Most adoption happens when a child is removed from their own family in order to “grow” or “complete” another, non-related family. This is what happened to me. I grew up as an only child. This was both a blessing and a curse.
It was a curse in that I missed out on knowing that I have at least 4 siblings. I missed out on knowing what it was like to have a sibling relationship. I missed out knowing them, as human beings, as my siblings, until I found them more than 36 years after being separated from them. (I was the only one of the 5 of us who was adopted.)
It was a blessing in that I didn’t have to grow up in a family that had any biological children of their own. I don’t think I could have handled that on a psychological or emotional level. I didn’t look like anyone in our household, but neither did anyone else, and I dealt with that pain alone.
But my mom and dad both have siblings. And their siblings have children (and, by now, grandchildren). Back when I was growing up, I either traveled with my mother or father (they divorced when I was 2 years old) on vacation. Either way, we almost always went to visit their respective siblings’ families – my aunts & uncles & cousins.
Being in those spaces, sitting around the dinner table with their families, watching tv on the sofa with their families, was incredibly sad for me because they all looked alike. Between my mom’s and dad’s side, there were 3 sets of aunts/uncles, and they each had 2 children. Each set of cousins looked like their sibling. And each set looked like their parents. And they all looked like the photos of their grandparents and great aunts and uncles. And then there was me.
To lose your own family – without a trace – is horrific. But then to be placed in situations in which you are subjected to small, nuclear family groups who have and take for granted the very core familial relationships you lost…and who are also the only family you have ever known…and who are also very kind and loving to you (except in that they don’t recognize the re-traumatization you are living through each and every time you are A Part of their daily lives while also being Apart)… it’s an undescribable pain and feeling of separateness and otherness.
Like I said, I don’t think I could have handled growing up as an adoptee in a household in which there were biological children. It may sound weird, but I am grateful I didn’t have to.
Without recognition and validation of the deep and nuanced impacts the loss of their entire family has on an adopted person, especially when they are children and absolutely need guidance to manage their grief and trauma in a healthy way, then even well-meaning adoptive parents are inevitably going to continue to re-traumatize their child through seemingly mundane, everyday (family) activities.
Without experiencing that loss, it simply wouldn’t occur to most people that some of the things they consider normal and joyful may actually be very hurtful to an adopted person.
Adult adoptees are speaking up about the various ways their initial trauma was multiplied during their childhood by the uninformed acts of “adoption professionals” (like non-adoptee, non-adoptee-trauma informed social workers) and adoptive parents alike. Now that we know better, I expect today’s adoptive parents to do better. There are no excuses. ~Abby Forero Hilty