November is Adoption Awareness Month, which carries with it so much complexity, especially for adoptees. Generally, society views adoption as an event that has a positive impact on a young person’s life, perhaps even going as far to believe that adoptees should feel gratitude for their adoption. As we listen to adoptees (or what I like to call First Voice Advocates), we are learning that adoption journeys are so much more complex than the simple happy ending many are led to understand it as.
In Canada and the US, the majority of adoptions happen domestically. This usually looks like adoption of a child or youth out of the domestic child protection system. These young people have been brought into the system at no fault of their own. There may have been a plan to work to reunification that didn’t come to fruition. At that point, original (or birth) family members and caregivers have their legal rights terminated by the child protection agency, and the young person is now in the care of the state/province.
This the child protection system is a pipeline into poverty and homelessness. In fact, over half of homeless youth have identified child protection involvement in their lives. It’s not uncommon for a Youth Worker to drop a youth off at a homeless shelter on their 18th birthday – which is when they are expected to live independently. Our brains are not even properly developed until we are in our mid-20s, and the age of ‘launching’ seems to be coming later and later as housing economy changes drastically.
It’s easy to feel as if adoption – or connecting a youth with a permanent home or family – feels like the solution to this. I even wrote about it a few years ago on the Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth blog. Things have changed since then.
It would be hard to discuss the nuances of adoption in one blog. It’s a community I have been immersed in for several years and done extensive education and training on. But here are a few common truths shared by adoptees on the journey of adoption.
Adoption Separates us from Our Identity
A popular analogy to understand this is that of marriage. When two people get married – it’s seen as families coming together. One spouse is not expected to leave behind their entire life – siblings, aunts, uncles, family members, community – and asked to forget about them and never speak about them again.
Yet this is often the expectation we put on young people joining families through adoption. We are learning that relationship with first families is a critical part of our identities that cannot be severed on this journey. That learning to adapt to new families’ sub-cultures should not be the burden of a young person who has experienced trauma.
Additionally, many youth experience the erasure of language, religion and culture as they are expected to adapt to the practices around them.
Adoption is Rooted in Loss
Families formed through adoption exist only because of the fundamental loss of original families. In the book The Primal Wound, author Nancy Verrier discuss the primal connection that begins to form with our biological mothers in the womb. Losing this contributes to a sense of loss that is so deep and often so hard to name that many Adoptees experience it without even realizing what it is or where it comes from.
When we are asked to be grateful as adoptees, if feels like we are being asked to be grateful for all the terrible things that happened to us and our families or origin so that we could be adopted.
Adoption is Traumatic
Many youth and children who go through the child protection system experience significant and persevering trauma. They are likely to have a high count of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It usually starts in their original families, continues on into our experiences in the protection system. Adoption does not fix the impacts of this trauma, but trauma can be healed within the certain relational conditions.
Parents through adoption need to be equipped with information and support resources to help them create the healing relationship. Sadly, many never get access to this critical support, which can lead to adoption breakdown or disruption. These young people are at risk for re-entering child protection or entering the homelessness system.
Trust Adoptees Understand Their Own Experiences
As adoptees, we’ve experienced a lot of backlash when speak about these issues. As humans, when we hear messages that are difficult or challenge our current understanding it’s normal to feel defensive. Try to remain open hearted and curious if this is new for you!
Interested in learning more about adoption? Wendy is a First Voice Advocate, and Author of poetry anthology The Heart That Silence Built. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook @heartthatsilencebuilt or sign up to the newsletter to keep in touch.