Excerpt from Chapter Three of Thicker Than Blood: Adoptive Parenting in the Modern World
My sons’ birth certificates say they were born to me and my husband. This is a great relief, legally. No one can deny them access to their rights as a child of mine or to their right to inherit and share equally in the family assets. That’s good—but “as if born to” is a little skewed, in fact, very skewed.
Children need to know they were born as the child of a particular person. One teen told me, “I feel like I was dropped from an alien ship. No parents. No connections.”[i] This is the flip-side of “as if born to.” It is, on the one hand, positive that children have equal rights in the family but, on the other, it is difficult for them to truly feel as if their life started when they were adopted—because it didn’t.
In the past, families went to great lengths to deny or hide adoption, so that the child didn’t know they were born to someone else. Secrecy rarely succeeded as there was always some aunt operating under a bit too much wine who let the secret out or someone who felt it was his or her duty to inform the child. In any case, children usually find out. In the evolving world of adoption theory, we need to work out what is the best way to assure adoptees have a firm and legal place in our family while, at the same time, accept they still have a place in another.
In a world of social media, instant information and little privacy, designing a family that includes our child’s family of origin should be fairly easy. We should be able to make contact, maintain contact and work our relationships with an abundance of communication. It isn’t that simple.
As rational beings, we often ignore the complications of emotions that saturate our family dynamics. Our child has needs; we have needs; our child’s birth mother and birth family have needs. We are more or less competent with emotional complications; our child’s birth family is also more or less competent with emotional complications. Our child, can be afraid of risking his adoptive family and so ignore his birth family, or the birth family may be afraid our child will disrupt a hard-won equilibrium in their family. We have to work with what comes our way, but thankfully, today we have help in the form of associations such as adoptive families associations, and organizations such as adoptive parents’ organizations. People in these organizations have experience with the many ways of creating family and can give us both ideas and support.
[i] Marion Crook, The Face in the Mirror: Teenagers and Adoption. (Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2000).