Monday, July 13, 2015

How to Respond to a New Adoption?

The Image of the Stork we see in society related to birth and adoption

I was at a party this weekend when I was introduced to a new mom and her baby. A person next to me commented to the mom on how fit and trim she was so soon after birth. The mom responded that the baby didn't come from her body, that she was adopted.

While the conversation continued happily while I looked on silently, my thoughts reeling. Where was the mom? The original mom? Where was the family? Why did they decide to relinquish? Were they pressured? Did the birth dad have a say in the relinquishment? Does the adoptive family understand the issues that adoptive children face? Will the adoptive family understand and honor the original families?

These are not questions we are allowed to ask. We are not supposed to show sadness or sympathy for the baby who has just lost her original families. We are supposed to show only joy, as if the baby has suffered nothing. I'm sure it's hard for the onlookers to see anything other than beauty and tranquility as they watch the new baby sleeping peacefully in its new adoptive mother's arms.

But there was so much more that I could see.

What a stork really looks like

Invisible to the other guests who only saw the present, I could see the past and the future. In the past is the original family, now torn apart. In the future, is the adoptee who bears the scars from the tearing.

I could see the present as well, but very differently than those around me. In the present I see a society that pretends that there is no loss in adoption. I see a world that supports the facade that a person will magically transform when you take her from her family and put her in another one.

I imagined a different future. One that acknowledges the truth of adoption.

Hearing that the baby was adopted, I would have responded somberly, wordlessly acknowledging the loss the baby had experienced, was experiencing and would experience.

I would not have asked about the relinquishment, because clearly that is none of my business.

However, I would have asked about the baby's original families. What was her nationality? What are her parents like? What are her families like? Did she have siblings? What were her original families traditions and talents? What is her name (assuming a link to the original families)?

That future isn't here yet. Had I responded that way, I would have offended the adopted mom, shocked the other guests and embarrassed the host.

Instead, I stayed silent. Not pretending to feel the joy of the others, but not speaking my mind either.

The host then explained to the adoptive mom that I was an adoptee and blog about the experience of reunion with my birth mom. The adoptive mom had a moment of a look that I would describe as defensiveness cross her face as she said that the baby was an open adoption. "It's different now," she said. That was her response to hearing I wrote about adoption.

"Yes, it's different now," I said.

Only my "different," was not the same as hers.

Adoptees have a voice.

It's time we use it to change what adoption is and how society sees it.

Let's make a different future.


Cathy Heslin is a reunited adult adoptee of closed domestic adoption in New Jersey. She met her birthmother when she was just 18 and moved out to Portland after graduating college to live with her birthmother. She has been in reunion with her birthmother for nearly 25 years, and with her birthfather for 15 and has a complicated extended family that includes all sides.

She writes about adoption with a focus on long-term reunion. She has written a memoir in partnership with her birthmother called Kathleen-Cathleen where she and her birthmother write alternating chapters sharing their experience of reunion from both the perspective of the adoptee and the birthmother (not yet published). They also write parallel blogs on shared themes: Cathy's blog is Follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyHeslin.