Sharing My Adoption Story
I remember the first time I shared part of my open adoption story. At the time, I was in the second grade and someone at recess made a comment: “oh, you must be adopted” to another kid. Looking back, I’m sure it was a parroted remark they had probably heard at home in the sarcastic connotation of “you’re different than the rest here, you were adopted.” But at the time, I just heard someone mention adoption, and I decided to pipe in and say “I was adopted!”
Growing up, I was only really aware of one other person at my school that was adopted. Later, I found out about a lot more people around me that were adopted. You would never have guessed they were adopted, and their family never would talk about their stories.
I was raised in a semi-open adoption. I exchanged annual letters with my birth mother my whole life and sporadic letters with my birth father. Unfortunately, the adoption agency had miscommunicated between the parties involved and my birth father was told he wasn’t allowed to contact me anymore (we still don’t know why).
When I was a freshman in high school, I became really aware of my background and had a very strong desire to share that story.
As a songwriter, I decided the best way to dip my feet into the waters of adoption storytelling would be through the avenue of writing an original song about my story. I decided to write the song from the perspective of a birth parent, specifically my own birth mother, Megan. My mom and I went to the extent of recording a music video of sorts from her phone, and I edited it myself. I shared it on YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms on National Adoption Day that year.
It quickly picked up views and shares. I was astounded to see the stories people posted alongside my video. I was blessed to see so many wonderful adoption stories as well as hear the heartache of those who didn’t have an adoption story as successful as my own.
What really struck me after sharing this song was the amount of personal interaction it opened up. I had people privately messaging me through social media, texting me, and even coming up to me in person at school, church, and other places I went. People of all ages confided in me about how brave they thought it was for me to share my story so openly. In their experience, people would avoid talking about adoption, and when they would it would be in a less-than-ideal context.
Over the years, I have found that too often, adoption is not talked about and, when it is, it is constricted with secrecy, trauma, heartache, and a myriad of other negative things. I’ve observed that as this quiet approach to adoption presides, there is no room for healing and no room for closure.
After my initial introduction to adoption advocacy, my desire to share more and learn more continued to grow. For my high school senior project, I decided to host an adoption conference. I aimed to have as many opportunities as possible for people to share their stories. That day, there was some incredible, deep, heartbreaking, inspiring dialogue. Some adult adoptees were able to share their story for the first time in their life and find comradery in other attendees that shared similar experiences.
My semi-open adoption became an open adoption in the Summer of 2017, right before I began my senior year of high school. That time period was full of a range of emotions. Fortunately, my involvement in the adoption community in the years leading up to that set me up wonderfully to have resources to navigate the new way of life. Overall, the transition from semi-open to open was beautiful, but I find it incredibly vital to talk about the difficulties of navigating an open adoption as well.
First and foremost, the navigation of setting boundaries was difficult for those in my adoption triad. (Myself as the adoptee, my adoptive parents, and my birth parents.) My birth parents were eager to get involved in my life, but it was important to find the amount and the nature of that involvement. I already had parents—the parents that my birth parents had picked for me nearly 18 years prior. So, they didn’t need to fill the role of parents for me. My parents had to navigate their place as well; they were still raising me and I was still living at home, but now there were two more adults and their families who wanted to be close to me too.
It was hard for me, at times, to feel like I was in the middle of these adults in my life. I wanted to spend time with my birth parents as much as possible and nurture that relationship, but it was hard to do that in a way that didn’t feel like I was trying to replace my parents with new parents.
Advocating for Shared Open Adoption Stories
I was very involved in some adoption-centered pages on social media and I found a lot of solace in relating to people who had been in my shoes. Other people who had been adopted had navigated the relationships with biological families while still remaining close to their adoptive families.
I had written a few more songs in my adoption-advocacy efforts and had been invited to speak at a number of adoption-related events ranging from birth mother support groups and adoption education luncheons. My favorite part of these events wasn’t to share my own story, but for the door to be open for dialogue to hear other people’s stories. There were a few key birth mothers that made a lasting impact on my perception of open adoption.
Hearing one birth mother, in particular, was the start of my ideology shift. She had an adoption that teetered back and forth between semi-open and open as the adoptive mother navigated her own thoughts and feelings. This birth mother had placed two babies two years apart with the same parents. She spoke about how she believes her birth children were always intended to be raised by the parents she chose, she just had to find them. She loved being able to see the mannerisms they picked up from the biological side of things, as well as the strong, independent, caring children they were being raised to be by their parents.
Hearing her talk was vital for me because it helped me to realize that it is important to realize that I am who I am partly due to genetics and partly because of how I was raised. I have seen too many instances where genetic traits are devalued because adoptive parents worry that those traits make their child feel less than their own.
I realized then that sharing open adoption stories is crucial because you are able to learn from what others have learned and you are able to navigate your own story with what you come to understand. You can reevaluate boundaries and build healthier relationships if you don’t allow things to become stagnant.
I haven’t been aware of fully-open adoptions until the last five years or so. But it is amazing how many different benefits are made possible when the child is able to have contact with their birth parents from an early age.
Since becoming close to my birth parents in our new era of openness, I have learned so much about myself. I never felt comfortable with how I dressed growing up. It never really felt like my style, but as I’ve been able to spend time with my birth mom and observe her, I’ve been able to realize how much I’m like her naturally and adapt something as simple as a wardrobe. I feel more like myself than I ever have since unlocking that piece of myself. I discovered recently that when my birth father and I are thinking, we both suck on our lower lip. This is a trait that I didn’t grow up around but is a natural tendency.
I am grateful for people who choose to share their open adoption stories because it brings light to others (including myself). It has even helped me to understand the concept of accepting trauma and understanding how trauma can be a beautiful part of life.
Coming to Terms with Trauma
I found a thread on a Facebook page a couple of years ago. It said something to the effect of how if you are an adoptee, you inherently suffer from trauma. At the time, that post made me so angry because I felt like if I had experienced trauma, that meant that I was unhappy with my life, that I didn’t like the upbringing I had with my parents, or that I felt malice towards my birth parents and the decision they had made for me.
I brushed off that post until about a year later when some life events stirred up some feelings I hadn’t realized I had. I realized that my crippling separation anxiety, self-worth problems, and a couple of other things are very likely a direct effect of my infant adoption. The process of adoption is not natural. Being separated at birth, at a young age, or essentially at any time in your upbringing from your biological parents is not a natural occurrence. People often don’t realize how malleable a young mind is even from birth.
But let me be clear, I am grateful for my adoption story and how it has played out. I do not resent my birth parents for the decision they made for me. I am grateful to my parents and how they chose to raise me. That being said, I experience the impact of trauma and have had to learn to navigate those feelings as I have moved out of the home, attended college, and have gotten married.
I don’t bring up the concept of trauma lightly, or to potentially discredit the love I have for my family. The reason I bring it up is because it is something I have found to be important to discuss. I have found that it is healthy to recognize that you have trauma and to also recognize that you can be happy despite that trauma. As an adoptee, I feel like the biggest decision of my entire life was made for me—and I can never change that. I’ve had to work through feelings that come with having people choose not to be involved in your life even if there was nothing I could have done or said as an infant to make any difference. I can’t change the life I was given—nor would I want to. Despite any trauma I feel I carry with me, I choose to be optimistic. I am, however, in a place in life where I am able to choose what happens in my familial relationships in many regards.
Reasons to Share Your Open Adoption Stories
Why should you share your open adoption stories? For unity with others who have similar experiences. For education from those who have different experiences than you. Sharing open adoption stories opens up opportunities for closure, healing, understanding, and friendship. There is growth that can come from open, real, vulnerable communication. As people share the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful sides of adoption, they will have their hearts, minds, and eyes opened.
I remember feeling so alone when I started sharing my story and was quickly made aware of how many people adoption has touched. I also felt alone when I started sharing my experience with adoption trauma, until I realized that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way.
It is vital to share open adoption stories because you are able to see room for healthy communication which can lead to healthy changes and healthy steps towards improvement. You are able to learn from others, build a sense of community, and have a great support system to help you through the bumps that come with navigating boundaries and relationships within adoption.
Why should you share your open adoption stories? Because you just might change someone’s life.
Hannah Jennings lives in Idaho with her husband, Nick, and her tabby cat, Charlie. Hannah is a singer/songwriter and loves to perform. She is also a photographer and enjoys taking family photos. She has been an adoption advocate for more than five years and loves sharing her story as an adoptee.