to place you in a family that would give you what they couldn’t: hope in a good future! Even if their parental rights were terminated involuntarily and you were adopted through the foster care system, chances are you have an open adoption. If this is the case, your birth parents obviously want to stay in your life. They wanted to see you grow up, wanted to share memories, and wanted to keep that connection. That’s true love!
Lastly, adoptees of any age must understand that your birth parents were unable to care for you; it was not a matter of not wanting you! You may never know the full story of why they went through but think of it from their point of view. There is a difference between an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted child. Perhaps, they were alone and scared. Perhaps they did not have the resources to properly care for you. Perhaps they were living a lifestyle that was not safe for children. You may never know what was going through your birth parents mind, but rest assured, there is no such thing as an unwanted child. You were wanted, you were loved, you were chosen! That is an absolute blessing!
Your adoptive parents love you
It is very normal for adoptees to feel unloved by their adoptive parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t need to earn your parents’ love; they already love you. First, please realize that your adoptive parents had their own motivations for adopting you. Ask them what theirs were. Whether it was because of infertility or a way to contribute to the community, or whether they thought they were following what God called them to do, they did it out of love. Adoption is a blessing! It helps three people: 1) the birth mom, who may be going through an unplanned pregnancy, 2) the adoptive parents who want to adopt, and 3) the adopted child who needs a forever family! It’s a win-win-win situation! Your adoptive parents love you!
Second, please realize that it hurts your adoptive parents when you place the anger you have for your birth parents on them. That’s called misplaced anger. Your frustration with your birth parents should not be placed on your adoptive parents. It’s not their fault. They love you and wanted a better life for you. Don’t take it out on them.
Your adoptive parents don’t love their bio kids more than you
If your family is a mix of adopted and biological children, it is not uncommon to feel like a second-class citizen, as if you were a “Plan B” or a consolation prize. Perhaps you are younger in birth order than your siblings. Perhaps your siblings look exactly like your parents, and you don’t. Perhaps you are of a different race, nationality, or ethnicity than your siblings. Maybe you feel left out or hurt. It may be hard to comprehend, but please know that your parents love you just as much as their biological children. So, what do you do when these feelings pop up?
First, talk to your parents if you feel there has been favoritism. Tell them how you feel. Point out instances of alleged favoritism. Then listen. Don’t accuse. Please realize that parents, especially in large families, have children in different stages of their life, so raising a child born while in their 20’s is going to be different from raising a child while in their 30’s or 40’s. Second, caring for a child with special needs is different in and of itself. It may actually be true that if there has been favoritism, you are the beneficiary, not your siblings! Lastly, transracial adoptions are a touchy issue. If your parents are of a different race, that adds stress on them not only to protect you but also to make sure you stay connected to a culture they may be unfamiliar with. Looking at your adoption from your parents’ point of view can’t hurt.
Lastly, talk to your siblings. Ask them what they have felt growing up with an adopted sibling. Don’t let sibling rivalry get the better of you. You don’t have to prove anything, and you don’t have to go it alone.
It’s okay to search for your birth family
If you were adopted internationally or in a closed adoption, you may want to search for your birth family. You may have feelings of being incomplete if you don’t know who your birth family is. You may have an urge to search for your family, which is perfectly okay. Here are some emotions you may experience along the way.
First, you may have feelings of disloyalty; you might feel that you are not being faithful to your adoptive family. I bet if you asked your adoptive family, they would fully support your search. Second, you may feel frustrated and angry, especially if the search process does not yield fruit immediately. Be patient. Try different methods. Third, you may have feelings of disappointment, especially if you find your family and complete the reunification process. Reality may be different than fantasy. Your birth family may not be what you expect at all. Be prepared.
On the other hand, you may not want to pursue your birth parents at all. That’s perfectly okay. You may feel that your adoptive family is your “real” family and you may be content with that. Or maybe you are an international adoptee and the costs are too great. Or perhaps you were adopted through the foster care system and you know it would not benefit you to be reunited to your birth family. All those reasons are fully valid. Whatever you choose, don’t feel pressured. The choice should be fully yours.
It’s okay for you not to pursue adoption for your own family
As an adoptee, you may want to adopt to follow in your parents’ footsteps. Perhaps they have been great role models and you have had a great relationship. If that’s the way you want to grow your family, more power to ya! However, if you don’t want to adopt, that is perfectly alright also. Having biological children is just as much a blessing as adopting. You should not feel pressured.
In conclusion, adoption is a moment in time, but it is also a lifelong process. You should embrace your origin story, not run from it! Adoption is not something to be ashamed of. It is no longer a stigma but an example to the world that something good can come out of something bad! Don’t hide it. Shout your adoption!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.