memoir, adoption
Skip to content

Connecting “Everything” to the Adoption Experience

by Laura on November 28th, 2012
girl on a rainbow_Laura Dennis

Now that I’ve been writing about adoption for a little while, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m taking this adoptee thing a bit too far.

Certainly not everything in my life happened because I was adopted as an infant. Surely there were additional life experiences that aren’t in any way related to adoption.

I’ve spent some time asking myself, Am I going overboard with all of this writing and blogging about being adopted?

Coming to terms with our upbringing

In figuring out whether “enough-is-enough-already,” I want to mention a few additional questions:

  • How many times do we try to make sense of our childhood to understand our actions as adults?
  • How often do we attribute, let’s say, a mother’s criticism to a woman’s poor sense of self, or a father’s doting to her inability to “settle” for a proper mate?
  • How often do we find ourselves, as parents, playing out the same roles, saying the same things we swore up and down we would never say to our own kids?

And all of this causation and analysis is considered normal, right? Figuring out our past can be a great way not to make the same mistakes … or at least to make different ones with our own kids.

So this begs the question: If it’s okay to acknowledge how much our upbringing affects our adult lives, why is it now going overboard to apply the same examination to the adoptee experience?

Adoption changed everything

Here’s the thing: Having been adopted caused me to grow up in a completely. different. family. A different family! Raised by strangers! It changed everything!

Many adoptees wonder, “What if?”

What if I hadn’t been given away? What if I’d been raised by someone in my biological family? What if I’d known my siblings as a child, and had been able to grow up with them?

At one point in the pre-adoption process (and before I was born), my first mother was given the option of choosing between a Protestant couple and a Catholic one. She chose the latter, and bam! I was raised strict Catholic. I’ve hardly gone into my deep seeded resentment of the Catholic Church here on this blog, nor have I begun to mention the burdens it laid on my family growing up (stories for another day, perhaps).

But that’s the thing … What if my first mom had said, “Protestant?”

Whole different ball game. Whole different upbringing. And yes, a whole set of different potential issues, traumas and dramas. I get it. But here’s the reality: adoption is a messy solution, an institution in dire need of regulation and overhaul. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows and sunshine.

To be blunt, adoption determined my parents, my childhood sibling, my religion, my education. It changed the course of my life, and radically altered my sense-of-self. A better question may be: How could adoption not be connected to (nearly) everything?

A note about blame-storming

Do I blame my adoptive parents or my birth family for all of this. Honestly, I don’t. I’m not so much angry, as just searching for understanding. Just because I talk about something that was supposed to remain a secret, doesn’t mean that I’m pointing fingers and calling people out.

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to make these connections. Yes, I did the typical young-adult self-reflection, but in the typical way, as if I was a biological child to the Dennises. Ha! Seriously though, I made my peace with my parents’ divorce. I’ve found some self-acceptance following the insecurities, bouts of depression, and body-image issues I had still struggle with. I made my peace with Catholicism.

But, even after my biological family reunion, I didn’t layer in the adoption aspect. This might sound counter-intuitive, or possibly just plain stupid on my part. But, it’s only recently, especially with the help of other adult adoptees (shout out Lost Daughters!) that I’ve begun to see that my thoughts, fears and hurts were/are within the range of normal … for an adult woman who was adopted as an infant and has reunited with some of her first family.

To suggest, “Get over it already.”

… Well, I say, “Not so fast, there’s still a lot of processing to do.”

image from


From → Adoption

  1. It sounds perfectly reasonable. Clear out the past, make the connections, get a better understanding, and then go forward. From a reader's perspective, it's also interesting to learn about the adopting experience. Otherwise, apart from following your personal story, you're also adding to the individual explanation of questions for the adopting process, and helping others on the way.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes, you're right — figure out the past, clear it out … and move on. Thanks for addressing the "educating" thing. It can be so hard to explain to people – at a dinner party, for example – the nuances of adoption, so I generally don't bring it up.

  2. Paul Hedg-peth permalink

    Laura is correct that 'adoption changes everything'. However, there's an implicit assumption in that statement that I think needs to be examined. The implicit assumption is that had adoption not been chosen for Laura, by individuals with absolute control over her life at that time, her life somehow would have been better. There is an assumption that being raised by one's biological parents is universally and inherently better than being raised by adoptive parents. It is true that adoption creates identity issues, abandonment issues, and a host of other difficult issues. I would never minimize the significance of those issues, nor the central role of adoption in bringing those issues to the forefront. However it is simply not true that children raised by biological parents do not experience identity issues, do not experience abandonment issues (see: child neglect), and do not experience a variety of traumatic events despite having been raised by persons to whom they are biologically related. Adoption is a difficult choice, usually made in a context where there are no easy choices. Ideally, it is a choice made with the very best motivations by all of the adults involved-birth parents, social workers, and adoptive parents. Ideally each adult sees adoption as the best chance to give the child the most opportunity to thrive and become the unique individual they were created to be. Even in such a 'best motivations' scenarios there will be pain, both for the adopted person and for the adults involved in these difficult decisions. I'm simply saying that the choice to conceive a child, and the choice to bring a child into the world is never the child's choice, regardless of who parents the child. Given that the child had no voice in decisions about being born or being parented, there is the probability that some of the parenting the child receives will be less-than-ideal. Some may be traumatic and/or abusive. That can happen independently of any biological relationship between parent and child. Biological relationship simply does not magically confer 'happily ever after' scenarios.

  3. "Here’s the thing: Having been adopted caused me to grow up in a completely. different. family. A different family! Raised by strangers! It changed everything!"


    I wrote the following on my blog the other day: "This thing that happened to me, that shaped my life from my earliest breaths, is no small thing. Nor is it something I can easily shake. As Lifton goes on to explain, 'the adoptee who experienced separation and loss early in life, usually at birth, has no previous self—no pre-traumatic self—from which to draw strength. And so we may well ask: How do adoptees heal?'"

    I do find that this November has moved me into a new place regarding my adoption, one of accepting that I will always be adopted and these issue will always be at play in my life, but being okay with that. It's strange. It's different from moving on. I'm planning to explore this more on Nov 30 with my last post of the month, titled "I many never completely heal, and that's OK."

    Anyway, thanks for another great post, Laura. And for your companionship on Lost Daughters as we all process together!

  4. @Paul Hedg-peth

    Don't think for a moment that adoptees don't know all of that. Part of the complexity of being an adult adoptee is that we must mourn the life we didn't lead, but mourning is not the same as idealizing. We will never know if the life we got was "better" or "worse" than the one we lost, but we still need to process the loss.
    Rebecca Hawkes recently posted..NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day 28: ReunionMy Profile
    Rebecca Hawkes recently posted..NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day 28: ReunionMy Profile

    • Laura permalink

      @ Paul – Thanks for your comments. I agree, yes, all families have their s—. In addition to Rebecca's and Karen's comments about the wondering and the what if's and the issue of genetic mirroring, there's one more thing to consider. Now that many of us adoptees are "in reunion," there's the *on-going* sometimes joyous, sometimes devastating task of continuing that reunion and integrating our "adopted selves" with our "biological selves." As one insightful friend, Deanna, said, "I wake up, and I'm still adopted." It's on-going. And, yes, Karen, even if we try to set-it-aside (just for a moment! give me some relief!) the adopted thing seems to just creep back in.

      @Lori, I love, love, love that you're able to differentiate the experiences of each of your children, and see them as individuals, processing *on their own terms*. This is really great.

  5. I remember how shocked my bff was when she found out that she was not born Jewish, despite her adoptive folks having told her she had been. Oy!
    Cynthia recently posted..Mom Secrets to Stress ReliefMy Profile
    Cynthia recently posted..Mom Secrets to Stress ReliefMy Profile

    • Laura permalink

      Cynthia, You know, you hit the nail on the head. It is soooo important for adoptees to remember that the "narrative" they were told by their adoptive parents may or may not be true. And often, it's not even a reflection on her adoptive parents — some of this information was simply fabricated by the adoption agencies, for better or for worse. Even if it's true, it's definitely not the whole story. First mothers and their families had/have entire lives before and after the adoption, and shouldn't necessarily be judged on one religion, one factoid, one small "nugget" of information. There's so much more to it than that …

  6. It has been interesting to watch my two children process their adoptedness in their own ways. One is more focused on the singular possibility that in an alternate reality, she might have been raised by her birth parent(s), and the other is grappling with the fact that he could have been raised by anyone waiting in that pool at that agency at that time.
    Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..Worded Wednesday: My family went to the 1920sMy Profile
    Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..Worded Wednesday: My family went to the 1920sMy Profile

  7. This is a great post, Laura. After a month of non-stop reading, writing, and talking about adoption, I've recently been asking myself this same question. Am I focused too much on my adoption? Do I attribute things to my being adopted that, really, everyone goes through? Yes and no. Yes, as Paul Hedg-peth pointed out, even non-adoptees sometimes have identity issues, family-induced trauma, etc. But for adoptees, I think the experience of growing up without genetic mirroring exacerbates what otherwise would be typical family conflicts. Furthermore, it creates issues that don't exist within the framework of a biological family. I've said this in other forums and I'll repeat it here: I think it's nearly impossible for someone who's always known his biological relatives to understand what it's like to grow up not knowing them.

    So then, am I too focused on my adoption? I've come to realize that as much as I try to put the subject of my adoption aside, it creeps into just about everything I do in some way. This isn't just a cause I'm passionate about, this is the life I am living every single day. Therefore, my answer is no, I am not disproportionally focused on my adoption, because I will always be an adopted person.

  8. “Here’s the thing: Having been adopted caused me to grow up in a completely. different. family. A different family! Raised by strangers! It changed everything!”

    I'm picking out the same quote that Rebecca picked out, because there's so much truth in it. I often think about how much of my "life course" was mapped out for me by my parents. If I had been adopted, it would have been other people doing that mapping. It would definitely affect every day of my life – maybe not the "fact" of adoption – but the identities, personalities, and goals of the people introduced by adoption.
    Addison Cooper recently posted..Adoption Kids’ Book: We Belong TogetherMy Profile
    Addison Cooper recently posted..Adoption Kids’ Book: We Belong TogetherMy Profile

  9. I love this post. I've been asking myself the exact same questions. And my answer is even more clear after reading Paul's responses. There is an assumption on the part of NON-adoptees that we can always compare apples to apples (You have trauma; we have trauma) (you had abuse; I had abuse).

    It's more like apples to oranges, Paul. We have all that trauma, abandonment and identity crap as a GIVEN. Bio families do not necessarily have that. Some will, but to lesser degrees. I see in my biological son the FLOW, the connection that biology automatically brings. I did not have that with my parents or my brother. Our relationships are WORK. It does not FLOW.

    And let's add in the secrets. Just because we can't control how we were brought into the world and to whom, does not change the fact that most of us have been told untrue stories about our lives. Bio parents can't get away with that. Someone in the family knows the truth and are a phone call away.

    Adoption is definitely an additional trauma, an additional abandonment and an additional mountain to climb in terms of psychological health IMO on top of the normal biological family issues everybody has.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! Flow vs. work, it makes complete sense, Lynn. Work + Secrets = lifelong processing. I've read elsewhere, that even though adoption happened, adoptees can be capable of becoming more resilient as a result. But, we shouldn't deny that our adoptedness affects us, nor should be we asked/expected to. Thanks – it's great to see you here, Lynn!

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

CommentLuv badge

Notify via Email Only if someone replies to My Comment