For the adoptee who wonders what not being adopted might’ve been like, know this: it’s normal. Many adoptees wonder how it would’ve been, to not have been adopted.
After all, those with divorced parents wonder what having parents who stayed together would’ve been like. Folks who grow up in Africa wonder what growing up in America would be like. People who are poor wonder what having money would be like, and people with money wonder how those without it get by.
Being adopted wasn’t something you had a say in. Yet it impacted your life in really big ways. So yes: it’s natural to wonder what it would’ve been like, to not be adopted. It doesn’t mean you’re not appreciative or disloyal. It just means you’re human.
Everybody wonders how their life might have been different. That goes for adoptees, too.
To Not Have Been Adopted
If you were never adopted, you wouldn’t have two different birth certificates, one of which was officially altered by the State. You don’t have to answer questions at the doctor’s office with “I dunno, I was adopted.” You’ve never had to deal with having parents who may be a different race than you are.
Those who get raised by the same parents that conceived them have the advantage of genetic connection. This means you share genetic markers and traits with your family, (although you may not necessarily look or act like them.) If you aren’t adopted, you probably have only ever had one full name– which you’ve always known. And you’ve never thought to worry that your parents might give you away if you don’t live up to their expectations.
If you were never separated from your biological parents after birth, you likely avoided the infantile trauma that can accompany relinquishment and leave some adoptees with a lifelong fear of abandonment or rejection. You’ve never had to forfeit your homeland or your native tongue or your birth culture just to be accepted into a new family. You don’t find yourself triggered by insensitive adoption references.
And you didn’t grow up with kids at school teasing you about being an adoptee. You don’t have to deal with an extra set of relatives, if you weren’t adopted. If you were never adopted, you don’t have to worry about if, when or how to search for your birthparents. You don’t have people targeting you with suicide statistics. You’ve never felt torn between your loyalties to two different families (sometimes, without ever feeling you truly “belong” in either one?)
Not every adoptee feels all these things. But every adoptee can relate to some of these, or add more to the list. It’s vital that we all (adopted or not) listen to the adoptee experience as recounted by adoptees, if we’re ever going to understand what it’s like to be adopted.
So What’s the Upside, Then?
Studies suggest that growing up in more stable adoptive homes provides adopted children with significant advantages in life. Adoptees are more likely to grow up in two-parent homes, to have consistent healthcare, better educational opportunities, more access to counseling and mental health treatment, greater participation in extracurricular activities and expanded career options.
It’s easy to imagine the average adolescent adoptee unhappy about adoption assuming that the solution is just to move back in with the birthfamily and be un-adopted. But as any adoptee who’s tried it will likely tell you, it’s just not that easy. The past cannot be undone, hard as one tries. And once you’ve been adopted, that experience has helped shape who you are. It doesn’t define you, but it is forever a part of your identity. Find for yourself what belongs (or doesn’t) and grow forward.
And as most birthsiblings of adoptees can attest: simply not getting adopted didn’t make for a perfect life, either. Many birthparents and birthsiblings report that their childhoods were negatively impacted by homelessness, addiction, poverty, child abuse, parental mental health issues, foster care removals, unemployment, hyper-fertility, instability, recurrent moves, domestic violence, inadequate educational opportunities, and crime, among other challenges.
For the adoptee who wonders: state foster care programs are full of kids who had parents that were unable or unwilling to raise them, yet who never got adopted. Those kids have a whole ‘nother set of challenges in life, as a result. The sad truth is that their lives were not improved by having never been adopted.
Here’s the takeaway…
Only a birthparent knows what sort of life she wants for her child, and what limits her own ability to provide it at that point in time. Adoption is never “an easy choice”, not before nor during or after.
Neither birthparents nor adopting parents can guarantee that adoption will have been the right or best choice, or that the adoptee will agree or approve. Adoption cannot guarantee a better outcome, only a different one. It’s only within an adoptee’s power to determine if their future is better or not.
For the adoptee that wonders: you are not alone in your wondering… may you find answers that work for you, and peace to fill any spaces that the answers you find leave lacking.