Monday, November 2, 2015

The "Adoptee in the Room" Moment: #FlipTheScript

pendant & photo by Rosita Gonzalez of mothermade 
#FlipTheScript Prompt: Talk about the “adoptee in the room” moment—that moment when you realize you are the only one in a space who can address a particular aspect of adoption experience, when you have to decide whether or not to speak up knowing that what you have to say may be confusing, unsettling, or triggering to others. Perhaps you have found yourself in this position at a work function, at a family gathering, or while with a group of friends. Or, you may have run into this situation in an online forum or on social media. Did you decide to speak or not, and why? If you did speak, what reactions or feedback did you receive?
This actually happens to me quite a bit, especially in my professional life. I work in the behavioral health field, and my professional role is NOT that of "adoptee consultant." And yet, I often find myself in situations where I become aware that neither my colleagues nor the parents I work with are seeing what I see ... because they are not adopted. I'm being deliberately vague here because I don't want to say too much about my professional life in this public forum, where I am writing as myself and not on behalf of my employer, but I think it is enough to say that my work often involves children who have experienced the loss of a parent, through adoption or other means. I identify with these children. I see aspects of myself in them. And even when their behaviors are extreme, as they often are, those behaviors make sense to me on some level given the context: devastating (and often unacknowledged) loss.

It is a strange thing to realize that what is seen so clearly by me is sometimes not seen at all by others. This occurs especially in situations where there is a loving, committed replacement family (adoptive, foster, or kinship). The gain of the new, it seems, is perceived as canceling out the loss of the old. But I know, in every cell of my being, that it doesn't work that way. My personal experience contradicts the accepted view. So I sometimes find myself in situations in which the child's original loss is being ignored altogether as a factor, or downplayed. And then I have to make a decision: to stay in my professional role or to step into my adoptee role and speak from personal experience.

What happens to me in these moments is complicated. There is a warning voice in my head shouting at me to keep my mouth shut. The message that my adoptee status is something that I shouldn't talk about in public is deeply internalized. If find it difficult to put this aspect of my experience into words, but some of my fellow adoptees may recognize the sensation. When I speak to non-adoptees about my experience of the world as an adoptee, I am left with the vague sensation of having said something wrong or "impolite," especially when the words I am speaking contradict my audience's assumptions.

The photo of the adoptee pendant at the top of this post is significant to me. When fellow Lost Daughter Rosita Gonzalez gifted me with the pendant, she spread several choices before me and allowed me to pick the one I wanted. All of the pendants were of similar design in that they all featured the word "adoptee," but they differed in coloring. I was drawn immediately towards the green and brown colors in this one (trees, roots, earth), but then I hesitated. In many of the other choices, the word "adoptee" was of a color more similar to the background color, and thus stood out less prominently. That part of me that has internalized the message that I shouldn't wave my adoptee flag too publicly wondered if I should choose one of the subtler designs. But no. That voice may be inside of me, but it is not my voice. I thought about where I am on my journey: about the strength and clarity I have gained from other adoptees and from movements (such as #flipthescript) that amplify adoptee voices. I thought about the importance of the adoptee community to me. I thought about our collective fight to be heard and to have our basic human rights acknowledged via access to original birth certificates. I thought about all of the ways that silence isolates and disempowers us. And then I chose the pendant that proclaims my adoptee status with the most visual clarity.

My response to those adoptee-in-the-room moments is similar. I hesitate and an internal struggle ensues, but then I think of the child who may be better understood if I cast some of the light of my own experience onto his or her own. I remind myself that the silencing voice is not my voice, and that I can chose to ignore it. I take a breath. And then I speak.

Rebecca Hawkes is a reunified adoptee who writes at Lost Daughters and Sea Glass & Other FragmentsHer work has also appeared at Adoption Voices Magazine, BlogHer, the Huffington Post, and Brain,Child magazine, and in the anthologies Lost Daughters: Writing Adoption From a Place of Empowerment and PeaceAdoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, and Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, her three daughters, and a dog named Buddy.