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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

View the Response to the Russian Daughters Switched at Birth Through my Adopted Lens

You may have heard about the Russian parents who discovered that the daughters they had raised for 12 years were not their biological daughters.  This was due to a hospital mix-up where each couple went home with the other couple's  baby.  When the parents of one girl split and a paternity test was ordered, it was discovered she was not the biological child of either of her parents.  A CafeMom blogger wrote about the issue and asked readers what they would do if they found out that their child had been switched at birth with another person's baby.  I read the blog entry and the comments made to it and I thought it would be a perfect example of the complexities of being adopted, the expectations, and the double-standards.

Foremost, do I think biological relationships are important?  Yes, I do.  Are they important to everyone?  No, and I'll just say that once instead of having to qualify the points I make every time with the disclaimer *not all adoptees feel this way.*  And essentially, that's really up to the individual person to decide for themself.  I think it is perfectly understandable for an adoptee to want to know their biological family members and to feel a bond with them or want to establish one.  I have my own opinions on where this need to connect comes from such as the nurturing experience during pregnancy and birth.  Perhaps the need to see ourselves reflected in those around us.  It may even be the collective unconscious, what perhaps explains the adoption "synchronicity"--something about us and our families that nature and nurture cannot explain, yet still connects us to others, our loved ones.

This post is not about any of those things, it is about a fourth reason that I could speculate, rather.  It may or may not be a driving force that leads us to want to reunite but it is definitely a reminder of how we're different.  It's the cultural lense we are given to view family, belonging, and connection that we see in our everyday lives.  It's not that we were told that biological relationships are meaningful to a lot of people. In fact, I am betting a lot of us were told the opposite and we may have tried really hard to believe it for ourselves.  No, it is that we could see that many people value their biological relationships with our very own eyes. We live in the same communities that the non-adopted/biologically-raised do, we see the family relationships around us, we learn that biological relationships are valuable.  At the same time, we're sent the message that the same relationships cannot be valuable to us.  People will say and write to adoptees "biology doesn't make a family" but many of us just can't help but notice that quite a few people don't actually feel that way when it comes to their own family.  When it came to working out what role adoption plays in my life and identity, it was perhaps that double standard that would sting the most.

Looking at the comments section of that CafeMom article, I can see what others really feel when it comes to valuing biology:

Six commenters are glad their children LOOK like them because it is how they tell that their children are THEIRS.  Yet for adoptees, we're supposed to believe it is silly to notice that we don't look like anyone in our adoptive family and feel a lack of belonging because of it.  Yet when adoption isn't the theme of a situation, for the parents, who looks like them signals who belongs with them.

One commenter speculated that the two girls and their parents had frustrating relationships and no bond because the girls were not birthed by the mothers who raised them.  This commenter writes:
"Imagine not feeling an emotional bond with your child or shared interests and blame yourselves and find the reason is because that life you carried inside of you for 9 months you never raised. The same way with the child..feeling like you never really "belonged."
Do adoptive mothers and adoptees often times report frustration in their relationships when they are completely different people with different interests and talents?  Yes.  Do adoptees often report feelings of not "belonging?"  Yes.  However, I find it remarkable, likely because adoption isn't in the equation, that someone would automatically assume that not being biologically-related and not being raised by the mother who nurtured you in the womb would automatically mean you and your parents had a horrible time and no emotional bond.  Good grief.

About half of the comments had some sort of theme of how horrible it is to find out that the child you raised isn't really "yours" (translation: biologically-related to you).  As a mother to biologically-raised children, I will condede that I do feel it would be horrible to have had this happen to my family.  Not because of the same reasons a lot of CafeMom commenters clearly felt that way (e.g. because the non-biological status meant the kid didn't belong) but because I personally feel that children have a right to be raised within their biological families if and whenever possible and when it doesn't happen, especially because of an avoidable mix-up, it is sad that the child was not able to benefit from this right.  But here we see how opinions about family and biology are different when the entity that is adoption is not in the picture and we have a labeling of the situation that is very parent-centric.  When parents do want to raise a child that is not biologically related to them and adoption is involved, non-biological relationships are the most wonderful thing ever.  When you raise a child that is not biologically yours on accident and it was never your intention to do so, it becomes, as at least one commenter put it this strongly "every parents worst nightmare."

One commenter, who says she is the adoptive mother of six children, says that biology doesn't make a family but concedes it must be scary for the daughter to be in a non-biological family, since her parents didn't want to give her up.

Having ambivalent feelings or not about your family ties based on whether or not your  parents are satisfied with how the family is formed?  Yes, we adoptees are familiar with our prescribed acceptable feeling about the adoption experience is supposed to be identical of how our parents feel or what they wanted.  For adoptees, since adoption is wonderful for our parents, we are not generally culturally permitted to have an acceptable opinion otherwise about adoption or any sadness about missing biological relationships.  In the HuffPo article about this case, we see the panic that sets in when biology=belonging and one of the Russian girls, who was raised by her parents for 12 years, begs her mother "mum, please don't give me away!"

One person did say that she, as a mother, would handle this situation "[t]he same way they did, sue, and love my child despite the parternity and give them opportunity to know the birth parents. But I would be upset very upset."  I could nitpick but it was probaby the best (no, I'm not being sarcastic) comment.

What I take from this are three main themes: how biological relationships and families are viewed when adoption as a theme is or isn't present, the cultural view of family around us that adoptees are magically supposed to rise above and reject the same things being important for ourselves, and how a family experience must be based on how the parents feel or wanted, as just like in adoption, the dominant sought-out voice is adoptive parents and people still won't seek out adoptee opinions about the adoption experience.  Although there are many APs who the world could learn a thing or two from--adoptees are certainly the most under-utilized resource adoption has.

I was not raised by biological family.  I value both of my natural and nurturing ties.  I accept what I cannot change and I am happy with my life.  However, I no longer be held to a different standard of what I can or cannot value just because I am adopted.  I no longer accept people trying to convince me that what I see other people value about their families (e.g. biology) is just a figment of my adopted imagination.  I gladly continue to lend my voice and support the voices of other adult adoptees so that society can continue to come to accept that there are more people in the adoptive family whose opinions matter other than just the adoptive parents (my a-mom will say this to you too "ask my daughter").  I won't try to convince myself that what I notice others value about their families isn't real.  I won't pretend that it doesn't hurt to see people say that having raised a non-biological child is "every parents' worst nightmare."

Good luck to these girls and their families.  May others be kind to you.


  1. This is such an excellent post. I love the way you are always able to pinpoint each issue and explain it in such straightforward and convincing terms.

    An idea came to me after reading this. In Nancy Verrier's work she makes a distinction between bonding and attachment. She theorizes that an adopted child attaches to his/her adoptive parents but does not bond with them and that bonding is only possible between a child and her natural parents. I wonder if something similar is going on with adoptive parents (i.e. that they are attaching to their adopted children but not bonding with them). Some of the comments cited in the article make me think that.

  2. I'm only hearing about this for the first time reading this post (I followed a link from your other blog to here), and I'm reading through a head-cold-and-Day-Quil haze, so forgive me if you put this more succinctly in your post & I just missed it…

    It occurs to me that the difference between "the greatest thing in the world" and "every parents worst nightmare" boils down to two factors: choice and knowledge. For parents who *choose* to adopt/to place, and who *know* that the child they are raising is not biologically related to them/their biologically related child is being raised by others…then it's "the greatest thing in the world." It's only when it happens without one's consent & knowledge that it is "every parent's worst nightmare."

    Which takes me to the discussion I've often read by adopted adults that we (the adults in the situation when the adoption occurs) often don't take into account the fact that the adoptee has no choice in the matter; it is a choice made by others who may or may not believe they are working in the child's best interest, but it is nonetheless imposed on the child. And then there is knowledge: Those who don't find out until adulthood that they were adopted… It does put a different spin on "the greatest thing in the world" when you look at it through the lens of the individual who didn't have any choice in the matter, doesn't it?

    Thank you for this post. As an adoptive parent I try very hard to understand the issues my children may or may not face in the future, and I'm frustrated by the knowledge that as much as I try, I can never feel what they feel, so I can't *really* understand. Posts like this, I think, bring me closer to whatever understanding I can achieve...

  3. I always find the most unthoughtful, mindless comments under articles. I have tried to stop reading them since I, or someone I love, is inevitable left hurt by some ignorant asshat.

    "I won't pretend that it doesn't hurt to see people say that having raised a non-biological child is "every parents' worst nightmare." I will say this, Amanda: From what I have read, you are your parents unbelievable dream. When I imagined myself as a mom, I don't know that I thought much about biology- i think that is something taken for granted. When I married and went through IF, I felt more bitter about my brokeness then the loss of biology. Now as a mom, I am struck by the awesomeness of my daughter and my awe of her biology. I often can't believe that I got to be her mom. I look at her face and I just see beauty and love and HER. I fully recognize that she has another family, and that biology IS important, absolutlety. But I don't think it is everything. No one in our house is biologically related. We are a family.

    Robin, I don't have any basis for comparison (re: bond v. attachment biov adopted) but I feel enormously attached and bonded to my daughter. I love her with a fierceness and strength that is palpable. I am not saying I love her more than a mother loves her bio kids. If there is a stronger bond than this with bio kids, WOW, just wow.. Because my heart could just burst most days.


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