What It Means To Be Adopted

Originally published on Fem2Pt0 and cross-posted here with permission.

I was born on April 20th, 1984. On June 5th, nearly two months after being placed on an adoption list in Montreal, I met my parents and became Kathleen.

I can’t be sure what occurred during the two month gap between my birth and the introduction to my family; perhaps it’s an ‘adoptive limbo’, a space in time full of unknowns and solitude. Regardless, I’m thankful I was far too young to remember it.

However, what I do know is that April 20th and June 5th have become equally important dates; in fact, I call them my two birthdays – the day I made my grand appearance into the world as we know it, and the day I became part of someone else’s world.

November is National Adoption Month, with the 17th hailed as National Adoption Day. While for many this designation may seem like an attempt to grant yet another cause calendar recognition, for others, like me, it’s significant.

At a time when abortion, although deservingly so, has received center focus, it’s time to shed light on an equally important choice – to raise awareness, debunk longstanding myths, highlight outstanding needs, and give a deserving voice to those whose lives were changed by adoption.

And there are a lot of voices to be heard; the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute suggests that 1.5 million, or 2% of American children have been adopted. This results in nearly 60% of us having some connection with adoption, be it through our own adoption, by becoming an adoptive parent, knowing someone who has been adopted, or having forfeited our parental rights for adoption.

As a result of our common bond, we, as a society, also see adoption as a beneficial process, with nearly 80% of us recognizing the need to connect available children with eager parents. Yet, there still remains a lack of understanding about adoption, and far too many misconceptions about the process.

In honour of National Adoption Day, it is my hope to help debunk myths about adoption with an aim to promote awareness and inspire others to become part of a very special community to which I am proud to belong.

Truth One: Adoption takes on many forms

Adoption has many sides, in spite of the stereotypical image of ‘Orphan Annie’ that society would have us believe. Sure, many children are adopted from foster care, but others are adopted through private agencies, within the same family (referred to as kinship adoption), by a stepparent, or internationally.

Truth Two: Hundreds of thousands of children of varying ages and geographical location are desperate for a family

As of 2011, over 100,000 children in the United States alone are waiting to be adopted into loving homes. Many children in foster care are older, with an average entrance age of 8 and remain in care, on average, for 2 years. At home, adoption rates have declined over the past several decades but as a large database regarding foster care and adoption throughout Canada and the US is not available, an exact understanding of the domestic adoption need is limited.

Children in the developing world face an even more uncertain future; rates of international adoptions have decreased by nearly 60%, resulting from heightened inter-country adoption restrictions in response to corrupt practices, including bribery and the buying and selling of children. As a result, some countries like Romania have chosen to close their borders to North American and European families.

Truth Three: There are large barriers to adoption

Far too many children experience the ‘adoptive limbo’, and eager adoptive parents are forced to wait patiently for their chance to begin their family. The Adoption Council of Canada suggests that adoption, depending on the method, can take anywhere from just under a year to nearly a decade.

I was unbelievably fortunate as my adoption occurred soon after I was born, but my parents spent nearly 5 years on waiting lists until it was their turn. In actuality, they were given just 5 days notice prior to meeting me for the first time.

Adoption also comes with a cost; legal international adoptions can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and private domestic adoptions are nearly as expensive. However, adoptions out of foster care are much more affordable and could be faster if potential parents are willing to adopt an older child.

Truth Four: Adoption is an option for anyone

While we still face conflict with international adoption policies, domestic adoption has seen significant improvement; in Canada, single men and women as well as same-sex couples can freely adopt and, although determined on a state-by-state basis, the US is slowly but surely getting there.

Additionally, both Canada and the US have adoption tax credits available to help alleviate monetary strain, as well as the option to take parental leave upon the arrival of their child. There is also the provision of readiness training and post-adoption programs to assist the transition process.

Great organizations, some of which I have listed at the end of this blog, are also available to help parents and children (pre and post adoption) develop strong, long-lasting relationships.

Truth Five: Children put up for adoption do not necessarily have pre-existing, and will not necessarily develop behavioural, psychological, or biological concerns

I was once told by a fellow student in high school that she would never consider placing her newborn child up for adoption for fear of them becoming “messed up”.

I’ve also been asked “what was wrong with me” and upon revealing my adoptive past, am often faced with a barrage of questions that indicated that somehow I am at fault. Sadly, such thoughts persist.

Sure, being adopted is far from easy. Many adoptive children, such as myself, may struggle and perhaps well into their adult years. Others may encounter feelings of abandonment, resentment, and isolation. Many who lack an understanding about the reasons for their adoption may feel unloved or ‘not good enough’, assuming, like others do, that there must be something wrong with them in order to be ‘given away’.

Children who have been in foster care for extended periods of time have a heightened risk of developing personal issues, resulting from a lack of perceived security and stability. Such struggles may be challenging to overcome, but they can be battled in much the same way as all of us, adopted or not, battle our daily demons.

The majority of adoptive children will grow into successful, healthy adults.Gerald Ford, Nancy Reagan, Steve Jobs, Jesse Jackson, Edgar Allen Poe, Dave Thomas (founder of Wendy’s), Faith Hill, Aristotle, and even Superman have, if that’s any indication.

Truth Six: Adopting a child makes them your ‘own’

The results of a 1997 study outline a devastating reality: the majority of us see adoption as ‘not as good’ as having your ‘own’ biological child. Furthermore, 1 in 5 believe adopted children were ‘less loved’ by their birthmothers, and 1 in 4 assume it is harder for adoptive parents to love adopted children in the same way as biological children.

This is perhaps for me, and I’m sure for many others, the most painful societal belief – a disconnect that tells us that biology determines an ability to parent. Far too often I am asked if I know my ‘real’ family, as if to assume that those who dedicated 28 years raising me are in some way ‘fake’.

Yes, adoptive parents miss the gestational period, and they may not understand the joy of birth following a long pregnancy. Yet, I would challenge anyone to ask an adoptive parent how they felt the first time they laid eyes on their child. The feeling, from what I’ve heard, couldn’t be more similar and perhaps even more profound.

However, as right as she usually is, perhaps my mom explains this best. In a letter my mom wrote to me that was published in my hometown’s newspaper for a special Mother’s Day edition, she so poignantly states: “biologically, you do not share our DNA, but you do share our unconditional love”.

Arguably, it takes a special kind of person to adopt a child; it requires patience, understanding, committment, and a whole lot of love – what is required of any parent, and perhaps much more. Yet, in the end, the joy felt from giving a deserving child, your OWN child, a home, far outweighs any of the negative.

In the end, it’s not where you come from that matters, but the love that is shared that defines a family. Biology, in my opinion, is far too overrated.

For great adoption resources, please check out the following organizations:

Kathleen Pye is a doctoral student at the University of New Brunswick. She holds a BSc in Kinesiology, an MEd in Counselling Psychology, and an MSc in Nutritional Biochemistry. As a researcher, counselor, and activist, Kathleen aims to lessen secrecy, promote awareness, build understanding, and provide assistance for those affected by eating issues and disorders. She tweets from @KathleenCanada.