November is National Adoption Month
November marks the annual celebration of adoption. This is something to be celebrated, but it’s also important to remember that adoption, especially for the adoptees, comes with an element of loss. Even in the best-case scenarios, adoptees will need support and guidance throughout their lives with processing their feelings, and how being adopted has impacted and affected how they see themselves, as well as their relationships with others.
“Why am I not over this yet!?”
This is a very common question that comes up for many of the adult adoptees that I see in my office. They are frustrated with themselves because they thought they dealt with all of these feelings in their teens and twenties. They have little patience with themselves in their 30s, 40s, and beyond when some of those all too familiar feelings come to the surface again. The truth is that the core issues of adoption – loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy and control – are not hurdles to be cleared once. They often re-emerge during different stages of development and important milestones in life.
Typically joyous celebrations can be triggering for adult adoptees, as these events often come with sadness or at the very least, mixed emotions. Child birth for someone who was adopted may be the first time that they have someone in their family they are biologically related to, but it can also intensify the question of “how could my biological mom choose adoption for me” after they know first-hand what it feels like to love a child they brought into this world.
Annual events such as birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and National Adoption Month may bring up questions such as, “I wonder if they are thinking about me?” and “I wonder where they are and if they are ok?” Adoptees also wonder, “Is it ok that I’m thinking about my birth parents? Does that mean I’m an ungrateful child to my adoptive parents?”
They can also struggle with deciding if they want to search for their biological family in fear that this will hurt their adoptive family, or worry that they will experience rejection from their biological parents if they aren’t open to meeting them. Adoptees often put the needs of others ahead of their own in fear of rejection, and that loss of control can lead to resentment and anger.
How to support an adoptee
Friends and family members of adoptees can support them by providing a safe and open environment for communication, so that the adoptees can share what they are feeling and thinking as needed, and to not make them responsible for how their needs surrounding their adoption affect others. If they choose to search for and potentially reunite with their birth families, be there for them, and let them set the pace and tell you what they need.
It may be necessary and beneficial for adoptees to seek out individual or family therapy with an adoption competent therapist to begin to explore some of these complicated thoughts and feelings, foster healing, and improve relationships with others, as well as self.
When celebrating all of the many positive, beautiful and complex realities about adoption this month, please pay attention to the voices of those who have been adopted, and remember that sometimes along with joy comes pain. We can lessen that pain just a bit by acknowledging and honoring it, as well as through allowing people to define their own experience.