Saturday, December 29, 2012

Accepting My Adoptee Fate, and How That Differs from "Moving On"

Lately, I've noticed a shift in how I perceive my adoptee experience. It's possible that I have moved into the acceptance phase of grieving my adoption-related losses. I am feeling lighter, more balanced, and holding a greater appreciation for all that my experiences have brought me. As an adoptee who has struggled to make sense of what it means to be a member of two families, I am perhaps more comfortable with duality, complexity, and ambiguity than I might otherwise have been. I tend to see things through the lens of "both/and" rather than "either/or." I've come to appreciate this about myself, to view it as part of what I have to offer the world.

When I encountered the following words a while ago on the blog of one of my fellow Lost Daughter contributors, they resonated strongly with me:
Adoptees will never not be adopted. But we can live our lives. We can take our unique life experience and allow it to make us compassionate beings. We are worthy of both giving and receiving love. 
-- iAdoptee
At about that same time I read the following words, which also spoke to me:
One cannot annul the fact that one was given up by one clan and taken in by another; one can only see the consequences of that fact in a new light that illuminates what happened in a healing way. 
Part of the healing process takes place when adoptees are able to accept that what happened happened: it was their existential fate to be surrendered by one mother at birth and raised by another. To accept that, with all the relief of finding out who they are, there will always be the pain of that special history.  
-- Betty Jean Lifton, Journey of the Adopted Self
I like these words, for the most part, but I've also noticed that I cringe a little at the line about accepting my existential fate. Let me unpack that.

I have known situations in which adoptee or first-parent expressions of pain were countered with platitudes such as "everything happens for a reason" or "it's all part of God's plan." As articulated so eloquently by the blogger "I am" of Statistically Impossible, such words comfort the person who is encountering the pain of another rather than the person who is experiencing the pain firsthand.

I have also met with the attitude that adult adoptees should "move on" or "get over it" or "stop dwelling in the past." I loved the recent post by Deanna Shrodes (another of member of the Lost Daughter sisterhood) about why that is so difficult for us to do. Our "past" is our is our history, our identity, our connection to family. (I will also add to this that for those of us adopted in infancy, our trauma happened at such an early age that we have no pre-traumatized self to return to as a norm. Another complicating factor is that adoption-related pain is not commonly acknowledged as valid as a result of the mostly positive view of adoption that is held by the general public. Pain that is regularly invalidated is harder to release.)

But as I sit with Lifton's words, I realize that she not asking me to "move on" or to accept that things have worked out for the best. Her words are not about "better" or "worse," but rather are a simple acknowledgment that what happened happened and cannot be undone. This works for me. Something bad occurred: I was separated from my original family at a tender age. I have struggled because of this separation, and I will struggle likely still. In the words of my sister blogger, I will "never not be adopted." And yet I am also OK. I am a survivor, with a survivor's strengths and gifts. Accepting my existential fate doesn't mean viewing adoption through rose-colored glasses. It doesn't mean that I won't speak my mind, tell my story, or work for change in a system that I view as deeply flawed. It doesn't imply turning a blind eye to the pain that I and others have endured. To the contrary, advocating for change is a big part the fate I am embracing!

You might ask what has taken me so long to reach this understanding. The answer is that there simply was no short cut. There never is. The only way to reach dry land, in my experience, is to slog through the muck.

Image courtesy of Pixomar at