Learning from Adoptees After Adoption

Learning from Adoptees After Adoption

What if learning from adoptees after adoption were what mattered most to everyone?

Ask online if adoption is good or bad, and you’ll get as many different answers as there are people impacted in any way by adoption.

Ask persons who were once adopted, though, and you’re likely to get far more significant insight. The birthparents’ decision and their reasons for entering into it is important, as is the way the adoption was handled and the adoptive parents’ adjustment to their new parenting responsibilities.

Yet what if it’s the adoptee’s own evaluation of how their life unfolded after adoption that measures the true value of each placement? (And what if that measure has the capacity to grow or change as they do?) How would that impact adoption practices, as a whole?

Adoption can be “good” for birthparents if it enables them to successfully continue to care for the children already in their care, or if it frees them to escape an abusive relationship or complete their education or wait until they are truly ready to become fulltime parents.

The same adoption can be a blessing in the lives of the adoptive parents if it empowered them to become parents after years of infertility, or enabled them to grow their family as desired or made it possible for them to meet the needs of a child who needed them.


Still, what birthparents and adoptive parents consider to have been successful adoptions may not be all that successful in the eyes of an adoptee. That doesn’t invalidate the parents. But it means that adoption may not always be seen as the “best” option by an adoptee who feels a wrenching grief over having been denied the opportunity to grow up in their original family or who suffered a sense of rejection or alienation in the adoptive home or culture, or whose right to access information about their origins has been violated, or who was mistreated in the adoptive home or abandoned to foster care, or who always has felt the pressure of having had to fulfill others’ expectations just because they were adopted, or who is angry at having been forced into a family arrangement they don’t feel truly met their needs best.

After adoption, it is essential that we listen to the voices and learn from the experiences of those who have been adopted, for they and they alone have the power to transform the entire adoption institution, from the inside out. It may be too late to change things for them, but it doesn’t mean things can’t be made better for others.

What Adoptees Can Tell Us

A Today feature on one Texas adoptee recounts how a child adopted twice went on to launch a Facebook group called “I Am Adoption” that has become a huge source of support for more than 7k people whose lives have been touched by adoption.

Pamela Radisek was born in Paraguay and adopted as a baby, but after six years and some abuse, she ended up in CPS care, resulting in her second adoption, which provided her the safe home and loving family she had always deserved.

As Radisek recounted to Today contributing reporter Brian Mastroianni, “This all shaped my life profoundly, and really everything, both negative and positive, played a huge role in my life.”

Nobody’s life is all good or all bad, and every adoption, likewise, is a conglomeration of both positives and negatives.

For adults who place, adopt or work in the adoption field, it’s all too easy to discount the adoptee experience in an effort to exonerate ourselves. It’s hard to hear that what you went to such lengths to help make happen may not, in the eyes of an adoptee, have been optimal for them.

It’s essential, however, that we honor the right of every adoptee to speak their piece, in order to find their peace. And all we need to do, to do that, is to l-i-s-t-e-n. That’s right: just listen. Don’t “yes, but” them. Don’t point out what you think they’re forgetting. Don’t take any criticism personally (unless you should.) Listen to what they have to say. Let them know you have heard what they’re feeling, by repeating it back to them (“so you’re saying that…?“) and then you don’t even have to agree or disagree, because that’s not your place. Just hear them out, make it clear that you’ve heard them, and thank them (honestly) for having had the courage to share their truth.

(And then, do one thing more: learn from it.)

Positive or not, learn something.

Abrazo had contact with two adults recently whose placements were done through our agency years ago. One came in the form of a message from an adoptee, who wrote:

about 20 years ago, you gave me a family, a home and a life with my adoptive parents. I’ve always wanted to reach out to you and thank you for your incredible work. My life would not be the same without you! Because of you, I have the most beautiful relationship with my birth family, and the knowledge that I was cared for and loved before I was even born. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. ??

Another adoptee, however, wrote to update us about the problems the adoptive parents had hidden from the agency, which had eventually caused the adoptive parents’ marriage to fail and ultimately led to the adoptee (now a parent) making the difficult decision to end contact with the adoptive parents. Even so, the adoptee said, the birthmother’s choice to place had been the best decision she could have made, given her circumstances, and the adoptee and birthmom have a positive relationship today, even if neither is in contact with the adoptive couple anymore.

It was heartwarming to receive the first message, and heartbreaking to read the second, and yet, both have value and wisdom from which we can learn. It’s easy to share good news, of course, but not so easy to admit that not every adoptive placement has a “happy” outcome.

There will always be adults with things to hide in the adoption process, and all agencies must do better at somehow confirming what isn’t known, in order to better protect the interests of children.

And there will always be adoptees whose positive adoption experiences can help to affirm best practice, especially when adoptions are open, and involve healthy adults who are well-informed about the importance of making sure their open adoptions stay that way, for the kids’ sake.

After adoption, it is surely the adoptees who have the most to teach us– if only we’ll let them?

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