The Complexities of Adoption
Over the weekend I was contacted by an adult adoptee who felt the images we were posting on social media in honor of National Adoption Month trivialized the vast complexities of adoption. She wrote, “Adoption isn’t a quote superimposed on a picture. And it certainly isn’t a cheery saying on the front of a t-shirt. Adoption carries with it a lot of pain, and it shouldn’t be reduced to a greeting card.”
I read her letter carefully, because as an adoptive mom myself, I always want to listen and learn from those who have shared a similar type of journey as my children. I don’t think a single day goes by that I don’t look at my kids from China and realize what they had to lose in order to end up halfway around the world. Of course I wish they had never gone through the trauma of being orphaned. However, I am also incredibly humbled that somehow, out of all the people on earth, I am allowed to be the one they now call “mom”. It seriously astounds me that I get the privilege of parenting them.
I wrote the adult adoptee back, agreeing with her that adoption is absolutely complex. It can be emotional and messy and miraculous and heartbreaking, and it would take vast, infinite libraries to even scratch the surface of each individual child and family’s experiences, because we all come to adoption uniquely.
I will be the first to admit that I had NO IDEA of the complexities of adoption when I first wished I could bring home a little girl sixteen years ago. I wanted a baby. It really was that simple, and it was actually a media image that first opened my heart to the children who were living in Chinese orphanages. I knew next to nothing about abandonment or institutional care or post-adoption challenges, but a photo of a little girl sitting in a bamboo chair touched me to my core. One year later I found myself standing in southern China being handed a developmentally delayed baby and realizing I had a lot of learning to do.
I think that is one of the reasons why I love the images we share every November during National Adoption Month: I am always hopeful that another family will have their hearts opened to the possibility of adoption like I did. Again and again as I have done this work, I hear from people who say that it was a blog post, or a video clip, or a photo we posted that was the final little bit of encouragement they needed to start educating themselves about whether adoption was the right way to grow their family. And while perhaps some of the things we post can seem “fluffy” or superficial, the sad reality is that the children whose photos we share have almost always had incredibly difficult beginnings. Most have special needs, and because of that fact, most will not find permanent families in their birth country. Their stories are complex and layered, but it is often their beautiful faces which first reach out to someone’s heart.
Social media itself is quite complicated, isn’t it? Most of us only post “the good stuff” – vacations and kitchen remodels and smiling photos of our families that make us look like we stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell poster. But of course we know that everyone’s lives are a little more complicated than that.
Right now as one of my screensavers, I have a wonderful photo of baby Patrick, who is very special to me since he was brought to the orphanage on a day that I happened to be there. I look at the joy radiating from his eyes, which is what the world sees when I post his photo online, but I know that behind that photo is a little boy who was left on the day of his birth, who was rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery, who was then diagnosed with a serious heart defect which required his chest to be opened, and who happens to be from an orphanage which only files adoption paperwork on a few kids each year, so he probably has a long wait ahead of him until he finds a home.
So while the image of Patrick I look at each day is indeed joyous, I know the story behind it is heavy — just like many of the pictures we post during this special adoption month. The quotes and photos we hope you share might be simple, but we also understand that for any child to become orphaned, he or she has experienced unthinkable trauma and loss.
I believe that as adoptive parents, we must continually listen to the viewpoints of adoptees because their voices are filled with wisdom and weight. As my children age and go through different stages in their lives, their feelings about adoption continually deepen, which cause my thoughts to evolve as well. I am not the same person I was when I was standing in a hotel lobby in China after being handed my infant daughter. I never want to stop learning and listening and understanding this often emotional process because I want to be the very best parent I can be to my kids. I want to thank the young woman who wrote me such an honest and thoughtful letter, because she allowed me to sit back again tonight and reflect on our journey as well.
Absolutely yes — adoption is not as simple as a saying on a greeting card:
But I also believe that adoption can be one of the most incredible and life changing events we can ever experience. And as long as there are children growing up in institutions, I hope we all will keep working to spread the news far and wide that every child born deserves a family.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Office