What Adoption Means To Me

In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences. 

By Paige Adams Strickland

If someone were to ask me, “What does adoption mean to you?” I’m honestly not sure I can answer that, not simply anyway. You see, adoption isn’t just about me.

Adoption involves my adoptive family, my biological family, the Hamilton County social worker staff at the time, and pretty much anyone I’ve connected with for the past fifty-four years, because had I not been adopted, (or had I been adopted by other people), I wouldn’t have the life I have today. Whether this is a good or a bad thing I cannot say. It’s all relative. (Forgive the pun.)

My adoption meant that my birth mother and father, for numerous reasons, were unable to care for me and serve in the role of “parent” back in 1961. Adoption meant that they didn’t feed, clothe, house and educate me. My adoptive parents did all that, and I am grateful for them, but based on the searching I’ve done and all the people I’ve met, I know that I was always loved and remembered by everyone involved. Adoption meant then that all four of my parents received a fresh start in different ways.

Adoption in my era was private, secretive and stigmatizing. It meant, “Never Tell a Soul”. My adoption meant feeling alone in a crowd. It also left me feeling guilty because I had good fortune, but many other kids (adopted or not) didn’t. It meant having an undisclosed identity because you came from mysterious people who might know you, but you’ll never know them. In that way, adoption for me symbolized a lack of power or control of my own life, even into adulthood. (Until I searched.)

Adoption in the Baby-Scoop Era made people look flawless on the outside, but on the inside, I trembled in fear of being outed by school bullies and unaccepted by other peers. For my birth mother, it probably meant grief and loss that she could never forget, even if institutions of society insisted otherwise.  For my birth father, it meant carrying on with the rest of his life, going to work every day and functioning, so he didn’t look back, but he also never forgot.

For my adoptive parents, it meant fulfilling a long-awaited dream of becoming a family. It provided them with a sense of purpose, took away some of their feelings of loss and enabled them to plan for the future. Adoption, then and now, is a mixture of many blessings and curses, depending on whom you ask.

As an adult adoptee who has searched, found and been in reunion with family members from all sides for decades, being adopted has many new perspectives. You know the old saying about how with freedom comes great responsibility? This rings true for adoption as well.

Now, being adopted is a balancing act of personal relationships, as I maintain involvement with birth, adoptive and my own family (husband and children). Being adopted means I have many great people in my life, and my loyalties are sometimes tested, but I’d never have it any other way, because we are all one big, blended family, and my kids have many cousins and aunts and uncles. I know about my heritage and about old family stories from all sides and often share these with my children.

If I had chosen to never search, or if I lived in a state and time when searching and finding wasn’t an option, adoption as an adult would have meant unfinished business and profound loss mixed with a lack of full truth. I would still have my adoptive family and all the fond memories with them, but there would be an element of “what if?” nagging inside me perpetually.

Being adopted also means that I belong to a very quiet-but-larger-than-you-might-think group of society. As an adult, it means using my skills to promote for modern laws which represent adoptee rights, not just as babies who need sheltering and nurturing but also as adopted adults who need and deserve to know their personal truths regarding their heritage and health history and also support in reaching out to their biological family members and forming healthy relationships.

I also continue to read and study literature related to adoption. I support my fellow adoptee authors and interest group facilitators when possible via live meetings and book reviews.

Being adopted is something you never outgrow, even when you grow up. It’s a bigger deal than you might think. It is no longer a symbol of shame or troubled lives and topics we shouldn’t discuss, but it is a segment of the human condition that needs understanding, validation and respect.

Bio:  Paige Adams Strickland is a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an adoptee-in-reunion who has written, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity. She is married with two daughters. On her blog, she reviews adoption-themed books.

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Photo taken by Megan Frances Strickland

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