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Adoption Kool Aid – Glossary Spotlight

by Laura on January 16th, 2013
drinking kool aid_Laura Dennis

That magical, metaphorical drink offered by adoption agencies, churches and others? Accepted as truth by the general population? Affects many in the adoption constellation, especially first mothers, adoptive parents, and adoptees?

Adoption Kool Aid!  Basic ingredients: pixie dust transforms everything about adoption into something wonderful and beautiful. Add a dash of “self-righteous sparkle” to solidify the belief that today’s practices and advice are in fact exactly what is best for the baby.

Whisky – Tango – Foxtrot?

Part of my adoption advocacy is continually educating myself, and bringing my deeper awareness to readers. To that end, I’ve started developing an Adoption Glossary of Terms … and it’s a doozy. The damn blog page isn’t ready yet, as it just gets longer and longer.

In the meantime, I’m focusing periodically on one phrase/idea/definition, and highlighting it on Adoption Wednesday, bien sur. Hence: Adoption Kool Aid.

Adoptees grow up drinking adoptee Kool Aid. They believe it’s water. Normal. The only thing they know. Adoption Kool Aid is the prescribed adoption narrative, the only one needed, verily the only one that (should) exist. In addition to the idea that everything about adoption is beautiful, also includes such missives as: there is no need to search and there are no post-adoption psychological or emotional issues for a child adopted “young enough.”


For those in the adoption constellation, Adoption Kool Aid can surface as denial, but it can mean survival.

For some first mothers, it’s continuing to believe their baby was/is “better off without them” allows them to get through the day.

For adoptive parents, it’s hoping and praying and believing that they will be “good enough parents” … so that their child won’t feel the need search.

For adoptees, it’s being 100% grateful they were adopted and not aborted.

These beliefs are all within the range of normal, but they are also coping mechanisms. And that’s okay. But, if you want to learn more, keep reading.

So, Laura, what about you and your own Adoption Kool Aid?

Mmmmm that was good …

As I’m wont to do, I’d like to call myself out, hold myself responsible. I believed so many myths, I had so many misconceptions about adoption; I didn’t know which end was up when I ran headlong into reunion. Hell, I wrote a book about my adoption reunion, and I hadn’t even connected with other adult adoptees! Talk about thinking I existed in a vacuum; I didn’t even consider that others had similar thoughts/feelings/experiences.


Drawing Connections

So, here goes. Here’s when I first realized adoption wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. At around age ten, I was searching for a personal identity that made sense to my confused, developing, pre-hormonal brain. My (adoptive) parents educated me all about the Bible, Catholic theology and the Big Bang Theory, but what I needed to know was where I’d come from in the more literal, biological sense.

Specifically, me. Who made me?

Being adopted defined my sense of self, and yet the severing from any connection to who I was before I was three weeks old left a hole in this identity. I never had genetic markers: gestures, hair color, personal interests were similarities biological children took for granted. No one could say, “Oh, you look just like so-and-so family member.”

I couldn’t put the emptiness into words and instead felt guilty for not being grateful to Mom for adopting me. We never went to counseling or socialized with adoptive families, and I was left without a point of reference that others had been through the same thing.

I was curious about my self-worth. Literally. I accused Mom and Dad of buying me. In the 4th grade, we’d been learning about the history of slavery in the state of Maryland. Even if they just covered hospital expenses for my birth, I insisted that they paid money to get me, like a slave.

I was testing Mom, but deep down I loved her and thought she was the most beautiful woman I knew. But it wasn’t an option to imagine I would look like her or be like her when I grew up.*

So, even by the 4th grade, the 4th grade! I’d begun putting 2 and 2 together. I felt mean thinking about it that way, but it seemed like buying a baby was kind of like … purchasing a person. Of course the history of an enslaved people is not the same thing, but there are similarities, since it certainly cost a lot more to “get” a white baby in my day.

As a grade school student, trying to figure all of this stuff out was kind of like discovering that there is no Easter Bunny. And if there’s no Easter Bunny … then there’s no Santa Claus … then there’s no Tooth Fairy … and where does it end? How many of my dearest childhood beliefs are complete and utter bullshit?

The Kool Aid really started wearing off in pre-adolescence, but it was still in my system in my early thirties (!) when I believed the best, most natural way to get a baby was to adopt one … Hello, babies are made via procreation and pregnancy! I’m sure I still have a lot more work to do to uncover my own hypocrisies, my magical thinking, and yes, I admit, I may find some hidden packets of adoption kool-aid just waiting to be dissolved.

Further reading on adoption kool-aid

This glossary and the related “spotlights” are meant to begin a dialogue. This definition is by no means exhaustive. Here are some links for further reading. If you have something to add, please comment below. If you have a blog post that you feel exemplifies the term, please let me know so I can add it as a resource!

I’m no longer drinking adoption kool-aid by Karin, adoptive mom in open adoption at Trophy Mom Diaries

Adoption Kool-aid and Birth Mother Denial by Claudia at Musings of the Lame


*  *  *  *  *

Images from

* Excerpted from Adopted Reality, A Memoir


From → Adoption

  1. What a great idea, to compile a glossary of terms. I'll look forward to your entries.

    I read stories like yours and Claudia's and see that yes, adoption kool-aid had been consumed and eventually the fog lifted (ooh, there's another term, "adoption fog").

    But here's where I struggle. Does EVERYONE involved in adoption who has fond feelings for it suffer from the effects of the kool-aid?

    I ended up having coffee the other day with a new friend from the gym, and she revealed she had been adopted. From my perception and from her own words, she really loved her life, including her adoptedness. Was she genuinely at peace? Or had she merely drunk the kool-aid? It felt hugely wrong for me to begin telling her about how mad she should be that she had to hire a PI to get her birth records and identifying information.

    I had to step back and think to myself, "Oh. Her experience could be very different from those of my online adoption friends." I had to not make assumptions about kool-aid and fog.

    • I think there are as many happy adoptees as there are unhappy ones. But I do think that even in the happiest of lives, there are circumstances that can trigger our yearning–our needing–for that original connection. And that yearning is typically accompanied by pain or anger or regret (or all three). Marriage, childbirth, illness, etc. I hesitate to talk about myself, because I was never happy being adopted, but three very strange times for me were my first marriage, my son's engagement (and talk of babies), and the death of my adoptive father.

      It goes without saying that perspectives change as we age, too. I've watched the attitudes and curiosity levels of two very close, very old adopted friends of mine change drastically over the decades. One in one direction, one in the other. One of them–the one who's always been at peace in her adoptive family–recently came to me (at age 52) to ask how I went about finding my mother.

      I was talking about adoption at the courthouse the other day–with a man who's almost 70. He said his adoptive parents were his parents, and he'd never even questioned that, and that he'd always been perfectly happy to "let those sleeping dogs lie." But before our conversation ended, he admitted that he'd be so happy to know who he "really was." That's a very telling statement, don't you think?

      Also, I think even the happiest among us live like adoptees and don't even recognize that so much of our behavior is weird. Like some of the "ghost kingdom" behavior, for example. Before I found my mother, everywhere I went, I always scanned faces in public, looking for ones that resemble mine. It was rarely conscious, it was so normal for me. But how normal is that, really?

      I think we all have holes in us, happy or not. And I think of those holes as akin to bursitis that flares when it rains. They don't always ache, and they don't hold us back, but there are times when they cause some hellacious pain.

      I always hope there are some of us who make it to the grave without feeling any pain at all, because Kool-aid or not, I just wish we could be happy, but I have yet to meet the person who doesn't eventually reach a place of regret. That's not to say I won't. I just haven't yet.

      • Laura permalink


        Thanks for commenting, sorry for taking so long to respond! I love this phrase, "ghost kingdom." I'd never run across it before. But yes, it's "faces in the crowd," scanning looking searching. And it's so true, I would have said I was happy to be adopted — before reunion, even when I was wondering and searching. I was taught, and I believed, that I should be happy I was adopted, because I was given a better life.

        But you are so right, this yearning, this confusion, this pain can bubble up when we least expect it. I totally agree — bursitis is a great comparison. We can still live our lives, we can still be happy, we don't always ache, but when there's a flare-up — oh yes, it is painful!

        Also, I am so sorry for your loss — not only for the death of your adoptive father, but for all of the associated pain as well (checked out a bit of your blog!). My heart goes out to you …


    • Laura permalink


      What an excellent point. You know, I was in the fog, I didn't realize how "wrong" it was that the adoption agency insisted on being the intermediary between myself and my own mother! You read my book, I should have said, how dare you lose the letter from my birth mother and then have the gaul to tell me I can't talk to her without having a "session" with you first! … But, that's just me talking after I've "opened my eyes" and gotten involved with others in the online adoption community.

      I agree, I think you did the right thing biting your tongue. But you're right! A PI to get her OWN birth records?!

      You know, I'm not a psychologist, but this adoption fog, it serves a purpose. Your friend loves her adoptive parents, and I love mine. They raised me; they did what the "experts" told them to do: love your daughter unconditionally and raise her as if she were your own. I can't really blame them for that. But, I can still see through the fog to what should be changed, what the "experts" ought to do going forward. And, believing one is at peace? I mean, who am I to say that one person's peace is another person's coping mechanism? or sticking one's head in the sand? I think it goes back to that idea of an unexamined life: some people are okay with just "not going there." With that said, I think encouraging your friend to connect with others online could be an eye-opening experience for her. It definitely has been for me, and I have a good relationship with both my moms. The reason why I say this is because (as you well know!) adoption is a constant thing. A child/adult/person is never not adopted. It may not define an adoptee, but it certainly informs a hell of a lot. I will always have two moms, my kids will always have three grandmothers. That's adoption for you, and those social interactions will always have to be moderated.

      Lori. I just know that if one day we meet for coffee, we could just talk the whole damn day. There's so much!


      • I hope we can make that happen. We need to find a 24-hr coffee shop!

      • Kristina permalink

        As I've said before in various places, I think it's harder on adoptees who "love" their adopters and feel obligated to be "happy". Many people wonder why it didn't really bother me all that much that my adopters abused me, neglected me and generally treated me like garbage (I mean it was hard, it was stressful, but it wasn't like I wondered why they were doing it, or thought that it was the same as if my real mother was doing it…) Well, because all I ever wanted to do was go home anyway, I didn't want to be there, and them treating me that way made it OK for me to feel that way. I can't imagine the psychological slavery of trying to pretend that I loved them and that everything was fine … that would have been a far worse hell, thinking about it, than what I went through. At least I can honestly say and know that I mean it, that I never loved those people for 1 red second and was never disloyal to my blood and never will be.

      • Laura permalink

        That's an interesting perspective, definitely, and I can see your point. How awful would it have been if you had loved your adoptive parents? If you had sought their approval? Yes, you're right that would have been harder. I totally get it.

  2. Very good post! I think, working in social services, while excited to adopt we had a very real picture of the loss and identity issues around adoption. I've heard this term before and certainly think it exists, particularly when adoptive parents want their kids to deny their whole history and just "be thankful" they are adopted. Luckily, we don't think like that. My most recent post touches on it a bit. Anyways, I agree with Lori though, I have several friends who are adopted and wonderfully self-aware, reunited, connected, involved in helping other acolytes and genuinely have no animosity any longer towards their adoption. I think there's a difference between "drinking the kool aid" and processing your history and being comfortable with it. I'm not an adoptee so i don't know, but as a therapist that would be my impression- there's avoidance and then there's confronting something head on and working thru it.

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks for writing. Yes, there is something to be said for processing, working through issues, understanding ourselves. I guess, for me, what's so interesting is to discover just how deep it runs. After my adoption reunion ten years ago, I would have said I was completely well adjusted, how could I not be? I'd waited 23 years for the chance to meet my first mother! … But then I got married and pregnant and when it came time to give birth, I insisted on being in the hospital without any visitors. None, except my husband (who I felt had a right to be there). I didn't realize it then, but I was subconscioulsy playing out what I believed to have been my first mother's experience — giving birth to me alone. Does this make any sense? I didn't realize I was still "on the kool aid" when I was trying to re-write history through the birth experience of my daughter. I couldn't even confront it head on, because I didn't even realize what I was doing. … Births are happy! They are painful, but you get a beautiful baby! … I just didn't understand it as such at the time. That why, for me, understanding adoption seems to be an ongoing process.

      I digress. I want to comment on your own experiences … Yes! I think it's great that you have your eyes open about the possible thoughts/feelings/issues for your child (children?). That's not to say your kids will do the same s— as me. Everyone processes differently, on their own terms, in their own time. Just the fact that you are open to whatever may come, and want to do so with your eyes open — well that's a great service to your kids. I'm glad you're thinking about the very notion of adoption kool aid; the willingness to acknowledge it's there is a huge step in not falling in and drinking the whole pitcher, so-to-speak!

      Thanks again,

  3. Adoptees not acolytes! Oops.

  4. This term is new to me – heard it for the first time just a couple months ago. It makes sense. And, reading the links you shared and reading more and more from both bio families who have placed children for adoption as well as adopted persons has helped me to grasp what it means. Thanks for your voice, for getting the message out there for all of us to consider.

    • Laura permalink

      I'm so glad you stopped by — I checked out your blog, and it's always interesting to see someone navigating adoptive parenthood! Adoption kool aid is something that certainly touches all of us involved in adoption, sometimes not at all, and others very deeply.
      All the best,

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